Invited Panels 2009

ZhaoHong Han, Teachers College, Columbia University

Plenary Title: Learner Spontaneous Processing of Input


Since Corder’s (1967) seminal postulation of intake not equaling input, the construct of intake has taken on a central importance in second language acquisition research, serving increasingly as a lynchpin tying together a heterogeneous spectrum of theoretical and empirical studies. These include the various theoretical paradigms such as generative, interactive, and connectionist approaches to second language theory, on the one hand, and hundreds of ensuing empirical investigations, on the other. Among the core concerns to the researchers are (a) what induces as well as constrains intake, both externally and internally, (b) what form intake may assume, and, last but not least, (c) whether or not intake can be externally engineered. Although the general understanding of the input-intake asymmetry has come a long way, it also seems hampered – especially where (c) is concerned – by an as yet very limited body of knowledge vis-à-vis learners’ own intake capability, including their default approaches, natural inclinations, and available strategies.

This panel builds on a recently emerging interest in so-called learner spontaneous processing of input and reports on five empirical investigations focusing on initial- and end-state learners’ processing of a target language. Issues examined herein include, but are not limited to, what learners do when faced with a language they know little or nothing about, factors that appear to mediate both beginning and end-state learners’ processing of input, and how learners deal with two types of information, form and meaning, in input. The goal of the panel is two-fold: (a) to provide a microscopic view on the process of intake, and (b) to exemplify a variety of methodological options, in the context of learners processing target languages other than English, such as German, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, and Spanish.

Carmen Pérez Vidal, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain

Plenary Title: The role of stay abroad and language development of non-primary languages


In recent years the study of the effects of stay abroad (SA) on the development of non-native speakers’ linguistic competence has attracted the attention of researchers with a particular interest in contrasting different contexts of acquisition (Collentine & Freed 2004; DeKeyser 2007; Dufon & Churchill 2006; Howard 2001). In particular, formal classroom instruction (FI), in which explicit learning plays a major role, has been contrasted with the linguistic effect of SA periods, where a foreseeable amount of implicit learning takes place as a consequence of massive exposure in natural interaction. Moreover it has also been pointed out that it is, in fact, the accumulated experience of FI which may be playing a major role in the relative benefits of SA periods (DeKeyser, op.cit.). Earlier research had already concluded that oral proficiency (fluency in particular), followed by formulaic language, lexis, and sociolinguistic and pragmatic ability seemed to benefit most from acquisition while abroad (DeKeyser 1991; Freed 1995; Milton & Meara 1995; Regan, 1998; Towell, Hawkins & Bazergui, 1996). In light of such findings, this colloquium seeks to present, and discuss the results of the study “Barcelona Stay Abroad and Language Acquisition (SALA)” project, with data from advanced level Catalan/Spanish bilingual university students (N=50) acquiring English as a foreign language. The design of the study includes 4 data collection times, over 2 years, which allow for the contrast between FI and SA, and its delayed effect. Oral and written development, including comprehension, perception and production, are analysed. Individual variables, contact opportunities and intercultural factors are also scrutinised.

John N. Williams & Patrick Rebuschat, University of Cambridge, UK

Plenary Title: Statistical Learning and Language Acquisition


Recent years have witnessed an increased interest in “statistical learning”, i.e. in the human ability to use statistical information in the input to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge. Research has demonstrated statistical learning capabilities in infants, young children, adults, and non-human primates. There have been investigations in linguistic domains, such as lexical segmentation, phonology and syntax, as well as in non-linguistic domains such as vision and music. This symposium brings together researchers from the different branches of cognitive science (linguistics, experimental psychology, cognitive neuroscience, computer science, etc.) in order to assess the progress made, and future directions to take, in the investigation of language acquisition, and in particular second language acquisition, within a statistical learning framework.

The key issues to be addressed in this workshop are:

  • How can human statistical learning be formally characterised?
  • What are the constraints on statistical learning?
  • What cognitive factors influence statistical learning (e.g., attention and memory)?
  • What brain systems and neurobiological mechanisms underlie human statistical learning?
  • How adequate is the statistical learning approach as an account of first and second language acquisition?