As a student earning a Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology, my graduate experience has been mainly clinical and not very research-based. We have the option to write a thesis, but with a full time internship and child, I chose not to do one. Since I did not choose the thesis path, the alternative is taking a research methods class. For this class, we choose a topic that we are interested in and can either do a simple study of our own, copy a study previously published, or write a literature review on a topic. I chose the third option. Being that we only have the length of the semester to complete the review, it’s a condensed project, but allows us to learn the basics about research and learn a thing or two.
Sooooooo now that I got that statement out of the way, I will tell you that I chose to research what factors affect Second Language Acquisition (SLA). SLA is a highly studied topic in the literature and there are mountains and mountains of information to sift through. I am still in the process of researching this topic and haven’t yet started writing, but I am learning a lot.
Let me explain… there is a concept called the “Critical Period Hypothesis” in language development. This hypothesis is highly debated amongst scholars, but basically it states that there is a certain period that is critical for learning all aspects of language, and that if someone is not exposed to language during that time, he or she will not become fully competent in language. The best example I can give you that you all know is the case of “Genie.”
Moving on… basically I am trying to uncover what the literature says about a critical period for learning a second language. We all know that children can acquire a second language extremely quickly, whereas adults learning a second language need much more instruction and time. I don’t think I will find anything too earth-shattering with this specific question, so I am going to mainly focus on what factors influence adults learning language (since we all know kids are better at it).
I am going to look at many factors, but my main interest is in speech production (i.e., accents). Even if adults learn a language fluently and are submerged in that culture/language for an extensive amount of time (e.g. 50 years) many speakers still retain their native accent. Why? This is what I am researching. What aspects of speech make it difficult to lose the native accent? Why doesn’t the tongue and vocal tract shape sounds and vowels differently to assimilate to the second language? These are just a few of the things I will be researching throughout the semester.
As you can tell I have barely just scratched the surface, but I am very excited to see what I find!!!