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Research in Linguistics/Language Teaching


Dyslexia in the EFL-classroom

PhD project, Seyma Polat

As one of the most prevalent learning disorders in German schools, dyslexia has not been a priority topic in the English Foreign Language (EFL) classroom. Cross-linguistic processing mechanisms on the cognitive level, which are responsible for specific difficulties in first language literacy acquisition, are expected to affect all languages of a learner, i.e., also the second or foreign language. Even though communicative competence is the prior aim of the modern EFL classroom, reading and writing are integral parts of language learning. So far, there are no specific teaching-related training concepts that integrate the specific needs of dyslexic learners in a way that does not exclude them from the joint EFL classroom through individual interventions.

In an inclusive context, it is ever more important to integrate heterogenous learners into the joint learning process. Hence, there is a need for teaching concepts that focus on the needs of dyslexic learners as well. With my dissertation, I will contribute to filling this gap in EFL research. 


Automatised Word Recognition in the EFL-Classroom at the Primary Level.

Onset-, Rime- and whole word level as possible approaches to written language in early EFL-classes

PhD project, Pia Holtappels

Introduced in primary schools in the school year 2003/2004, English and the role of its written form have become an issue of discussion. While researchers now agree on including written language in early foreign language classrooms, the question of how to do this has yet to be sufficiently addressed. Common textbooks rely on the whole word approach, but first studies also imply advantages of awareness raising approaches, focusing on the explicit instruction of orthographic patterns.

This PhD project contributes to the discussion of what a suitable approach constitutes. For one thing, it takes a look at the whole word approach combined with exercises to foster automatisation and to strengthen lexical entries. Furthermore, the explicit instruction of the (orthographic) unit rime is put into focus. In English, this level seems to be more reliable than the level of sound-letter-relations. Both approaches show advantages compared to an unfocused inclusion of written language and, hence, come with great potential for application in the primary school EFL-classroom, and offer interesting aspects for further research.


The influence of instruction on the acquisition and use of the Third Person Singular -s in English as a second language

PhD project, Kerstin Chlubek

Based on psycholinguistic theories in the field of L2-acquisition research, the question arises which results can be achieved through the instruction of grammatical phenomena, especially concerning the EFL-classroom. Requirements defined in the curriculum often do not correlate with insights gained in L2-acquisition research; thus, teachers cannot assume that whatever is being instructed will be processed or acquired by the learners at the same time. Studies dealing with the connection of instruction and language acquisition show that instruction cannot alter the natural developmental pattern. However, in those studies the term instruction is hardly ever described or defined in detail.

This PhD project tries to overcome this limitation; in order to be able to make any concrete claims with respect to the influence of instruction, two different types of instruction were chosen to introduce the third person singular -s: embedded in a task, one group received metalinguistic descriptions of the phenomenon; another group received input that included examples of the phenomenon without any specific instructions. The results showed that – after the instruction – none of the students had acquired the phenomenon. However, an advantage could be observed for students of the input-group concerning the use of the third person singular -s as – after the instruction – it appeared more often in the interlanguage of those learners. The fact that appropriate input leads to learners adopting items into their interlanguage system, can be viewed as a first step towards a compromise between theoretical findings, on the one hand, and requirements concerning the EFL-classroom on the other hand.


Attrition and the Irish language

An exploration of the Savings Paradigm with respect to lexical item knowledge

PhD project, Eimear Geary

When an individual acquires a second or more languages, this invariably has repercussions for the inner workings of the linguistic system and the co-existence of these languages, with increased use of one language influencing availability of the other. Language attrition is considered a process whereby knowledge (partly or completely) of a particular language once known is lost or “forgotten” over time. Explorations of attrition attempt to gain a more comprehensive insight into linguistic representations in the brain and to understand what supports the consolidation of information so that language knowledge is retained, even after long periods of language disuse. It also asks if seemingly forgotten knowledge is in fact still intact and, should this be the case, what conditions need to be in place for this information to be reactivated.  

The present PhD study explores whether or not second language (L2) lexical knowledge acquired in childhood and puberty has been completely erased after a prolonged period of inactivity or whether it has merely become inaccessible, i.e., whether residual levels of knowledge of the language are still present and available and through re-exposure can be reactivated. The L2 in question is Irish, a language that is learned throughout one’s entire period of school education in the Republic of Ireland. Moreover, the present study also investigates claims made in research on language attrition with respect to the role played by extra-linguistic factors in the attrition process and how these may account for variation in performance across participants. These include proficiency at the time of onset of attrition, age at the start of learning as well as age at the onset of attrition, context of acquiring or learning the language, and attitude and motivation.


Research in Literary and Cultural Studies/Teaching Literature and Culture


Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in English Language Teacher Training (working title)

PhD project, Sina Derichsweiler

It is hard to think of any area of social interactions, patterns of expectation and practices of interpretation that is not profoundly influenced by conceptions of gender. While this has lead, on the one hand, to an ever-increasing number of sexual orientation and gender identities, traditional concepts of femininity and masculinity are still predominant today and strongly impact our society. One explanation is that our society has created an atmosphere in which people have the opportunity to engage and follow their own ideas of living as long as those ideas are still dominated by heteronormative assumptions that uphold power structures. A consequence of doing gender in nonconformance to standards of heteronormativity is the risk of discrimination. Documented evidence indicates that queer youth regularly experiences discrimination and harassment at school because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity (Impulse 2015, 2018). This is associated with increased risk of lower school performance, higher levels of depression and drug use. Since the engagement with gender identity and sexual orientation evolves in a large part during the years at school, the educational field has the responsibility to support students in their development and decision making. In my dissertation, I am working on a concept to approach topics concerning gender identity and sexual orientation via the notion of solidarity based on affect and not on identity. The idea is to think solidarity, tolerance of ambiguity, affect and tradition together by combining this with aspects from transformative learning theory and resonance pedagogy. Because designing settings and tasks in ways that allow for such transformative processes to take effect necessities a high degree of professionalism in teachers, I want to develop a course for university students in which this concept is used while the students simultaneously extend their English language skills. 


Embracing ambiguity and controversy in the English Language classroom– How teachers can frame unfamiliar perspectives and open debates in the classroom

PhD project, Mareike Tödter

This PhD project looks at consternation, confusion, and astonishment that occur when students are confronted with puzzling ideas and worldviews presented in the English Language classroom. The project addresses the question as to how these moments can be framed in order to increase the likelihood of an open debate. It relies on the assumption that an open debate will render a classroom subject more complex and thereby train the students in embracing ambiguity and controversy which are key skills for a tolerant, open, and democratic society.

The project takes the current relevance of the concepts of ‘other’, ‘alien’, and ‘foreign’ in society as a starting point to critically revisit these key concepts in Foreign Language Teaching in Germany. By taking a transdisciplinary approach to ‘foreignness’, the project develops a new definition of the concept. This definition includes recent educational goals that were set for English Language Teaching, such as the tolerance of ambiguity, and it refers back to existing concepts of otherness in German TEFL discourse. From these crucial conceptualisations, the research question unfolds: how can experiences of ‘foreignness’ be framed in the EFL classroom in order to enable debates? To answer this question, the project aims at defining principles (based on design-based-research-approaches) for including ‘otherness’ that are grounded in analyses of conceptual contributions and empirical studies of language education, analyses of psychological studies, and interviews with teachers as experts for dealing with and planning those moments where one’s own perspective is disturbed and questioned.