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Rhodes > English Language and Linguistics > Latest News

Learning through Interaction

Date Released: Thu, 9 June 2011 11:50 +0200

When it comes to learning a second language, people often forget that actual practice in using the language in face-to-face conversations can be more helpful than months of lessons.  In fact, you can sit in classrooms for years gaining a theoretical knowledge of a language, and yet not speak it fluently unless you practise it in real-life interaction.

Professor Tracey Derwing from the University of Alberta in Canada will be talking about this phenomenon when she presents her plenary address at Interactions and Interfaces, a linguistics conference taking place from 26 to 29 June at Rhodes. Derwing is a professor in Alberta's Department of Educational Psychology, specializing in the study of teaching English as a second language (TESL). She's also the co-director of the Prairie Metropolis Centre for Research on Immigration, Integration and Diversity, which investigates the ways in which new immigrants to Canada are able to settle into their new society. With such wide-ranging interests, she is a fitting person to speak at a conference about interactions between different approaches to studying language.

Derwing is particularly interested in studying the process by which immigrants to Canada learn how to speak English. Not content with studying how easy or difficult it is to learn to speak a language, she is one of a few researchers who also investigates how easy it is for speakers of that language to understand a new language learner. After all, the ultimate measure of how successful someone is in learning a second language is how well people speaking that language can understand them.

In an article in the University of Alberta's newsletter, she explains that comprehension of a second-language speaker is “a two-sided thing; it’s not just the fact that some people have pronunciation features that cause intelligibility problems, it’s also a listener problem because in many cases listeners, as soon as they hear a foreign accent, tune out.” She has a strong motivation to help second-language learners make themselves understood.

Tracey Derwing's plenary address will take place from 9:00 to 10:00am on Monday 27 June, the first day of Interactions and Interfaces, in Eden Grove. For more information about the conference, visit www.linguisticsconference2011.co.za, or contact Nomvula at linguistics@ru.ac.za or 046 603 8105.

By Ian Siebörger

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