Ukrainian refugees learning Polish: The non-trivial effects of language background

About this Session


Thu. 11.04.'24 17:25



Asbtract :

Much attention in study-abroad SLA research has been paid to short-term sojourns—with the bulk of the literature focussing on one- or two-semester stays—and students’ contacts with native speakers of the target language. Significantly less attention has been devoted to heavily intensive language courses spanning several weeks, to students’ interactions with non-target-language (TL) speakers, and to scenarios where the TL is typologically related to and intercomprehensible with the learners’ L1.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, over 15.7m refugees crossed the country’s border into Poland. We investigate peer learner networks of 251 participants in an intensive course of the Polish language dedicated to the newcomer population. Apart from the special situational context, together with the close typological similarity between the languages spoken and being acquired, the students present a unique language constellation profile, with most being functionally bilingual in Ukrainian and Russian, but with different degrees of dominance in each language and complicated attitudes to the latter.

While dominance in Ukrainian vs Russian did not affect progress in the TL, L1 Ukrainian correlated with centrality in the contact network. Russian speakers often concealed their L1 use, with 62% of the users of this language in the private sphere declaring Ukrainian as their L1. A reconstruction of the student networks shows higher weighted degree centrality among students declaring Ukrainian as their L1, while L1 Russian speakers are often at the network periphery, suggesting linguistic segregation with symptoms of marginalisation. The most influential significant predictors of self-perceived progress overall and in grammar were level of course enjoyment and two social network measures: the degree of being indicated as interlocutors by well-connected students (pagerank) and degree of interaction with Russian-speaking friends. Objectively measured progress, however, instead hugely negatively correlated with length of residence in Poland.