Interdisciplinary Symposium (January 17, 2020)

External and Internal Variables Affecting (Language) Learning Processes

Human cognitive and linguistic development are intrinsically intertwined and take place within a nested structure of contextual levels: the level of the individual’s engagement with the social world, the level of social and institutional environments, the society, and the broader cultural context which affects the normative belief systems and linguistic conventions of the social groups at large (comp., e.g., Lerner 2013, Douglas Fir Group 2016, Truscott & Sharwood Smith 2019). All of these factors are considered crucial in understanding the processes which shape human development in general. They have also been described as strong predictors for second language acquisition. This interdisciplinary symposium focuses on the interplay of these factors from linguistic, psychological, and sociological perspectives.

Time and Venue

Friday, January 17, 2020, 10:00-17:30 (Conference Dinner 18:30)

Aula, Hohes Haus, Kulturcampus Domäne Marienburg (Hildesheim University)
Domänenstraße, 31141 Hildesheim



Registration and Conference Dinner

Thanks to our sponsors, the Hildesheim Kompetenzzentrum Frühe Kindheit Niedersachsen and the Wippermann Research Fellowship, there are no conference fees. Please note, however, that places are limited  and will be allocated on a 'first come, first served' basis.

Registration by January 5, 2020:

For registration, please send an email to kristin.kersten[at] by January 5, 2020.

Registration will be closed after January 5.

If you register but are unable to attend, we would appreciate a brief notification so that we can offer the place to someone else.

Conference dinner:

The conference dinner will take place at NOAH's at 18:30. The dinner is at your own expense; however, we would appreciate if you could let us know with your registration email whether you would like to join us for dinner so that we can make reservations.

PLEASE NOTE: The conference dinner is now fully booked. If you would like to be place placed on the waiting list in case places become available, please let us know with your registration.


The interplay of cognitive, linguistic and instructional factors in early language acquisition

Kristin Kersten (Hildesheim University)

Human cognitive and linguistic development are intrinsically intertwined and take place within a nested structure of contextual levels. This may include the level of the individual’s engagement with the social world, the level of social and institutional environments, the society, and even the broader cultural context which affects the normative belief systems and linguistic conventions of the social groups at large (comp., e.g., Lerner 2013, Douglas Fir Group 2016, Truscott & Sharwood Smith 2019). All of these factors are considered crucial in understanding the processes which shape human development in general, and have been described as strong predictors for second language acquisition. However, research on the combined and differential effects of these variables is still scarce. Major difficulties lie in the hierarchical level of variables, the assumed nature of their effects and their statistical representation: An often neglected problem is that constructs such as socioeconomic status, migration background or school program represent ‘container variables’ comprising factors on various conceptual levels, e.g., type of linguistic input or interactions in the family (Greve & Kersten accepted). A second aspect is the differentiation between distal (school program) and proximal (linguistic input) factors regarding the supposed point of contact with the learner. In our study, we assume that distal variables exert only indirect effects mediated by proximal factors: Effects are best explained by using factors that interact directly with the child (Proximity Hypothesis). In this vein, the study presented here investigates the impact of a selection of potentially influencing variables on different levels on L2A by unpacking container variables, disentangling conceptual and causal hierarchies, accounting for mediating and moderating relationships and analyzing their differential contributions. To do so, data from a longitudinal project (N=262) in German regular and bilingual primary schools (L2 English) are investigated using multilevel and structural equation modeling to account for the nested data structure. Cognitive and linguistic variables were assessed using standardized tests. Social variables (parental education, cultural capital, family interactions, linguistic background) were elicited using a parental questionnaire. Instructional variables include L2 contact duration, L2 program intensity, and L2 input quality as operationalized with the Teacher Input Observation Scheme (Kersten et al. in prep). Preliminary results suggest that L2 proficiency is mainly predicted by proximal input and cognitive variables. Linguistic and social backgrounds show differential effects which are stronger in regular (low L2 intensity) than in bilingual (high L2 intensity) programs. The effect of container variables is mediated by proximal variables. Results are discussed with reference to the Proximity Hypothesis.


Douglas Fir Group (2016). A transdisciplinary framework for SLA in a multilingual world. The Modern Language Journal 100(S1), 19-47.

Greve, W., Kersten, K. (accepted). "Investigating cognitive-linguistic development in SLA – theoretical and methodical challenges for empirical research." In T. Piske, A.K. Steinlen (eds.), Cognition and Second Language Acquisition. Tübingen: Narr.

Kersten, K. , Bruhn, A.-C., Böhnke, J., Ponto, K., Greve, W. (in prep.) "Operationalizing foreign language teaching strategies in primary school classrooms: The Teacher Input Observation Scheme (TIOS)."

Lerner, R. (2013). Concepts and Theories of Human Development (3rd. ed.). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Truscott, J., Sharwood Smith, M. (2019). Theoretical frameworks in SLA. In A. Benati, J. Schwieter (eds.), Handbook of  Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 84-108.

Wippermann-Fellowship Lecture:

Becoming bilingual in Miami, USA: Predictors and outcomes of English acquisition for young dual language learners and immigrants in poverty

Adam Winsler (George Mason University, VA)

In this presentation, Dr. Winsler will report results of a large-scale, longitudinal study (n > 30,000, from age 4 through high school) which examined predictors (and outcomes) of the longitudinal acquisition of English among a large sample of ethnically diverse, low-income, Hispanic dual-language learners (DLLs) in Miami. Participants were assessed at age 4 for language, cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioral skills and followed throughout schooling. Multivariate analyses demonstrated that Spanish-speaking preschoolers with greater initiative, self-control, and attachment and fewer behavior problems at age 4 were more successful in obtaining English proficiency by the end of kindergarten compared to those initially weaker in these skills, even after controlling for cognitive/language skills and demographic variables. Also, greater facility in Spanish at age 4 predicted faster attainment of English proficiency. Children who acquired English proficiency earlier did better on all 5th grade academic outcomes, compared to children who mastered L2 (English) later. We also examined the role of bilingual education program model (i.e., dual–language immersion programs supporting the home language vs. programs with no support for L1) and found that programs supporting L1 were associated with faster L2 (English) acquisition and mediated better academic outcomes for DLLs. Early bilingualism was also associated with increased probability of students entering L3 language courses in secondary school. Social and behavioral skills and proficiency in Spanish are valuable resources for low-income English language learners during their transition to school, and support for home language L1 appears to be important in bilingual education programs in the USA. Early bilingualism also appears to support desires to learn L3 many years later.

Immigrant achievement gaps across countries – The role of family background and education systems

Janna Teltemann (Hildesheim University)

Integrating growing immigrant populations is a challenge for receiving countries. A key to societal integration is the successful educational attainment of immigrants. It is a well-established finding that immigrants face lower educational chances in most receiving countries. Language deficits and a lower availability of socio-economic and cultural resources are main determinants of immigrant’s underachievement. A number of international comparative studies however has shown that achievement gaps between immigrants and non-immigrants vary substantially across countries. Some of these differences can be attributed to differing degrees of socio-economic inequalities in education across countries. Further, as education systems and their characteristics shape learning opportunities, one can assume that differences between education systems account for some of the disparities in immigrant’s educational success across countries. Since education systems are malleable and can be adapted to the needs of immigrant students, it is of particular interest to understand how these systems and institutions impact on education inequalities. The presentation gives an overview about immigrant’s educational achievement across OECD-countries and presents findings on the differential impact of individual and institutional factors on immigrant achievement.

How far are we in understanding the influential variables in the bilingual advantage debate?

Julia Festman (Pedagogical University Tyrol, Innsbruck)

The hot debate concerning the bilingual cognitive advantage is still ongoing. Numerous studies reported on better performance of bi- or multilingual children in tasks tapping into working memory, language awareness, or cognitive control in comparison to monolingual children (dubbed ‘bilingual effect’ or ‘bilingual advantage’). However, it seems that the bilingual advantage does not “come naturally”, as has initially been suggested. An increasing number of studies reporting mixed or null results when comparing cognitive performance of mono- and bilingual children around the world. Therefore, today the overall picture seems less univocal than at the beginning of the debate. The claim of a possible publication bias certainly has been counteracted, and empirical methods, designs and sampling have been more rigorous than in earlier studies. The current debate seems to have turned from an initial search for the diverse skills in which bilingual children outperformed monolingual peers to current and focused attempts to understand the crucial factors modulating the bilingual advantage. As one example, data from a study on primary school children (mono- and bi/multilingual, 3rd grade, N=168) will be presented and discussed showing how intertwined those crucial factors seem to be, how they come into play in directly school-related abilities such as spelling and how they are involved in children’s domain-specific self-concept.

The dynamic interaction of external and internal variables in shaping learners' classroom emotions

Jean-Marc Dewaele (Birkbeck, University of London)

I will talk about an emerging area of research in the field of foreign language learning and teaching, which was triggered by the introduction of Positive Psychology (PP). It has focused on the role of emotions in foreign language learning and teaching, beyond established concepts like foreign language anxiety and constructs like motivation and attitudes toward the foreign language. As a result, a more nuanced understanding of the role of positive and negative learner and teacher emotions emerged, underpinned by solid empirical research using a wide range of epistemological and methodological approaches (Dewaele et al., 2018, 2019a, b)


Dewaele, J.-M., Chen, X., Padilla, A.M. & Lake, J. (2019a) The flowering of positive psychology in foreign language teaching and acquisition research. Frontiers in Psychology. Language Sciences Doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02128

Dewaele, J.-M., Franco Magdalena, A. & Saito, K. (2019b) The effect of perception of teacher characteristics on Spanish EFL Learners’ Anxiety and Enjoyment. The Modern Language Journal, 103(2), 412-427.

Dewaele, J.-M., Witney, J., Saito, K. & Dewaele, L. (2018) Foreign language enjoyment and anxiety in the FL classroom: the effect of teacher and learner variables. Language Teaching Research, 22(6), 676–697.

The role of language background in L2 learning and teaching

Anja Steinlen & Thorsten Piske (University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)

The aim of our presentation is to shed light on the question how and under which conditions a learner’s specific first language (L1) background affects second language (L2) learning inside and outside of institutional settings. We will first present the results of studies that have examined possible effects of L1 background on degree of L2 foreign accent. The adult participants of these studies were immigrants learning the majority language of the country of immigration under mainly naturalistic conditions. Next, we will focus on studies that have examined migrant children learning a third language (L3) in preschools and schools offering bilinguals programs in which the L3 is either used for all daily purposes and specific activities in a preschool context or it is used as a language of instruction in different school subjects. In many countries, the number of migrants who speak a language other than the majority language of the country or who grow up with a heritage language and the majority language is steadily increasing. In Germany, for example, 38% of all children aged 15 years or younger had a migrant background in 2017 (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2018). At the same time, the number of institutions offering bilingual programs is also increasing, and these institutions are attended by more and more migrant children. These children’s L1 often is a minority language, their L2 is the majority language spoken in the country of immigration and the first foreign language introduced in preschool or elementary school represents their L3. In our presentation we will introduce studies investigating L2 and L3 attainment in minority language children attending different kinds of bilingual programs: These programs differ in terms of the target language (i.e. English and French), the children’s age (from 3 to 12 years) in different institutions (i.e. preschool, primary school, secondary school), taking into account various foreign language skills (ranging from receptive grammar and vocabulary to reading and writing). In general, the results of all the studies we will report on indicate that – depending on the conditions under which a new language is learned – a learner’s L1 background may or may not influence her/his abilities in an L2 or L3, but that it is, in principle, possible for minority language children who attend bilingual programs to achieve similar results in tests examining their skills in a foreign language introduced in a preschool or school context as their majority language peers. We will discuss these results in the light of various models pertaining to transfer in L3 acquisition, and we will also discuss different implications for foreign language teaching.

Travel and Accommodation

By public transportation

You can reach Hildesheim by ICE or regional train with hourly connections to Berlin, Francfort and Hanover.

For directions to Kulturcampus Domäne Marienburg, please click here.

Deutsche Bahn booking information

By car

From direction Hanover or Kassel via A7: Leave the highway at exit "Hildesheim" (No. 62). Follow B1 towards Hildesheim-Zentrum until you reach the roundabout. Leave the roundabout at the third exit in the direction of Goslar (B6). At the next intersection do not follow the B6 to the left but continue straight ahead, following the signs "Marienburger Höhe" or "Universität". You will pass the main university building Marienburger Höhe. Follow "Marienburger Straße"; at the hotel "Zur Scharfen Ecke" follow the main street to the right. Immediately after the bridge turn left into "Baumallee", which is the access road to the Kulturcampus


Below you will find some suggestions for accommodation in Hildesheim. Please contact the hotels for reservations directly. Early bookings are recommended as accommodation in Hildesheim is often quickly booked out during trade fairs.

Hotel Garni - 1891 Hildesheim Boutique Hotel

Hotel Ibis Styles

Novotel Hildesheim

Tagungshaus Michaelis

Van der Valk Hotel Hildesheim

Hotel Stadtresidenz Hildesheim

Organizing Committee and Sponsors

Kristin Kersten
English Department, Hildesheim University

Janna Teltemann
Sociology Department, Hildesheim University

Werner Greve
Psychology Department, Hildesheim University


Wippermann Fellowship, Hildesheim University

Kompetenzzentrum Frühe Kindheit Niedersachsen

Project FLINK (Fremdsprachenlernen in inklusiven Kontexten)

Projekt SMILE (Studies on Multilingualism in Language Education)