Most research on learning a second language has looked at highly competent non-native speakers under the assumption that interesting learning effects will not be apparent in novice speakers. However, more recent research has made it clear that second language learners may begin to show these kinds of effects very early on. For example, Charles Chang (2010) found that new learners of Korean started showing influences of Korean on their native English pronunciations of 'p', 't', and 'k' by their third week in an immersion program! Findings like these are exciting and suggest that early second language acquisition is a fruitful area of study for those interested in all aspects of second language learning.
Our goal is to replicate these findings and begin to tease apart some possible explanations for such early effects on the way learners speak and hear their first and second languages. To do this, we will conduct a series of short experiments with each participant while they are enrolled in a 6 or 8 week French immersion program.
We hope that our study will be a beneficial experience for all who are involved!
For Participants: Participation will be strictly voluntary, and participants will be well paid. The most immediate benefit to participants is that they will have a way of earning extra money to fund their exciting abroad experience.
For collaborating French Immersion programs: We need the help of the French immersion programs to get into contact with potential participants in our study. In exchange for their help in contacting students, we will provide them with summarized, longitudinal analyses of their students' progress in comparison with the average for other programs in Paris. The data will show how students' language knowledge changes over the course of the program, and it may help administrators gauge how to improve their programs. However, all participant and program names will remain entirely anonymous (with the exception of providing aggregated results to participating immersion programs on request).
For the greater research community: Research on early second language acquisition is promising so far, but there is simply not very much of it! This will be the first study to simultaneously track a wide range of measures in investigating cross-linguistic effects on how learners hear and speak their first and second languages during the first weeks of exposure to a new language.
We hope that the benefit to the greater research community will be a better understanding of the initial stages of foreign language acquisition, including how our first and second languages interact to influence what we hear and how we say things.
Participants will take part in several different types of brief experiments over the course of the 6-week study:
Reading production tasks. Participants will be asked to read sentences and short passages aloud (in English and in French) designed to document key phonological distinctions. Their speech will be audio recorded.
Interactive tasks. Participants will be asked to participate with another person (French- or English-speaking) in completing a short collaborative task. For example, subjects may work together to arrange pictures in a target formation without seeing one another's materials. Their speech and actions will be audio and video recorded.
Perception experiments. Participants will be asked to respond to visually- and auditorily- presented stimuli in English and French by clicking on a button or pressing a key on a computer. For example, they may be asked to discriminate between two sounds, or determine if they are hearing a word or a non-word. They may also be asked to rate how "native-like" a short clip of speech sounds to them. Their responses will be recorded by computer.
Interviews. The interviews are designed to elicit relatively casual speech about the participants' experiences in their immersion program, living in Paris, learning a second language, their perceptions about French and American culture, and their experience with and attitudes about language. The interviews will be audio recorded, though subjects will have the opportunity to request deletion of any part of the interview from the original file.
Non-linguistic "background" tests. These tests will provide useful measures of the participants' general cognitive processing. For example, they will be given brief working memory tasks and cognitive control tasks where they are asked to remember strings of information for a short period, or suppress automatic responses during a complex task (e.g. they must read the word 'red' when it's printed in yellow ink). These will also include a short personality and general intelligence survey. Their responses will be recorded by computer.
Language background survey. Participants will be asked to provide information pertaining to their language experience prior to enrollment in the French immersion program in 2011. These data are necessary in ascertaining the origin of early second language effects. Their responses will be recorded by computer.
Two-part, short French language test. Participants will be asked to take a short French test to assess their general second language competence at the end of the program. Their responses will be recorded by computer. Because programs may vary in how they assess students, this short standardized test will will provide an even measure across students participating in many different programs.
3rd year Ph.D. student in Linguistics at Stanford University. She will be present for the duration of testing in Paris this summer and is leading the organization of the Paris Project.
3rd year Ph.D. student in Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. She will be present for most of the duration of testing in Paris this summer and is co-leading the organization of the Paris Project.
Assistant Professor in Linguistics at Stanford University. She is overseeing the organization of experiments and co-leading the organization of the project.
Professor of Linguistics at Stanford University. She is overseeing the organization of the Paris Project.
1st year Ph.D. student in Linguistics at Stanford University. She is helping to organize several of the experiments and overseeing the general design of the project, especially the sociolinguistic aspects.
Please contact Marisa Tice with any questions, concerns, or comments about the Paris Project. We are happy to hear from you!
Last updated April 2011.