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Learning Patterns in the Acquisition of Maltese as a Foreign Language by adults

Abstract

Despite  increased  interest  in learning Maltese  as  a foreign language (MFL), there is a lack of research and large-scale studies on the acquisition of MFL.The research  question of  this  study is: Can  a  pattern be observed over time in the acquisition of verbal tense/aspect by adult learners of Maltese as a foreign language?

The aim of my research is to understand what is going on in a learner’s mind when acquiring  Maltese  verbal  tense  and  aspect  as  a  foreign language   (FL).   The study is   guided   by   Chaos/Complexity   theory(C/CT),  which  focuses  on  the  non-linear  learning  curve,  the  initial conditions   of   the   butterfly   effect and fractal   patterns   in   language learning,   and   considers   learning to   be unpredictable, chaotic and complex  (Larsen-Freeman,  1987;  2011). My research  is  based  on the epistemological  approach  of  pragmatism and  includes  both  cognitive and  sociocultural  perspectives  of  second  language  acquisition  (SLA).  A longitudinal research design and a mixed method approach focusing on methodological  triangulation  are  adopted,  as  they  are  the  most  suitable for answering my research question.  From  a  target  population  of  39,  with  a  95%  confidence  interval  and  a margin   of   error   of   4%,   a convenience   sample   of thirty-five adult participants attending three  Lifelong  Learning  Centres  to  learn  Maltese as  a  foreign  language participated  in  this  study from  March  2016  until May  2017.  Structured  Timed  Grammaticality  Judgment  Tests  (TGJTs) and verb conjugation tasks were used to investigate the learning curve of the  students,  and hence to  explore any learning patterns  over  time. The results  indicated  that  all  participants  exhibited  a  non-linear  learning pattern, except for three learners who exhibited an ogive learning curve. The main learning pattern was an increase in learning (vertical axis) over time (horizontal axis). The findings are consistent with Chaos/Complexity theory,  which  postulates  that  learning  is  complex, chaotic  and  unpredictable  and,  as  in  nature,  it  is  impossible  to  find  a true, logical pattern in the foreign language learning process.

A short biography abour Dr Żammit

Dr Jacqueline Żammit is a lecturer in the Pedagogy of Maltese, with a specialization in the teaching of Maltese as a Foreign Language within the Department of Languages and Humanities, Faculty of Education at the University of Malta. She holds a First Class B.Ed (Hons) Degree in Maltese and Early and Middle Years, a Masters of Arts Degree with Distinction in Maltese Linguistics, and a PhD from the University of Malta. Her areas of interest comprise Adult Education, Chaos/Complexity Theory, second language acquisition, the interlanguage, teaching approaches, multiculturalism, interculturalism, cross-cultural communication, plurilingualism, applied linguistics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, adult education, artificial intelligence, and, in particular, the learning of Maltese as a second language. Jacqueline has more than twenty years of pedagogy insights experience working with Primary, Secondary and Tertiary schools to teach Maltese as a first and foreign language as well as Spanish as a foreign language. She is a research and design consultancy in teaching and learning Maltese as a foreign language. She introduced Maltese as a foreign language and presented Second Language Acquisition pedagogies at several universities such as the Universities of Edinburgh, Cork and Antwerp. She is currently publishing papers on refereed journals and is writing books about Maltese as a Foreign Language.

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Dr Jacqueline Żammit
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