Plenary speakers

Lourdes Ortega, Georgetown University

Orchestrating Second Language Learning in Classrooms: Nudging for a Sea-change

Within the field of second language acquisition (SLA), many researchers are committed to improving language teaching. They have contributed useful knowledge about key questions regarding the benefits of attention to form and noticing, the power of interaction and correction in classrooms, motivation to study languages and other factors that create individual differences in student success, the relative effectiveness of different types of instruction, how to design language teaching around tasks and content, the servicing of digital technologies for language learning, and so on. This research has burgeoned, leading to unprecedented levels of empirical prowess and giving rise to a formal disciplinary space known as Instructed SLA, or ISLA for short. In this talk, I will suggest the time has come for a re-attunement beyond these disciplinary accomplishments. I will nudge ISLA researchers to respond to contemporary critiques of what ‘language,’ ‘learning,’ and ‘success’ mean for adults studying a language across diverse contexts. My argument will be that the orchestration of optimal second language learning in classrooms must draw from usage-based theories and cater to the openness of language, combat deficit understandings of nonnativeness that instill linguistic insecurity, and engage with the ideology-emotion crucible that characterizes adult language learning. In sum, I will call for a sea-change in ISLA that would enable researchers to embrace equitable multilingualism as a goal and to endeavor to translate into the empirical realm the theoretical recognition that a constant negotiation of systemic inequities and individual agency shapes adults’ odds of language learning success in classrooms all over the world.

Krister Schönström, Stockholm University

Sign Languages and Second Language Acquisition Research

Is learning a second language in the visual modality, such as a sign language, the same as learning a spoken second language? In recent years there has been a growing interest in Sign Second Language Acquisition (SSLA), in parallel with a growing number of students learning a sign language as a second language. But research in this area is very sparse. As signed and spoken languages are expressed differently modally, there is a great potential for broadening our understanding of the mechanisms and the acquisition processes of learning a (second) language through SSLA research. In addition, the application of existing SLA knowledge to sign languages can bring us new insights about the generalizability of SLA theories and descriptions, to see whether they even hold true for sign languages. Lastly, we need more research on SSLA in order to build a critical mass of knowledge that can be applied later within sign L2 education to train skilled L2 signers who can go on to work as interpreters, teachers or within deaf communities.
In my talk I will start with a brief overview of sign languages and SSLA research. I will also present some examples and insights from my own corpus-based SSLA research of hearing learners of Swedish Sign Language as L2, providing examples on applications of SLA theories and practices to sign language learners. The talk will end with a discussion of some challenges of combining sign language and SLA research.

Minna Lehtonen, University of Oslo

Cognitive and neural effects of bilingualism

Sustained experiences and learning have been shown to have significant effects on our neurocognitive system. This kind of plasticity has also been observed in the area of language learning and bilingualism: Acquisition and use of two or more languages have been associated with several neurocognitive effects. I will present studies that shed light on the nature of such effects via a variety of behavioral, neurocognitive, and meta-analytic methods.
Bilingualism-related modulations have been observed in structural MRI-based measures of the brain. In major language-related white-matter pathways, such as the arcuate fasciculus, differences have been observed for early simultaneous vs. late sequential bilingualism. Changes have also been observed in different cortical grey-matter measures. However, the exact functional significance of these changes remains to be specified.
With regard to behavioral effects, balanced bilinguals have been suggested to show a disadvantage in tasks involving lexical access, assumedly as a result of less exposure to and input in each individual language when compared to monolinguals. On the other hand, bilinguals have also been reported to show an advantage to monolinguals in executive functions. This benefit has been hypothesized to stem from life-long experience of bilingual language use and control, such as frequent switching between the languages. Recent evidence casts doubt on the hypothesis, and the research area also suffers from methodological issues, such as less than ideal research designs and problems in task validity. Ways to move forward in this field and initial findings from attempts to utilize such complementary approaches will be discussed.


Rob Schoonen, Radboud University Nijmegen

About performance and ability. Practical and theoretical issues in the measurement of language ability

In language acquisition research, we investigate various language performances of language learners as an indication of their language ability, usually to relate the level of performance to learners’ acquisition or learning conditions. Implicitly or explicitly, we make claims about learners’ abilities to actually perform given language tasks in real life and real time. The validity of our research outcomes and claims depends to a large extent on the quality of the elicitation tasks used and the operationalization of language ability. Which tasks do we assign to the participants in our studies and what can we infer – based on these operationalizations- about their language ability?
In this talk, I will address some of the issues we have to face when we conduct our SLA research and when we want to make claims about language learners’ language ability. How serious is the dependence on the specifics of task we have used to collect our data with, the items we have used in our test, or to what extent will results depend on the raters who were involved in the grading of speaking or writing performances? It turns out that trying to answer these kinds of questions about the psychometric quality of our measurements leads us back to fundamental questions about our theoretical framework for language ability.