LESLLA intends to bring together applied linguists, researchers, educators, administrators, and policymakers to establish a multi-country and multi-target-language research group to study effective methods of language acquisition and literacy for adolescents and adults. No other group exists that meets regularly to consider interdisciplinary research on adult immigrant and refugee-background learning to speak and write a language other than their native language.
Background Information on Second Language Learners with Emerging Literacy & Limited/Interrupted Formal Education Experience
There exists a substantial body of work on adult second language acquisition (SLA) and second/foreign language learning, yet most studies deal with adults with native-language schooling through at least secondary school. Unlike for children, there has been little investigation into the linguistic competence and the metalinguistic processes connected with reading development of immigrant and refugee-background L2 adults and adolescents with little or no native language schooling.
This gap is not only remarkable, it is unfortunate. In many countries the majority of immigrant and refugee populations are low educated. For decades, western countries have been working with these immigrants who are gaining literacy for the first time in their life in order to start their educational ‘career’ and to apply for citizenship. The response of educational policy makers has been inconsistent. Without a solid evidence base, this is to be expected.
Lack of Research on Low-educated/Illiterate Second Language Learners
Only a small fraction of current research concerns the most vulnerable second language (L2) learners: low or non-literate adults with at the most primary schooling in their native language. Since initial interest in the 1980s there have been minimal research contributions to this domain, apart from a few studies in European countries, in the Netherlands (Kurvers & Van der Zouw, 1990; Kurvers, 2002), in the USA (Young-Scholten & Strom 2004; Condelli and Wrigley, 2003) and in Sweden (Skeppstedt, 2003). Studies of adults have either focused on educational practices or have involved adults who failed to learn to read and write in their native language despite schooling. Previous studies of immigrants, such as the European Science Foundation’s 1980s study of adults from six different language backgrounds in five European countries, have left unaddressed a range of issues whose resolution has the potential to directly impact educational policy. These include variation in input from different sources (extra-classroom, the classroom and written text) and variation in cognitive ability relating to language aptitude and working memory.
Growing the Research and Knowledge Base
Since its inception in 2005, LESLLA has played a significant role in increasing the knowledge base around work with these learner populations. The annual proceedings from the thirteen meetings thus far offer a strong starting point for the research agenda as well as a host of resources and strategies for LESLLA practitioners. The LESLLA community is growing by the year and the work is gaining traction and attention among larger communities of practice (e.g., AAAL, TESOL, IELTA). Let's keep the momentum going!