Dr. Holger Hopp is a professor of English Linguistics at the University of Braunschweig and came to the Penn State CLS as a visiting scholar in fall 2019. His research interests include bilingual language comprehension and production. He also studies cognitive factors and individual differences in bilingual language processing. He currently serves as one of the executive editors of the journal Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism. For more information, please visit his faculty page
|Holger Hopp, PhD|
|Interviewed by Allison Link|
How did you get involved with the Center for Language Science at Penn State?
I first came to Penn State as a visiting postdoc in 2013 and got to know the CLS. I was (and still am) thoroughly impressed and inspired by the diversity and quality of research on bilingualism in the CLS community, which is why I was really honoured when I was asked to become an international research partner in 2013. Since then I have been collaborating with several people in CLS and we have hosted many Penn State students in Germany.
Could you tell us more about the language science outreach work you’ve done in your home country of Germany?
Together with my colleagues Dieter Thoma and Rosemarie Tracy, we started a non-profit company in 2011 (www.mazem.de) to promote the dis-semination of research findings on early bilingualism to educational practice. Our company provides consulting services to educators and school boards, workshops for pre-school and school teachers, and we develop and implement language support programmes at kindergartens and schools. I find this work very inspiring because it connects me as a researcher with the ground level of language learning in the classroom.
You have conducted research in the US and in Europe. Have you noticed any similarities or differences between learners in these regions?
It is hard to generalize across such diverse regions, but, in terms of nation states, Europe is a much more multilingual place than North America, so that more people recognize the need for speaking more than one language and they often have more opportunities to speak them in real-life contexts.
Do you have any suggestions for adults who are just starting to learn a second language?
There are many ways to learn a second language successfully. It really depends on the learner type and preferences. Arguably the best strategy is to find a partner who only speaks the language you want to learn. Then, motivation, opportunity and meaningful input come together and you can’t better that. Of course, this strategy might get you into some trouble if you want to learn more than one foreign language!
What would you say is the most interesting or surprising finding from your work?
Well, the big question is why adults are such poor foreign language learners compared to children given that they are cleverer than kids and already speak one language. After decades of research, we know that there do not seem to be any hardwired differences between children and adults that could explain why learning a language later in life is so hard. After all, humans are geared to being bilingual or multilingual – at any age. I think this is probably the most surprising finding.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about adult second language acquisition?
Many people think we study second language acquisition to find ways to improve foreign language teaching. Yet, from a linguist’s perspective, what’s really interesting is that it gives us insights into how language works and how the mind/brain deals with more than language. So next time you struggle speaking a foreign language and you cannot find the right words, rather than getting frustrated or giving up, you should observe yourself closely and marvel at the ways you can still get the message across through gestures, code-mixing or translanguaging. This is your brain in action, making the most of all the linguistic and cognitive resources you have.