L3 acquisition of English by Norwegian-Slavic adolescents

Project participants: Roksolana MykhaylykMerete AnderssenMarit WestergaardJason Rothman
Funding source: Kompetanse for mangfold

Our most recent studies are concerned with both the processes of language learning itself and with the understanding of the educational context in which it takes place. We investigate how bilingual adolescents who already know Norwegian and one of the Slavic languages learn English as their third language (L3) in a school setting. We have received small-scale funding for the following three projects:

  1. Multilingualism in Schools: Do Norwegian students learn English better if they already know Russian or Polish?

This research is based on well-known facts that on the one hand, English is linguistically closer to Norwegian than to Russian/Polish, but on the other hand, Norwegian word order can be different from English. For instance, the English sentence ‘The girl often eats candies’ has the same word order in Russian ‘Девочка часто ест конфеты’, but a different one in Norwegian ’Jenta spiser ofte konfekt’. As shown in Westergaard’s (2003) study of 100 Norwegian students aged 7 to 12, monolingual children often transfer Norwegian word order to English and need time and special instruction to ‘unlearn’ placing the verb eats before the adverb often in the sentence. However, nothing is known about L3 English learning by bilingual children.

Given these facts, our main research goals are two-fold:

[1]  on a linguistic level, we investigatewhether Slavic languages (which are typologically distinct from English andNorwegian) impede or facilitate learning the adverb – verb word order in L3 English.

[2]  on an educational level, we aim at defining the most vulnerable age/grade when such errors occur and at indicating possible strategies to successfully learn/’unlearn’ these language properties.

Based on previous psycholinguistic research, we predict that transfer/influence in multi-lingual acquisition occurs when a certain grammar property receives a strong supporting input from the involved languages, which means that Slavic syntactic properties should help in learning English word order.

2. Researcher-Teacher Dialogue on Multilingual Competencies
A recent debate on multilingualism and mother tongue in Norwegian media revealed, on the one hand, need for special language education for immigrant children and, on the other hand, lack of reliable research data on the issue of multilingualism in Norway. Norwegian schools face considerable challenges as the number of children with some kind of immigrant background is growing (i.e., 23% of all children born in 2009 belonged to this group, according to Statistics Norway). These children are usually bilingual in their mother tongue and Norwegian and in addition they start learning English from the age of six, followed by another foreign language later. Is this multilingualism harmful or beneficial for children’s educational success? While there are many studies on bilingualism worldwide, few of them consider Norwegian linguistic realities, and even fewer of them are available to teachers and parents.

The main goal of our project is to open the floor for a constructive dialogue (instead of a debate) between researchers and educators concerning the challenges and benefits of learning several languages in the Norwegian educational system. To achieve this goal we will
·      collect a comprehensive bibliography on the issue of learning two or more languages,
·      systematize the main findings on the effects of multilingualism (including those from UiT),
·      conduct interviews with language teachers and parents of bilingual children,  and
·      prepare popularized articles/presentations indicating possible application of research findings for the Norwegian educational system.

In our view the tangible results of this work will be beneficial for educators, parents, policy makers and Norwegian society in general. 

  1. Tospråklighet og engelsk i skolen: Doble objekter / Bilingualism and English in school: Double objects