SLA students and faculty go in many directions in the summer: teaching in intensive summer language programs; travelling for research and conferences; or staying at home to devote oneself to that dissertation, article, or book project—these are all usual fruits of our community’s “summer growing season.” In summer 2015, however, our program nurtured a new type of activity: faculty/student research partnerships. Three summer projects, made possible with funding from the Language Institute, provided the opportunity for SLA students to gain experience in the field of Second Language Acquisition while helping faculty get ahead in their research.
Here are brief reports on the summer research partnerships.
Jacee Cho: Bringing together the formal linguistic and cognitive approaches to second language (L2) acquisition, my project investigates how Korean-, Russian-, and Spanish-speaking learners of English process and interpret the definite article the with entities that have not been mentioned in previous discourse (referred to as discourse-new definites). Amy Clay assisted me in creating nearly 200 test items for an acceptability judgment task and a self-paced reading task. She designed and created an online version of the acceptability judgment task using Qualtrics. We are in the process of implementing the self-paced reading task using Linger and E-prime.
Amy and I accomplished a lot this summer. Writing test items and implementing them is extremely time-consuming work. I would not have been able to create two tasks in two months without Amy’s help. In addition, Amy read and provided insightful feedback on my paper on the pilot data of this project and a grant proposal.
Amy Clay: This summer, I had the opportunity to work with Jacee on her current research project on the acquisition of L2 articles. She involved me at all levels, from project planning, including extending the project to incorporate my own research agenda, to reviewing a manuscript and grant proposal. From this, I was able to see the overall picture of what goes into a large-scale long-term project. I learned about funding sources and grant writing, creating test items, and using psycholinguistic software, and I saw an example of what can result from parts of a large project. It has been a rewarding experience and I think we are both looking forward to working together more often in the future!
Richard Young: Throughout the summer, Sandrine Pell and I read works by two important French philosophers of language: Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault. Sandrine read the French originals and I read them in English translation. We met most weeks to discuss our interpretations of their work, and we tried to read up to half a book each week. Of Bourdieu we read Esquisse d’une théorie de la pratique (Outline of a Theory of Practice), Ce que parler veut dire (Language and Symbolic Power), and La distinction: Critique sociale du jugement (Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste) and of Foucault we read Surveiller et punir: naissance de la prison (Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison). The theories of Bourdieu and Foucault are the foundation of Practice Theory, which I have been applying to language learning and teaching. At the same time, Sandrine has found their approach an inspiration for her SLA PhD dissertation research on negotiation of identities by young Muslim immigrants from North Africa within the French education system.
Sandrine Pell: This project has been incredibly useful for me. First by reading the main concepts from the two philosophers in French and then discussing them with Richard, I have deepened my understanding of complex theories that I now feel much more comfortable using in my theoretical framework. Second, Richard always made sure that I related the theory to my own research, to make sense of the context and to apply theories in a practical way. I feel so privileged to have had the advice and insight of such an experienced scholar in the field, guiding me in these difficult first steps as a student researcher. This truly was an incredible opportunity for professional development. As I am about to start my field work I feel much better prepared.
Heather Willis Allen: In Summer 2015, I worked with Lauren Godspeed to create a survey for all Fall 2015 students in the UW-Madison French language program, which includes six courses from FRE 101 to 228. The survey included items on students’ language-learning history, goals for studying French, items from the ACTFL Can-Do scale, and brief interpersonal and presentational writing tasks. Lauren also created several tools for instructors to train them on implementing the survey and communicated with departmental stakeholders to ensure maximal participation in the survey. The implementation was a great success, with more than 600 students completing it before and during the first week of Fall 2015. It was an instrumental tool not just for getting to know the aims and capacities of our students but also facilitated much quicker placement decisions than in previous semesters. Lauren and I plan to co-present on the use and results of the survey in the future.
Lauren Goodspeed: Having the opportunity to work with Heather this summer was extremely valuable. First and foremost, I got a lot of practical experience with survey design and administration: I built an online survey using Qualtrics and administered it this fall. Due to the popularity of surveys in SLA research and the ease of online administration, learning to work with Qualtrics and to understand its capabilities was incredibly useful. Additionally, I really appreciated this opportunity to work with my advisor as a research colleague. This opportunity allowed me to get involved with research at an early point in my studies, which gives me confidence as I start to think about my future research project. It is not often possible for students in the humanities to collaborate with faculty on research, so I feel very grateful that this grant allowed Heather and I to work together.
Below: SLA student Sandrine Pell meets with Prof. Richard Young to discuss important works over coffee.