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Lorenzo García-Amaya, assistant Spanish professor in the department of Romance Languages and Literature and winner of the 30th Golden Apple Award, delivered a lecture via Zoom Friday titled “Words You Didn’t Know: Collaborating to Discover the Secrets of Second Languages.” The Golden Apple Award celebrates outstanding professors by awarding them with a trophy and giving them a chance to give their ideal lecture.

To begin his lecture, García-Amaya said he loves his job and hopes to inspire future teachers.

“While I was preparing this talk, I was thinking a lot about the many facets of this profession and how rewarding it is,” he said. “Needless to say, there is a great deal of sacrifice, but my hope is that by the end of this talk, if you are thinking about becoming a teacher yourself, that you see what an awesome profession this is, how much you can learn and experience and, above all, how many lives you can impact and hopefully make better.”

He also thanked his past mentors and emphasized their importance in helping him build his career.

“When I began my teaching career, my mission became to pass on this legacy of mentorship to my students,” García-Amaya said. “Connecting with students and helping them achieve their goals is the best part of my job. However, I sometimes wonder if I’m actually making a difference, or if my courses are viewed as three more credits on their way to fulfill the requirements for their degree. For me, this award is the confirmation that I’m having a positive impact on their lives, and for that I am extremely grateful.”

García-Amaya co-leads the Speech Production Lab, which researches language acquisition. His research interests include second-language acquisition and psycholinguistics.

Engineering sophomore Claudia Gonciulea, a member of the SPL, said Gonciulea held appeal because he was interested in learning more about the science behind how people learn a second language.

“Language in the human mind is such an interesting topic in and of itself, but I think the research the lab has done provides some really intriguing perspectives on second language acquisition,” Gonciulea said. “I’m really looking forward to hearing Lorenzo talk about second language acquisition, whether it’s about how a language can change in the context of a different culture or what the process of acquiring a second language is like for people.”

Returning to the title of the lecture, García-Amaya discussed the importance of pause words like “um” and “uh” in second-language fluency. 

“Typically, a second-language learner will use the field pauses from their first language as they begin to learn the second,” García-Amaya said. “These reflect how the first and second languages are usually represented as two distinct categories in the brains of second language learners.”

García-Amaya then spoke about a group of native Afrikaans speakers in Argentina named the Patagonia Boers, an area of interest in his research. This population’s ancestors mostly spoke Spanish, but their descendants still speak Afrikaans. The group sparks many linguists’ interest because they break Joshua Fishman’s three-generation model of language loss.

“Fishman proposes that when people migrate, the first generation primarily speaks their home country’s language and the second generation is mostly bilingual,” García-Amaya said. “The members of this generation use both their ancestral language as well as the majority language in the community. However, in this community, the third generation of Boers is very fluent in ancestral Afrikaans.”

However, the younger generations are becoming less fluent in Afrikaans. In order to save their culture, people are using online resources to maintain Afrikaans as a permanent language. When the pandemic ends, García-Amaya said he hopes to take a second trip to South America to further explore the culture and gather more information for research.

LSA junior Ellie Johandes, another member of SPL, praised García-Amaya for his assistance and mentorship during her research.

“Dr. García-Amaya always treats us as people first and research assistants second,” Johandes said. “He is aware that we have lives outside of the lab and is willing to accommodate that. Everyone feels comfortable asking him for advice too because he is always willing to listen and be supportive.”

To end the lecture, García-Amaya talked about social justice issues and encouraged students to vote in the upcoming election.

“This past year we have experienced natural disasters, racial injustice and a global pandemic,” he said. “Over at home, one matter that is socially important to me is the overabundance of hostile architecture designed to make being homeless more challenging. These problems are large and almost impossible to combat as individuals. Here in the United States, we have a right by which we can make our collective desires known: vote.”

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