My name is Sascha Stollhans and I’m a PhD student in Linguistics at the University of Manchester. Linguistics is the scientific study of language and an incredibly versatile and interdisciplinary subject. Linguists look at all sorts of things related to language, e. g. the structure and sounds of language, how language is represented in the mind, how similar or different languages are, how we use language to express our thoughts, feelings and opinions, or even to insult people, why we talk differently depending on who we are talking to, and so on.
My research investigates the acquisition of foreign languages, in particular how the languages we know interact with and influence one another.
At school I always enjoyed foreign languages the most. That’s why I decided to study Linguistics and French at University, followed by a Master’s degree in Language Teaching. I like to discover how languages work, how we learn them and what successful language teaching should be like.
Being a great enthusiast of languages, I’ve always found it unfair that children learn their first language so effortlessly. Why can something so natural turn into rather hard work when we are older? What can we do to make language learning as effective and enjoyable as possible? It was my interest in questions like these that made me choose to become a linguist and language teacher.
After a few years working as a language teacher, I came to Manchester to take up my PhD in Linguistics. My study explores how previously acquired languages influence the process of learning a new language.
Specifically, I work with English learners of French and German. With the help of a number of experiments, my aim is to shed some light on the way several languages in our mind might influence one another.
For example, I am trying to find out if the fact that someone speaks French makes a difference when they start learning German. Could the additional language make it easier for them, or might it in fact be a hindrance?
In order to investigate this, I will conduct a number of experiments with language learners. For instance, I will do an eye-tracking study, which looks at the way our eyes move while we process sentences in a foreign language. Comparing the eye movements of native speakers with those of language learners can tell us a lot about the struggles languages learners have.
The results of my study will hopefully provide some explanations and help make language teaching and learning easier and more effective. They might help us explain why language learners find certain aspects of the language more difficult than others, and how we could make sure language teaching is more effective.
What I enjoy most about my PhD is that I can combine the scientific study of language with very relevant real-life problems. I’m using theoretical considerations about language and the results of my research study to tackle real problems. And in doing so, I learn something new every day - be it a new fact about language or a new method.
“What is Linguistics?”: a great introduction to linguistics by the Linguistic Society of America
“What do you start with in a Third Language?”: very interesting YouTube video introducing the linguistics research about people who learn more than one foreign language
Multilingual Manchester: a project investigating the over 200 languages that are spoken in Manchester
About eye-tracking as a scientific method:
Some interesting language-related Twitter accounts:
@EvrydayLg, @WorldOfLang, @lynneguist, @TheLingSpace
The Linguistics department at Manchester: