Quantitative SNA of language learner networks: How peer communication moderates second language acquisition

Michał B. Paradowski, Andrzej Jarynowski, Karolina Czopek, Magdalena Jelińska

Contact: m.b.paradowski@uw.edu.pl

We present two studies investigating the influence of peer interaction dynamics and social graph topology on language acquisition outcomes among Erasmus exchange students in Germany (n=40) and two cohorts of participants in an intensive summer course of language and culture in Poland (n1=181; n2=210). Established metrics were used such as node degree, closeness, betweenness and other centrality measures as well as local clustering coefficients, using generalisations of these metrics to weighted graphs. Additionally, we used community detection algorithms and stochastic blockmodeling. In the German course, we find among others i) that the best predictor of progress is reciprocal interactions between students in the TL, ii) that outgoing interactions in the TL are a stronger predictor than incoming interactions, iii) a negative relationship between performance and interactions with same-L1 speakers, and iv) more intense interactions taking place across proficiency groups. In the Polish course, participants’ patterns of social embeddedness in TL communication are significantly moderated by their i) individual entry TL competence (positively) and ii) psycho-situational portrait, while iii) negatively by competence in lingua-franca English. iv) The influence of the network is strongest in the domains of pronunciation and lexis, where degree centrality in TL positively correlates with progress, while betweenness in total communication is significantly anticorrelated. v) This mirrors the influence direction—on global TL progress—of closeness centrality. Combined with the detrimental impact on language acquisition of a high in-degree, this suggests that for language acquisition, the structural properties of the network matter more than processes such as information flow. Computational Social Network Analysis provides fresh insights into the link between social relations and language acquisition, and offers a novel methodology for investigating the phenomena.

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