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PURE Award winners 2015: Anja Dressler

Student researcher rethinks perceptions of second language fluency


Photo by Kelsey Verboom, University of Calgary

Committed to a goal of research excellence with its bold Eyes High strategy, one of the University of Calgary’s most important initiatives is the Program for Undergraduate Research Experience, better known as PURE.

Each year undergraduates can apply for the prestigious PURE Awards, which provide financial research support to some of the university’s most promising students over the Spring and Summer months.

The program is designed to give undergraduate students the opportunity to learn how to develop research projects, undertake independent research and contribute to knowledge in their respective fields.

In this Q&A series we will meet the PURE Award winners from the Faculty of Arts. Good luck to each of them in their research pursuits!

Name: Anja Dressler

Degree sought: Bachelor of Art, major in German, minor in Linguistics. I just completed my third year in this program, one semester of which I spent abroad in Germany in second year.

Research topic: "Rethinking Perceptions of Second Language Fluency. I am comparing the judgements of three different groups of listeners (native speaker Germans, learners of German, and those who know no German at all) on samples of German speech. Half of my participants rated for fluency and half for fluidity, with both terms having the same definition. In this way I am able to determine to what extent these different groups have perceptions of the concept of fluency that differ from the linguistic research norm."

What attracted you to this particular research project? "This project directly ties into both my major (German) and my minor (Linguistics). This project will further my understanding as a German learner while complementing my theoretical linguistics studies nicely. After my undergraduate degree I intend to complete a BEd to teach German and English as a Second Language as a teacher in public schools. In order to properly motivate and encourage students to learn a language and foster healthy attitudes concerning their progress and goals, the specific knowledge that this project will bring me is immense. Many second language learners, such as new immigrants to Canada, have fluency as their goal. However, fluency is often difficult to define and this can cause frustration. Being able to reassure students and point out how they could specifically move toward their goal will be very valuable."

Why is this research important? "I feel that having both researchers and participants on the same page when it comes to investigating any topic is crucial. If the general public has a specific view, namely that fluency means proficiency, and researchers hold a different opinion, the idea that fluency refers to the smoothness of speech, then that causes issues. Researching into the perception of second language speech in this way is necessary to sort out a methodological issue that will only continue to arise in all future fluency research unless addressed."

What do you hope to achieve with this research? "With this project I hope to bring attention to the issue of the different definitions of fluency and how that still effects the results of research studies done on fluency. I also hope to be able to propose a solution that will make this problem less of an issue in order to enable research results on fluency to reflect what the researchers were actually looking for, without the differences in definitions getting in the way."

What do you love most about your field of study? " I enjoy both of my fields of study every day that I get to learn more about them. I am astounded and amazed at the world that learning German has opened up to me. I have been able to connect with the country of my ancestors and even study for a semester in Germany and soak up all the richness that Europe has to offer. When you learn a language you not only learn a way to communicate, but you also get to know a whole culture, from the food to the people. Linguistics is also very interesting to me. I feel that by learning how languages are you also get to learn how people think, and how complex systems were put together, way before computers were invented. The patterns and intricacies of language are what bring me back time and time again to want to analyze the languages of the world."

> Learn more about other PURE Award winners from the Faculty of Arts