Lorenzo García-Amaya began his linguistics career at the University of Seville in Spain where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Philology. While he initially chose the program because it was in English and spoke to his interest in language, many amazing and unexpected opportunities grew from it. These included study abroad experiences in England and Belgium, where he studied a mixture of linguistics, translation, and interpreting, as well as the opportunity to attend an American university through a highly competitive scholarship program offered by his home university. This opportunity led him to Indiana University where he earned both his M.A. and Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics.
In coming to U-M, Lorenzo was attracted to the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures because it provided him the opportunity to teach linguistics courses in Spanish. Teaching in his native tongue allows him to add a cultural dimension to his lessons that helps students to better understand linguistics. “They like making connections between linguistics and literature or politics. A lot of students don’t feel like themselves when they use the L2 so these connections help us develop interesting conversations in class that promote interaction and increase their willingness to participate.”
Lorenzo’s research focuses on the cognitive bases of second language (L2) fluency in Spanish, employing psycholinguistic methods and interlanguage approaches to validate his claims. From a theoretical standpoint, he works with Leveltian models of speech production, accommodating such models (which were designed for first language speech production) to the organic nature of second language acquisition. Currently, his research is focused on the relationship between cognitive fluency (specific cognitive skills that are activated when you speak in a second language) and utterance fluency (the fluidity with which one speaks a second language), and how these are modulated by first language inhibition. “You have a lot more opportunities to practice the L2 if you actually take it seriously. Something happens in the mind when you inhibit your L1 for a long period of time and you put all those resources towards working on your L2. Many features change when learners go abroad, and I look at how that is translated into cognitive processes” explains Lorenzo. “I compare groups of learners in different study abroad contexts with groups of learners who do not go abroad. This information is important for the field in general, for people in charge of study abroad programs and for second language learners thinking about going abroad. This will help us to inform them about the benefits of these programs and how to prepare themselves for the experience.”
Lorenzo recognizes that one of the biggest challenges facing advisors with L2 learners going abroad lies in knowing how to inform them on best practices before embarking on their travels. “These programs are very costly, time consuming, and there is a lot of regret about things they could have done differently. It’s very hard to think about these things consciously when you are already in the experience.” One way that he brought awareness to his students in the past was by sending them a daily questionnaire via cell phone about the different ways in which they had used the target language the day before.
More recently, Lorenzo’s research has taken a new turn, and he has begun to explore how second language fluency patterns are related to the syntactic, morphological and lexical complexity of learners’ speech. He’s using corpus linguistic tools to explore the multidimensional nature of oral production for three learner groups: study abroad learners who pledged to avoid their L1 while abroad; study abroad learners who did not follow such a pledge, and “at-home” learners who learned Spanish during a typical academic semester.
How does he feel about coming to UM? “It is an amazing institution. The students are great. The colleagues are really committed to their work and incredibly helpful. There is a great community of people here that are really motivated to work in an efficient and professional way. I’m teaching my dream courses in Second Language Acquisition and Psycholinguistics, and UM affords me the opportunity to keep learning new things, which isn’t the case at all universities. I’ve also really enjoyed making connections and discussing my research with colleagues in Linguistics.” In Fall 2016 he will begin a position as Assistant Professor in the same department. He’s looking forward to continuing his collaborations with colleagues in Linguistics.
Head to Lorenzo’s homepage to learn more about his work!