How can ESL students make the best use of learners’ dictionaries?

Dictionary-post2Blog post written by Alice Chan, based on an article in the latest issue of English Today

What will you do if you have problems understanding how a word is used?

Will you just surf the web or will you check a dictionary?

How useful is a learner’s dictionary to you?

A lot of people say that learners’ dictionaries are useful for self-learning, but why are there so many complaints about the usefulness and user-friendliness of a learner’s dictionary? Some of you may wonder: Even after checking a dictionary before using a word, I still cannot use the word correctly. Why? Is there something wrong with me or with the dictionary? Yes. You may have some wrong assumptions about a word or about what a dictionary can tell you. You may also have ignored a lot of useful information.

This article answers your questions and helps you make the full use of a learner’s dictionary. It gives you an idea what different kinds of information are available in a learner’s dictionary, what you have done wrong when you consult a learner’s dictionary, and what you can do to learn from a learner’s dictionary. If you are not an ESL student but an ESL teacher, you may also find this article useful, as it can help you design a dictionary training programme that suits your students best. Don’t throw away your dictionary or have it lying idle on your bookshelf. Follow my suggestions, and you will see how useful it is.

Access the entire article ‘How can ESL students make the best use of learners’ dictionaries?’ here

Vowel insertion in Scottish Gaelic

PHO Aug 14Post written by Michael Hammond, Natasha Warner, Andréa Davis, Andrew Carnie, Diana Archangeli and Muriel Fisher,University of Arizona

Based on an article recently published in the journal Phonology

Scottish Gaelic has a process whereby a vowel is inserted into a hetero-organic cluster when the preceding vowel is short, the first consonant is a sonorant, and the second consonant is not a voiceless stop, e.g. arm`army’ /arm/ ->[aram], seanmhair`grandmother’ /ƪɛnvɛr/ -> [ɛnɛvɛr], etc.

These have been cited as instances of excrescent vowels (Hall, 2006). One of the defining properties of such vowels is that they are phonologically inert and are not motivated by-nor do they contribute to-the syllable structure of a language. The basic idea is that excrescent vowels are essentially gestural transitions from one segment to another, without phonological motivation or consequence.

In this paper, we report on a series of six experiments tapping into native speakers’ intuitions of syllable structure in Scottish Gaelic. Our first two experiments tap into whether subjects can distinguish items with inserted vowels from those without. The general result here is that they can.

Experiments #3 and #4 ask subjects to give the number of syllables in a word, either by counting (#3) or by knocking (#4). These show that there is indeed a difference between words with inserted vowels and those without. Interestingly, the results show that inserted vowels are distinct from non-inserted vowels, they are not the same. They contribute significantly to the syllable count, but not as much

as a non-inserted vowel. Finally, experiments #5 and #6 tap into whether the syllabification of intervocalic consonants is affected by the insertion status of the following vowel. Our results show that it is indeed. In general terms, when the following vowel is inserted, the consonant is less likely to affiliate to the left, than to the right.

Our results suggest that the inserted vowels of Scottish Gaelic are not phonologically inert. These vowels contribute significantly and directly to native speaker intuitions, affecting both the number of syllables and the affiliation of consonants to those syllables. Thus, insofar as intuitions about syllable count and the syllabification reflect phonological structure, the inserted vowels of Scottish Gaelic are part of the phonology. However, our results also establish that the relevant vowels have an intermediate phonological status, distinguishing them from underlying vowels as well.

Read the full article ‘Vowel insertion in Scottish Gaelic’ here.

Apostrophe: the most disputed punctuation mark in English since the eighteenth century onwards

ENG-Aug-14-ApostropheBlog post written by Morana Lukač based on an article in the latest issue of English Today

In the research project Bridging the Unbridgeable: linguists, prescriptivists and the general public at the Leiden Centre for Linguistics, we are building the Hyper Usage Guide of English or HUGE database currently made up of 76 usage guides. One of our aims within the project is to explore the popularity and to track the history of English usage items by using the database. In this English Today feature I briefly look into the history of the apostrophe, the most disputed punctuation mark in the English language.

Since its introduction in the eighteenth century, the possessive apostrophe became a topic of interest for the authors of usage guides. Today, however, its usefulness continues to be disputed and its existence is still rather unstable. In the realm of social media which call for linguistic and orthographic economy, such as Twitter, the apostrophe is first to be eliminated.

In spite of what currently seems to be a more liberal attitude towards orthographic rules, the misuse of the possessive apostrophe is still a common topic in letters-to-the-editor sections of newspapers and online discussions on language use. The possessive apostrophe is a typical example of a cultural shibboleth that separates the inner circle of the standard language users from the rest. Is the possessive apostrophe on its way out or is it here to stay, at least in the more formal genres? Share your thoughts with us on this and other topics concerning language use on our blog.

Read the entire article ‘Apostrophe(‘)s, who needs them?’ A further invitation to contribute to questions studied by the ‘Bridging the Unbridgeable’ Project at the Leiden Centre for Linguistics here

Read more about the collaboration between English Today and Bridging the Unbridgeable here 

In her last Editorial June talks about her work on ReCALL and the community more widely

Volume 26 of ReCALL marks the retirement of Editor June Thompson. Although I have only been lucky enough to work with her for the last three years her hard work and commitment to the journal is evident and a testimony to her work is the health of the journal.

2014-06-17 09_15_31-Edit Post ‹ Cambridge Extra at LINGUIST List — WordPressBlog post written by June Thompson

As this is my last opportunity to write an editorial in ReCALL, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on the journal’s progress over the past seven years and outline its current position. In ReCALL Volume 18 (2) in November 2006 I reported on ReCALL’s early beginnings at the CTI Centre for Modern Languages at the University of Hull in 1990, its relationship with EUROCALL and eventually with Cambridge University Press.

Highlights from the last seven years include:

- ReCALL has continued to be published three times a year, with a steady increase in circulation

- Publication of five special issues involving guest editors

- Increasing number of submissions from around the world

- After starting to publish ReCALL online as well as in print, Cambridge University Press digitized all previous issues

- Another recent innovation, FirstView means that completed articles are published online well in advance of the printed issue, thus speeding up the process from submission to publication

- ReCALL achieved its first impact factor in in 2012 which improved in 2013 with the journal now ranked 29/160 in the Linguistics category

The next chapter in ReCALL’s history is a change in editorial arrangements. Last year I decided the time had come for me to step down and hand over my part of the responsibility as smoothly as possible. To that end, Alex Boulton was appointed as co-editor, along with myself and Françoise Blin, and ReCALL will soon be accepting submissions via the ScholarOne system.

For me, the best part of working on ReCALL has been the contact with such a wide range of interesting, educated and helpful colleagues: authors, reviewers, guest editors, staff at Cambridge University Press, and many long-standing EUROCALL friends. I feel very privileged to have had the support of so many people in helping to create, from scratch, a journal of which I think we can all be proud.

Read the full Editorial in the latest issue of ReCALL here 


All at Cambridge and those involved in ReCALL want to place on record our thanks to June and wish her the best of luck in her retirement.

2013 Christopher L. Brumfit Award Prize Runner-up Announced

LTA 47 2We are delighted to announce that the runner-up of this year’s prize is Alastair Henry.

We asked Alastair to provide Cambridge Extra with a summary of his winning work.

As a language teacher and language teacher educator it really is a great honour that my thesis ‘L3 Motivation’ was selected as runner-up for the 2013 Christopher Brumfit Award. In addition to my supervisors at the University of Gothenburg, and of course the panel of referees, the editor and members of the editorial board at Language Teaching, I would like to thank Professor Zoltán Dörnyei who generously agreed to review the thesis, providing guidance, advice and insights that were invaluable in enabling me to improve the work and sharpen some of the theoretical arguments.

When I started my research I hadn’t indented to write a thesis on school students’ motivation to learn additional languages such as French, German or Spanish. However I quickly realized that while there was a growing body of research on motivation to learn English, there was hardly any research on other languages. Nor did motivation researchers seem to differentiate between languages learnt as L2s or L3s. Furthermore, I began working at a time when a paradigm shift was taking place in motivation research, the new model offering opportunities to explore aspects of motivation – such as the impact of the L2 on L3 motivation – that had not previously existed.

The thesis consists of four papers (two published in System, one in the Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development and and one in the International Journal of Multilingualism). In the first two studies I drew on questionnaire-based data to track secondary school students’ motivation to learn English (the L2) and French, German and Spanish (the L3) across six school grades, analysing the differences in motivational trajectories between the L2 and L3, and in girls’ and boy’s motivation over the period. In the third study I suggested that L2 English was having a negative effect on L3 motivation, testing this hypothesis using data from a cohort of final grade students, while in the fourth study I carried out interviews with students with differing motivational profiles identified using cluster analysis techniques. Analyses of the data in these studies revealed that negative comparisons with L2 English were having a negative effect on L3 motivation, particularly among boys, and that students who were successful in maintaining L3 motivation invoked counteracting resources to offset such effects. Based on these findings, and on proposals previously made by Zoltán Dörnyei, as well as work in the multilingual field by Ulrike Jessner, I offered a number of suggestions for ways in which teachers can help students strengthen their self-concepts as multilingual speakers, and how they can refocus on L3 learning in the face of negative comparisons with English.

Many congratulations Alastair on being runner-up in this coveted international award which perpetuates the name of such a distinguished linguist.

2013 Christopher L. Brumfit Award Prize Winner Announced

LTA 47 2We are delighted to announce that the winner of this year’s prize is Ellen Serafini.

We asked Ellen to provide Cambridge Extra with a summary of her prize winning work.

I am humbled to be recognized by Language Teaching and Cambridge University Press as the recipient of the 2013 Christopher Brumfit award and sincerely thank all those involved for this great honor. In the apt words of my mentor, Dr. Cristina Sanz, my thesis research attempts to look at the forest rather than the trees in its comprehensive approach to understanding the complexities of second language (L2) learning in adults.

My principal motivation was to explain variability in L2 development between adult L2 learners of Spanish by considering the role of learner individual differences (IDs) at varying levels of proficiency and at different points in time. While previous research has tended to look only at the cognitive or the affective side of the learner equation cross-sectionally, rather than longitudinally, I examined both cognitive IDs, like working memory capacity, and psychosocial IDs, like L2 motivation, in order to ascertain their relative and joint explanatory capacity over time. A secondary goal of this research was to contribute to what we know about the development and measurement of knowledge of (implicit) and about (explicit) L2 grammar at increasing proficiency.

I am currently preparing a report of the results of this study in a series of articles, four of which are currently in preparation and under review at peer-reviewed journals. The first addresses the reliable and valid assessment of implicit and explicit linguistic knowledge and considers proficiency as a key variable in our interpretation of such measurement. In the second and third papers, I report on the changing role of cognitive and psychosocial resources as learners gain further input, exposure to, and practice in the target language. These results provide much needed empirical evidence for theoretical claims made by Peter Robinson, Peter Skehan, and others that learning additional languages as an adult involves different abilities at different stages of development. In the final paper, I discuss the relationships found between different learner ID constructs and consider their dynamic influence on L2 development and implications for future research.

I believe these findings offer valuable insight to both theory and pedagogy in the field of second language acquisition. In the future, I aim to extend this study to heritage language populations who are key to understanding the complex phenomena of language learning and language maintenance. If you have any questions or comments about my research, please feel free to contact me at eserafi2@gmu.edu.

Many congratulations Ellen on winning this coveted international award which perpetuates the name of such a distinguished linguist.

English Language and Linguistics Special Issue on Genitive Variation in English

ELL 18 2Blog post written by John Payne and Eva Berlage

Everything you ever wanted to know about the genitive alternation in English! The choice that speakers have between the s-genitive and the of-genitive (e.g. the production’s new director vs the new director of the production) has been the subject of much detailed research, starting with historical studies in the earlier part of the twentieth century and culminating in recent large-scale synchronic studies using modern statistical techniques. It is, as Anette Rosenbach suggests in the volume, “arguably the best researched of all syntactic alternations in English”.

This special edition, arising from a workshop organised by John Payne (Manchester) and Eva Berlage (Hamburg) at the ISLE conference in Boston in 2011, collects together four new papers. The first, by Anette Rosenbach, is above all an authoritative and masterly synopsis of all previous work on the alternation, and will be an invaluable resource for both those who are interested in the methodologies which exist for analysing syntactic variation, and for those who have a specific interest in the genitive alternation itself. However, beyond this, it also raises interesting and controversial questions which should be addressed by future research.

Factors such as the animacy, weight and definiteness of the “possessor” (e.g. the production in the production’s new director), as well as the nature of the semantic relation holding between the possessor and “possessee”, are well-known to play an important role in speaker choice. The remaining three papers add new dimensions by undertaking detailed quantitative studies of previously under-investigated aspects of the alternation. Ehret, Wolk and Szmrecsanyi, using historical data from the ARCHER corpus, expand the discussion of weight by comparing different methods of assessing weight, in particular the use of word and character counts. Their research shows that length does not have a linear effect on the distribution of the s- and of-genitive. The authors also break new ground including a detailed study of the role that rhythmic effects might play. While the so-called Principle of Rhythmic Alternation (following Schlüter 2005: 18) so far only comes out as minor determinant of the variation, the paper raises the question of whether to include other operationalisations of phonological variables for a fuller understanding of the variation. In Jankowski & Tagliamonte’s contribution, there is an innovative focus  on sociolinguistic factors. In particular, the authors investigate the distribution of the s-genitive and of-genitive in vernacular Canadian English, basing their research on socially stratified corpora that represent data from speakers of all age groups. Their research shows that use of the s-genitive has been growing with possessors that represent collectives or organisations, a trend that might also be spreading to place possessors. The volume concludes with a paper by Payne and Berlage on the “niche” role that the less frequently used oblique genitive, the construction we see in examples such as a friend of the director’s, plays in the alternation, providing a new quantitative analysis of the factors which make this construction either a forced (or preferred) choice in comparison with the two main constructions. A qualitative comparison of the s-genitive, of-genitive and oblique genitive finally reveals that the semantic relations represented by the oblique genitive  are as subset of those covered by the s-genitive which, again, are a subset of those available to the of-genitive.

Explore the entire special issue of English Language and Linguistics here

Plagiarism in second-language writing

LTA-Aug-14Blog post written by Diane Pecorari based on an article from the latest issue of Language Teaching

Everyone has a view on plagiarism, and it’s often a strong one, as seen by the frank and free commentary on cases which attract public attention. For example, after the revelation that a prominent German politician had plagiarised in his doctoral thesis, the theses of other politicians in Germany and elsewhere have been subjected to scrutiny. This has led, in a number of cases, to further accusations of plagiarism, sharp criticism of the politicians involved and to responses ranging from embarrassed apology to resignations. These high-profile cases have received significant attention in the news, in blogs like Shake, Copy and Paste, and in staff-room discussions.

Plagiarism is also the object of academic research within a number of disciplines which have taken rather divergent approaches. Within fields such as ethics, higher education theory and policy, pedagogy and bibliometry, the tendency has been to approach plagiarism as a transgressive phenomenon within a regulatory framework. However, in first- and (especially) second-language writing, attention has been paid to plagiarism as a feature of textual production.

In our state-of-the-art article ‘Plagiarism in second-language writing’ we trace the development of plagiarism as a research topic in L2 writing, discussing the received view of plagiarism as a transgressive act and alternative understandings which have been presented in the L1 and L2 writing literature.

The article then surveys the rapidly growing body of work relating to plagiarism, primarily from an L2
writing/applied linguistic perspective, identifying salient themes. One of these is the role of intention. Significant evidence exists to support the idea, familiar to many writing teachers, that plagiarism sometimes has causes other than a desire to cheat in order to receive unearned academic credit.

This realisation has lead some scholars to believe that ‘plagiarism’, with its strong connotations of malfeasance, can be an unhelpful term to use in some contexts, and so we review alternative terminology, such as patchwriting, textual plagiarism, prototypical plagiarism, and transgressive versus non-transgressive intertextuality.

The use of alternative terminology suggests potentially differing understandings, and that is very much the case for plagiarism. Just like that other thing, we all think we can recognise it when we see it. However, as research traced in this article shows, we recognise different things.

Other themes identified include the role of textual plagiarism in language learning and a writer’s development; the role of the electronic media, investigations of cultural differences, and pedagogical approaches to guiding students away from plagiarism. Methodological issues in researching plagiarism are surveyed, and the article concludes by suggesting directions for future research.

Read the full article ‘Plagiarism in second-language writing’ here

Language history questionnaire (LHQ 2.0): A new dynamic web-based research tool

Ping Li - August 2014Post written by Ping Li based on a recent article in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

Language history question-naire (LHQ) is an important tool for assessing the linguistic background of language learners (background), the context and habits of language use (usage), proficiency in multiple languages (proficiency), and dominance and cultural identity of the acquired languages (dominance). Outcomes from such assessments have often been used to predict or correlate with learners’ linguistic performance in cognitive and behavioral tests. Previous researchers have often relied on LHQs that their own research groups develop, depending on whether their study is concerned with the background, usage, proficiency, or dominance of the bilingual learner. The lack of a standardized, easy-to-use, and web-based LHQ inspired some researchers to develop such a tool for bilingual research (see Li, Sepanski, & Zhao, 2006). In the LHQ 2.0, we have further developed an enhanced interface that takes advantage of the dynamic web technology, which has the following new features as compared with the original LHQ: more flexibility in functionality, more accuracy in data recording and retrieval, and more privacy for users and data.

With respect to flexibility, LHQ 2.0 allows researchers to customize their own questions depending on whether they are interested in one or a combination of the participant’s language history: background, usage, proficiency, and dominance. Additionally, the participants can complete the entire or customized LHQ online with unique experiment and participant IDs. LHQ 2.0 also has a multi-language function that allows the participant to complete questions in the native or the preferred language, including English, Chinese (simplified or traditional forms), Spanish, French, German, and Turkish (and more to come). Thus, investigators can dynamically construct individualized LHQs on the fly and collect data from a large number of individual participants simultaneously.

With respect to accuracy, LHQ 2.0 eliminates the need of traditional data entry with papers and pencils, and the potential errors during the time-consuming manual coding of handwritten results. Once the participant completes the LHQ, all the data are stored automatically in a spreadsheet, and the data are accumulated (and updated) in the order in which the questions are answered. Investigators can track the progress of the LHQ data collection, and download or delete the data at any point during the study.

With respect to privacy, LHQ 2.0 stores no personal information of the participant but rather, collects the data through automatically generated unique ID numbers for each study (and the participants), and through password-protected access to data. Researchers can (1) access their data in the cloud uniquely stored in their own account, (2) update necessary information associated with the study, (3) retrieve the data, and finally, (4) at the conclusion of the study, delete the data permanently.

A large number of investigators have already used the LHQ 2.0 in the past year, and we welcome comments and suggestions from all users. Please visit http://blclab.org/language-history-questionnaire/ and use the LHQ 2.0 today!

Access the entire article ‘Language history questionnaire (LHQ 2.0): A new dynamic web-based research tool’ without charge here

Vocabulary size research at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

LanguageBlog post written by Paul Nation based on an article in Language Teaching

How many words in English do you know? How many words do your students know? What words should our learners be focusing on? Do native speakers at primary and secondary school need vocabulary-focused instruction? These questions and others like them have been of concern to researchers in the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies (LALS) at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand for well over thirty years. One of the results of this concern has been a range of vocabulary tests which have been made available for general use.

It may seem a straightforward job to make a vocabulary test. However, vocabulary size testing is probably the most badly researched area in the field of applied linguistics. It’s not badly researched because of a lack of research. It’s badly researched because the research has been methodologically faulty, so faulty in fact that the results of much of the research are grossly misleading.

An important first step in measuring vocabulary size is to create a substantial list of words to draw a sample from. Developments in computing and corpus linguistics have now made this much more feasible, and many of the tests reported on in this article draw upon word lists that were carefully created for the purposes of test development.

Most of the article describes the Vocabulary Size Test and its bilingual and computerised versions. Bilingual versions of the test are now available in languages such as Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, and Korean.  Bilingual versions are helpful for lower proficiency learners in particular.  An online version of the test has now been taken by thousands of first and second language speakers of English.

How can finding out about your students’ vocabulary size help you and your students?  It can help you diagnose particular learning problems and set curriculum goals.  It can also help you select materials at the right lexical level for your classes and for your students’ independent learning time.  Knowing their vocabulary size can also help your students understand and set their own vocabulary learning goals.

Since the writing of the article, another test aimed at young pre-literate learners has been developed and will soon become available – the Picture Vocabulary Size Test.

Read the full article ‘Vocabulary size research at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand’ here