Seminarraum 113, Slavisches Seminar, Nadelberg 8
Second language acquisition in a context of high intercomprehension: The case of Ukrainian refugees learning Polish
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, 11.08 million refugees crossed the country’s border into Poland. We investigate peer learner networks of 249 participants in an intensive course of the Polish language dedicated to the newcomer population. The participants came mainly from eastern, southern and northern Ukraine (the further east the origins, the higher the proportion of declared use of Russian). 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 almost all being functionally bilingual in Ukrainian and Russian, but with different degrees of dominance in each language and complicated attitudes to the latter. We apply the tools of computational social network analysis to find out whether and how patterns of out-of-class communication within the cohort (and beyond; notably with family members back in Ukraine, accounting for roughly 30% of interaction time) interacted with the students’ linguistic gains.
Interactional data reveal concealment of L1 Russian use: 62% of users of Russian in the private sphere declared 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 at the network periphery, suggesting linguistic segregation with symptoms of marginalisation. The refugee students are most satisfied with their communication in Polish with neighbours and volunteers, less so in service encounters and the workplace, and the least in the administrative sphere. Polish language use was highest in text messages. The students self-rated their progress best in vocabulary and lowest in grammar. Reading in turn demonstrates a visible (though non-significant) trend of positively correlating with the length of stay in Poland and negatively with entry-level competence.
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