Research

Lectureships

I am currently a senior lecturer in Applied Linguistics at Swansea University: Staff homepage. I am currently developing several research strands mainly focusing on various aspects of syntax and vocabulary in L2 French, German and Spanish.

Between 2010-2011 I was a part-time lecturer in French Linguistics at Newcastle University.

Teacher code-switching project

Between 2009-2010 I worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Education, University of Oxford on an ESRC funded project examining teacher code-switching and the acquisition of vocabulary by instructed English learners of French led by Prof Ernesto Macaro. The project sought to establish principled or optimal use of teacher code-switching into the learner’s first language. We had approximately 300 year nine (aged 14) students and 11 teachers from seven schools taking part in the project and have developed a range of listening activities, accompanying teaching materials and baseline proficiency measures. We will analyse this data quantitatively but will also conduct qualitative research using stimulated recall and a subset of learners tested.

A poster outlining the project can be viewed by clicking here.

FLLOC project

The FLLOC (French Learner Language Oral Corpora) project is based at the Universities of Southampton and Newcastle. It is supported by an AHRC research award (number 112118). and lead by Professor Ros Mitchell and Prof Florence Myles. Full details of the project including sound files and transcripts of previously collected data can be found at www.flloc.soton.ac.uk

My PhD research was attached to the FLLOC project’s Newcastle corpus although I collected additional data on my own. For further details see the PhD research section.

PhD research

My doctoral thesis examined the acquisition of syntax, specifically in terms of verb placement, by instructed secondary and university level English speaking learners of French. In order to test several prominent theories of the L2 acquisition of syntax, I developed a battery of tasks including two oral production tasks, a comprehension task and a grammaticality judgement. I also used a measure of receptive vocabulary size (X-lex) as a pre-test to give a non-syntactic estimate of the learner’s general proficiency. In order to collect this data, I liaised with five local secondary schools and contacted students at Newcastle University.

My doctoral studies were attached to the AHRC funded FLLOC project. As part of the FLLOC team, I aided in task design and data collection and received training in the use of CHILDES transcription and analysis software. All the oral production data from my thesis have been transcribed according to the CHILDES conventions and will be made available on the FLLOC website. Together with some of my colleagues on the FLLOC project, we contributed an article examining a possible link between the acquisition of vocabulary and the acquisition of syntax to a recent volume on L1 and L2 acquisition of vocabulary (David et al 2009). See Publications.

Future research following up from my PhD

My doctoral work set out to test different theories of second language acquisition. However, several issues were uncovered that were outside the scope of the thesis but which I would like to consider further:

  • English and French are generally perceived to differ in terms of adverb placement inside the sentence (e.g. she always watches TV vs elle regarde souvent la télé (she watches often TV)) but in the L2 literature, alternate adverb positions, e.g. sentence final or initial, are generally ignored. My data showed high levels of adverbs in final position (e.g. she watches TV often) and this seems to represent a developmental stage. The syntax of these adverbs remains controversial (see Vainikka, forthcoming, Laenzlinger 2002, 2004) and a more detailed examination of the syntax of adverbs and the use of adverbs by L2 learners is required. I would like to develop a more advanced and tailored analysis of adverb placement in L2 French and L2 English as well as in native speakers.
  • Native speaker intuitions – assumptions about grammaticality are generally based on one or two native speaker judgements (often the author of the article). However, as Ayoun (2005) points out these judgements are not always shared by other native speakers. In my data I found some variation in the 10 native speakers I tested. Therefore, I would like to:
    • examine native speaker variability in judgement tasks by collecting data from a large group of native speakers,
    • compare empirically different types of judgement tasks (Sorace 1996).
  • In my study I found a lack of development between the beginners and low intermediate groups. These groups had received 1 year and 4 years of instruction respectively. I would like to investigate this lack of development by collecting some new production, comprehension and judgement data from learners after 1,2,3 and 4 years of instruction. Some possible avenues for inquiry are: curriculum design, amount of instruction, or perhaps there is development but it is masked by a quantitative analysis and a qualitative one is necessary?

Other areas of interest

There are several areas in which I intend to develop my research:

  • Comparison of L1 English data with data from L2 French learners of other L1s using the same methodology as in the L1 English data collection.
  • Examination of the differences between naturalistic and instructed learners as this is not an area that has been systematically compared with the same methodology used on both sets of participants.
  • Exploration of the nature of individual variation, i.e. why do learners with the same instruction/ input differ if language and cognition are separate. I would like to examine if processing differences can account for some of this variability.
  • Investigation of the differences between younger and older learners to establish any qualitative differences in terms of UG access.
  • Investigation of a possible link between the acquisition of vocabulary and morpho-syntactic features in the lexicon.

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