ALISON MACKEY
        Department of Linguisticsindex.htmlhttp://linguistics.georgetown.edu/shapeimage_2_link_0shapeimage_2_link_1


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Research Overview:


My research interests focus on how second languages are learned, and how they may best be taught. The process of acquiring a second language is a complex one, involving learner-internal cognitive abilities and propensities as well as the particular intricacies of the social contexts in which learning takes place. As such, the study of second language acquisition requires flexibility and openness to inter-disciplinary insights; rigorous, detailed consideration of the inter-relationships among a wide range of variables; and often, expertise in both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Much of my empirical research has been carried out within a framework that encourages the exploration and integration of these factors: namely, the interaction approach.


Interaction, individual differences, and L2 learning: In this line of investigation, which forms the core of my research, I investigate the relationships among the linguistic input to which second language (L2) learners are exposed, the conversational interactions in which they engage, and the language development they experience as a result. In analyzing learners’ interactions, I have focused primarily on the corrective feedback they receive in response to ungrammatical or otherwise inappropriate utterances, and the modifications they make to their linguistic output. In order to explain how learners benefit from interacting in an L2, however, it is necessary not only to explore specific components and processes of interaction, but also to investigate the individual differences among learners which can influence how their interactions unfold. Thus, in a related line of work, I have examined a variety of cognitive factors that mediate the relationship between interactional features and L2 learning benefits. These cognitive factors include learners’ perceptions, allocations of attention, awareness and noticing, and individual differences in working memory. I have researched issues both theoretically (e.g., in position papers) and empirically, investigating interaction-driven learning across the lifespan with younger as well as older children, adolescents, prime-of-life adults, and, more recently, elderly adults. I have conducted my studies in experimental and classroom contexts, utilizing both quantitative and qualitative approaches to the collection, analysis, and interpretation of L2 data.


Research methodology: Related to my empirical work, I have also written extensively on second language research methodology, where my contributions have ranged from “how-to” books dealing with important methodological choices and concerns in the second language field to in-depth discussions of more specialized topics, such as the use of stimulated recall (an introspective method for examining learners’ perceptions) and a range of other data elicitation techniques. I have also published a number of studies examining the effects of different kinds of methodologies on the nature of the L2 data obtained in a research context. I am currently investigating eye tracking as a means of assessing what learners pay attention to when watching videos of themselves and others interacting. In my most recent line of investigation, I have become interested in theories of philosophy of science, and how research methods are influenced by such theory. My methodology work has recently been supported by a large ESRC grant (with a colleague at York, Emma Marsden), to build a free, searchable online data base of instruments for second language research. We have also obtained British Academy support and will seek other grant funded sources for the sustainability of IRIS.


Applications (classrooms, popular audience books): Finally, like most applied linguists, I am also concerned with whether and how research might help to improve the effectiveness of language instruction and education. I have examined the application of SLA theory to L2 instructional practice by (a) focusing on task-based approaches to L2 learning and teaching, and (b) exploring the effectiveness of corrective feedback in L2 classes. So, creating and assessing the developmental outcomes of task-based communicative activities with design features that should (theoretically) make them particularly facilitative of language learning has been a goal of my recent work (and grant activity). A related goal has been to raise general awareness of the importance of second language learning, and in this vein, I wrote a popular-audience book (The Bilingual Edge) co-authored with Kendall King and published by HarperCollins) on how parents can best encourage and enhance their children’s learning of additional languages. I regularly speak on radio and TV in relation to this book, which has been published in three languages.


Finally, in a new strand of my most recent work, I am moving into a different area - the acquisition and use of second language dialects, with reference to socially constructed linguistic identity, working with speakers of American and British English and considering the relationships between language and dialect acquisition.