Complex sentences, modal verbs, and EAL pupils’ experiences of learning MFL

This summer, I spent six weeks working as a LuCiD intern supervised by Heather Lemen, Kimberley Bell, and Katy Finch – all of whom are PhD students at the University of Manchester. Throughout my internship, I was given the opportunity to gain an insight into each postgraduate student’s research by assisting them with their ongoing projects.

During my week spent working alongside Heather, whose research focuses on children’s acquisition and comprehension of complex sentence structures, I became familiar with the ways in which speech acts produced alongside “because-” and “if-” clauses are used by children and their caregivers. I applied this understanding by coding a selection of transcribed sentences according to various categories of speech acts. My responses were then compared to those of Heather’s to assess whether they were sufficiently similar, indicating whether her own coding could be deemed reliable.

Similarly, I also assisted Kim by completing reliability coding for her own project exploring young children’s use of complex language and the various functions of modal verbs in their speech. When given a selection of sentences from her data, I identified whether the modal verb in question had an epistemic or deontic function, meaning whether the verb is used to express a speaker’s level of belief towards something, e.g. “it must be over there” or whether it concerns conditioning factors external to the individual such as permission or obligation, e.g. “you must eat your dinner”. Through being involved in this process, I was able to reach a better understanding of inter-rater reliability and how a kappa statistic is calculated.

In contrast, my work with Katy focused on her research investigating the distinction between monolingual primary school pupils and those who have English as an additional language (EAL) in their learning of modern foreign languages (MFL). I assisted her by calculating scores on tests and transcribing audio from three focus groups she had completed with academics and teachers. This provided me with an insight into the different learning experiences of EAL pupils at school and how bilingualism has the potential to both facilitate and hinder their education.

I also had the opportunity to attend the two-day LuCiD mini-conference held at the University of Liverpool, which consisted of a selection of short presentations by LuCiD researchers on their current projects within the field. Not only was I able to use some of the information presented to build upon my existing knowledge but I was also encouraged to think critically about the ideas presented by listening to group discussions after each presentation.

Since my prior experience and knowledge of research labs was limited, the internship was a valuable opportunity for me to observe and contribute to ongoing research, ultimately improving my confidence in scoring tests, coding, transcription, and general data handling. My experience has also enhanced my understanding of many aspects of child language and communication and the variety of methods used to investigate its development. I feel that this knowledge, along with the research-specific skills I have developed, will benefit me as I enter the final year of my undergraduate degree as I will complete a module based on language and communicative development alongside carrying out my own research project.


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