The 31st Second Language Research Forum
Building Bridges Between Disciplines: SLA in Many Contexts
October 18-21, 2012

Conference Program

Colloquium II:  Second Language and Literacy Acquisition by Low-educated Adults

Organized by:
Dr. Martha Young-Scholten
Newcastle University

This colloquium provides a snapshot of emerging findings from new interdisciplinary research which focuses exclusively on adult immigrants who face the dual challenge of acquiring linguistic competence in an L2 while developing literacy for the first time in their lives, in their L2. The various papers in the colloquium provide an opportunity to reconsider assumed relationships between the acquisition of linguistic competence and the development of literacy in SLA research. Speakers also explore from several perspectives the varied relationships between instructed and non-instructed SLA contexts, and in so doing, the provide an opportunity to reflect on the role of input, how it is defined and how its uptake relates to learners’ prior life/learning histories and opportunities for interaction with native and other non-native speakers.

Low-educated adult immigrants and why they are attracting research attention
Martha Young-Scholten, colloquium organizer
Newcastle University (UK)

Linguistic competence:

LESLLA learners and Minimal Trees

Anne Vanikka, Johns Hopkins University
Martha Young-Scholten, Newcastle University (UK)

Over the last decade, those who work with low-educated second language and literacy acquisition (LESLLA) learners have captured learners’ competence by creating one or two levels below the A1 Basic User level of the Common European Framework of Reference. The CEFR’s can-do functions currently refer to linguistic competence in only general terms, and although the Basic Variety indeed encompasses the linguistic competence of such learners, it also includes A1-level learners. The sub-A1 grammar of the LESLLA learner is instead best described as a Minimal Tree/Bare VP. We discuss arguments for the existence of a Bare VP, from older studies of low-literate immigrant adults (Vainikka & Young-Scholten 1994) to more recent studies of educated immersion learners (Vainikka & Young-Scholten 2011) and literate immigrants through the use of eye-tracking (Kahoul, Vainikka & Young-Scholten to appear). We end with an example of the use of the idea of a Bare VP in the creation of fiction for sub-A1 immigrant adults learning to read for the first time.

The interpretation of inflectional suffixes by low-educated L2 Dutch learners
Loes Oldenkamp
Radboud University (Netherlands)

Inflectional morphology is acquired smoothly and completely by children (e.g. Blom 2003), but remains a persistent problem in L2 acquisition (e.g. Haznedar & Schwartz 1997). What difficulties do low-educated immigrant adults have in perceiving/interpreting inflectional suffixes in Dutch? 132 Chinese, Moroccan and Turkish learners were given a picture selection task with items which differed in person/number 3rd person singular (zə lo:pt ‘she walks’)  vs. third person plural (zə lo:pə ‘they walk’) and singular (də bo:m ‘the tree’) vs. plural (də bo:mə ‘the trees’). The data show that /ə/ in suffixes was more difficult in verbs than in nouns and that L2 proficiency level and L1 were significant, with the Chinese speakers experiencing the most difficulties, due to greater divergence from Dutch in their L1 phonotactics and morphosyntax. 

Psycholinguistic research:

Understanding the task of acquiring a first literacy in an additional language
Howard Nicholas
La Trobe University (Australia)

To understand the literacy acquisition task and how it relates to different levels of command of both an L1 and any additional languages, a more differentiated view of both language-specific elements of literacy and potential pan-literacy dimensions is needed. I elaborate a model of literacy that considers findings from L1 (literacy) acquisition research and some of the specific differences between the task of acquiring literacy in an L1 and acquiring a first literacy in an additional language. I consider a differentiated view of writing systems, their relationship to one another as well as how a differentiated view of phonological awareness permits the location of both language-specific and pan-language dimensions in the acquisition of literacy. This view has consequences for the role of vocabulary and grammar in relation to L2 literacy acquisition.

Social context; pedagogical research:

Shaping L2 and literacy acquisition: Teachers’ Strategies for Low literacy learners
Alan Williams
The University of Melbourne (Australia)

The classroom is significant in shaping experiences that lead to additional language acquisition and literacy for learners with little or no L1 literacy. I report on an exploratory study of teaching strategies used by experienced teachers of low-literacy background primary, secondary and adult learners in Australia. The study investigated the teaching strategies utilized in teaching English, initial literacy in the second language, and other areas of learning. The ways the strategies used with these learners compared with the strategies used with learners of age-equivalent literacy in their L1 were also explored. Data from the study includes specific strategies used in the classroom, and teachers’ identification of the principles that guide them with low literacy learners.

An Analysis of Cultural Dissonance: Emergent Readers in High School
Martha Bigelow, Nicole Pettitt* and Kendall King
University of Minnesota

This talk focuses on how emergent readers in a high school SL class engaged with texts and literacy learning in non-Western ways. Presenters will focus on the learning strategies (not) used in a high school newcomer class, and explore how these strategies can inform new and more culturally-relevant pedagogies. The Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm (MALP) (DeCapua & Marshall, 2011) informs this analysis and is juxtaposed by mainstream SLA research on individual differences.
*Nicole Pettitt is now at Georgia State University

Discussion and conclusion
Martha Young-Scholten

Steps towards realising the potential for expansion of research on low-educated immigrant adults

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