Evolving Perspectives on Advancedness:
A Symposium on Second Language Spanish

February 15-17, 2018

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

Advanced language proficiency has garnered renewed attention in recent years as universities work to graduate students with high levels of language use. In addition to developing the skills necessary for students to analyze and critique literary and cultural texts, foreign language programs must also produce advanced- to superior-level users of foreign language in order to meet professional and societal demands for multilingualism. To that end, program assessment metrics often use descriptors such as advanced near native professional, and fluent, to name just a few, but without any shared understanding among directors, department chairs, professors, advisors, or SLA experts, of the meaning of such terms. What does an advanced learner “look like” in terms of linguistic knowledge and ability to communicate? Are linguistic analyses or native speaker perceptions better indicators of achievement? Does enrollment in an upper-division course constitute an advanced level of linguistic knowledge? Is studying abroad the only way for a student to become an advanced speaker? SLA scholars have argued the need for more detailed descriptions of high-level L2 competencies, as well as an expansive and articulated conceptualization of advancedness, in order to address such questions (e.g. Birdsong 2005; Norris 2006; Piller 2002; Ortega & Byrnes 2008).

This unique symposium aims to address these questions and offer new understandings from the field of Spanish as a Second Language.  The growing body of research in Spanish SLA, in particular, has revealed interlanguage development with significant breadth and depth, and has yielded a substantial body of results regarding late-acquired structures. Yet, as Kimberly Geeslin explained in The Handbook of Spanish Second Language Acquisition (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), more work needs to be done in order to understand differences across studies stemming from variable research methods, as well as variability within learner groups, due to various internal and external factors. The goal of this symposium is to address such issues by bringing together researchers from a variety of methodological approaches and establish an agenda for further exploration of advanced Spanish.

The symposium will highlight data-driven research that operationalizes the term advanced according to one of four strands of research:
  • Sophisticated language use in context. This construct of advancedness encompasses more than linguistic phenomena; it includes aspects of literacy and diverse manifestations of cultural competence. Topics include, but are not limited to, register, voice, genre-specific features, and socio-pragmatic phenomena;
  • Acquisition of late-acquired structures. Certain features, such as gender agreement, copula selection, and mood selection, are known to develop slowly in L2 Spanish, yet most work has focused on beginning or intermediate learners.  Presentations in this strand will explore characteristics of these features in the language of advanced learners; Linguistic correlates of proficiency.
  • Linguistic correlates of proficiency. A variety of standardized methods (e.g., ACTFL OPI, ILR, CEFR, DELE, DLPT) are used to describe and assess the L2 proficiency of individuals as well as establish criteria for enrollment or employment. How do they correspond to the notions of advancedness among different institutions of higher learning? The linguistic correlates, or features, characteristic of language at each level comprise this strand of research;
  • Individual differences. Language aptitude, learning experiences, motivation, identity, working memory, and many other learner variables are known to impact language development and outcomes. This strand addresses those variables, exploring issues regarding ultimate attainment, individual speaker variables and their correlation with proficiency, variability within groups, and the relationship of  institutional status and proficiency.

In addition to the four strands described above, we welcome proposals for a colloquium on Instructed SLA and advanced proficiency.