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ESR1 Project

Early bilingual heritage speakers acquiring a foreign language at school

Lead beneficiary: University of Konstanz

Main supervisor: T. Kupisch; ESR1 Committee: J. Rothman, C. Eulitz


The relatively young field of third language (L3) acquisition has addressed the question how previously acquired languages influence the acquisition of a L3. Early bilinguals with two first languages (2L1s) or an early second language (eL2) for whom the L3 is the first foreign language have not received much attention so far although this population is growing. Results from this population could challenge and refine existing models.


  • Compare early bilingual heritage speakers (German-Italian) with monolingual speakers when acquiring English a foreign language at school

  • Determine the speakers’ relative proficiency in their two early-acquired languages (Italian, the heritage language, and German, the dominant language of the national environment).

  • Determine potential transfer sources into L3 English, comparing two acquisition stages (initial state, advanced stage).

  • Compare potential transfer sources across domains (phonology, syntax, vocabulary) and determine the role of typological proximity as a determinant for transfer.

  • Discuss results with respect to current models of L3 acquisition.

Planned secondments:

In the 2nd year, 6 months at University Milano Bicocca under the supervision of Prof Teresa Guasti to collect data from heritage children. In the 3rd year, 2 months at the University of Reading under the supervision of Prof Jason Rothman to receive feedback on the findings and data analysis from an expert on heritage languages. During the two secondments, hands-on experience in public engagement and research dissemination at Bilinguismo conta (BC) and Bilingualism Matters Reading (BMR).


ESR2 Project

Multilingualism and rule extraction in the language and visual domains

Lead beneficiary: University of Geneva

Main supervisor: J. Franck; ESR2 Committee: D. Saddy, A. Sorace


There is robust evidence that being bilingual affects brain functions and that bilinguals have enhanced capacities in executive function tasks. Although it is commonly argued that bilinguals are better at learning new languages, very few studies have addressed the question scientifically. Good executive function skills predict success in learning an artificial language. However, it is unknown whether bilinguals have an advantage in learning the abstract properties that regulate how words can combine into sentences, e.g. syntax.


  • Explore the hypothesis that bilinguals/multilinguals, being exposed to various implementations of natural language syntax, develop increased abilities to learn abstract properties in new languages.

  • Study the effect of bilingualism/multilingualism in the learning of syntactic properties of subsets of natural and artificial languages, in particular: word order and syntactic movement, in production and in comprehension.

  • Explore the hypothesis that the ability to extract natural syntax rules extends to the extraction of regularities involving hierarchical rules (Fibonacci type) in other domains, and assess the role of rule learning and statistical learning in this process.

  • Study rule transfer across domains (visual, auditory, motoric).

  • Control for various factors that may affect performance in the natural and artificial language tasks: executive functions, memory (phonological or visual), level of bilingualism, language usage, number of languages spoken.

Planned secondments:

In the 1st year 2 months at the University of Reading to work with Prof Saddy on the development of Artificial Grammar Learning tasks. In the 2nd year, 3 months at XRCE to develop professional skills within a non-academic environment. In the 3rd year 3 months at Bilingualism Matters (BM) to receive training in public engagement and research dissemination.


ESR3 Project

The interaction between code-switching, cognitive control and creativity in Polish-English bilinguals

Lead beneficiary: University of Reading

Main supervisor: T. J. Treffers-Daller; ESR3 Committee: G. Thierry, C. Pliatsikas


This project focused on the interaction between code-switching in comprehension and production, cognitive control, and non-linguistic creativity in late Polish-English bilinguals. While it has been proposed that bilinguals are generally more creative than monolinguals, we know very little about the potential relationships that may exist between creativity and some key bilingual competencies such as code-switching and cognitive control. Would we expect bilinguals engaged in code-switching to display better problem solving ability and more creativity than when they operate in a monolingual context? Or would it rather be the opposite? It is often assumed that creativity is associated with low levels of cognitive control, so that code-switching behaviour may elicit more or less creative behaviour depending on the level of cognitive control required in problem solving tasks.  Code-switching behaviour, cognitive control and creativity were measured through a variety of experimental and neurophysiological tasks (e.g., ERPs. fMRI). 


  • To investigate the relationship between inhibitory control, code-switching behaviour and creativity in bilinguals.

  • To elicit different types of code-switching from Polish-English bilinguals with experimental tasks, to measure non-verbal creativity with different offline and online tasks and inhibition using flanker tasks.

  • To test hypotheses regarding the effect of different types of code-switching on creativity and inhibition.

Planned secondments:

In the 1st year, 2 months at the University of Bangor under the supervision of Prof Guillaume Thierry to develop the bilingual Stroop and flanker tests that will be used in this project. In the 2nd year, 3 months at JU to collect data from monolinguals to be compared with bilinguals in the UK. In the 3rd year, 3 months with BMR to receive hands-on experience in public engagement and dissemination of research.

Photo: Luca Prestia

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