The unbearable brightness of language learning

Alan Walters Building - Room G11
Tuesday 27 February 2024 (18:00-19:00)
Photo of Petar Milin

Professor Petar Milin Inaugural

Inaugural lectures are a landmark in academic life, held on the appointment of new professorships. Join us to celebrate the achievement of Professor Petar Milin

Setting aside the classic debate of nature versus nurture, the emergence of language hinges on its actual usage and learning. Consider how a child navigates language usage: from discriminating relevant sounds and controlling the vocal tract for effective listening and speaking, to mastering eye movements for fluent reading, and developing fine muscle coordination for writing. Each aspect of language usage is underpinned by prior learning. The sheer effort involved in this process becomes starkly evident in adults acquiring a second language, where it feels like re-learning listening, speaking, reading, and writing anew. 

Recent years have witnessed significant progress in the research of adult language learning, owing to a fruitful merger between usage-based linguistics and the psychology of learning. This lecture will take a retrospective look at several case studies, highlighting pivotal advancements. It will tackle the question of what new-era language science should be, both fundamentally, for deepening our knowledge and understanding of language, and practically, for optimising language learning to better our daily lives.

The lecture will be from 18:00-19:00, followed by a drinks reception.

Petar is one of the research leads for the University of Birmingham Out of Our Minds research project. You can learn more about the project here and below from Petar.

“This research will allow us to see if we can make learning a foreign language easier by replacing word lists and grammar rules with a set of building blocks that remain very close to the input learners receive. If we succeed, our findings will transform the way in which languages are taught and learned, making language learning more natural, rewarding and successful for learners. This would help us build a more multilingual society. As a team, we are very pleased that the grant comes at a time when our University is sending a strong message that #WeAreInternational. Doing fundamental research that also facilitates cross-cultural communication is the best way to promote this message and make it our reality.”

You can learn more about our other forthcoming talks and view our archive of previous lectures on our CAL Inaugural Lectures webpage.

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