We are pleased to announce that the winner of our Postgraduate Bursary for Summer 2023 is Lourdes Barquín Sanmartín (University of Edinburgh). Full details of Lourdes’ biography and project are provided below.


Lourdes is a linguist with a background in language teaching, both at secondary and higher education. She is a PhD candidate in Applied Linguistics and Language Acquisition at the University of Edinburgh and a Teaching Fellow in Spanish at University College Dublin. Her doctoral research revolves around the acquisition of Spanish as a second (L2) and a third (L3) language in native English speakers with a focus on grammatical transfers between proximal languages.

Lourdes holds an undergraduate degree in Translation and Interpretation Studies (English, French and Spanish) and a minor in simultaneous interpretation. She also spent her second year at the University of Sheffield as part of the Erasmus Exchange Programme. During her last year of university, she worked as a Spanish and English teacher and collaborated with the editorial Saure as a proofreader. After she graduated in 2016, she was granted an award by the Spanish Ministry of Education to work as a Spanish assistant in Paris. Once the academic year finished in France, she moved to the UK in order to pursue her career in language teaching and learning.

She settled in Liverpool, where she obtained her Postgraduate Certificate in Secondary Education (PGCE) specialising in Modern Foreign Languages, spending three years teaching in a British school. During this time, she combined her full-time job in school with her MA in Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language. In 2020, she was accepted to start her PhD studies at the University of Edinburgh, where she is currently researching language acquisition and Spanish linguistics under the supervision of Dr Carlos Soler Montes and Dr Michael Ramsammy. In September 2021, she received the British Spanish Society scholarship in collaboration with BBVA.

Lourdes’ main research interests are grammatical transfers from the L1 and L2 into the L3. Due to her background in secondary education, she focuses specifically on students with L1 English, L2 French and L3 Spanish as this is the predominant language combination among British students. Her hypothesis supports that the similarities between French and Spanish can facilitate the learning of the past aspectual contrast imperfecto/indefinido and the modal contrast subjuntivo/indicativo in Spanish as a third language. 

Summary of the research

This thesis presents an interdisciplinary study that integrates the fields of second and third language acquisition, as well as foreign language teaching and learning. The research is situated within the British Higher Education context and focuses on the prevailing sequential order of foreign languages among British students, specifically French as a second language (L2) and Spanish as a third language (L3) (Collen, 2020, 2021, 2022).

Spanish is widely studied in the United Kingdom (Collen, 2021; EUROSTAT, 2016, 2022; Instituto Cervantes, 2022; Tinsley, 2019). A quantitative empirical study was conducted involving native English speakers from the UK who are learning Spanish only or both Spanish and French. These students are enrolled in the first (levels B1 and B1+) and second year (level B2) of the Modern Languages degree at the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, University of Edinburgh. The Spanish L2 group consists of students without previous knowledge of French, while the Spanish L3 group has French as their L2. The study investigates how the sequential order of studying these two Romance languages affects native English learners and explores whether prior knowledge of French facilitates the acquisition of a typologically-proximal language such as Spanish.

The study conducted a contrastive analysis between the Spanish L2 and L3 groups and the results show systematic evidence of a better performance in the Spanish L3 groups across all three levels (B1, B1+ and B2), specifically with regards to grammatical features that are not explicitly marked in the learner’s mother tongue: the mood selection indicativo/subjuntivo and the aspectual contrast imperfecto/indefinido. We argue this is due to positive transfers stemming from French. Nevertheless, despite knowing that typological proximity is the main factor for positive transfer, data shows that structural asymmetry between the two Romance languages can negatively intervene.

Building upon these findings, the primary objective of this study is to promote inter-comprehension competence (Candelier et al., 2007, 2010) among foreign language teachers as a powerful tool for learning and teaching. It aims to foster students’ awareness of interlinguistic connections between previously acquired languages and the target language, ultimately facilitating the acquisition of a third Romance language or more. The study seeks to develop students’ linguistic and metalinguistic knowledge, enabling them to independently identify similarities and differences between their known languages and the language they are currently learning.

This doctoral research makes an original contribution to the literature on language acquisition and language teaching by challenging the assumption of monolingualism in the UK (EUROSTAT, 2016; Kelly, 2018). The project questions the notion of pure monolingualism by demonstrating that a growing number of British learners of Spanish, who possess prior knowledge of French, qualify as Spanish L3 learners, challenging the traditional categorization as L2 students. It is important to note that the impact and relevance of this research extend beyond British nationals, as the UK attracts a substantial number of international students each year (UNESCO, 2022), many of whom are English as a Second Language speakers and consequently fall into the category of Spanish L3 or L4 learners.

Furthermore, this study aims to promote the importance and practicality of the pluralistic approach of inter-comprehension in earlier educational stages, such as primary and secondary education. It recognizes the ongoing expansion of foreign language teaching and emphasizes the significance of feedback between researchers and teachers across various educational levels. To achieve this, the study draws upon the plural 1+2 Approach implemented in Scottish primary education as a point of reference for disseminating its findings within the Higher Education setting (Scottish Government, 2016, 2020).

Indicative Bibliography

Candelier, M., Camilleri-Grima, A., Castellotti, V., de Pietro, J.-F., Lörincz, I., Meißner, F.-J., … Noguerol, A. (2007). CARAP: Cadre de référence pour les approches plurielles des langues et des cultures. Conseil de l’Europe.

Collen, I. (2020). Language Trends 2020. Language Teaching in primary and secondary schools in England. British Council. Recuperado de: https://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/language_trends_2020_0.pdf

Collen, I. (2021). Language Trends 2021. Language Teaching in primary and secondary schools in England. British Council. Recuperado de: https://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/language_trends_2021_report.pdf

Collen, I. (2022). Language Trends 2022. Language Teaching in primary and secondary schools in England. British Council. Recuperado de: https://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/language_trends_report_2022.pdf

EUROSTAT, (2016). Number of foreign languages known (self-reported) by sex, Código de referencia [edat_aes_l21] Recuperado de: https://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/submitViewTableAction.do

EUROSTAT. (2022). Pupils by education level and number of modern foreign languages studied – absolute numbers and % of pupils by number of languages studied, Código de referencia [EDUC_UOE_LANG02] Recuperado de: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/educ_uoe_lang02/default/table?lang=en

Instituto Cervantes (2022). El español en el mundo 2022. Anuario del Instituto Cervantes. Alcalá de Henares, Madrid.

Kelly, M. (Ed.) (2018). Languages after Brexit: How the UK speaks to the world. Springer International Publishing. Scottish Government. (2016). Children, Education and Skills. Attitudes Towards Language Learning in Schools in Scotland. Social Research. Recuperado de: https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-social-attitudes-survey-language-learning-schools/

Scottish Government. (2020). 1+2 Languages Implementation Findings from the 2019 local authority survey, Recuperado de: https://www.gov.scot/publications/12-languages-implementation-findings-2019-local-authority-survey/documents/

Tinsley, T. (2019). Language Trends 2019. Language Teaching in primary and secondary schools in England. Survey report. British Council. UNESCO. (2021). Education: Outbound internationally mobile students by host region. Institute of Statistics. Recuperado de: http://data.uis.unesco.org/

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