LINGUIST List 12.1255

Sat May 5 2001

Review: Ohta, SLA Processes: Learning Japanese

Editor for this issue: Terence Langendoen <>

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  1. Guido Oebel, Review: Ohta, SLA Processes in the Classroom: Learning Japanese

Message 1: Review: Ohta, SLA Processes in the Classroom: Learning Japanese

Date: Sat, 5 May 2001 16:26:46 +0900
From: Guido Oebel <>
Subject: Review: Ohta, SLA Processes in the Classroom: Learning Japanese

Ohta, Amy Snyder (2001) SLA Processes in the Classroom:
Learning Japanese, ISBN 0-8058-3800-7 (cloth), 0-8058-3801-5
(paperback), Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, xviii+298pp.

Reviewed by: Guido Oebel, Faculty of Culture and Education,
Saga (Japan) National University

Synopsis in brief:
According to the author, her book presents the first study
to examine the private speech of adult learners
participating in foreign language classes. The work is said to be
her response to repeated calls for a somehow new kind of
classroom research -- that speaks to the situated language
development of "real" language learners. In order to accomplish
this, the project was designed as longitudinal in nature, learner-
centered in approach. Data collection focused on a group of
individuals by using individual microphones to capture students'
voices and thus their interactions over an entire academic year.
The resulting longitudinal corpus provides examination not solely
of processes occurring in a single class period but of the
development of individuals over time.

In her analysis the author made use of a socio-cognitive
framework based on the theoretical work of the socio-historical
school of psychology, particularly the work of Vygotsky and others
inspired by his approach. Using this specific framework provides
a starting point for understanding the processes occurring in the
corpus, establishing a new perspective to the analysis of
longitudinal classroom data.

Synopsis in detail:

Chapter 1: From social tool to cognitive resource: foreign language
development as a process of dynamic internalization

- provides an overview of the conceptual framework adopted for
the analysis of the data. The chapter provides an accessible
introduction for all different kinds of target groups such as
researchers, teachers, or graduate students interested in L2
development. The author accomplishes her aim by setting out the
useful key constructs for considering developmental discourse
data including the concepts of functional systems, interactional
routines, the zone of proximal development (ZPD), assisted
performance, and the internalization processes evidenced through
learner use of private speech, i.e. self-addressed speech.
Furthermore the first chapter provides an overview of the setting
and methodology of data collection as well as a description of the
process of analysis.

Chapter 2: Private speech: a window on classroom foreign
language acquisition

- provides a first discussion of the data so far collected -- with an
intimate look into the mental processes of language learners -- an
investigation of private speech and its role in foreign language
development. From there the chapter moves to the investigation of
how the learners involved use private speech in the corpus. The
results provide an insight into the mental activity of learners
focusing on their working out problems in L2 internalization and
production respectively while interacting in the classroom
environment. Surprisingly to a certain extent and somehow
contradicting previous research, according to these results the
individual learner turns out to be more active, even in situations
where he/she may appear to be quite passive.

Chapter 3: Peer interactive tasks and assisted performance in
classroom language learning

- considers the role of social interaction in language learning and
how interaction in the ZPD leads to development. This chapter
takes a step away from the individual into the interactive space
created while learners are working with each other on language
learning tasks. In this investigation of the role of peer interaction
in classroom language learning, the concept of assisted
performance is outlined by analyzing assistance from two
different point of views: firstly, the ways learners assisting each
other are examined, secondly, their own definition of assistance
and its function is considered. The results of this examination
show how learners act upon the various affordances within the
classroom setting. Referring to interactional processes, it is of
particular interest to see how peers with different abilities are
able -- mainly through collaborative talk -- to accomplish what
would have been impossible most likely without assistance.
Interestingly even peers with less knowledge seem to be able to
contribute helpful assistance to more proficient peers.
Furthermore, the question of learner errors is raised, with the
corpus examined in order to determine whether or not the
"experimentees" involved pick up errors "performed" by their
interlocutors. The relevance of collaboration in providing the
building blocks to the individual's linguistic growth is considered
through the evidence of how collaboration builds into learners'
growing abilities to use the L2 resulting in confirming the
importance of social cognition in learning. Particularly, the
nature of working memory and selective attention underline the
significance of collaborative processes allowing for an
understanding of the effectiveness of assisted performance in
promoting development.

Chapter 4: A learner-centered analysis of corrective feedback as a
resource in foreign language development

- examines corrective feedback as a key element of interactive
processes of language learners. Errors are examined from the
learner's perspective, considering the variety of ways learners
receive meaningful feedback in the classroom setting. Unlike the
consideration of corrective feedback from a teacher-centered
perspective in previous research literature, here it is defined from
the learner-centered one. Ohta does not define the word corrective
in its quality as teachers' means in attempt to correct, but what
actually functions as corrective for the "experimentees" involved.
By taking on various roles while participating in the language
learning process classroom learners act as addressees interacting
with their teachers, auditors who are pivy to the interaction of the
teacher with others as well overhearers of the interactions of
students within other groups during peer learning tasks. These
roles interact with each setting and each learner's cognitive
capacity enabling them more or less to utilize the corrective
information available in the interactive setting. The results are an
indicator for how learners take advantage of this corrective
information, particularly recasts, both recasts directed to the
learner and what Ohta herself terms "incidental recasts", i.e.
utterances incidentally contrasting with a learner's own utterance
during classroom interaction. These results provide new evidence
of the effectiveness of recasts while broadening the conception of
what constitutes corrective feedback from a learner's perspective.

Chapter 5: The development of interactional style in the first-year
classroom: learning to listen in Japanese

- continues the focus on developmental processes being part of
language learning. Specifically, this chapter presents a study of
how first-year adult learners acquire facility with listener
response expressions in the target-language Japanese. Japanese
differs from English in the verbosity of listener response
behaviour: e.g. listeners use to give frequent signals of attention
and interest. The occurrence of listener responses in the corpus is
examined considering the linguistic environment in which
learners participate as well as the role of interactional routines in
socializing interactional style. Eventually, the development of
each single of the four first-year learners is scrutinized. Results
show that the learners both develop increased proficiency with
listener response expressions and that they follow a similar
developmental sequence, moving from expressions of
acknowledgment to the use of aligning expressions, thus based on
the findings proposing a developmental sequence for acquisition of
listener response expressions.

Chapter 6: From task to activity: relating task design and
implementation to language use in peer interaction

- differs from the previous five chapters -- focusing on private
speech, assisted performance, corrective feedback, the
development of interactional competence -- stepping back from the
data as a whole to ask about the relationship between task and
activity -- between how assigned interactive tasks relate to what
learners actually do in their peer learning setting. The use of
English by these learners of Japanese is examined stressing the
question how task design and individual differences impact the
use of English while learning Japanese in the classroom setting.
With attention to and interest in tasks as language learning tools
a data-based understanding of how tasks are realized in learner
discourse -- the discourse that forms the foundation for
internalization of social interaction -- is vital to understanding how
languages are learnt in the classroom.

Critical evaluation:

Ohta's study underscores the relationship between language
learning tasks and peer activity realized as learners perform
tasks even though each participant in the classroom enterprise
has a vital role to play. However, the learners examined are still
dependent on teachers to provide structuring and preparing for
tasks in order for them to participate productively, especially, as -
despite the idealizing of communicative tasks as the goal of
instruction through current teaching methodology -- they still have
a rather fragile grip on their L2 resources. The teacher's extent of
preparing the learners for a particular task has a major impact on
what transpires in peer interaction, i.e. language learning is not
just about learner activity but the activity of teachers and their
materials development as well. The analysis provided shows that
beginners need a great deal of support by their teacher -- "who
orchestrates the classroom learning situation" -- in order to be
successful at peer learning tasks. Some of the support learners
need comes from their peers, another considerable contribution is
represented by task design and implementation, and last but by
no means least support by teachers. This kind of support involves
integrating tasks into lessons so that they logically flow from the
instructional sequence. It undoubtedly does not suffice for a
teacher to just tell beginning students how to do a task, or what
grammatical form or vocabulary they should use, rather, Ohta
characterizes productive peer interaction by a great deal of pre-
task work. I myself deduce from the findings described in the
study the demand for teachers increasingly involving their
students in pre-task instruction so that they are furnished with
more opportunities to use new vocabulary and forms prior to
doing tasks and leading interactive demonstrations of tasks to be
accomplished thus equipping learners better for performing more
productively their L2 to accomplish the tasks.

I hope Ohta's study may -- apart from her interesting findings
regarding private speech and peer interactive tasks in the foreign
language classroom -- contribute to a redefinition of teachers' roles
as mediators and facilitators rather than providers of -
unfortunately too often -- just unreflected input!


Bellack, A.; Kliebrad, H.; Human, R.; and Smith, F. (1966) The
language of the classroom. New York: Teachers College Press

Doughty, C., and Williams, J. (eds.). (1998) Focus on form in classroom
second language acquisition. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge
University Press.

Goodwin, C. (1979) / Goodwin, M.H. (1987) Concurrent operations
on talk: Notes on the interactive organization of assessments.
IPRA Papers in Pragmatics, 1.

McCafferty, S. G. (1992) The use of private speech by adult second
language learners: A cross-cultural study. Modern Language
Journal, 76.

Rubin, K. H. (1979) The impact of the natural setting on private
speech. In G. Zivin (ed.), The development of self-regulation
through private speech. New York: Wiley.

Saville-Troike, M. (1988) Private speech: Evidence for second
language learning strategies during the 'silent' period. Child
language, 15.

Van Lier, L. (1988) The classroom and the language learner:
Ethnography and second language classroom research. New York:

Reviewer's Bio: Guido Oebel (PhD in linguistics) is a native
German and currently employed as an associate professor for
German as a Foreign Language (DaF) and FLL with Saga
National University and as a visiting professor with Kurume
University, both on the Southern island of Kyushu/Japan. His
main areas of research are: comparative language studies (inter
alia Indo-European -- Japanese), German dialects, sociolinguistics,
bilinguism, and adult language education.
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