Language Learning Roundtable



Sandra Benazzo: The Basic Variety: is it a stage limited/related to a specific learner population?

Adult migrants were investigated within the ESF project (Perdue 1993), a large European project in the eighties which applied a cross-linguistic and longitudinal design to study the way in which foreign immigrant workers in industrialized European countries went about learning the language of their new social environment.
Research done within this project led to the characterization of the initial stages in untutored SLA. In particular, it showed thatlearners with different pairings of source and target languages initially develop a very similar linguistic system, which has been called the ‘Basic Variety’ (BV; Klein and Perdue 1997) – a target language-like lexicon is organized on the basis of pragmatic and semantic principles which are largely independent of the source/target language specifics. In spite of its formal limitations (e.g. no marking of case, number, gender, tense, aspect or agreement by morphology, and absence of subordination), the BV represents a simple and efficient means of communication, characterized by a transparent interplay between function and form.
The BV is a stage of SLA first attested with a specific type of learners in immersion, “[…] monolingual[s] with little or no initial knowledge of the TL, with little formal education in the SL and with no TL courses under way…” (Perdue 1993 vol.I : 42). Even if the realparticipants partly diverged from this profile, it raises the question whether the development of such a stage is related to a specific learner population. In this talk I will therefore discuss the following questions: Does general education and literacy skills affect the notion of the BV? Is the BV a characteristic of adult L2 learners with a particular background?

Natalia Ganuza: The impact of heritage language instruction on students’ language and literacy development: The Swedish case

This paper will present an overview of current research on the impact of heritage language instruction (henceforth HLI) on students’ language and literacy development, primarily with examples from research carried out in Sweden. Sweden is one of few countries to provide HLI as an independent subject in the national curriculum (under the title mother tongue instruction), with its own subject syllabus, learning goals and subject requirements. This has been the case ever since the enactment of the so called Home Language Reformin the late 1970s (e.g., Hyltenstam & Milani 2012). Research has shown, however, that the practical implementation of HLI in Sweden has not been on par with its strong legal foundation, in particular due to restricted teaching time (40–60 minutes per week) and lacking opportunities for integration with other subjects. The presentation will focus on research that has studied to what extent HLI, in its current form, may facilitate students’ language and literacy learning in the heritage language, in the majority language (Swedish), as well as if and how it may support their learning in other school subjects. The latter two points will be discussed critically, since the main aim of HLI, as expressed in legislation, is to support the maintenance and development of the heritage language in its own right. Nevertheless, HLI in Sweden, as well as in other countries, is increasingly discussed as valuable only insofar as the skills acquired through these lessons are also exchangeable into majority language skills and increased academic achievements (Salö et al. 2018; see also Daugaard 2015 for Denmark). Moreover, since HLI includes students with varying language learning biographies and proficiencies in the heritage language and in the majority language, it is likely to have different impact for different student groups.

Daugaard, L. M. (2015). Sproglig praksis i og omkring modersmålsundervisning. En lingvistisk etnografisk undersøgelse. Aarhus: Aarhus University.
Hyltenstam, K., and T. Milani (2012). Flerspråkighetens sociopolitiska och sociokulturella ramar. In: Hyltenstam, K., Axelsson, M. & Lindberg, I. (Eds.), Flerspråkighet: en forskningsöversikt[Multililngualism: A Research Overview], 17–152. Stockholm: Vetenskapsrådet [Swedish Research Council], 5:2012.
Salö, L., Ganuza, N., Hedman, C. & Karrebæk, M. S. (2019). Mother tongue education in Sweden and Denmark: Language policy, cross-field effects, and linguistic exchange rates. Language Policy17, 4, 591–610.

Jasone Cenoz: Translanguaging and SLA: minority and heritage languages

SLA studies have traditionally focused on the acquisition of languages of international prestige by a population that has been regarded as homogeneous.  Nowadays, the revival of some minority languages and increased mobility of the population have shown that SLA has to be necessarily linked to multilingualism because many students are multilingual and they speak a rich variety of home languages. This new situation adds complexity to the study of SLA, which in the European context was usually understood as the acquisition of English by speakers of a national language.
Nowadays SLA also applies to learning national languages, learning additional languages or learning minority and heritage languages. In this context, SLA is taking place as part of the development of multilingual competence rather than learning a second language as isolated from the first language. It can be said that the boundaries between languages are softening and it is becoming necessary to take students’ linguistic repertoires into consideration. The concept of translanguaging has become an umbrella term to refer to spontaneous and pedagogical practices that go across languages and consider language learning from a multilingual lens. Translanguaging is closer to the way people communicate in real life and is usually regarded as going against strict purist ideologies. In this presentation, some examples of pedagogical translanguaging and teachers’ and students’ reactions to translanguaging in the context of minority and heritage languages will be discussed.  As it will be seen, translanguaging can empower some minoritized communities but this is not necessarily the case in all contexts. Translanguaging also poses some questions regarding the linguistic and communicative goals in SLA and language assessment.

Martha Young-Scholten: Non-literate adults’ L2 competence

Can we assume that the second language acquisition of morphosyntax follows the same route regardless of L1, type of exposure and amount of education (Hawkins 2001)?  That education plays no role is now questioned. Bigelow et al. (2006) claim that without literacy, L2 adults struggle with functional morphology. In their small-scale study of Somali refugee adults in the USA with varying literacy in Somali and in English, the low-literates were less accurate in uptake of oral recasts of questions they had been prompted to produce. Recent experimental work which compares adult literates with those who are not literate suggests that literacy affects how aural language is processed in one’s native language (e.g.; Huettig 2015; Malik-Moraleda et al. 2018)
It is not entirely clear whether complete lack of literacy affects route of L2 morphosyntax development; see Vainikka & Young-Scholten (2007). Our on-going investigation of L1 non-literates has thus far considered behavioural data from Arabic, Dari, Punjabi, Pahari, Somali, Urdu and Vietnamese learners of English. Complete L1 non-literates who cannot read and have not developed phonemic awareness in their L2 are a distinct population; those with even minimal schooling pattern similarly to those with more schooling in rate of development. Route does not seem to be affected by lack of literacy. Naturalistic learners, regardless of their level of literacy, are more likely than classroom learners to overgeneralise certain function words, treating them as ‘dummy auxiliaries’ (Julien et al. 2015) as well as to use as INFL-level placeholders certain multi-morphemic chunks (Vainikka et al. 2017). This seems to be related more to their stage of development than to literacy.
When it comes to phonology, converging evidence from nearly two decades of studies points to an important role played by input from (mostly Roman alphabet) orthographies on the L2 acquisition of phonology (Escudero et al. 2015). More recently, in his study of the influence of orthographic input on production of onsets and codas by Arabic adults beginning to learn English, Al Azmi (2019) found an error pattern similar to childen’s by the non-literate group he included. There is also emerging evidence regarding the influence of literacy  on the L2 acquisition of phonology from Maffia and De Meo (2015) whose investigation of low-literate Senegalese migrants in Italy reveals slower processing.
Considerably more research, both behavioural and experimental, is needed to shed much-needed light on the role of literacy in adult second language acquisition. This will counter our over-reliance in SLA on the WEIRD population (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic; Henrich et al. 2010) which a new initiative in SLA is aiming to address; see:

Al-Azmi, S.  (2019) Aural and Orthographic Input: Implications for the Acquisition of English Consonant Clusters by Arabic Speakers. Newcastle PhD thesis.
Bigelow, M., R. delMas, K. Hansen and E. Tarone. (2006) Literacy and the processing of oral recasts in SLA. TESOL Quarterly40: 1-25.
Escudero, P.,  R. Hayes-Harb and B. Bassetti (eds) (2015). Special Issue. Applied Psycholinguistics 36.
Henrich, J., S. Heine and A. Norenzayan. (2010) The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences.1-75.
Huettig, F. (2015) Literacy influences cognitive abilities beyond the mastery of written language. In I. van de Craats, J. Kuvers and R. van Hout (eds.) Adult Literacy, Second Language and Cognition. Nijmegen: CLS. Pp. 115-127.
Julien, M., R. van Hout, R. and I. van de Craats. (2015) Meaning and function of dummy auxiliaries in adult acquisition of Dutch as an additional language. Second Language Research32:49-73.
Maffia, M. and A. De Meo. (2015). Literacy and prosody: The case of low-literate Senegalese learners of L2 Italian. In I van de Craats et al.
Malik-Moraleda, S., K. Orihuela, M. Carreiras and J.A. Duñabeitia. (2018) The consequences of literacy and schooling for parsing strings. Language, CognitionandNeuroscience33: 293-99.
Vainikka,  A. and M. Young-Scholten.2007. The role of literacy in the development of L2 morpho-syntax from an Organic Grammar perspective. In N. Faux (ed.)Low Educated Adult Second  Language and Literacy Acquisition. 2ndSymposium. Richmond: Literacy Institute, Virginia Commonwealth University.  Pp. 123-148.
Vainikka, A., M. Young-Scholten, C. Ijuin and S. Jarad. (2017) Literacy in the development of L2 morphosyntax.  In Sosinski (ed.) Proceedings of the 12thLESLLA symposium, Granada.

Martha Bigelow: “Time is like a sword, if you don’t cut it, it will cut you” Learning in English in a Djiboutian refugee camp for an uncertain English speaking future

The Somali diaspora communities of the world are tremendously multilingual and transnational, new and old, large and small given that the exodus from Somalia has been going on for more than 20 years. What is less nuanced in the educational literature is an equally diverse image of (pre)migration circumstances out of the Horn of Africa. The Dadaab Refugee camp in Kenya is the topic of numerous books (e.g., What is the What by Dave Eggers and Achak Deng and City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence), scholarly work (e.g., Analysis of the financial activities of refugees in Dadaab, Kenya), and films (Warehoused: The Forgotten Refugees of Dadaab). In Minnesota, in the US, it is common to meet someone who passed through Dadaab, often spending seven or more years there. Deficit and tragic narratives often repeat – girls with less access to education, lack of educational materials, enormous class sizes, injuries, violence and illnesses suffered en route to the camp or in the camp. Limited formal schooling is an overarching assumption among educators in Minnesota when they meet a refugee-background student from Dadaab.
In this talk, I will describe the Ali Addeh refugee camp in Djibouti, which has 30,000 refugees mainly from Eritrea, Somali, and Ethiopia. It is unique because it does have K-12 schools that most children attend and it is possible to earn a Djiboutian high school diploma by attending these schools. This is a new refugee camp narrative, virtually unheard of even in Minnesota. Furthermore, the Ministère de l’Education Nationale supports multilingual materials development for Djiboutian students as well as materials specifically created for the children in the Ali Addeh camp. These materials are in English while the language of instruction throughout Djibouti is French. Given that access to a refugee camp, as well as curricular materials are rare if not impossible for most educators, I will report on and theorize my own experience in this talk. I will share an initial analysis of the Ali Addeh English language textbooks, created for youth who aspire to an adulthood that includes the use of English. I will explore these materials through post-colonial literature (Lok, Pennycook, Said, Phillipson), through the lens of imagined community (Anderson), and investment (Norton). These theoretical frames will help me trouble the idealistic, imagined or imposed identities the children in the refugee camp must cope with in the (neo)colonial/liberal realities of today.