Research

Recent and ongoing research projects. My research agenda includes other areas in the field of SLA, such as that of Spanish heritage speakers and L2 proficiency and performance. I believe the study of these areas is relevant, as Spanish heritage speakers can potentially challenge several of our assumptions on what makes a language user more or less proficient. In addition, it is essential to learn how their needs in the L2 classroom might differ from the regular L2 learners. This is a growing field of research in the US, especially considering the impact that findings can have on the development of curricula adapted to their needs.

In the paper, Spanish heritage language learners vs. L2 learners: What CAF reveals on written proficiency, (Camus-Oyarzun & Adrada-Rafael, 2015) we compared proficiency and performance of second language learners (L2) and heritage speakers of Spanish (HS), using the constructs of complexity, accuracy and fluency (CAF). In comparing HL and L2 learners, research suggests that L2 learners outperform HL learners when examining writing abilities. However, CAF has been overlooked when examining HLs’ writing proficiency, and it could provide a better picture of their writing skills in a less controlled writing environment. To address this issue, 46 adult participants (28 L2 and 18 HL learners) completed an untimed written production task on a non-academic subject. Results showed HL learners significantly outperformed L2 learners on two complexity measures, accuracy, and fluency. A possible explanation for these findings could be the type of task used (more spontaneous, less-controlled), which can tap into a more implicit type of knowledge, favoring HL learners (Bowles, 2011).

In a continuation of this study, I explored how the variables of type of task and level of instruction can play a role in our previous findings. To this end, I examined the development of L2/Heritage written performance during a semester completing a tailor-made course for each group, by completing an academic task related to their field. Preliminary results showed that heritage improved in accurate written performance whereas L2 improve on written complexity. The findings are view in light of Skehan’s (2009) trade-off hypothesis and in the different pedagogical needs that are necessary to be addressed for these two populations.

Dissertation. My ongoing dissertation project: The Effects of Explicit Spanish Pronunciation Instruction on Accentedness and Comprehensibility: The Role Of Instructional Level And Raters’ Background, addresses two general questions: should we teach pronunciation in the Spanish as a foreign language classroom? And if so, when should we teach it?


First, this study examines the effectiveness of second language pronunciation instruction on college-level learners of Spanish as a foreign language. The instruction is being carried out during twelve weeks during classroom time. Students received instruction on commonly difficult phones in Spanish for L1 English. Instruction included explicit instruction, repetition practice, and practice during communicative activities. Secondly, this study seeks to shed light on how effective pronunciation instruction is depending on the level of instruction of the participants (from introductory to advanced). A third goal is to explore to what extent pronunciation contributes to intelligible speech in L2 Spanish. To this end, pronunciation will not only be measured in terms of foreign accent but also in terms of comprehensibility (i.e. ease of understanding). Empirical research overwhelmingly agrees that L2 heavy-accented English can be in fact quite comprehensible. However, to what extent this is true for L2 Spanish remains an empirical question. Additionally, keeping in mind Levis’ (2005) Sensitivity of Context, gains in pronunciation will be assessed by raters of different backgrounds: monolingual, bilingual and non-native L2 Spanish speakers.  The results of this study should have theoretical and pedagogical implications for the role of Pronunciation Instruction and the level in which it should be taught in the Spanish as a foreign language classroom.

Future research. Even though my research (pronunciation, heritage speakers and L2 performance/proficiency) seem to be quite different in scope, my research agenda for the immediate future involves finding the intersection between these fields, as seen below:

(1) As a natural extension of my dissertation, I am planning to deepen into factors that might influence L2 pronunciation instruction such as type of treatment, target structures and the role of individual factors such as motivation, phonological short-term memory and language aptitude. In addition, I would like to explore what linguistic features correlate to the constructs of foreign accent and comprehensibility in L2 Spanish.

(2) Heritages Speakers’ levels of proficiency also deserve further attention. In recent years heritage speakers are thought to have lower proficiency than second language learners in many areas, but this is often related to the fact, as Hulstijin (2011) pointed out, that in many assessment scales proficiency is confounded with people’s intellectual functioning and training. By separating common proficiency that all native speakers posses regardless of their educational background, we could draw a better picture to where heritage speakers stand with relation to L1 and L2 speakers.

(3) The pronunciation of Spanish heritage speakers is another potential area that needs to be considered, only a handful of studies have addressed this issue, as it can give us interesting insights related to role of age in phonological ultimate attainment.

(4) Finally, I will like to explore the effects of pronunciation on L2 performance and proficiency. It is imperative to explore to what extent pronunciation instruction can be an important variable for L2 learners whose proficiency is been assessed.

Following these lines of research, my ultimate goal is to contribute to better understanding second language and heritage development and to provide practical applications for the L2 classroom, such as the implementation and design of new curricula better adapted to the learners’ needs.


SELECTED PAPERS, PUBLICATIONS & PRESENTATIONS

(2017) The Effects of Pronunciation Instruction on the Production of Second Language Spanish: A Classroom Study. Paper presented at the American Association of Applied Linguistics. Portland, Oregon.

(2015) Spanish heritage language learners vs. L2 learners: What CAF reveals about written proficiency. E-JournALL, EuroAmerican Journal of Applied Linguistics and Languages 2(2), 31-49.

(2015) Spanish Heritage speakers and L2 learners: do writing skills differ after completing tailor-made and general content courses. Second National Symposium on Spanish as a Heritage Language (SSHL). Lubbock, Texas.

(2015). HL and L2 learners: On the effects of CAF after 12-weeks of instruction. Paper presented at EUROSLA. Aix-en-Provence, France.

(2014). The effects of explicit grammar instruction on Spanish heritage learners' written proficiency. Paper presented at the Second International Conference on Heritage/ Community Languages (NHLRC). Los Angeles, California.

© Pablo Camus
Maira Gall