Mount St. Joseph University

Mount professor presents language skills study in Israel

Academics, Education


File Under: education

Head shot of Rick Sparks.

It’s always a special opportunity for a professor at the College of Mount St. Joseph to present his or her work abroad. For Richard Sparks, Ph.D., that opportunity came during the Mount’s spring break.

Sparks, an education professor at the Mount, traveled to Haifa, Israel, to present his work about learning differences to students and faculty at the University of Haifa on March 13, 2014. Sparks’ presentation, “Individual and Learning Differences in L2 Proficiency: Research with U.S. Learners,” focuses on the abilities of students to learn a second language, based on their skills in their first language.

Sparks asked, is there a long-term relationship between the knowledge of English and a student’s ability to learn a second language? The answer is yes.

Sparks began studying the English language skills of 165 students when they were in the first grade. He followed them for 10 years, and at the end of the study, 54 of the students had completed at least two years of a second language in high school. Sparks found that after 10 years, the students who had higher scores in English as first-graders had higher scores in a second language ten years later.

Sparks presented this information at the University of Haifa because Israeli researchers are conducting a similar study. The Israeli study is looking at the Hebrew skills of its students, and trying to determine if those skills, over time, have an effect on how well those students learn English.

“They’re interested in hearing that information from a U.S. perspective and applying it to an Israeli perspective,” he said.

This is the first study of language skills that has followed students for 10 years.

The College of Mount St. Joseph is an undergraduate and graduate Catholic college that provides an interdisciplinary liberal arts and professional curriculum emphasizing values, service and social responsibility.