Disa Witkowska (2019 Cohort)

Disa Witkowska

About me: Originally from Poland, I came to UCL to explore the structure of language from a scientific perspective. For my BA Linguistics project, I investigated the narrative (storytelling) development in children learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) and their monolingual peers. My MRes Speech, Language and Cognition dissertation aimed to explore whether a syntactic priming picture-card game can facilitate grammar learning in children with EAL.

My research: My PhD will be a continuation of my research journey, during which I developed a particular interest in bilingualism. I am planning to combine the elements of my earlier work to test the best ways of supporting English in primary school children with EAL. My PhD project will include a series of training studies that will elucidate methods that maximise English language learning, while maintaining competence in the child’s home language.

Over 20 per cent of primary school children in the UK is learning English as an Additional Language (Department for Education, 2018), which requires them to develop academic skills while learning a new language. The educational outcomes of EAL children vary substantially, and some children would benefit from language support to bridge the attainment gap between them and their monolingual peers. My aim is to find out the optimal balance between input in English and the home language during English language learning, and whether the home language can support English language acquisition. As English grammar learning is a challenge for EAL children, I will seek to determine the most effective method to learn it: explicit articulation of grammatical rules, or incidental learning in naturalistic contexts. I will also investigate how many exposures children need to learn a new grammatical construction and whether this differs for mono- and bilingual children.

The difference my research makes: The goal of my research is to inform future research and provide scientific evidence for education policies that will eventually lead to better quality of life for bilingual children and their families. The three training studies, outlined above, will enable me to examine the crucial components of what an effective language programme for EAL children should contain.

Supervisors: Professor Courtenay Norbury and Dr Merle Mahon

Pathway: Linguistics

Location: UCL Division of Psychology and Language Sciences

Email: disa.witkowska.15@ucl.ac.uk