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Part of the 2013 AAAL Colloquium on Low-Literate and Adult L2 Learners

Part of the 2013 AAAL Colloquium on Low-Literate and Adult L2 Learners



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  • 9:08 From many years working with language teachers at CARLA we’ve learned that teachers have two different theories about what it means to learn a language, and based on that, what it means to teach a language. Those theories come down to the two images on your screen. STOP. Each of these two approaches has a DIFFERENT GOAL. One is to have students who have explicit knowledge to pass form-focused tests. The other is to foster development of implicit knowledge students can USE to communicate and AS A THINKING TOOL
  • [let audience read] How much can illiterate and low literate learners focus on oral L2 forms particularly when those forms do not carry meaning? Many L2 forms of English are semantically redundant and do not affect the meaning at all: word order in questions, presence or absence of do-support, bound morphemes indicating tense or subject-verb agreement – such forms require phonological processing, since they do not alter meaning. So if L2 learners lack cognitive tools that improve phonological processing of such forms in oral language, will they: notice corrective feedback on those forms? Be able to retain those words in STM? Acquire those forms?
  • Since we published our study in 2006, a group of researchers in Europe and N America have carried out several studies with low literate adult L2 learners. Next conference: LESLLA 2012 Symposium Jysvaskyla Finland Aug 30 to Sept 1, 2012
  • Here are some sample studies and findings. Note especially the third:
  • Data like this lead us to wonder …


  • COLLOQUIUM: RESEARCH WITH LOW-LITERATE ADOLESCENT & ADULT L2 LEARNERS Andrea Decapua Elaine TaroneCollege of New Rochelle University of Minnesota
  • Colloquium Participants Elaine Tarone: SLA of low-literate L2 learners Andrea Decapua: Cognition, learning and formal education Kendall King & Martha Bigelow: Symbolic power of print literacy among Somali immigrant youth Nicole Pettitt: A longitudinal study of a learner‟s development of aphabetic literacy & L2 Ranya Khan: Comparative case-study of 2 classrooms Patsy Vinogradov: Preparation of teachers of students with limited formal schooling
  • SLA of adults & adolescents w lowalphabetic print literacy  Brief review of research on alphabetic print literacy & oral language processing by adults & adolescents  Among monolinguals  Among second-language learners  We desperately need more research  Some research questions & hypotheses (Tarone & Bigelow 2012)
  • What does it mean to know a language? (What is an interlanguage rule system like?) Must be consciouslyassembled out of learned Grows unconsciouslyrules guided by built-in syllabus Explicit knowledge Implicit knowledge
  • Current Theories of SLA Input and Interaction (Gass & Madden 1987; Gass & Varonis 1994) Sociocultural (Lantolf 2000) Noticing Hypothesis (Schmidt 1994, 2001) Corrective feedback in SLA (Lyster & Mori 2006)
  • Current SLA theories state: L2 learners must notice and focus on forms used in communication to acquire those forms But these theories are based on data from alphabetically literate learners … If you‟re not alphabetically literate, are you missing a cognitive tool you need to visualize and mentally manipulate language forms that have no meaning? To „notice the gap‟ between your forms and others‟? Do SLA theories only apply to the alphabetically literate L2 learner?
  • Studies of language processing bynon-literate monolingual adults These studies show there‟s an interaction between degree of alphabetic print literacy and awareness of linguistic units in oral input Scholes (1998) preliterate adults don‟t segment speech into „words‟ Many similar studies are summarized in Tarone, Hansen & Bigelow (2013)
  • LESLLA websitehttp://www.leslla.org/
  • Selected Findings:  Kurvers, Hout & Vallen (2006, 2007): alphabetic literacy --> awareness of the word and the phoneme as units  Non alphabetically literate adults learning L2 viewed language as means of communication, but not a string of linguistic units  Onderlinden et al. (2009): degree of alphabetic literacy correlates with degree of ability to identify word boundaries in L2 learners  Young-Scholten & Strom (2006): L2 learners‟ phonemic awareness only after learning to read; notions of syllable, onset, rhyme developed independently. Knowing names of letters is NOT related to phonemic awareness or decoding ability.
  • How do adults without phonemicawareness process oral L2 input? Bigelow, et al (2006) replicated a standard SLA oral recast study with 8 low literate Somali adolescent multilingual learners Errors with word order or do support in questions (don‟t change meaning; totally form based) There was a significant positive relationship between alphabetic print literacy level and the ability to recall oral recasts of these errors Consistent with notion that alphabetic print literacy level affects phonemic awareness in processing oral L2
  • “Abukar” (Tarone & Bigelow, 2007) 15 years old, in 9th grade Began formal schooling in US 4.5 years earlier (after 4 yrs in refugee camp) Scores show relatively low literacy level but developing oral proficiency:  English literacy: 6 out of 9 possible  Somali literacy: 4 out of 9  SPEAK: 50 out of 60 possible  Question stage: 5 out of 6 possible
  • Abukar‟s errorsAbukar: … what, what he is looking?Abukar: Why he is mad?Abukar: … why he come this room?
  • Example 1 (1 on 1, not classroom)1 Abukar: What he sit on, what he SIT on, or whatever?2 MB: What is he sitting on?3 Abukar: Mhm.4 MB: What is he sitting on? Again. Repeat.5 Abukar: What he sitting on?6 MB: What IS he sitting on?7 Abukar: Oh. What he sitting on?8 MB: What IS he sitting on?9 Abukar: What IS he sitting on? (from Tarone & Bigelow 2007)
  • Example 201 Abukar: Why he is mad? Why [he], he is mad?02 MB: [yeah]03 MB: Why IS he mad?04 Abukar: Why HE is mad? Why05 MB: Why IS he mad?06 Abukar: Why IS he mad? Why is, [is he]…
  • Example 3 01 Abukar: OK (pause) what is barrel, what is, what is the thing in it? 02 What is there? Is it, is there pennies in it? 03 MB: Yeah. Um, again. Are pennies in the jar? 04 Abukar: Is, are the penny in the jar? 05 MB: Yes. And, um, 06 Abukar: (whispers) jar (30+ turns later) Abukar: Oh. Oh. Is this jar have, this jar, is this jar full of money?
  • We wonder… Do all L2 forms have to be explicitly noticed to be acquired? Can low literate adult L2 learners acquire some L2 forms implicitly, without explicit analysis? OR, Do these learners structure their explicit working memory for language in some way that researchers don‟t see? Can we capitalize on what preliterate learners do notice in oral input to improve their acquisition of L2 grammar?
  • Thank you! etarone@umn.edu