Center for Language Acquisition at the Pennsylvania State University






The Center for Language Acquisition (CLA) is a research unit in the College of the Liberal Arts at The Pennsylvania State University. 






Fall 2014


September 17:  Lecture from Professor Gale Stam


Dr. Gale Stam, Professor of Psychology at National Louis University, delivered a lecture entitled:


"Gestures and Learning"


Date:  Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Time:  4 p.m.

Location:  262 Willard Building


Learning is the process of acquiring knowledge or skills through movement, our senses, experience, study, or instruction. We first begin learning about the world through our senses and the movements of our bodies as we interact with our environment--Piaget's sensorimotor period (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969), in a sociocultural context (Vygotsky, 1978, 1986), surrounded by the language of our culture.  Later, when we enter school, we begin learning in a more formalized environment, where particular subjects are taught.  In this environment, the focus has been on learners' speech and writing.  However, recent research (McNeill, 1992, 2005; Kendon, 2004) on speech and gesture has shown that they are a single-integrated system and that gestures provide us with information about where learners are in the learning process (Goldin-Meadow, 1999, 2000; Goldin-Meadow, Wein and Chang, 1992; Goldin-Meadow and Alibali, 1995).  In addition, empirical studies on having learners gesture as they learn math concepts (Cook, Mitchell & Goldin-Meadow, 2008; Goldin-Meadow, Cook & Mitchell, 2009; Gerofsky, 2011). and vocabulary in a second langauge (Tellier, 2008; Macedonia & Knösche, 2011) show that the learners learn the concepts better and retain the knowledge for a longer period of time than learners that do not gesture.  This talk will discuss the importance of paying attention to learners' gestures, the importance of having learners gesture in the learning process, and the importance of teachers' being aware of their own gesture use in the classroom.



Gale Stam is Professor of Psychology at National Louis University in Chicago, Illinois.  She is an alumna of the McNeill Lab Center for Gesture and Speech Research at the University of Chicago.  Her research interests include language and culture, language and cognition, gesture, and first language and second language acquisition.  She has published articles on changes in thinking for speaking, the importance of looking at gesture in second language (L2) acquisition, gesture and lexical retrieval in a L2, and language teachers’ gestures. She has also co-edited two volumes on speech and gesture, Integrating Gestures: The interdisciplinary nature of gesture (with Mika Ishino, 2011) and Gesture: Second language acquisition and classroom research (with Steven G. McCafferty, 2008).


September 22, 2014:  Lecture from Professor Annela Teemant


Dr. Annela Teemant, Professor of Second Language Acquisition at Indiana University--Purdue University Indianapolis, presented this lecture:


"Linking Teacher Use of Critical Sociocultural Pedagogy to Student Achievement"


Date:  Monday, September 22, 2014

Time:  2:30-4:00 p.m.

Location:  Foster Auditorium (Paterno Library)


Radical--not minor--pedagogical changes are needed in today's K-12 classrooms to improve achievement for low-income multicultural and multilingual minority students of color in urban settings.  In this presentation, I describe and document the efficacy of an instructional coaching model for urban teachers called the Six Standards for Effective Pedaogy (Tharp. Estrada, Dalton, & Yamauchi, 2000; Temman, Leland & Berghoff, 2013).  The Six Standards represent critical sociocultural practices (Freire, 1994; Vygotsky, 1978), which mediate teacher and student identities, use of power, and agency in the teaching-learning process.  Quasi-experimental, correlational, and qualitative findings demonstrate significant and sustained teacher growth and student achievement gainsn for both native and non-native speakers of English.


Annela Teemant is an Associate Professor of Second Language Education (Ph.D, Ohio State University, 1997) at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.  Her scholarship focuses on developing, implementing, and researching applications of critical sociocultural theory and practices to the preparation of mainstream teachers of English Language Learners.  She has been awarded four U.S. Department of Education grants focused on ESL teacher quality.


November 5: Watz Memorial Lecture from Amazonian Linguist Daniel Everett


Dr. Daniel Everett, Dean of Arts and Sciences, and Professor of Global Studies and Sociology at Bentley University, presented the 2014-2015 Gil Watz Memorial Lecture:


"On the role of culture in the emergence of language"



Date:  Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Time:  4:00-5:30 p.m.

Location:  Foster Auditorium (Paterno Library)


In this talk I argue that culture is causally implicated in the construction of human grammars and languages. I define culture partially as a set of shared, ranked values. The talk will draw on data from Piraha, a language of the Brazilian Amazon, as well as ideas from my forthcoming University of Chicago Press book, Dark Matter of the Mind: The Apperceptive Shaping of our Words and World, as well as Language: The Cultural Tool.



Daniel L. (Dan) Everett holds an ScD in Linguistics from the Universidade Estadual in Campinas, where he served as Professor of Linguistics.  He has held academic appointments at the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Manchester, UK, and Illinois State University. Since 2010, he has served as the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Bentley University in Waltham, MA.  Everett has lived in the Amazonian jungle for nearly eight out of the last thirty years, studying more than a dozen Amazonian languages. He has published more than 100 scientific articles and eight books, including Don't sleep there are snakes: Life and language in the Amazonian jungle and Language: The Cultural Tool. He is currently working on Dark Matter of the Mind for the University of Chicago Press and How Language Began, for W.W. Norton. A documentary about his life and work, The Grammar of Happiness, was released in 2012.



Spring 2014


April 14:  Holbrook Mahn presents Watz Memorial Lecture


Dr. Holbrook Mahn, Professor of Language, Literacy and Sociocultural Studies at the University of New Mexico, delivered the Gil Watz Memorial Lecture, entitled:


"Vygotsky's Analysis of Meaning Making and its Implications for L2 Teaching/Learning"


Date:  Monday, April 14, 2014

Time:  4:00-5:30 p.m.

Location:  Foster Auditorium


In this Gil Watz Memorial Lecture, Holbrook Mahn examines a central, but often overlooked, aspect of Vygotsky's work--the analysis of the sytem created through the unification of thinking processes and those involved in teh use of language in its myriad manifestations.  In that analysis, Vygotsky focused on the internal development of meaning acquired through language use, examining its origins and path of development, the form of its development, and finally the way that its use in practical activity shaped its development.  Mahn will examine a number of reasons why this central aspect has been overlooked, starting with the varied interpretations of Vygotsky's methodological approach.  Without a clear understanding of his approach and its relationship to his theoretical framework, it is difficulty to appreciate his analysis of the processes through which children make meaning of their sociocultural, natural, historical worlds, and create systems of concepts.  This presentation will examine two key concepts Vygotsky used in analyzing these processes--perezhivanie and the social situation of development--relating them to his analysis of concept development.  By situating Vygotsky's better-known concepts--the zone of proximal development, semiotic mediation, social interaction, psychological tools, and practical activity--in his analysis of the internal meaning-making system, Mahn will present a different perspective on these concepts.  The lecture concludes by looking at implications that can be drawn from Vygotsky's analysis of children's meaning-making processes and concept development for studying second language acquisition and for teaching/learning a second language in school.




Holbrook Mahn, Professor in the Department of Language, Literacy, & Sociocultural Studies at the University of New Mexico, has extensive publications in national and international journals and books on the work of Lev Vygotsky.  Over the past two decades he has collaborated closely with Vera John-Steiner. At UNM, he teaches courses in the theory and practice of teaching English as a Second Language, with a particular focus on second language literacy.  Prior to teaching at UNM, Mahn taught high-school ESL in inner-city schools in Los Angeles.


This event is co-sponsored by the University Libraries.



February 3:  Lecture from Professor Elizabeth Bernhardt


Dr. Elizabeth Bernhardt, Professor of German and Director of the Stanford Language Center, presented an invited lecture entitled:



"Revisiting three key dilemmas in second language reading"


Date:  Monday, February 3, 2014

Time:  4:00-5:30 p.m.

Location:  22 Deike Building


This presentation focuses on three unresolved dilemmas in discussions of second language reading.  The first dilemma, the proficient reader or proficient text, is the most publicly contentious.  Some investigators search for features of text that render some texts more difficult than others and then superimpose those features onto a notion of second language reading development.  Others search for reader behaviors as indicators of comprehension development independent of text type or genre.  Until there is an understanding of the dilemma rather than a dismissal of it, little progress can be made in understanding the phenomenon of second-language reading.  The second dilemma, strategy instruction or comprehension instruction, has received little or no research attention.  In fact, teaching comprehension in a second-language is virtually unheard of, masked by strategy instruction.  In parallel to the proficient texts-readers dilemma, little progress can be made in the field until it distinguishes between teaching strategies and teaching comprehension.  The final dilemma, L1 or L2 in the instruction or assessment of L2 comprehension, confronts a long-held dogma regarding the exclusive use of the foreign language.  Yet the role of L1 literacy in L2 literacy is undeniable.  Until there is an acceptance and understanding of the L1 in L2 literacy development, the field risks suppressing the key strength that any L2 learner possesses.  The paper contends that these dilemmas are stifling progress in developing knowledge about the second-language reading process and will argue for a reader-based model of proficiency that embraces literacy knowledge that second-language readers already possess.


Elizabeth Bernhardt is the John Roberts Hale Director of the Language Center at Stanford University.  Her research focuses on second-language reading, teacher education, and policy and planning for foreign- and second-language programs.  She has received multiple awards for her scholarship and leadership in second language education, including the MLA's Mildenberger Prize for her book Reading Development in a Second Language, and the Distinguished Service to the Profession Award from the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages (ADFL).  





Fall 2013


October 16:  Lecture from Professor Charles Goodwin


Dr. Charles Goodwin, Professor of Applied Linguistics at UCLA, presented a lecture entitled:



"The Co-operative organization of human action"



Date:  Wednesday, October 16

Time:  4:15-5:45 p.m.

Location:  Foster Auditorium, Paterno Library



Human action is built by actively combining materials with intrinsically different properties:  language, prosody, gesture, embodied participation frameworks, and materials in the environment.  The simultaneous use of different kinds of resources to build single actions has a number of consequences.  First, different actors can contribute diferent kinds of materials to the construction of a single action.  Someone with aphasia who cannot produce lexical and syntactic structure can nonetheless contribute crucial prosodic and sequential materials to a local action, while appropriating others' lexical contributions, and thus become a powerful speaker in conversation, despite catastrophically impoverished language.  Second, action can be built through transformations of the materials provided by a prior action.  Third, the distributed, compositional structure of action provides a framework for developing the skills of newcomers within structured collaborative action.  Combinatorial heterogeneity sits at the heart of human action in interaction, creating within the unfolding organization of situated activity the distinctive forms of transformative collaborative action in the world.


Charles Goodwin is Professor of Applied Linguistics at UCLA.  His interests include video analysis of talk-in-interaction, cognition in the lived social world, aphasia in discourse, languagein the professions, and the ethnography of science.  His publications include Rethinking Context (co-edited with Alessandro Duranti), Cambridge, 1992), Conversation and Brain Damage (Oxford, 2003), and a wide range of journal articles.



November 13:  Lecture from Professor Michael Ullman


Dr. Michael Ullman, Professor of Neuroscience, Linguistics and Psychology at Georgetown University, gave the following lecture:


"Do we learn language in the same brain systems that rats use to learn a maze?  Evidence from a multidisciplinary investigation of first and second language"


Date:  Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Time:  3:45-5:15 p.m.

Location:  112 Chambers



Increasing evidence suggests that language learning and use crucially depend on two long-term memory systems in the brain, declarative memory and procedural memory.  Because the behavioral, anatomical, physiological, cellular and genetic correlates of these two systems are quite well-studied in animals and humans, they lead to specific predictions about language that would not likely be made in the more limited study of language alone.  This approach is thus very powerful in being able to generate a wide range of new predictions for language -- including for first and second language, individual differences, and a range of language disorders.


I will first give some background on the two memory systems, and then discuss the manner in which language is predicted to depend on them.  One of the key concepts is that to some extent the two systems can subserve the same functions (e.g., for navigation, grammar, etc.), and thus they play at least partly reduandant roles for these functions.  This has a variety of important consequences for normal and disordered language.  I will then present multidisiplinary evidence (behavioral, neurological, neuroimaging, electrophysiological) that basic aspects of language do indeed depend on the two memory systems, though in different ways across different unimpaired and impaired populations.   I will discuss normal first and second language, individual and group differences (e.g, sex differences), and our work on disorders, focusing on developmental disorders (e.g., Specific Language Impairment, dyslexia, autism, and Tourette syndrome.)


Dr. Ullman is Professor in the Department of Neuroscience, with secondary appointments in the Departments of Neurology, Linguistics and Psychology, at Georgetown University.  He is Director of the Brain and Language Laboratory and the Georgetown EEG/ERP Lab.  His research examines the brain bases of first and second language, how language and memory are affected in various disorders (e.g., autism, Specific Language Impairment, aphasia, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's diseases), and how such factors as sex, handedness, and genetic variability affect the brain bases of language and memory.


CLA Travel Grants


Travel grants are available through the Center for graduate students for travel to/from conferences.
Download the Center for Language Acquisition travel grant application

Students may also apply for Department of Applied Linguistics travel grants.
Download the Applied Linguistics travel grant application

Notice: The Center and Applied Linguistics forms used for submitting requests for travel funding have both been updated. Please review the latest form, and verify that you are using this version when submitting a travel request.



Gil Watz Dissertation Grants


The Center for Language Acquisition, in conjunction with the College of the Liberal Arts, provides up to five dissertation research awards per academic year for doctoral students working on a dissertation in applied linguistics. For more information click here.



Gil Watz Visiting Scholars Program


For informatiion about the Watz Visiting Scholars Program, click here or contact Jim Lantolf, Director of the Center for Language Acquisition at JPL7@PSU.EDU.


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