Tag Archives: SLA research

2008 Second Language Research Forum

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

The Second Language Research Forum (SLRF) is a prestigious and internationally renowned conference which brings together researchers in second language (L2) research from all over the world. It is the premier conference on L2 research in North America providing a venue for established scholars and graduate students to present work on a wide variety of theoretical and empirical issues.

The 2008 Second Language Research Forum will be held at the University of Hawaii, Manoa (October 17th to 19th). The conference theme is “Exploring SLA: Perspectives, Positions, and Practices“.

For more information see the

Giving the Wrong Signal? The Role of ‘Signal Words’ in Teaching Tense and Aspect in the EFL Classroom

posted by Ulrike Altendorf, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

What would German learners of English do without ‘signal words’? — ‘Signal word’ is TEFLSPEAK-G, a literal translation of the German classroom term Signalwort that refers to temporal markers, mostly adverbial and prepositional phrases, taught as automatic triggers of certain tenses or aspects. Ask a non-native student of English – at secondary school or at university level – when to use, for example, the present perfect and you will get the following: a list of ‘signal words’, mostly just, ever, never, since and for, and, if you are lucky, the odd grammar rule of the categorical type.

And why not? After all, ‘signal words’ have many advantages. They work with little cognitive effort. They are easy to remember and even easier to put into practice. They spare us the onerous meta-linguistic discussion that modern teaching professionals, many of them still working in the wake of Krashen, seek to avoid. They also spare us to go into detail about a complex and still under-researched area of English grammar that even advanced students and non-native teachers of the language tend to feel insecure about.

However, it is, in my opinion, exactly the heavy reliance on ‘signal words’ that plays an important role in creating this insecurity in the first place. It makes non-native speakers dependent on a ‘safety anchor’ which is often misleading and even more often absent. As Schlüter (e.g. 2000) has shown for the present perfect, only about a third of his approximately 3,000 verb phrases were specified by temporal markers. And if the desired temporal marker occurs, it does not necessarily ‘trigger’ the tense or aspect that students expect on the basis of didacticized grammar rules. Never, for example, which EFL learners usually interpret as a ‘signal word’ for the present perfect can also occur with other tenses including the simple past. In the BNC (British National Corpus) World Edition it occurs even more frequently with the simple past than with the present perfect.

Apart form leaving students in the dark about the correct functioning of tense and aspect in English, ‘signal words’ also deprive them of communicative options. After all, tense and aspect can be used to express a range of attitudes and functions, including tentativeness and annoyance. These and other communicative functions should be available to advanced learners of English, especially if their language education prides itself in aiming at communicative competence. In order to become familiar with these options, advanced learners need to be introduced to the more complex functioning of tense and aspect, from an early, at least intermediate level onwards. It is true that ‘signal words’ come in handy for pre-pubescent beginners. With increasing cognitive maturation and language proficiency, however, teachers should gradually move away from the gross oversimplication of the ‘signal-word’ strategy. For this purpose, one should also move away from the old-fashioned prejudice that language work is inevitably boring, theoretical and irrelevant. In the hands of an able teacher, language work can be interesting and intriguing as well as cognitively demanding.

The approach outlined by Jürgen Kurtz in this blog provides a flexible methodological framework for such an undertaking. In message-oriented communication students will encounter or be made aware of situations in which a more skilful handling of a particular tense or aspect would have helped their communicative cause. In the related medium-oriented intervals, the relevant meta-linguistic information can be provided, also inductively. In the following message-oriented section, the newly acquired insights can immediately be put to the test. Unmotivated pondering over seemingly superfluous linguistic structure, which some students will have forgotten again at production stage, will hopefully become a thing of the past.

Schlüter, Norbert (2000). “The present perfect in British and American English: selected results of an empirical study.” In: Christian Mair & Marianne Hundt (Eds.). Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory. Amsterdam/Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 313-320.

AILA 2008 Research Symposium

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

The 15th World Congress of Applied Linguistics will be held in Essen, Germany from August 24 to 29, 2008. The conference theme is “Multilingualism: Challenges and Opportunities.” The congress is organised by the German Association of Applied Linguistics (GAL e.V.), the University of Duisburg-Essen, Congress Centre Essen (CCE), and further partners.

On behalf of the German Society for Foreign Language Research (DGFF), Prof. Dr. Karin Aguado (University of Kassel, Germany) and I will be co-chairing a full three-hour research symposium which is scheduled for Tuesday, August 26, 16:00-19:00.

The symposium is intended as a forum for dissemination and discussion of current empirical research on foreign/second language learning and teaching in Germany. Its main objective is to present the breadth and diversity of large-scale, medium-scale and small-scale quantitative and qualitative research in this area to an international audience of experts.

The symposium will have three main sessions. Each session will be scheduled for a one-hour time slot. The individual sessions will be facilitated by renowned scholars as well as early career researchers and devoted to the following issues (arranged in the following order):

Current Research on Teaching and Learning Foreign/Second Languages in Germany

Session 1
Prof. Dr. Günter M.J. Nold (University of Dortmund, Germany) (60 minutes)

Sociopragmatic and grammatical awareness – findings from the DESI project

DESI (German-English-Student-Assessment-International), a large-scale assessment study commissioned by the German federal board of education, was designed and implemented by an interdisciplinary consortium of applied linguists and educational researchers. Two of the tests in the test battery that was developed were sociopragmatic and grammatical awareness tests (N=11.000; ninth grade students). The empirical results of these tests will be discussed both with an emphasis on theories of language awareness raising and on questions related to theories of second language acquisition in the fields of sociopragmatic and grammatical development.

Session 2
Prof. Dr. Marita Schocker-von Ditfurth (Freiburg University of Education, Germany) / Prof. Dr. Michael K. Legutke (University of Giessen, Germany) (60 minutes)

Task-based language learning in EFL classrooms

Research on task-based language learning has been running strong for 20 years now, but has been dominated by a psycholinguistic research paradigm for a long time. While some of these research findings have been important in terms of learning about the mental processes involved in second language acquisition, they were largely focused on isolated tasks of individual, usually adult learners, and therefore did not take into account the complexity of the contextual factors that influence learning in the foreign language classroom. The presentation focuses on the complex issues that arise when researching the methodological implementation of a task-based approach on the classroom level as well as on the level of teacher education.

Session 3
Prof. Dr. Grit Mehlhorn (University of Leipzig, Germany) (30 minutes)

Learning a foreign pronunciation – evidence from individual pronunciation coaching

Individual learner coaching focusing on pronunciation can reveal interesting insights in individual language acquisition processes. This talk reports the results of a longitudinal study with foreign students at a German university. It will be shown that the following factors influence the learner’s progress: first, an individual diagnosis of the deviations in the target pronunciation; second, an increase of the learner’s consciousness with respect to the foreign pronunciation and the choice of individual learning strategies; and third, permanent feedback on learning progress. These factors lead to an increased self-reflection on the part of the learners regarding their learning process, language awareness, and they also serve to foster learner autonomy.

Sevilen Demirkaya M.A. & Nazan Gültekin M.A. (University of Bielefeld, Germany) (30 minutes)

MIKI – Research of the pre-school language support program for ethnic minority children in Bielefeld, Germany

Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, this project focuses on examining the second language development of ethnic minority children who participate in a support program at the pre-school level.