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New Grant Award from US Dept of Education

New Grant Award from US Dept of Education

Department of Education

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Kevin McManus, director of the Center for Language Acquisition, has been awarded a three-year grant from the US Department of Education’s International Research and Studies program. This grant will research effective methods for improving and strengthening the teaching and learning of foreign languages.

Project title: Usage-Based Language Instruction: An Evidence-Based Approach to Improving and Strengthening the Teaching of Korean and Russian

Research team:

  • Kevin McManus (PI)
  • Lan Kim
  • Olesya Kisselev
  • Irina Mikaelian
  • Susan Strauss

Abstract:

Research to date has repeatedly shown that teaching methods recommended for use in foreign language (FL) settings do not reliably lead to improvement, especially methods that prioritize the amount of input. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, for example, forefronts 90% plus target language use and comprehensible input in its ‘core practices’ to effectively support FL learning. However, even though theories of language learning acknowledge that input is important, it is also known that FL learning outcomes cannot be explained by input alone. In addition, these input-focused instructional practices are not designed to address specific language learning difficulties and are not based on empirical research evidence, but instead are based on general education theory or learning hypotheses. Instruction that prioritizes the amount of input leads to mixed results likely because (i) it only partially addresses the nature of the learning problem, (ii) it does not address specific language learning difficulties, and (iii) it is not based on empirical research evidence.

By designing and implementing instruction that is based on empirical SLA research, informed by learning theory, and addresses specific language learning difficulties, the present project aims to advance knowledge and understanding about evidence-based methods for strengthening and improving FL teaching in the United States.

First, to address two specific language learning needs well-documented to be late-acquired in L2 Korean and Russian (aspect and word order, Kisselev 2019; Strauss et al. 2006), a series of experimental intervention studies will be carried out. Because SLA research indicates that crosslinguistic influence is an important source of learning difficulty for these target features, usage-based language instruction, a type of task-based language teaching that prioritizes meaning but does not neglect form, will be used to increase awareness and promote noticing of form-meaning differences and similarities in L2 and L1, followed by extensive meaning-focused and communicatively oriented practice. Language development will be evaluated in listening, reading, and speaking immediately after instruction, and then one, six, and twelve months later to understand the durability of the instruction. Second, classroom studies with teachers and learners of Korean and Russian will take place over one semester to understand the extent to which the findings of usage-based language instruction apply and hold in authentic classroom contexts.