Touro College GSE – Online Discussions & Exemplary Student Contributions



Jasmin B. Cowin, Ed.D.

Assistant Professor of  TESOL/ Bilingual Advanced Certificate Programs

Graduate School of Education , Touro College

O: 212-463-0400

232 West 40th Street, Room 408

New York, NY 10018

As an Assistant Professor at Touro College, Graduate School of Education some of my teaching is online.  Part of the student-centered online learning experience are weekly discussion boards with questions and responses related to the assigned readings.

I believe discussion boards are reflective in nature as they provide students with “reflection and maturation time” to absorb and consider the required readings on a deeper level, see Reasons to Use Online Discussions. As courses move forward, student posts often mature in-depth and feature more thought-out commentaries on discussion boards.

In my opinion, the best online postings often personalize and connect the readings to their teaching experiences as is the case with the contribution of Mauricio Riveros-Villanueva, a teacher candidate at the TESOL/ Bilingual Advanced Certificate Programs, Touro College, Graduate School of Education. Mr. Riveros-Villanueva contribution on chapter 3 – Crosslinguistic influences, Understanding Second language acquisition by L. Ortega is exemplary.   Mr. Riveros-Villanueva interweaves his analysis and reflection of the chapter with personalized references to his classroom experiences as an educator. The following discussion board contributions are published with the express permission by Mr. Mauricio Riveros-Villanueva.

Understanding Second Language Acquisition by Lourdes Ortega

From reading Ortega and thinking about your own experience/observations as a teacher and a learner, how can an L1 negatively influence an L2 (e.g., L1 Mandarin Chinese and L2 English)? What about the other way around (e.g., L1 English and L2 Mandarin Chinese)? Are there any interesting asymmetries? (The Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis would predict reciprocal influences.) In your written response, please choose two languages to exemplify your discussion.

Mauricio Riveros-Villanueva
According to Ortega, Transferability can hold components that can negatively impact the L2’s development. This is represented by a study publicized in the Netherlands. It explains that learners both consciously and subconsciously have an intuition about how transferable certain phenomena are. One example provided in the text involves a study of the transitive and intransitive meaning of certain verbs in three different groups of L1 Dutch learners. The results showed that L1 learners who were more proficient in their L2 less likely accepted the intransitive verbs in comparison to the group of students who were beginners in the L2 language of English. The text suggests the reason why this may be the case is that the younger learners are more likely to rely on their L1 language when transferring both transitive and intransitive verbs, however, their older counterparts are more likely to mark those transfers as too similar to their L1 and therefore prevent themselves from transferring it. Ortega identifies this theory as “beyond success”, which was an expression created by Kellerman in 1985.
As an educator who has worked with ENL students of all levels, one phenomenon has presented itself over and over again.  Students who I’ve provided instruction to during their beginner levels were always more likely to use cognates as indicators that would assist them when reading out loud during guided reading instruction. As several other students who held higher levels of proficiencies in their L2 were placed in my classroom, it was obvious that some, although at a higher reading level, in fact, demonstrate more mistakes when they were given a running record in relation to phonological mistakes of pronouncing prefixes correctly. My further analysis of their running records was able to provide me data that could support this theory mentioned in the text.

2. From reading Ortega and thinking about your own experience/observations as a teacher and a learner, how does L1 positively influence L2 (e.g., L1 Arabic and L2 English)? What about the other way around (e.g., L1 English and L2 Arabic)? Are there any interesting asymmetries? (Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis would predict reciprocal influences.) In your written response, please choose two languages to exemplify your discussion.

Mauricio Riveros-Villanueva
As per Ortega, L1 is able to positively influence L2 when the L1 holds certain similarities such as the ones mentioned in this chapter. According to Ortega, research that was collected amongst Finnish students who also spoke Swedish had fewer advantages when learning English as an L2 language when comparing them to Swedish students who also spoke Finnish and were learning English as an L2. Ortega explains that certain similarities in typological features that exist between the Swedish and English languages contributed to the advantage.
One of my own experiences in relation to this is not only knowledge-worthy but also gently humorous. In my first year of teaching there was a student who arrived from Portugal and spoke no English whatsoever, therefore he was placed in a newcomer’s class with a majority of the students who spoke Spanish as their L1. As the year progressed the students became more familiarized both socially and academically, therefore at which point many of us noticed that this student began to grasp the Spanish language at a much faster rate than English. It was clear that the students’ L1 language of Portuguese had many similarities, including cognates that descended from a common language to that of the L1 of the other students. In addition, much of our focus has always been on identifying common roots between our students L1 and their L2, in this case, English having been their L2. Through this emphasis in our instruction, we may have inadvertently identified those same similarities between the L1’s of our students; therefore the students grasped Spanish much faster than English. It truly was one of those cases where the students learned from each other and at the time I found it very intriguing as a first-year teacher.

3. What other issues, such as language universals, complicate cross-linguistic influence? And how is it that sometimes, even if a negative transfer occurs, it does not result in ungrammaticality? Please give examples to support your claims.

Mauricio Riveros-Villanueva

One additional issue mentioned in the text, that complicates cross-linguistic influence is titled Markedness. This source of universal language influence is covered in the text between the distinction of voiced and voiceless final stops. According to the text, English and German languages have the same number of voiced and voiceless consonants, however, based on how they use it within the word differs and can produce performance difficulties in their L2 language, more precisely due to the influence of markedness.

In regards to negative transfer that does not result in ungrammaticality, Ortega identifies errors of omission, also titled avoidance. According to a study by Jacqueline Schachter, ungrammaticality was avoided due to the lessening in probability for when a language learner would use the specific transferable component of their L1, as opposed to having the opportunity when they could. The example most extensively mentioned in the text is when examining the use of relativization by Chinese and Japanese L1 learners in comparison to Persian and Arabic L1 learners. The latter of the two pairs attempted to use relative clauses much more often than the former, consequently producing more errors, and taking additional risks in the L2 usage. The former of the two pairs displayed the consequences of avoidance because the Chinese and Japanese languages differ much more in English than that of the Persian and Arabic languages.
4. Consider Ortega’s discussion of avoidance (particularly Schachter, 1974), underuse, and overuse. How can understanding these phenomena better inform our understanding of cross-linguistic influence? Please give examples to support your claims.

Mauricio Riveros-Villanueva

The understanding of Avoidance discussed in Ortega’s text can better inform our understanding of cross-linguistic influences by providing a more in-depth look at the influences of those avoidances. Ortega provides examples of misdirection when observing the results produced by Jacqueline Schachter’s study in 1974. Although on the surface, her study showed that Chinese and Japanese L2 writers were displaying fewer mistakes than that of the Arabic and Persian writers. However, when further analyzing the writing samples, it was clearly obvious that fewer mistakes actually went parallel with how many attempts were made that would result in such a mistake, this case being in relation to relative clauses.

This phenomenon attempts to explain the impacts that exist from the idea that “accuracy equals appropriate development”, and how this idea can affect an L2 learner in a negative way. Furthermore, the idea of overuse and underuse better frames a picture of how L2 learners from variously different L1 languages can actually underuse a specific rule, based on the equivalency of such usage in their L1 language. The motivators in Ortega’s text indicate that these language differences can be attributed to semantics as well as the morphological rules in the L1’s language. In a practical and relatable view, as an educator, one can learn to understand why it’s so important to understand the differences that exist within the L1 languages that many of our students possess. However, no matter the similarities in educational placements that several L2 learners receive within an educational system, it’s important that we understand the difference that may influence their success at developing their L2. This will provide us with a more individualized picture of each student, precisely focusing on his or her language differences and how they may provide support to their L2.

Author: drcowinj

As an Assistant Professor for TESOL and Bilingual Programs at Touro College, Graduate School of Education Dr. Cowin’s focus is on the Responsibility to Touro Students (Teaching), Responsibility to the Discipline (Scholarship), Responsibility to Touro College and Community (Service). Dr. Cowin strives to inspire students to be creative and to model the love of lifelong learning by inculcating the habits and attitudes that create agile mindsets. 21st-century learning extends well beyond the classroom, and Dr. Cowin incorporates takes full advantage of online learning technologies for L2 language acquisition and current global trends in teaching English as a Second Language She represents high levels of scholarship and participates fully in the larger world of TESOL academic discipline. Ongoing research, expressed in scholarly contributions to the advancement of knowledge is demonstrated through publication, presentation and participation in academic conferences, articles in Education Update, blogging and other scholarly activities, including public performances or exhibitions at conferences and workshops such as the Plekhanov University of Economics keynote address in 2018. Of special interest to her are The Blockchain of Things and its implications for Higher Education, Current Global Trends in Teaching English; Developing Materials and Resources in Teaching English – Methodology; E-learning & Micro-Methodology in Teaching English; and E-Resources Discovery and Analysis.

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