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Lexical Diversity and Fluency in Second Language Child Learners of Spanish, French, and Chinese in a Classroom Immersion Context 
Jane Hacking, Fernando Rubio, Aleksandra Zaba

This study investigates L2 development among third grade (K-12) native English speaking learners of Chinese, French and Spanish in a school immersion context. Using samples of oral language produced during annual school testing, we investigate linguistic development across these three languages as measured by lexical diversity and syntactic complexity. The results contribute to the larger discussion concerning linguistic correlates of proficiency (Amoroso 2015, Gyllstad, Granfeldt, Bernardini & Kallkvist 2014, Long, Gor & Jackson 2012, Moon & Long 2009, Park 2017).   

Lexical Complexity PPT

Advanced Speaking Project

As part of the Language Flagship Proficiency Initiative Grant, teams of faculty and/or graduate students from the three grantee institutions (University of Utah, Michigan State University, University of Minnesota) have launched a collaborative project focused on moving students from Intermediate to Advanced level Speaking proficiency. The team met at the Big Ten Conference Center for a two day workshop to initiate the project October 27-28, 2017. The workshop was facilitated by Judy Liskin-Gasparro. UU participants were Jane Hacking, Joanna Watzinger-Tharp, Elizabeth Ewaskio and Max Seawright and from Salt Lake Community College - Takashi Eberi. 

Utah DLI Students’ Performance on Proficiency Assessments
Fernando Rubio & Johanna Watzinger-Tharp

This large-scale study investigates Utah DLI students’ performance on AAPPL tests in Chinese, French, Spanish and Portuguese. We are using data collected during the spring of 2014 and 2015 (for school years 2013-2014 and 2014-2015) and the fall of 2016 (for the 2015-2016 school year). We will report on cross-sectional data from three years of testing, and longitudinal data for students who were tested more than once during the testing period (2014-2016). We disaggregate two-way Spanish data to control for the over-representation of heritage speakers in two-way vs. one-way.

We frame this study by making a crucial distinction between performance and proficiency assessment. Performance is “the ability to use language that has been learned and practiced in an instructional setting” and is used “within familiar contexts and content areas” (ACTFL, 2012, p.4). Proficiency, on the other hand, refers to an individual’s ability to use language in real-world situations and in contexts that are spontaneous and non-rehearsed. The AAPPL test measures performance toward proficiency because it exposes students to a variety of tasks within a limited range of levels in a number of familiar contexts. Students who perform at a certain level in such tasks are likely to show the same level of proficiency in real-life situations. We also discuss the significance of proficiency benchmarks for curricular and policy decisions.

 We address the following research questions:

  1. What levels of proficiency do Chinese, French and Spanish DLI students achieve in interpersonal listening/speaking (ILS), interpretive listening (IL) and interpretive reading (IR) by the end of 6th grade, and what level of proficiency do Spanish DLI students achieve by the end of 8th grade in each of the four skills?
  1. 2. Do (the same) DLI students progress from their first (2013) to their second (2015) testing year (3rd to 5th ILS; 4th to 6th for IL and IR)? Are there statistically significant differences across languages or modes (IL vs. IR)/tests/?
  1. What percentage of DLI students meet the target/partner language benchmarks set by the state?

English Learners in Utah Dual Language Immersion (DLI) Programs

Jamie Leite & Johanna Watzinger-Tharp

This pilot study examines English Learner (EL) enrollment patterns in Utah’s DLI programs, and ELs’ academic performance at the school level. Working with a subset of Utah DLI schools, we first determine to what extent EL enrollment patterns in DLI programs are representative of EL enrollment in the school as a whole. We then compare the English Language Arts (ELA) performance of students in one-way and two-way programs. We position the study within a long tradition of dual immersion studies that focus on the academic achievement gap (e.g. Goldenberg, 2013; Hemphill & Vanneman, 2011; Thomas & Collier, 2012). A recent DLI study conducted in Portland Public Schools (Steele et al. 2015), one of few that rigorously controls for extraneous variables, found a positive effect of DLI on ELs’ reading achievement.

While the majority of existing research on ELs in dual immersion focuses on two-way programs, our study includes both one-way and two-way. We investigate the following research question in this pilot:

  1. What are the EL enrollment patterns in Utah’s DLI programs compared to EL enrollment in the schools as a whole?
  2. How do ELs in Utah’s one-way and two-way DLI programs perform on English Language Arts proficiency and growth measures?
  3. What are the EL classification patterns in Utah DLI programs?

Our initial findings from 9 one-way and 12 two-way schools indicate that EL enrollment patterns in DLI are largely representative of EL enrollment in whole schools. Variation across schools is greater in one-way than in two-way schools. This pattern is similar for ELA proficiency and growth: Proficiency levels tend to be more uniform across two-way programs than one-way.

Future research on ELs in Utah DLI will be conducted under the auspices of a research-practitioner partnership grant from the Institute for Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education ( This research will first determine how Utah school districts enroll students (EL and non-EL) in DLI and then estimate the causal effect of DLI participation on student achievement, including differential effects of one-way and two-way programs for ELs vs. native English speakers. For more information, click here.

Toward Expanded Understanding of Adolescent Identity Construction in High School Immersion Programs: Utah’s Bridge Program

Jill Landes-Lee

Increasing numbers of Latino/a students aspire to attend college, yet rates of college perseverance and graduation are the lowest of all demographic groups. This study builds on existing research in the field of psychology on ethnic and racial identity in adolescents, which links strong groundedness in cultural identity to positive academic attitudes and psychological adaptability. The study asks how high school immersion students perceive themselves as bicultural citizens, and in what ways bilingualism and biculturality may contribute towards self-perceptions of college readiness. Early college high school Spanish courses in the immersion K-12 sequencing may allow students to explore and commit to their home culture and language and negotiate evolving bilingual and bicultural identity while pursuing a college pathway.

A comparison of advanced enrollment course-taking patterns and academic performance between Spanish-speaking and English-only speakers

Jill Landes-Lee

Enrollment by Latino students in higher education has increased nearly 300% over the past 10 years, yet rates of college perseverance and graduation are the lowest of all demographic groups. Enrollment in advanced courses during the high school years stands as one of the strongest predictors of success in college, yet little data is available on the degree or severity of the enrollment gap in college-preparatory pathways in Utah’s high schools via AP, IB, CE or honors courses. Utah leads the nation in building a successful early college, advanced course pathway in Spanish language studies which graduates students from high school 2-3 courses shy of a minor in Spanish. However, if these same students are not enrolled in courses aligning to college-readiness in English, we have missed our opportunity to impact and improve representation by Latino/a students in our system of higher education.

Hacking, J., Rubio, F. & Tschirner, E. (Forthcoming). Vocabulary size, reading proficiency and curricular design: The case of college Chinese, German, Russian and Spanish. In Gass, S. & Winke, P. (eds.), The power of performance-based assessment: Languages as a model for the liberal arts enterprise. Boston: Springer.

Rubio, L & Esquivias, C. (Forthcoming). Empowering Students through Project Based Language Learning: The Power of Art in the Community. The Language Educator.

Rubio, F., Hacking, J. (Forthcoming). Proficiency vs. performance: what do the tests show? In Gass, S. & Winke, P. (eds.), The power of performance-based assessment: Languages as a model for the liberal arts enterprise. Boston: Springer.

Hacking, J. & Rubio, F. (2016). A proficiency based articulation project between post-secondary institutions. In Urlaub, P. & Watzinger-Tharp, J. (eds.), The interconnected language curriculum: Critical transitions and interfaces in articulated K-16 contexts. Boston: Cengage/Heinle, 118-33.

Hacking, Jane & Tschirner, Erwin. (2017). Reading proficiency, vocabulary development and curricular design: The case of college Russian. Foreign Language Annals50(3), 1-19. 

Landes-Lee, J. (2016). Utah’s dual language immersion model: A K-12 program with a K-16 vision. Utah Association of Secondary School Principals (UASSP) Impact Journal.

Tschirner, E., Gass, S., Hacking, J., Rubio, F., Soneson, D., Winke, P. (in progress). The role of listening in the growth of speaking ability. In Gass, S. & Winke, P. (eds.), The power of performance-based assessment: Languages as a model for the liberal arts enterprise. Boston: Springer.

Tschirner, E., Hacking, J. & Rubio, F. (in progress). Reading proficiency and vocabulary size: An empirical investigation. In Ecke, P. & Rott, S. (eds.) Understanding vocabulary learning and teaching: Implications for language program development. Boston: Cengage/Heinle (ms. due 6/15/17).

Urlaub, P. & Watzinger-Tharp, J., Eds. (2016). The interconnected language curriculum: Critical transitions and interfaces in articulated K-16 contexts. Boston: Cengage/Heinle.

Watzinger-Tharp, J. & Leite, J. (2017). Utah’s Dual Language Immersion Program: Access to multilingualism. Scottish Languages Review and Digest, 32, 31-38. 

Watzinger-Tharp, J. & Rubio, F. (in progress). The linguistic performance of dual language immersion students.

Watzinger-Tharp, J., Swenson, K. & Mayne, Z. (2016) Academic achievement of Utah students in dual language immersion. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism., 1-16.

Watzinger-Tharp, J. & Yongmei Ni. (in progress). DLI students’ academic performance in ELA, math and science. 

2017    Getting it right: Addressing accuracy in the immersion classroom. (Rubio, F. & Rubio, L.) ACTFL, Nashville.

2017    Active reading strategies to reach AP proficiency targets. (Landes-Lee, Rubio, L.) ACTFL, Nashville.

2017    English learners’ performance in ELA and Spanish. (Watzinger-Tharp, Leite) ACTFL, Nashville.

2017    Roadmap through the immersion continuation program K-16. (Lair, Geerlings and Harward) ACTFL, Nashville.

2017:   English learners in Utah’s DLI programs. (Watzinger-Tharp, Leite). 18th World Congress of Applied Linguistics (AILA), Rio de Janeiro.

2017    Culture: Interdisciplinary Approach and Proficiency in the Classroom, two-day workshop

            for teachers of French (Lair) L2TReC, University of Utah.

2017    Implementing core practices in the AP classroom. (Rubio) Southern Conference on Language Teaching, Orlando.

2017    The proficiency profile of foreign language university students. (Hacking) MLA, Philadelphia.

2017    K-16 articulations and alliances. (Watzinger-Tharp) MLA, Philadelphia.

2016    Vocabulary size, reading proficiency and curricular design. (Rubio, Hacking & Tschirner) ACTFL, Boston.

2016    What happens in the classroom... (Rubio F., Rubio, L.) SWCOLT, Hawaii.

2016    Building university-high school partnerships for advanced language pathways in Utah. (Landes-Lee) ADFL Summer Seminar, Monterey.

2016    Large-scale implementation of ACTFL computerized proficiency testing. (Tschirner, Gass, Malone, Soneson, Winke, Hacking & Rubio) ACTFL, Boston.

2016    Supporting secondary immersion pathways. (Landes-Lee) Sixth International Conference on Immersion and Dual Language Education, CARLA, University of Minnesota.

2016    Secondary DLI continuation with a K-16 Lens. (Lair, Landes-Lee, Rubio. L.) Sixth International Conference on Immersion and Dual Language Education, CARLA, University of Minnesota.

2016    The development of linguistic complexity in dual language immersion learners of Chinese, French and Spanish. (Hacking & Rubio) Sixth International Conference on Immersion and Dual Language Education, CARLA, University of Minnesota.

2016    Plenary session: Building a K-16 model for language acquisition. (Landes-Lee) Flagship Language Acquisition Summer Conference.

2016    Using vocabulary production and vocabulary recognition tests in Advanced Third Year University Spanish Courses. (Rubio, L.) TEXLER, San Antonio.

2016    Counterbalanced instruction in Dual Language Immersion classrooms. (Rubio, F., Rubio L.) ACTFL Annual Convention, Boston.

2016    Success through collaboration: Utah's K-16 language education alliance. (Hacking, Rubio, Roberts, Watzinger-Tharp) National Humanities Conference, Salt Lake City, UT.

2016    Correlations between speaking, listening, and reading proficiency scores. (Tschirner, Gass, Winke, Soneson, Hacking, Rubio) East Coast Organization of Language Testers.

2016    Core practices in the AP classroom. Texas Foreign Language Association. (Rubio) Austin, TX.

2016    Providing the tools for success: the role of teachers and students as assessors in the AP course. (Rubio) South West Conference on Language Teaching, Honolulu, HI.

2016    What is the reality of proficiency-based articulation at the post-secondary level? A case study: University of Utah – Salt Lake Community College (Hacking, Rubio) Georgetown University Language Roundtable.

2016    Academic achievement and language proficiency of Utah DLI students. (Watzinger-Tharp, Rubio) ACTFL, Boston.

2015    Preparing your AP students for advanced-level writing. (Rubio) ACTFL Annual Convention, San Diego, CA.

2015    Plenary session: Dual Language Immersion continuation for grades 7-9. (Landes-Lee) Flagship Language Acquisition Summer Conference.

2015    English learners in Utah’s Dual Language Immersion (Leite, Watzinger-Tharp) CARLA, Minneapolis.

2015    Situating Dual Immersion data in curricular and instructional contexts (Mau, Watzinger-Tharp) CARLA, Minneapolis.

2015    Keynote: Validating multiple varieties in the L2 classroom (Watzinger-Tharp)
Annual German Linguistics Association Conference (GLAC), Provo, UT.

2015    Plenary session: Structuring supports for secondary immersion? (Landes-Lee) Annual Utah Immersion Conference for Administrators.

2015    Listening in the college curriculum: A case study. (Rubio, Hacking) ACTFL Annual Convention, San Diego, CA.

2015    Teacher-driven professional learning through lesson study model. (Landes-Lee, Harward) ACTFL Annual Convention, San Diego, CA.

2015    The link between interaction and proficiency in dual language immersion. (Rubio, F., Rubio, L.) ACTFL Annual Convention, San Diego, CA.

2015    Faire réseau: Séminaire fédéral sur l’enseignement bilingue francophone aux Etats-Unis, panel moderator. (Lair) French Embassy, Washington, D.C.

2016    Engaging classrooms: Literature, films, culture and project-based Learning. (Lair) Two-day workshop for teachers of French. L2TReC, University of Utah.

2015    Rendons la culture plus intéractive en salle de cours. (Lair) Workshop for teachers of French. L2TReC, University of Utah.

2015    Comment s’exprimer en français. (Lair) Workshop for teachers of French. L2TReC, University of Utah.

2015    Outcomes in higher-education world language programs: Results and implications. consortium on useful assessment in language and humanities education. (Rubio) Georgetown University.

2015    The role of language corpora in the development of linguistic or communicative competence. (Rubio, L.) TexFlec. San Antonio.

2014    Facilitating, sustaining and capitalizing on a proficiency-driven culture for high-quality language programs. (Landes-Lee, Wade) Flagship Language Acquisition Summer Conference, Utah.

2014    Second language acquisition and pedagogy in Dual Language Immersion. (Rubio) ACTFL conference, San Antonio.

2014    Overview of performance assessment results in the Utah dual language immersion program. (Rubio) Fifth International Conference on Language Immersion Education, Salt Lake City, UT.

2014    Utah French Dual Language Immersion: Bridging academics and French/Francophone communities. (Lair, Murdock) Fifth International Conference on Language Immersion Education, Salt Lake City, UT.

2014    AP Spanish 2014: From thematic design to authentic assessment. (Rubio) Southwest         Conference on Language Teaching, Snowbird, UT.

2014    Comment enseigner la culture. (Lair) Workshop for teachers of French. L2TReC, University of Utah.

The purpose of the L2TReC Student Research Grants Program is to enhance the research education of University of Utah students and promote the research mission of L2TReC via support for student research projects.


 All University of Utah undergraduate and graduate students studying the acquisition and/or teaching of second languages are eligible to submit proposals

Students working collaboratively with faculty are eligible if the student is considered to be the principal investigator/first author

 Funds may be used to offset the cost of:

 Study participant compensation


 Travel to academic conferences for the purpose of presenting (undergraduate students only; graduate students may be eligible for travel funding from the Graduate School

 Other research-related expenses

Research involving human research participants must be approved by the University of Utah’s Institutional Review Board (click here for more information)

Application Deadline and Funding Period

OCTOBER 15th and MARCH 15th of each year. Awarded funds must be used within one calendar year


Download the application instructions PDF

Only complete applications will be considered. An electronic copy of the complete application must be submitted by 4:00pm on the applicable deadline to The entire application should be contained in a single PDF file with the student’s last name as the file name (e.g., Smith.pdf). The application should consist of the following, in this order:

  1. Completed cover page
  2. Proposal narrative (limit of 500 words): a description of the proposed research and its significance, a plan and timeline for completion of the research, and the importance of the project to the student’s education
  3. Itemized budget and budget justification (limit of one page); students may request up to $200
  4. Letter of support from a University of Utah faculty member; if the student and faculty member are collaborating on the project, the faculty member must certify that the student is the principal investigator/first author
  5. If the proposal involves presenting a paper at an academic conference, a copy of the letter of acceptance/invitation should be included with the proposal

Evaluation of Proposals 

Proposals will be evaluated by a committee appointed by the Director(s) of the Center. The number of awards will be determined by the availability of funding and the number of proposals. 

The committee will base its evaluation of proposals on the following:

  1. The clarity of the project description and feasibility of the project completion plan and timeline;
  2. The importance of the project to the student’s research education
  3. The academic qualifications and promise of the student as indicated in the letter of support

2015 - 2016

Jin Bi (PhD Linguistics)
Abstract: It is well-documented that second and foreign language learners (L2) are able to keeppace with their monolingual peers when it comes to first language literacydevelopment, while gaining an edge in cognitive processes such as metalinguisticawareness and interference control. The majority of studies on bilingual literacy andcognition examine two groups, i.e., simultaneous bilinguals (people who have beenexposed to the two languages at home from birth or from a very early age) andmonolinguals. The sequential bilinguals (people who acquire an L2 later in life) areoften excluded in these studies due to the variation in their L2 proficiency profiles.Yet, it is precisely this population that makes up the majority of bilinguals in US, andparticularly in public schools. My dissertation research includes two different groupsof sequential bilinguals and compares their performance with simultaneous bilinguals.The sequential bilinguals are the immersion group (e.g., returned missionaries andstudy abroad students) and the foreign language group (traditional foreign languagestudents). The purpose of the study is to examine whether or not sequential bilingualsenjoy the same cognitive advantages as simultaneous bilinguals. The current studyuses a cross-sectional design to explore the cognitive processing differences amongindividuals with varied L2 proficiency levels and from different learning contexts.Data are collected through language background surveys and four well-established labcognitive tasks (English Verbal Fluency Task, Reading Span task, Stop-signalParadigm, and Simon task). A priori power analysis indicates a sample of 159participants is needed to reach a medium effect size (based on previous studies,Cohen’s f = .25), and a statistical power of 0.8 when using ANOVA. Therefore, therewill be a minimum of 53 college students in each group, matched in age and gender.The results from this study will help explain the influences of ultimate L2 attainmentsand contexts for learning on the cognitive benefits of learning additional languages.This study is expected to start in Dec. 2015, and enrollment will be ongoing until asample size of 200 participants is reached. Each experiment session will last abouttwo hours. The data collection is expected to complete in May, 2016. The dataanalysis and the completion of the remaining chapters of my dissertation is to be donein June and July. This will ensure my dissertation defense in Sep. 2016. 

Taylor Anne Barriuso (PhD Linguistics)
Abstract: Adults are able to use statistical distributional information to acquire phonemes. This studyinvestigates whether exposure to phonological distributional information is sufficient forsecond language learners to determine whether two sounds belong to separate phonemesor are allophones of a single phoneme. 

2014 - 2015

Kristie Durham (PhD Linguistics)
Abstract: Showalter and Hayes-Harb (2013) found that leaners could use unfamiliar orthographic symbols, in the form of tone marks, to remember lexical tones associated with new L2 words. Although the tone marks were facilitatory, the question of whether leaners created lexical representations that included orthographic information, or whether the marks simply focused learners’ attention on differences in auditory forms, helping them learn by virtue of noticing the different tones, is open. The question we are asking is whether the orthographic effects observed in Showalter and Hayes-Harb (2013) might also be observed given systematic, visual input that is not strictly orthographic and may merely cue learners to differences in the auditory forms. The types of visual input we investigate include color and screen positioning of various elements, whereby either color or position correspond to specific tones in a learning phase. By informing us of the type of visual information learners can access in phonological acquisition, this study potentially informs second language pedagogy

Kelsey Brown ( MA Linguistics)

Abstract: Recent research indicates that L2 learners use orthographic information, including spelled forms and diacritics, to infer information about the phonological forms of words. When the L2 does not follow the orthographic conventions of a learner’s L1 orthography, the learner may create non-target like lexical representations which lead to non-target like pronunciations. A previous study found that exposure to spelled forms may also hinder a learner’s ability to acquire a phonological rule such as word-final obstruent devoicing in German. Namely, learners who saw spelled forms of words were significantly more likely to incorrectly pronounce them with voiced final obstruents. This study investigates whether explicit instruction about misleading grapheme-phoneme correspondences in the L2 can improve learners’ acquisition of a phonological rule despite exposure to spelled forms. Prior to learning new words, participants will be informed that words in German are not always said how they are spelled and given examples such as “A ‘b’ at the end of the word is pronounced ‘p.’” Results will then be analyzed to see if participants given instruction about pronunciation significantly differ from those that did not receive instruction in their pronunciation of the learned words.

2013 - 2014

Bill Roundy

Julia Menéndez Jardón

2012 - 2013

Amanda Rabideau (MA Linguistics)

Jeff Green (BA Linguistics, Russian)
Abstract: Previous research has shown that during early stages of L3 acquisition, both L1 and L2 phonology influence the phonology of the emerging L3. This is evident, for example, in learners¹ production of some word-initial consonants, such as d, p, and k. Languages differ in the timing between the articulation of the consonant and the beginning of vibration of the vocal folds (voicing)associated with a following vowel sound. This timing is known as Voice Onset Time (VOT). Studies suggest a stronger influence from L2 than from L1 in L3 VOT production. However, learners in these studies had some (if limited) knowledge of the L3, and the influence of this knowledge is unclear. In addition, previous studies have addressed L3 production, but not L3 perception. This study investigates the influence of L1 and L2 phonology on the very initial stages of L3 acquisition (when the language is totally unfamiliar) by presenting English and Spanish bilinguals with stimuli representing a range of VOT in their L1 and L2, as well as from a third, unfamiliar language in a series of identification and discrimination tasks designed to elicit evidence of VOT boundaries in each language.

The results of these tasks will show whether learners rely more on their L1 or their L2 for processing a third, unfamiliar language. Preliminary results are currently being analyzed. This research will give important insights for competing models of third language acquisition.

Chloe Brent (BA Linguistics)
Abstract: I am working with a fluent Southern Paiute speaker from the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah to document and revitalize this severely endangered language. Together, we are making a storybook, replete with audio recordings, and we are developing an orthography and language teaching curriculum.

Daniel Dixon (MA Applied Linguistics)
Abstract: The purpose of this study is to analyze the specific types of interaction that take place between English language learners while playing the online videogame entitled Guild Wars 2. The data from this study will be gathered from the recorded screens of five volunteer ESL students at the University of Utah as they interact in Guild Wars 2 for a period of 12 hours over four to five weeks. In-game interaction is analyzed and placed into categories meant to capture the number and types of opportunities for negotiation of meaning and types of learning strategies used, each category consisting of several subcategories. By examining what specific type of interaction that takes place during gameplay, a better understanding can be reached as to how and why MMORPGs have shown beneficial results for language learners.

Last Updated: 1/16/18