At the Interface Between Research and Practice: Professor ZhaoHong Han ☆

At the Interface Between Research and Practice: Professor ZhaoHong Han

With her ongoing research, publications, and teaching, Dr. ZhaoHong Han, Associate Professor of Language and Education, is at the forefront of the interface between research and practice. A strong belief in the importance of using research to inform teaching drives her professional interests and accomplishments, resulting in continuous contributions to the field of Second Language Acquisition. To say that Dr. Han is a busy woman is an understatement. Her current projects cover an array of exciting new research endeavors, conference engagements, and publishing contracts.

One such project on the horizon is a study that examines the processing of input by beginning second language (L2) learners with the target language being Chinese. This empirical study involves data collection from the Community Language Program at Teachers College. Working in conjunction with one of her EdM students, Dr. Han has been invited to participate in a panel at this year’s Annual Conference for the Canadian Association for Applied Linguistics, at which her findings will be presented.

In addition, Dr. Han is working with eight of her doctoral students on a colloquium for this year’s Annual Conference of Applied Linguistics. The colloquium is titled, “Beyond a Decade of Focus on Form: Giving Learner Meaning its Proper Place,” and is devoted to exploring the idea that learner meaning has been neglected in language teaching.

Dr. Han explains, “Focus on form has been a very hot topic in the field, both in second language acquisition research and in second language teaching. It’s been pursued for more than a decade. What we want to do is not only review what’s been done, but also point out a major issue in the current research. That is, learner meaning has been entirely neglected, and the teacher’s intention is to focus entirely on form accuracy. But we’ve not taken into account the learner’s intended meaning. What do they want to say?”

Held this March in Chicago, the colloquium will look at a possible mismatch between what language teachers provide for the learner, and what learners really need to convey their meaning.

Other current endeavors include an international project with a Hankuk University of Foreign Language Studies professor about task based language learning in a study abroad context, a piece about Second Language Acquisition for the Encyclopedia of Diverse Education, edited by James Bank, and a theoretical paper on the state of the art of fossilization research. This article is commissioned by an Oxford journal called Language Teaching and is due out this summer.

Additionally, Dr. Han has recently secured a contract with Cambridge University Press for an edited volume on input processing. The volume, due out in 2012, is tentatively called, “Input Processing at the Initial State of Second Language Acquisition.” While other researchers have looked at input processing at later stages of the L2 learning process, this volume will be the first to address input processing at its very beginning stage.

Dr. Han’s enthusiasm for research and teaching stems from a love for learning foreign languages and her experience as a multilingual speaker.  Her background teaching in a variety of settings across the globe led to the realization of a number of questions pertaining to learning, and a desire to find answers. Her need to resolve these issues compelled her to seek solutions not just in practice, but through theory. Thus, she began her journey of performing systematic study and research.

Dr. Han is genuinely excited by SLA research and its constant interaction with practice. She firmly believes in the importance of using research to inform teaching, as well as the connection between knowing the trends that are shaping the field and the success of language learners.

In addition to her research and teaching a number of courses at Teachers College, Dr. Han co-directs and teaches in the certificate program for Teaching Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages, which she founded with colleagues at Columbia University three years ago. Everything that contributed to the program’s design, from curriculum and materials to the schedule of classes, was underlain by what she knows from research – what can facilitate and accelerate learning, making it more effective.

And there is plenty that is yet to be discovered. Even after years of SLA research, Dr. Han asserts that it is still in the beginning stages. “There are so many issues that can be examined. In spite of 40-something years of research, it’s still very limited. [SLA research] is still in the early stage. Even though we do have some categorical findings that we can pass on to people in the field, like teachers, a lot of the seminal questions are still not adequately answered.

Liz Hoelzle