Center for Language Acquisition at the Pennsylvania State University












Computerized Dynamic Assessment of Language Proficiency in French, Russian and Chinese 


Principal Investigators:


Funding Agency:  International Research and Studies Program, U.S. Department of Education 


Funding Award Amount: $321,000


Project Description:

  • Duration: 3 years (2008-2011)
  • Status: Completed


The purpose of this project is to develop formal assessments of language proficiency for learners of Chinese, French, and Russian that provide a more sensitive and fine-grained perspective of learner abilities than other assessments by taking account of learner responsiveness to mediating support. This approach is known as Dynamic Assessment (DA) and is based on Vygotsky’s theory of development, according to which observation of learners’ independent functioning reveals only a part of their capabilities.

Specifically, solo performance indicates abilities that have already fully formed while an individual’s capacity to benefit from support points to abilities that are still in the process of developing. Learners who require relatively implicit mediation – for instance, a prompt to focus on an aspect of a task – are closer to autonomous functioning than learners who need more explicit support, such as explanations of principles underlying task solution. By including mediating hints and prompts during the assessment, DA expands the evidential basis of learner abilities that can be used to make instructional decisions, such as placing students in an appropriate course and attuning pedagogy to their emergent abilities. 


This project begins with existing and recognized measures of language proficiency – the Advanced Placement (AP) Tests in Chinese and French and the Test of Russian as a Foreign Language (TORFL) – and designs mediation to be included in the administration of the exams. To achieve optimal standardization, the exams and accompanying mediation are computerized and made available through the CALPER website, Penn State University’s Title VI NFLRC. These computerized dynamic assessment (C-DA) language exams assess learner listening and reading comprehension abilities through multiple-choice questions taken from previously used versions of the AP and TORFL tests. The computerized administration allows scoring to be carried out automatically. In addition to a score on the C-DA exam, learners also receive a verbal profile detailing performance on each section, general level of mediation required, and recommendations for continued pedagogical support.  





Persian Language and Culture for Intermediate and Advanced Level Study


Principal Investigator:


Funding Agency: Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute



Funding Award Amount: $104,000


Project Description:

  • Project Duration:  2 years (2007-2009)
  • Status: Completed



The project is designed to compile a pilot corpus of Persian language data (both oral and written) and to analyze grammatical and pragmatic features using a combined theoretical/methodological approach of corpus, discourse analysis, conversation analysis, and cognitive linguistics. Grammatical topics will be analyzed from the perspective of “conceptual grammar” (Strauss, Lee, Ahn 2006). Pragmatic features will center on speech acts, discourse markers, honorifics, and implicit/explicit markers of epistemic and affective stance. All language data would be drawn from instances of naturally occurring interaction and communication among Persian speakers in Persian.


The findings will then be expanded into pedagogical materials both for Persian teachers and students involved in heritage, advanced, or high intermediate language study. The goals of the corpus-based study and the pedagogical materials designed therefrom are to help students and teachers develop a keener sensitivity to situated language use and to ultimately begin to re-conceptualize the notion of grammatical/pragmatic rule—one that is rooted in interpersonal meaning and grounded in cultural preferences. The project in its proposed design and implementation mirrors much of the work already completed and currently under way for the Korean project of CALPER, Penn State’s Title VI, National Foreign Language Resource Center.




Language and conceptualization: A cross-linguistic study of space, time and aspect in Persian and English narratives


Dissertation Fellowship


Award Recipient:


Funding Agency:   Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute


Funding Award Amount:  $25,300


Project Description:


The project is a cross-linguistic study of motion events in Persian and English. The data consist of two types of narratives: story line (based on Chafe’s Pear Film) and spontaneous past time narratives of personal experience. For the Pear Film data, the focus is on expressions of path and manner using Talmy’s (2000) typology of V-framed and S-framed languages as a point of departure. The semantics of deictic verbs, i.e., ‘go’ and ‘come’ in English vs. Persian amadan ‘come – roughly’ and raftan ‘go’ – roughly,’ will also be discussed in addition to how and in what discursive contexts these verbs chain with one or more additional lexical verbs in the narratives. Finally, the dissertation will examine the notion of evidentiality, particularly as grammaticalized in Persian through perfective aspect. For the narratives of personal experience, the focus is on the overall narrative structure with an emphasis on the discursive construction of emotion. This work will contribute to the growing body of literature on the relationship between language, cognition, and culture—especially involving a less commonly studied language like Persian.


ITACorp Project: A Corpus-informed Approach to Developing Academic Discourse Competence


Project team:

  • Steven L. Thorne

  • Paula Golombek

  •  Jonathon Reinhardt


Project Description:


This project involves a Vygotskian and corpus-informed curricular innovation to an International Teaching Assistants’ (ITA) English language and teaching preparation course at Penn State. While ITAs are often proficient in English for research purposes, many are challenged by the interactional and pragmalinguistic demands associated with American institutional expectations of language use in lectures, discussion sections, and office hour consultations. Based on a functional and contrastive corpus analysis study of ITA language use in office hours contexts, several high frequency features of the professional discourse of teachers have been identified that many ITAs may use with unintended consequence, for example directive language, and politeness markers (Reinhardt, in progress).


We build upon what McCarthy (1998) describes as a ‘corpus-informed’ (rather than ‘corpus-driven’) approach that emphasizes the pedagogical framing of corpus-rendered language data into purposeful and contextualized illustrations of actual communicative activity. The incorporation of Vygotskian pedagogical principles (e.g., Negueruela, 2003; Lantolf & Thorne, 2006), specifically the use of explicit and conceptually framed objectifications of the units of language that expert speakers utilize in carrying out academic functions and roles, reconciles corpus-informed pedagogy with the goal of enhancing language awareness. The current project develops a mediated corpus-informed approach to language (ESL) pedagogy as a middle ground between corpus-driven methodologies and the pedagogical uses of corpora as a mere data sources facilitating inductive learning. Importantly, this work is critically framed in that the contrastive analyses are not meant to indicate deficiency on the part of ITAs – rather within the framework of grammar as choice and language use as a form of social action, we emphasize critical language awareness and the making visible of linguistic resources associated with teaching and office hours consultations.



Penn State Foreign Language Telecollaboration Project


Co-principal Investigators:



Associate Investigators:



Funding Agency: U. S. Department of Education

Funding Award Amount: $409,809

Project Duration: 3 years

Project Status: Completed (2004)


Project Description:


This project brought foreign languages learners into extensive and intensive contact with native users of the language via telecommunication in order to create contexts for interactive communication and task-based collaboration. Partner classes in English, French, German and Spanish were established, with each of the classes engaging with a community of students who are native speakers of the "foreign" language being studied. Penn State students and their partner classes also pursued web-based collaborative research on popular culture themes. This project investigated the effects of technology-mediated language use on learning processes and learning outcomes, and considered optimal practices and models for the incorporation of such methodologies into the foreign language curriculum.


The project utilized protocols and tasks developed by faculty at Penn State. It entailed an empirical assessment of the effectiveness of the intercultural collaboration approach across three foreign languages (French, German and Spanish). This included:


  • Quantitative assessment of oral and written proficiency
  • Qualitative assessment of discourse properties, such as learner ability to use appropriate lexical and grammatical cohesive devices (e.g., pronouns and clitics, temporal adverbs, word order variation, etc.) and to appropriately mark backgrounded and foregrounded information
  • Exploring the extent to which learners are able to appropriate new vocabulary, metaphors and idiomatic expressions as a consequence of interacting with native users of the language
  • Learner development of morphosyntactic competence in the relevant languages
  • Investigation of the effects of telecollaborative intercultural communication on the development of cultural understanding
  • Uncovering and assessing any effects that are unique to computer mediated interaction compared to more conventional classroom learning



School bullying: A cross-cultural examination


Principal Investigator:


Funding Agency:  Sociological Initiatives Foundation


Funding Award Amount: $14,994.00



Project Description:

This project entailed collection and transcription of oral data on the topic of bullying as it occurred in selected schools in Los Angeles, CA. The project supplemented parallel data collected in Tokyo, Japan and Seoul, Korea. The overall goal was to examine speakers' use of language as they discussed various topics related to school bullying and to analyze how and to what degree language expresses stance and perspective on this issue of extreme social importance in all three countries.



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