The Development of the Field of Norwegian Second Language Acquisition

26 September 2017

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.

What is CLI and why is it so interesting to researchers?

7 January 2016

This month we are publishing Rosa Alonso Alonso’s new book Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language Acquisition which is a collection of chapters written by key scholars researching in the field. In this post, Rosa introduces her book and tells us a bit more about crosslinguistic influence (CLI).

Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language AcquisitionInterest in the influence of one language on another goes back a long time, with a variety of motives – historical, psychological, social, and pedagogical – figuring in diverse research traditions. The eleven chapters of this volume offer, it is hoped, an unprecedented look at the phenomenon of crosslinguistic influence from a cognitivist perspective by leading scholars in the field, including pioneer researchers such as Terence Odlin and Håkan Ringbom and current scholars such as Scott Jarvis or ZhaoHong Han.

This collection offers viewpoints that, although distinct, overlap. The book also addresses crosslinguistic influence involving vocabulary in some analyses (e.g. Chapters 2, 3, 5, and 10), while other studies consider morphosyntactic categories (Chapters 4 and 9), semantic structures (Chapters 6, 7, and 8), and phonetic and phonological structures (Chapters 1 and 2). Of course, some boundaries between morphosyntactic and semantic transfer can be elusive, as in the discussion of crosslinguistic influence involving prepositions (Chapter 6) and of articles (Chapter 8), and not surprisingly, these analyses have possible implications for the study of cognitivist problems such as linguistic relativity. Readers will find some perennial themes of cognitive linguistics in the volume, such as the notion of construal (e.g. Chapters 6, 7, and 8) and the notion of activation (Chapters 1, 2, and 5). Another issue of concern, linguistic relativity, has grown more prominent in cognitive linguistics in general and is likewise the focus for a number of studies here (Chapters 4, 6, and 9). Other cognitivist topics appear in other chapters, including the possible contributions of neurolinguistics (Chapters 3 and 5), the problem of cognitive development (Chapter 10), and the role of frequency of structures in acquisition (Chapter 7). While every chapter discusses some empirical work, Chapters 6-10 present new empirical investigations.

The relevance of crosslinguistic influence research for teaching comes in for discussion in a number of chapters (e.g. 1 and 5), as does the phenomenon of multilingualism. Moreover, many languages figure in the theoretical discussions and empirical work, including Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Malay, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish and Ukrainian. The book ends with the thoughtful critique by Janusz Arabski and Adam Wojtaszek in the final chapter of the volume.

The variety of approaches taken in the different chapters provides the reader with the most revealing studies on CLI. The volume as a whole is intended to provide novel insights about both theoretical and empirical issues in CLI, and can serve as a reference for SLA researchers, as a text book and might also prove interesting to the general reader in the field of language acquisition.

New Perspectives on Transfer in Second Language LearningYou can find more information about Rosa’s book on our website. If you found this interesting you might also like New Perspectives on Transfer in Second Language Learning edited by Liming Yu and Terence Odlin.

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