An Innovative Conference: Second Language Acquisition of Chinese

On October 1st and 2nd, an exciting inaugural event took place at Teachers College: the Applied Linguistics program hosted the tremendously successful Teachers College, Columbia University Roundtable in Second Language Studies (TCCRISLS) on the theme of Second Language Acquisition of Chinese.

Professor Zhaohong Han, Associate Professor of Language and Education for the TESOL and Applied Linguistics programs and an eminent researcher in the field of Second Language Acquisition, served as the faculty advisor for the TCCRISLS, and the students in Professor Han’s doctoral seminar – particularly the co-chairs: Yayun Anny Sun, K. Philip Choong, Hye Won Shin, and Shaoyan Qi – spent over a year bringing the event together. The innovativeness of all involved made TCCRISLS distinctive. Yayun Anny Sun explains, “There’s virtually no other conference based on Chinese SLA (Second Language Acquisition). Most existing conferences in the field are related to pedagogy, so we want to call attention to the field to initiate the process of creating a more cohesive body of empirical knowledge. And also to call attention to teachers to begin systematically bridging this knowledge base with their own practice.”

The many months of careful planning and creative ideas were rewarded with an exceptional turnout and a wealth of rich academic discourse. Nearly 200 participants attended TCCRISLS, including presenters and volunteers, representing five continents and fourteen countries. Over the course of the event, participants had opportunities to explore different facets of Chinese SLA: a pre- conference professional development workshop on Task-Based Language Teaching on September 29th and 30th, and on October 1st and 2nd, close to 90 paper sessions and 11 poster sessions in both English and Chinese, as well as many exhibitors. Cheng-Ling Alice Chen, both a presenter and a student in Professor Han’s doctoral seminar, described the atmosphere of the conference as bringing together research and practice: “It was really a space for intellectual exchange. I presented on the repeated reading approach can assist language acquistion, and the audience asked me questions both as researchers and as teachers.”

Some of the highlights of TCCRISLS included a warm opening speech by Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman and two dynamic plenary talks. On Friday afternoon, a plenary talk entitled Second Language Acquisition of Chinese at a Semantics-Syntax Interface, which explored the relationship between grammar and semantics in second language learning, was delivered by Professor Boping Yuan, a University Senior Lecturer at the University of Cambridge. On Saturday afternoon, Professor Nick Ellis of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, gave a plenary talk entitled Second Language Cognition, which focused on the process of second language acquisition and its applicability to Chinese as a Second Language. Professor ZhaoHong Han also drew a large audience for her paper session on Repeated-Reading-Based Pedagogical Intervention and Vocabulary Acquisition, which will be published by Professor Han and Cheng-Ling Alice Chen later this month in the journal Reading as a Foreign Language.

Overall, the inaugural TCCRISLS was a great success, and although there are no immediate plans for the next conference on the theme of Second Language Acquisition of Chinese, this year’s participants are already asking about when the next one will happen. Yayun Anny Sun believes that this is an area of research with great potential: “Second Language Acquisition of Chinese is up-and-coming, and people really are eager for further exploration.”