Tarone Research Agenda on Second Language Acquisition by Low Literate Adults


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Part 4 of TESOL 2012 Colloquium:
Promoting Excellence: Perspectives on ELLs with Limited/Interrupted Schooling

Elaine Tarone, drawing from research on ways in which pre-literate adolescents and adults process second-language input both orally and through an alphabetic script, examines key questions to help teachers and curriculum developers facilitate second-language and literacy acquisition.

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  • My part of the panel will focus on what we know about the way low literate adults acquire oral skills in a second language. In other words, second-language acquisition research among adults who have no, or low literacy.
  • Here is a typical population, studied by Reis & Castro-Caldas 97, Castro-Caldas 98
  • Of course there is more than one kind of script. Alphabetic scripts are based on representing each phoneme with a visual grapheme. English and French orthography have strayed over time from the one-to-one ideal preserved in the IPA but that is still their core principle. Logographic scripts are fundamentally semantically based, a Chinese character primarily represents a word or morpheme. Is skill in segmentation of the stream of speech conferred, not just by alphabetic, but also by logographic scripts?
  • More recently, brain imaging studies have confirmed these findings.
  • The consensus of the cognitive psychologists working with native language literacy and oral skills should be of interest to us studying oral SLA.
  • That was research on native speakers’ processing of language when they are not literate
  • [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 …
  • Based on our wondering, we have tried out identify next steps in an SLA research agenda, to describe and explain the way pre-literate and low literate learners acquire linguistic forms in L2: the grammar. We lay out 5 interrelated strands of an SLA research agenda, listed on your handout. In the next 5 slides, we will propose some testable hypotheses in each strand. Ask and we’ll email these to you. The 5 strands are (READ).
  • Research is needed on the way pre-literate or low-literate adolescent learners like Abukar perceive and acquire the linguistic structures of L2, and this strand of research has tremendous potential to revolutionize the way SLA research understands the role of Explicit and Implicit knowledge in SLA. *ONE possibility is that such learners don’t have to be explicitly aware of form at all – maybe they acquire L2 grammar forms implicitly, through semantic processing. While that is one possibility, we wonder when we hear persistent reports of community members memorizing and reciting long texts … and not just Somali texts, but the Koran in Arabic L2 which they do not understand. You can’t use semantic processing to recite text you don’t understand. In Strand 4 we’ll urge research on whether these persistent reports are true and if so how preliterate or low literate learners seem to process these Arabic L2 texts. *Returning to THIS strand, a second hypothesis is that some linguistic forms can be acquired implicitly through semantic processing, while others must be explicitly processed. Maybe basic word order is implicitly internalized, but changes in word order that don’t affect meaning require phonological awareness.*A third hypothesis is that preliterate learners HAVE explicit awareness of linguistic forms, but these are different forms that we expect …not phonemes or words, but maybe syllable stress or rhythm or rhyme.
  • Longitudinal ethnographic case studies have provided tremendous insight into the way L2 learners develop their interlanguages. Howard Nicholas has directed several doctoral dissertations, longitudinal case studies of child L2 learners, including Liu (1991)’s … notes
  • A number of hypotheses relate to the way preliterate learners process corrective feedback on the accuracy of their utterances. We’ve seen an example of how we tried to test one such hypothesis in the study that included Abukar. And I’ve hinted at some of these hypotheses already.
  • Tarone Research Agenda on Second Language Acquisition by Low Literate Adults

    1. 1. A Research Agenda for Low-Literate Adult SLA Elaine TaroneCenter for Adv. Research on Language Acq. (CARLA) University of Minnesota
    2. 2. Alphabetic literacy affects oral languageprocessing in non-literate adults Research on adult NL literacy in cognitive psych:Literate and non-literate adults on L1 oral tasks: SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT on oral tasks focused on formal segments of language: involving addition, deletion and reversal of phonemes and syllables, or repetition of pseudo-words NO DIFFERENCE on rhyming, phonetic discrimination (same/different) tasks, and meaning-focused oral tasks
    3. 3. L1 oral processing in non-literateadults Fishing village in southern Portugal (Reis 97, Castro- Caldas 98) Non-literacy common in a homogeneous community; not viewed as a handicap Oldest daughter did child care, didn’t go to school Sisters led similar lives, whether literate or not Literate and non-literate groups tested on oral language skills when in 50’s and 60’s
    4. 4. Phonological Awareness Tasks Adrian et al, 1995 Phoneme addition  add /p/ to ‘arry’ and what do you get?  add /s/ to ‘poke’ Phoneme deletion  take the /p/ off ‘pare’  take the /s/ off ‘stan’ or ‘slide’ Phoneme reversal  what is /los/ backward? /sol/ Syllable deletion  if you take /ka/ off /kade/ what do you have? /de/ Syllable reversal  what is /kade/ backwards? /deka/
    5. 5. Awareness of Meaning vs. Form Word Repetition  Repeat real words: ‘ballpark’  Repeat pseudo-words: ‘dallkark’ Phonological fluency  list all the words you can think of that begin with /b/ Semantic fluency  list all the animals you can think of Reis and Castro-Caldas (1997)
    6. 6. Alphabetic Script Alphabetic script: ideally, one visual symbol represents one phoneme (e.g. IPA) Characters: one visual symbol represents a word or morpheme
    7. 7. Alphabetic script is unique Read et al (1986): Compared older adult Chinese readers of character script vs. adults who could read alphabetic script Oral phoneme deletion and addition task using Chinese phonological sequences Those who could read alphabetic script (Pinyin) were significantly better than those who could only read characters Conclusion: ability to manipulate phonemes & other linguistic units, orally & cognitively, results from alphabetic literacy, not literacy in non-alphabetic scripts
    8. 8. Brain imaging shows: Grapheme-phoneme correspondence alters the way humans process phonological structure and verbal working memory Grapheme-phoneme correspondence alters the structural and functional properties of the human brain. Petersson, Ingvar & Reis (2009)
    9. 9. Consensus (Reis & Castro-Caldas 1997) Alphabetic literacy provides a cognitive tool enabling adults to segment the stream of speech Associating a visual symbol with a phoneme allows cognitive visualization of a speech segment, and that visualization can be mentally manipulated & stored in working memory Non-alphabetically literate adults primarily use semantic processing of oral language: they focus on meaning
    10. 10. Consensus (cont.): Non-literate adults have full competence in their native language, but they prefer to listen for and seek meaning in using language, and find it challenging to focus solely on word length or the phonemes in a non-word Literate adults do semantic processing and can also do phonological processing: they can focus on meaning but they can also process oral language in terms of segmental form
    11. 11. What does SLA research tell us about low-literate adult L2 learners? Very little in mainstream journals, conferences, book s The SLA of the emergent reader is little known
    12. 12. The Goal of SLA Research Focus on the learner Oral learner language, as used in communication Document development of learner language over time Describe & explain cognitive processes
    13. 13. Current SLA theories state: L2 learners must notice and focus on forms 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?
    14. 14. LESLLA websitehttp://www.leslla.org/
    15. 15. 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.
    16. 16. Bigelow, delMas, Hansen & Tarone (2006) Replicated 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 literacy level and the ability to recall oral recasts of these errors Let’s look at one individual to see what this means
    17. 17. Abukar 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
    18. 18. Abukar’s errorsAbukar: … what, what he is looking?Abukar: Why he is mad?Abukar: … why he come this room?
    19. 19. Form-Focused Corrective Feedback (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)
    20. 20. What does Abukar notice?01 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]…
    21. 21. Summing up: What aspect of the corrections doesAbukar notice & repeat? He most easily recalled:  New vocabulary: ‘jar’  Second position stress: daDAHdada He struggled (=required several turns) to recall:  Difference in order of words between trigger and recast: is he he is
    22. 22. 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?
    23. 23. Steps in an SLA research agenda1. The metalinguistic awareness emergent readers use in oral SLA2. The longitudinal development of low literate learners’ interlanguage, including the linguistic forms they acquire before, during and after becoming literate3. Impact of different forms of corrective feedback on noticing of different linguistic forms by preliterate learners4. Impact of social context on cognitive processes in low literate SLA
    24. 24. 1. Metalinguistic Awareness: PossibleHypotheses Non-literate adult L2 learners will not be metalinguistically aware of any linguistic forms in L2 input; all processing will be semantic. Non-literate adult L2 learners will be explicitly aware of some linguistic forms but not others. Non-literate adult L2 learners will be explicitly aware of linguistic forms, but those forms will not be phoneme or word segments; they may be syllables, stress patterns, or other linguistic forms.
    25. 25. 2. Longitudinal Variationist Case Studies:Possible Hypotheses  Interlanguage will develop systematically across time and social context, in ways related to literacy development, in unique patterns of emergence and spread.  Some linguistic forms may emerge early in casual contexts, before literacy, and spread later to classrooms.  Other linguistic forms may be literacy related, emerging later in classroom contexts, and spread to casual contexts.
    26. 26. 3. Corrective Feedback: PossibleHypotheses When corrective feedback is structured in terms of phonemes, morphemes and words, only some linguistic units will be noticed. More noticing will occur when teacher is:  Structuring corrective feedback in terms of other formal units (e.g. syllables, syllable stress patterns, or intonation)  Using symbols that are not script-based (e.g. colored blocks like Cuisinaire rods)  Framing corrective feedback in sociocultural terms
    27. 27. 4. Social Contexts of SLA: Possible HypothesesAssuming that learners have different purposes for using language in different social contexts (e.g. formal vs. naturalistic – classrooms vs. communities), and this affects their patterns of interlanguage use and acquisition, we hypothesize that: Language use skills revealed in out-of-school cultural practices can be identified, and Those language use skills can be engaged in classrooms to promote oral SLA and acquisition of literacy.
    28. 28. Make learning mutualFinally, in pursuing this agenda, we need to keep in mind key ethical issues: Value and respect the multilingual learners we study Try to give back at least as much as we take Work to discover the learners’ goals and perspectives, and help them express their own voices both in gathering and reporting findings
    29. 29. Thank you! etarone@umn.edu