Friday, October 15, 2010

Originally from Bulgaria, Roumyana Slabakova began what would become a lifelong study of language when, at the age 14, she started learning English at her high school. She went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees in English Philology and a Ph.D. in linguistics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.   

Slabakova, professor of linguistics at The University of Iowa, and her co-investigators—three graduate students in the Second Language Acquisition Ph.D. Program and Chinese instructors Yi-Tzu Huang, Jia Zhu, and Zhengwei Qiao—are working on a Chinese Tense project, looking at how Americans acquiring Mandarin Chinese learn to mark the past tense. No one to date has studied how American learners acquire this fundamental property of language.

Learners of Chinese have serious problems with the marking of tense and aspect, but if the exact errors the learners commit while learning the language are unknown, teaching methods cannot be improved. With the growing importance of China for our economy and with the increased interest in Chinese language and culture, it is expected that this project and its findings will gain significant attention.

Slabakova experienced culture shock when she moved to Iowa City from Montreal, but was immediately struck by the polite and well-meaning demeanor of Iowans.

"Iowa City is no less cosmopolitan than Montreal, and one can meet people from all over the world here," Slabakova said.

She also values the academic environment at Iowa.

"I greatly appreciate the support that the Graduate College provides in the form of research assistantships for students to work on projects with professors," she said.