Prof. Dr. habil. Simone E. Pfenninger

Associate Professor of Second Language Acquisition and Psycholinguistics

Department of English and American Studies

University of Salzburg

Erzabt-Klotz-Straße 1

5020 SALZBURG, Austria

Tel. +43 (0) 662 8044 4411

rm. 3.233







  • Nomination for the "Excellence in Teaching Award" 2017, University of Salzburg

  • Nomination for the “Credit Suisse Award for Best Teaching 2013” (university teaching award) at the University of Zurich, which honors exceptional teaching of lecturers in the field of higher education, based on students’ evaluations and recommendations of an interdisciplinary faculty committee.

About me

I am Associate Professor of Second Language Acquisition and Psycholinguistics in the Department of English and American Studies at the University of Salzburg, Austria. Before I came to Salzburg, in August 2016, I studied English literature and linguistics, geography and history at the Free University of Berlin and the University of Zurich, from which I also received my PhD in historical linguistics (supervised by Prof. A. Fischer, University of Zurich, and Prof. O. Fischer, University of Amsterdam). In 2016, I obtained my habilitation (University of Zurich) in the area of English Linguistics.

I edit the Second Language Acquisition book series published by Multilingual Matters, founded and co-edited by David Singleton (Trinity College, Dublin). I currently also serve as Vice President of the International Association of Multilingualism IAM (https://iam.wildapricot.org/) and as Vice President of the European Second Language Association EuroSLA (http://www.eurosla.org/).


My principal research areas have been multilingualism, psycholinguistics and the age factor in SLA, especially in regard to quantitative approaches and statistical methods and techniques for language application in education. My research sheds light on the effectiveness of early vs. late foreign language instruction, the difference between cognitive decline (as a function of aging) vs. the cumulative experience of learning, bilingual education in school contexts (with a focus on time and timing and intra-learner variability), language learners with specific learning differences (e.g. dyslexics), as well the question of how good adults are at SLA when they begin learning a new language in later life – and how language learning benefits them (with a particular emphasis on the cognition-affect interface).

In our newly minted SLA lab at the University of Zurich we are interested in the impact of occupational and educational life-course transitions on patterns in English language use and learning, e.g. the transition from early English-as-a-Foreign-Language (EFL) l learning in primary school to EFL in secondary school; from EFL in secondary school to studying English at university; from pre-service to in-service EFL teaching; from L1 and L2 use in the labor force to retirement; from language learning difficulties to intervention.


I have been involved in EFL in Switzerland and Austria for 15 years at different levels: secondary school, adult education, higher education, assessment of processes and outcomes in language education, and language policy.

Main areas of research (and supervision):

  • Second language acquisition
    - e.g. the interplay of cognitive, socio-affective, linguistic, and instructional factors at play in early second language acquisition
    - e.g. age and aging as explanatory factors of differences in L2 acquisition (such as effects of an earlier vs. later starting age in school contexts; additional language learning in the third age)
    - e.g. intra-individual variation in L2 development from psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic perspectives
    - e.g. theoretical and methodical challenges for empirical research, in particular causal and mechanism theories of explanation as a means of satisfying a psychological need as well as of contributing to explaining prediction, control, and other dimensions of research


  • Foreign language (especially EFL) learning
    - e.g. bilingual education (CLIL, immersion)
    - e.g. contextual factors such as family circumstance, classroom effects, and demographic changes
    - e.g. EFL in the digital age, such as the use of domestic technologies and L2 learning software


  • Psycholinguistics
    - e.g. dyslexia and additional language learning (incl. the development of learning software)
    - e.g. aphasia in young adults in school settings


  • Multilingualism
    - e.g. effects of L1 literacy and biliteracy
    - e.g. the bilingual (cognitive) advantage
    - e.g. migration backgrounds
    - e.g. the role bidialectalism in L2 learning
    - e.g. identity construction in cross-cultural couples


  • Contrastive linguistics (German/English)

  • Grammaticalization from a cognitive perspective (e.g. psycholinguistic mechanisms driving language change)