AAAL 2018 Research Article Award Winner Announced

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The AAAL Research Article award is bestowed annually upon the author or authors of a published refereed journal article which is recognized by leaders in the field to be of outstanding quality and to hold the broadest potential impact on the advancement of applied linguistic knowledge. This is a non-cash award consisting of a certificate presented to the author (a certificate will be presented to each author, if the winner is a multi-authored article).

The American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) community is proud to recognize and honor the following article as the Research Award winner: Schepens, J., Van der Slik, F., & Van Hout, R. (2016). L1 and L2 distance effects in learning L3 Dutch. Language Learning, 66, 224-256. doi:10.1111/lang.12150

Article Summary: There are many pioneering and unique qualities in Schepens, Van der Slik, and Van Hout (2016). The research questions investigated are important for many language learners all over the world: Is there an advantage for multilingual learning over bilingual learning? And if so, is the advantage related to the relative linguistic distance of the new language from the mother tongue and/or the next "best" learned language of multilinguals? The evidence inspected was of an unprecedented scale, drawn from 39,300 multilinguals from 119 countries who spoke 56 different L1s divided equally into Indo-European and non-Indo-European, and 1/4 of them with a "best" L2 different from English. The researchers developed new methods for measuring lexical and morphological distances between languages. Proficiency in the L3 was established via direct scores for speaking on the same official/standardized test rather than self-reports, paper-and-pencil-only tests, or home-made measures that would differ from study to study or sample to sample. This methodological warrant inspires great confidence in the results. The utilization of Baayesian statistical methods is pioneering in the field. Last but not least, the study offers 4 important sets of findings: (1) "Being multilingual is generally better for learning a new language than being monolingual, provided the L1 is the same. This facilitative effect is generally smaller for larger distances" (p. 246). (2) "Learning an L3 becomes more difficult when the L1 or the L2 are lexically distant and morphologically less complex" (p. 250). (3) Lexical distance is more important than morphological distance. (4) The effects of the L1 distance are stronger than the L2 distance, which means the specific sequence of language learning is important, but both L1 and L2 are important and the benefit of lesser distant is additive. These findings are particularly useful when addressing the language learning needs of immigrant newcomers, many of whom must strive to learn the societal language of the receiving country, often with no or very limited governmental support. Applied linguists can use the compelling findings of this impressive study to strongly argue in governmental and policy-making circles that the more distant the L1 and best L2 of the immigrants are to the new host language, the more time and resources will need to be made available before they can be expected to have learned the new language and begin functioning in the new environment. Thus, linguistic distance reveals itself as a powerful influence which, in conjunction and overlap with racial, ethnic, religious, cultural, and socioeconomic distance and difference, must be addressed when planning and implementing successful support for multilingual learning and, ultimately, for inclusion of immigrants in their new societies.