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. 






Spring 2016


March 21:  Lecture from Professor Lourdes Ortega


Dr. Lourdes Ortega, Professor and Head of Applied Linguistics at Georgetown University, will present an invited lecture:


“Multilingual Success: Continuous, Probabilistic, and Beyond Language”


The phenomenon of bi/multilingualism is as old as humanity, but multilingualism has been catapulted to a new world order in the 21st century. In today’s globalized, transnational, technologized, highly mobile and wired world, increasingly numerous and more diverse populations of adults and youth live with two or more languages. Some do by choice, some by necessity, many for a complex mixture of reasons. How successful are they in their learning of new languages, ultimately? Traditionally, the field of second language acquisition (SLA) has answered this question rather pessimistically. But this may be a function of the willingness to directly compare the development of single-language competencies during early childhood to the development of multiple-language competencies later in life. This comparison is fundamentally invalid. Moreover, when multilingual success is directly compared to monolingual success, a late start will always lose out. I will explore an alternative view of multilingual success that is continuous and probabilistic, and that goes beyond language. It is continuous because the single phenomenon to be explained is the development of multiple-language competencies across the lifespan. Therefore, the same explanations can be investigated for early and late bilingualism: differential experience of language during usage events. It is probabilistic because we must make space for degrees of success, rather than categorical success or failure, for both early and late timings for multilingualism. Understandings of success must also go beyond language because strictly linguistic notions of multilingual competencies are insufficient to properly understanding the object of inquiry, since language mediates intersubjective thinking, feeling, and doing with others. A continuous, probabilistic view of multilingual success that is more than just linguistic in scope has transformative implications for SLA research and also for language teaching in educational contexts. It holds great potential to generate a research base that supports current innovative proposals for multilingual and transcultural approaches to language instruction.


Lourdes Ortega is Professor in the Department of Linguistics at Georgetown University (GU). She grew up in southern Spain, where she received her first degree in Spanish Philology. After spending a year abroad in Germany, she lived in Greece for 7 years and developed her first career as a language teacher of Spanish at the Cervantes Institute in Athens. She relocated to the United States in 1993 to do graduate school, and the US has been her chosen country to work and citizenship since then. She has mentored many master’s and doctoral students at GU but also previously at Georgia State University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. She was co-recipient of the Pimsleur and the TESOL Research awards (2001) and has been a doctoral Mellon fellow (1999), a postdoctoral Spencer/National Academy of Education fellow (2003), and a senior research fellow at the Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies (2010). She serves or has served on the editorial boards of a number of journals and is Past Journal Editor of Language Learning (2010-2015). From 2012 through 2014 she served on the Wiley Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics, first as area editor for “Language Learning and Teaching” and later as associate editor for the regular electronic updates.


Lourdes’s main area of research is in second language acquisition. She investigates questions that impact on youth and adults’ cognitive, social, and educational well-being when they learn new languages later in life. Her other interests include second language writing, systematic research synthesis, and foreign language education. She also likes reflecting about the world of researchers and their activities: For what and for whom are different kinds of research good? What are valued ways to know about second language acquisition and why? How do ideologies of language affect how people investigate, teach, or learn languages? In the last few years she has become interested in applying insights from bilingualism and from usage-based linguistics to the investigation of second language development. Two central questions in this new agenda are: How does experience shape language learning? What counts as success in bi/multilingual acquisition, and who is to tell? 


Lourdes’s work has appeared in journals such as Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, Applied Linguistics, Journal of Second Language Writing, Language Learning, Language Learning & Technology, Modern Language Journal, Studies in Second Language Acquisition, and System. Her most recent books are Technology-Mediated TBLT: Researching Technology and Tasks (co-edited with Marta González-Lloret, John Benjamins, 2014), The Usage-based Study of Language Learning and Multilingualism (co-edited with colleagues, Georgetown University Press, 2016), and Understanding Second Language Acquisition (1st edition with Hodder, 2009; revised edition forthcoming with Routledge). 



April 1:  Lecture from Professor Brian Paltridge


Dr. Brian Paltridge, Professor in TESOL at the University of Sydney, will present an invited lecture:


“Context and the researching and teaching of academic writing”


Learning to write in the academy involves acquiring a repertoire of linguistic practices which are based on complex sets of discourses, identities, and values. These practices, however, vary according to context, culture and genre. This presentation discusses how these issues can be taken up in the researching and teaching of academic writing. It will do this, first, by examining how the notion of context is taken up theoretically in linguistics research more broadly and, then, how contextualised understandings of the use of language have been explored by academic writing researchers. It will then discuss ways in which the context in which students’ writing is produced impacts on the texts they are expected to produce and how students can be made aware of, and take account of this in their writing.



Paltridge, B., S. Starfield and C. M. Tardy (2016). Ethnographic Perspectives on Academic Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Paltridge, B. and S. Starfield (2016). Ethnographic perspectives on English for academic purposes research. In K. Hyland and P. Shaw (eds) The Routledge Handbook of English for Academic Purposes (pp. 219-230). Abingdon, UK: Routledge. 


Brian Paltridge is Professor of TESOL at the University of Sydney. His most recent publications are Research Methods in Applied Linguistics, edited with Aek Phakiti (Bloomsbury, 2015) and Ethnographic Perspectives on Academic Writing (with Sue Starfield and Christine Tardy, Oxford University Press, 2016). He has recently completed, with Sue Starfield, a book on getting published in academic journals to be published by the University of Michigan Press. He also, with Sue Starfield, edits the Routledge Introductions to English for Specific Purposes and the Routledge Research in English for Specific Purposes series. He is a co-editor of TESOL Quarterly and an editor emeritus for English for Specific Purposes. 


Fall 2015


October 8:  Lecture from Professor Marília Mendes Ferreira


Dr. Marília Mendes Ferreira, Associate Professor at University of São Paolo, Brazil, will present an invited lecture:


“Contributions of cultural historical activity theory to academic literacy


Academic literacy in English has become a high valued commodity due to the internationalization of universities and the increasing pressure upon postgraduate students and academics, specially from non-English speaking countries, to publish in well-ranked international journals.  There are several perspectives that study academic literacy: from more textual approaches like corpus linguistics  (Hyland, 2004, 2008) and English for Academic Purposes (Swales & Feak,2004)  to more sociological ones like Academic Literacies, based on the New Literacies movement (Lea and Street, 1998; Lillis and Curry, 2010) and with a geopolitical view (Canagarajah (2002). The aim of this talk is to discuss the contributions of  the cultural historical activity theory perspective to the topic and how it sheds light on several issues like concept formation, mediation, dialectical thinking, and practice. These issues will be discussed based on data from an academic writing course in English for Brazilian graduate students which was implemented using Davydov´s pedagogical approach (Davydov,1988).



Marília M. Ferreira is Associate Professor  of Applied Linguistics at University of São Paulo, Brazil. Her research interests include teaching-learning foreign languages from a vygotskian perspective, academic literacy and developmental teaching. She has published on writing instruction from a developmental teaching perspective, on contributions of sociocultural theory to teaching- learning foreign languages and on the instruction of dialectical thinking in academic literacy classes. She has founded and directed the Center for Academic Literacy at this university. She co-edited a book on Brazilian current research on teaching-learning foreign languages based on vygotskian thinking and is currently co-editing a book on academic writing instruction. 




October 21:  Lecture from Dr. Lois Holzman 


Dr. Lois Holzman, Director and co-founder of the East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy, will present an invited lecture:


“Performing Other--The Life of a Languager


In his essay on the development of personality in children, Vygotsky wrote that the preschool child “can be somebody else just as easily as he can be himself.” Vygotsky attributed this to the young child’s lack of recognition that s/he is an “I.” Performing as someone else— simultaneously being who you are and other than who you are—is an essential source of development at the time of life before “I.” The “performance turn” among researchers and practitioners in human development and learning provides strong evidence that it is also a source of development after “I”. Implications for how we understand, relate to, research and “teach” language will be discussed.



Lois Holzman is director and co-founder of the East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy and chair of the biennial Performing the World conferences, which support the emerging social change approach known as performance activism. As researcher and author, she has brought the ideas of Lev Vygotsky to the fields of psychotherapy, and youth, organizational and community development, in addition to their traditional location with education. With colleague Fred Newman, the late public philosopher and founder of social therapy, Holzman developed social therapeutics as a methodology in which human development and community development are inseparable, and linked to play, performance and practical philosophy. Among her many writings on these topics are Vygotsky at Work and Play; the Psychology Press Classic Text Lev Vygotsky: Revolutionary Scientist (with Newman); and Schools for Growth: Radical Alternatives to Current Educational Models. She is series editor for Palgrave Macmillan'sStudies in Play, Performance, Learning and Development, and recipient of AERA’s Cultural-Historical SIG Lifetime Achievement Award. Lois received her Ph.D. in developmental psychology and psycholinguistics from Columbia University.

Long a critic of the medical model of mental health, Holzman currently co-leads community outreach for the Global Summit on Diagnostic Alternatives (Dx Summit), an international group seeking to advocate for and disseminate alternatives to current diagnostic systems of mental illness. She blogs at Psychology Today (, Mad in America ( and A Psychology of Becoming (




December 3:  Lecture from Professor Asif Agha


Dr. Asif Agha, Professor of Anthropology at University of Pennsylvania, will present an invited lecture:


“Tropes of Slang


In my presentation, I discuss a class of speech registers whose members have traditionally been called “slang” or “argot” in a large and long-standing literature. Despite the size of this literature, the characteristics of these registers have remained obscure to those who purport to study them. The thing called “slang” has traditionally been reduced to the lexical repertoires that happen to count as samples of the thing without attention to either (a) the reflexive processes through which such repertoires come to be differentiated from other discursive behaviors or (b) the social-interpersonal processes through which they undergo change in form and significance for different members of a language community. I examine these reflexive social processes by considering examples from a large number of languages and historical periods, and offer a comparative framework for studying the forms of social life that such discursive behaviors enable or displace.  



Asif Agha is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology, and in the Graduate Groups in Anthropology, Linguistics, History and Sociology of Science, South Asian Studies, International Studies, and the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.



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