Topling - Paths in Second Language Acquisition

Research project funded by the Academy of Finland 2010-2013

General information

Project Paths in Second Language Acquisition, also known as Topling, is a research project of the Department of Languages and Centre for Applied Language Studies at the University of Jyväskylä. It is financed by the Academy of Finland (2010-2013) and the University of Jyväskylä. It makes use of the data and results of an earlier project called Cefling.

The main objective of the project is to compare cross-sectional and longitudinal sequences of the acquisition of writing skills in Finnish, English and Swedish as second languages in the Finnish educational system (incl. adults).

The cross-sectional data, 1,194 samples for L2 Finnish, 3,154 for L2 English, on a variety of tasks, already exists, rated for level and coded for analyses, with similar data available for Swedish. The longitudinal data (incl. language use outside school) will be collected during this project.


Theoretical objective of the research

The main theoretical objective is to explore the possibilities of combining three approaches to SLA - linguistically based (development of grammatical structures and vocabulary), proficiency-based (e.g. Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, CEFR), and task performance-based (fluency, accuracy, complexity) - in a single framework, called DEMfad, developed during an earlier project called Cefling.

The main emphasis will be on the development of the concepts of distribution and complexity, which are crucial to the model but less well-defined to date than other concepts involved (frequency, accuracy).

Proficiency levels are independently assessed by at least three trained raters, linguistic development is followed for each domain (a linguistic structure or an area of vocabulary), and the development of fluency, accuracy and complexity are tracked using the DEMfad model.


Methodological objective of the research

Methodologically the focus will be in combining cross-sectional (group-level) and longitudinal (individual) data to explore to what extent paths of SLA concur or deviate.

As most studies are either cross-sectional or longitudinal, there are few precedents for this work. For this reason the project includes several sub-studies concentrating on the development of writing of small groups of individuals, portraying the different CEFR levels. Their development will then be compared with those paths shown by the analyses of the cross-sectional data.


Outcomes and implications

The scientific result of the project will be a model and procedures usable for tracking L2 development across levels and languages. It can be applied to skills other than writing (speaking, reading). The comparison of individual and cross-sectional development will also yield new information. As Construction Grammar is used as a starting point for defining grammatical structures, the project will contribute to the knowledge concerning the role of construction in SLA. The results will also provide a systematic and detailed representation of the nature and variety of L2 writing skills in Finnish schools and are directly and immediately applicable for language pedagogy, curriculum planning, learning and teaching materials and teacher training.


More information

Professor Maisa Martin

Research Assistant Pirjo Lehtonen