Advancing the Research on Heritage Language Speakers

This month we published Heritage and School Language Literacy Development in Migrant Children edited by Raphael Berthele and Amelia Lambelet. In this post Raphael introduces the book and reveals how it came about.

The investigation of transfer phenomena is a classic topic in multilingualism research. Scholars have developed useful tools and frameworks for investigating crosslinguistic influence on linguistic structure and meaning: when patterns in an individual’s speech or writing can be compared to patterns known from dialects or languages that are in contact, positive or negative transfer can be identified. By contrast, the transfer of literacy skills, for example in the form of reading skills or knowledge about text genres, is trickier to investigate. Heritage and School Language Literacy Development in Migrant Children addresses this unsolved problem. Several studies focusing on different language pairs are presented; they deploy diverse methods, but all attempt to measure the impact of skills developed in one or more languages on the development of those same skills in another language. Languages investigated include – among others – Albanian, Turkish, Portuguese, French, German and Russian.

A considerable part of this book is devoted to a longitudinal study of primary school children who are heritage language speakers of Portuguese in Switzerland. This is the fruit of a project that was directed by the book’s two editors. Intrigued by some rather unexpected findings and questions that arose during this project, we contacted colleagues who had been investigating similar issues but with different methods and tasks. We realized that our work was complementary, and that they were able to fill some of the gaps we had identified in our data and in our thinking. That is how this book project was born. We are confident that it is a new and different contribution to the field, that puts into question some – at least in our view – rather problematic assumptions about the interdependence of heritage languages and school languages. We therefore hope that our contribution will nurture future thinking about research on heritage language speakers.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Crosslinguistic Influence and Distinctive Patterns of Language Learning edited by Anne Golden, Scott Jarvis and Kari Tenfjord.

The Development of the Field of Norwegian Second Language Acquisition

This month we published Crosslinguistic Influence and Distinctive Patterns of Language Learning edited by Anne Golden, Scott Jarvis and Kari Tenfjord. In this post, the editors discuss the development of the field of Norwegian second language acquisition.

The studies presented in the book Crosslinguistic Influence and Distinctive Patterns of Language Learning: Findings and Insights from a Learner Corpus all concern Norwegian as a second or later-learned language, and in this blog we thought it would be useful to put the book into its proper context by saying a few words about the development of the field of Norwegian second language acquisition (SLA). This will help readers of the book not only to understand the position and impact of the field of Norwegian SLA on the teaching of Norwegian as a second language, but – perhaps even more importantly in the present context – also help them to understand why the effects of learners’ native language (L1) on their L2 learning have never been abandoned by Norwegian SLA researchers, contrary to what has happened in many other parts of the world.

In this short blog, we will say a few words about each of the following:

  • modern migration to Norway starting around the 1970s
  • the close connection between schools, teachers, and learners, on the one hand, and the development of SLA as a recognized field of science at Norwegian universities, on the other
  • the strategic decision in the early 2000s to build a learner corpus dedicated to the exploration of L1 influence in learners’ acquisition and use of Norwegian as a second language

The fact that Norwegian is among the less commonly taught languages around the world is not hard to understand since Norway has a relatively small population. As of 2017, the overall population of Norway is about 5 million inhabitants, of which about 880,000 are immigrants. The overall population of Norway has grown by about 35% since 1970, but its immigrant population has grown by more than 1000% (from about 60,000 in 1970). In the 1970s, large groups of foreign workers mainly from Turkey, Morocco, and Pakistan, as well as refugees from Chile and Vietnam, arrived in Norway. The Norwegian schools were not prepared to receive or educate these new immigrant populations, and this crisis created a sense of urgency among teachers and the entire educational system that forced the universities to take action to address the problem. To be clear, SLA did not emerge as a field of science at Norwegian universities as a natural outcome of organically evolving scientific discoveries and practices; rather, it was deliberately developed in response to the urgent external needs and experiences expressed by teachers in the public schools.

Teachers’ everyday encounters with different groups of immigrant pupils led unmistakably to the observation that speakers of different L1s experience different types of challenges in learning L2 Norwegian. The different needs and challenges of different L1 groups soon became widely recognised among educators in Norway, and the specific challenges of the different groups were also made explicit. The first Norwegian Master’s thesis (1980) in the field of SLA investigated the effects of the L1 on L2 learning, and it is important to note that many of the subsequent SLA theses were written by students who were motivated by their prior experiences as teachers of L2 Norwegian. Looking back, it is easy to see that it was the close contact between the schools and teachers who worked closely with learners from different L1 backgrounds that led to a condition – including at Norwegian universities – where the effects of the L1 on L2 learning were never in doubt.

Critical to the background of our new book is the ASK corpus, which was designed and compiled specifically for the purpose of conducting research on crosslinguistic influence. The texts in the corpus are essays written as part of an official test of Norwegian language ability by L2 learners of Norwegian (mostly immigrants) representing ten of the largest L1 groups in Norway around the year 2000 and the Polish group is now the largest immigrant group in Norway. The ASKeladden research project – funded by a grant from the Research Council of Norway – was the vehicle that ultimately made the studies presented in this book possible.

For more information please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language Acquisition edited by Rosa Alonso Alonso.