Program Research-Modern Languages - Carnegie Mellon University

Second Language Acquisistion Program Research

The SLA program encompasses four major categories of research that draw on the strengths of faculty in Modern Languages:

Literacy development in second languages:

  • Does literacy development differ among first- and second-language learners?
  • How do literacy skills acquired in one language affect learning to read in another language?
  • How does oral language proficiency relate to literacy development in a second language?
  • In what ways is learning to read similar (or different) across languages?
  • What type of intervention and scaffolding can content teachers provide to help language learners develop their academic literacy?

Social dimensions of learning a second language (context, identity, culture):

  • Do different learning contexts (e.g. the formal language learning classroom, study abroad settings, intensive domestic immersion programs) promote different types of language learning? In what specific ways do students profit from each?
  • How do learners develop control over pragmatic mappings of form, function and context of use? How can the development be measured? Do the individual and contextual factors affect the development?
  • What does it mean to be a bilingual professional?
  • How does interaction in a multilingual classroom contribute to the construction of a bilingual professional identity?
  • How are monolingual English only ideologies in the US challenged by individual and institutional practices that support bilingualism?

Instruction and learning of second languages (classroom based research, program evaluation, impact of instruction on learning):

  • How can we apply some of the positive results of study abroad experiences to classroom instruction in stateside learning programs?
  • How can we use multimedia materials to help students learn languages?
  • Is it true that countries that have one, and only one, official language are economically better developed than countries, which formally encourage multiple language use?
  • Can children who participate in school-based (K--12) second language programs develop bilingual proficiency and cross cultural awareness and sensitivity?
  • Does participation in Heritage Language programs (i.e., Saturday or weekend schools) help children to develop literacy skills and a sense of their ethnic identity?

Cognitive aspects of learning a second language (processing, memory):

  • How do bilinguals manage to keep their two languages separate? Are they stored separately in the brain?
  • In groups of people who speak two or more languages, how do people decide which language to use when?
  • How can simultaneous interpreters manage to listen in one language while speaking in another?
  • Why are some people better at learning second/foreign languages than others?
  • What are some of the strategies that successful language learners use to improve their learning?
Our faculty has established local, national, and international partnerships with numerous colleagues interested in these areas. The expectation for students is that they identify an area of research expertise early on in close consultation with their advisors.

During the academic year, students are expected to devote an average of 20 hours per week to activities such as supervised teaching of language courses and assisting in faculty research projects. Third and fourth year students may have an opportunity to devote their full 20 hours to working as research assistants depending upon availability of extramural research support for faculty projects.