Internet tech and trends in the L2 classroom

I’m in a workshop with Silvina Orsatti from Pitt this morning talking about incorporating digital storytelling into the foreign language classroom to develop the 5 C’s. In today’s high pressure academic world I think that faculty on the tenure-track have a hard time redirecting their energies to such creative concepts in the classroom, but the instructors in this workshop have so much passion and energy for their teaching! And I have a feeling their classes are better for it. Here’s my 5-minute experimentation with memes for the linguistics classroom:


Why we study bilinguals…

A concise and unsensationalistic explanation of why we study bilinguals and what we mean when we talk about the “Bilingual Advantage” by Susan Bobb from Northwestern University: The buzz about bilingualism

And read the full article that follows by Kroll, Hoshino and Bobb to learn more. #CLS #PennState

Whales can speak dolphin! Who knew?!

A new paper from the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego shows that killer whales who were held with bottlenose dolphins were able to produce vocalizations similar to those of their dolphin companions. (Maybe language isn’t just a people thing after all..) More interesting still, one whale even produced chirps like dolphins which fell within the range of individual differences for dolphins themselves, suggesting that not only can whales be second language learners, but that, through immersion, they, too, can achieve native-like proficiency! Very cool.

PA Linguistics on the front page of The Daily Collegian

It is a good day when the university newspaper features a linguistic — yes! LINGUISTIC! — topic on the front page.

That day is made even better when you realize the author has received their linguistic training at least in part by you and your colleagues. *snaps*

As for the eastside/westside dialectal battle … I’m mostly Philly (I grew up just north of there), but I don’t “yous.” Here in State College, I feel like that puts me in the minority. Despite being the geographic center of the state, this town is definitely full of dialectal westsiders.

Do you agree? What are you? Do people “yinz” or “yous” in other parts of the country?

I think, therefore digo yo…

My paper on the variable position of 1sg yo , written with my dear colleague and friend Nicole Benevento, is now available online at the International Journal of Bilingualism. This paper will appear in print form as a part of a special issue titled “Code-switching in the community: unraveling contact-induced change,” containing papers on many different topics of interest in New Mexican Spanish-English code-switching as found in the NMSEB corpus (Torres Cacoullos & Travis, in preparation).

ijb header

The final, definitive version of this article will be published in The International Journal of Bilingualism by SAGE Publications, Ltd. All rights reserved. © Nicole M. Benevento & Amelia J. Dietrich

Overheard en route to the MLA

I am at my gate in the MDT airport waiting for my delayed flight to Chicago for the MLA. The woman working the desk, who I later learned is named Marisol – has a Spanish accent of only middling thickness and she just made an announcement for a SkyCap to bring a wheelchair to the gate for the arriving flight. It’s “accented” English, but understandable. Immediately after her announcement clicks off a woman with a distinctively central PA accent repeats the same request over the loudspeaker. As soon as that announcement clicks off, Marisol’s walkie-talkie comes in with some static and a condescending: “…don’t know what the heck you’re talking about Marisol…” Marisol politely, if sheepishly, responds: “It’s already taken care of, but thank you,” and goes back to work. In fact, a wheelchair is rolling up to the boarding area right now. I’m left wishing I knew where the lady on the other end of that walkie-talkie is so that I would have somewhere to cast my angry glares. And yet, something in the whole interaction makes me think she thought she was really looking out for her buddy Marisol.

Why is this acceptable behavior? Why do we adjust to some accents and not others? Have you ever had any similar experiences (as witness or participant)? What do you think?

Accents, motivations and cultural identities: The things you learn from your students

Can we ask you a question? We’ve been wondering all class [which explains why they were talking the whole time and disrupting the kids next to them] … where are you from? Coz, like, you don’t have an accent in English, or, I mean, whatever, but you have a really good accent in Spanish. So we were just wondering…

This came from 2 girls in a class I substituted for a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago. They approached me sheepishly after class. What they meant was that I sound like a native speaker of English, but to their 200-level learner ears, I also sound like a native speaker of Spanish. I was flattered and used it as an opportunity to encourage them to work hard in class and study abroad if they can, but there’s something else afoot, no? Their usual teacher, as they mentioned, has lived in the US for 10 years and still has a very heavily accented English. He knows more colloquial American expressions and cultural references than I do for any Latin American or Spanish culture, but they’re tuned into pronunciation, not word choice. This made me wonder, does their perception of us have an impact on their learning? Do they pay more attention to me or him? Are they more motivated by one or the other of us?

I’m baaaaack


My alarm went off at 6:45 this morning and with that if there was any impression left for me that Granada was vacationlandia it vanished in an instant. The walk from my piso in the centro to the CIMCYC (Centro de Investigación dr Mente, Cerebro y Comportamiento aka Center for Research on Mind, Brain and Behavior) on the Campus de la Cartuja of the Universidad de Granada takes about 45 minutes if you’re moving quickly. A bus would only take perhaps 25, but knowing that A) I’m not good at motivating myself to exercise for real and B) if last year’s stint in Grana’ was any indication my schedule would be busy and erratic I made the commitment to myself that I won’t take the bus except perhaps in case of deluvio, and use that to combat the butt-flattening pressure of dissertation research and writing. It should be noted that more than half of this walk is uphill-a pretty steep incline-and I carry a backpack with a computer and some books which add a few pounds to my back. And this Granada. It’s like 89 degrees and really sunny. I arrive to the lab quite sweaty.

But there is good to be had in this day despite what may seem like an unpleasant start. I passed through the lovely Plaza Bib-Rambla and past the Catedral in the glowing morning sun. I saw 4-year-olds brimming with excitement as they’re dragged along by their proud mamas to the first day of colegio. My first participant showed up on time and my experiments all worked without issue. The 2nd one, too! I had a lovely lunch on the terraza with my colleagues and successfully wrote a script in R to analyze my data which saved me TONS of future time and headache. On my walk home I spoke with the sweetest old man pharmacist to get advice on a mask for my face (travel sucks for my poor skin) and remembered that this morning I downloaded the latest episode of “Breaking Bad”.

Granada feels like home again with all the stress and sleep deprivation that can entail, but it is vibrant and full of life and has me feeling like maybe this dissertation thing isn’t so overwhelming after all.

Il sud come sud del mondo…o del Mediterraneo per lo meno

I’m in Marseille, France, in the southern region of Provence this week for AMLaP2013, where I’m presenting a poster on my dissertation pilot data. The conference is great and intellectually stimulating, but on the 10th anniversary of my first solo trip to this region, something else left a bigger impression.


The Mediterranean region will always feel like home to me. Probably in a way that Argentina never will even though I lived there 6 months and loved it. And in a different way than even State College does after being there for 4 years. There’s something about the first place you go on your own. And about being 17 when you do it. You’re so fully aware and almost grown up and yet still so moldable, impressionable, not yet set in your ways. Every time I come back to the south of any Mediterranean country I feel the same way – the rocks, the dirt, the trees, the air, the smells. Stepping off the plane I already feel the rush of nostalgia.

The pungent reek of dog and human urine is happily wafted away by the cheerful odor of sharp espresso and buttery pastries in the span of a single block. Grandmothers across the Mediterranean seem to wear the same compression knee-highs under the same Dr. Scholl’s-esque slippers while they hose down their sidewalks and balconies, making the the air briefly heavy as the sun evaporates the water away. The seedy character on the corner cat-calling in an unfamiliar tongue as you walk by is probably best left un-understood.

I know these sights and smells and sounds. I know them like I know the cornfields and cows and lawnmowers I pass on the road to my father’s house where I grew up. They feel quaint and like home. Strangely comforting. Maybe a little backwards or unpleasant at times, but in the most wonderful way.

People have been telling me that Marseille is the mafia capital of France. They tell me the neighborhood where I’m staying is a bit sketchy. I don’t know about any of that. I’ve looked around me and taken a deep breath and I know all I need to know. I have a feeling I’m going to like it here.