LINGUIST List 15.2428

Wed Sep 1 2004

Review: Applied Ling/Lang Acquisition: Boxer & Cohen

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  1. John Levis, Studying speaking to inform second language learning

Message 1: Studying speaking to inform second language learning

Date: Thu, 26 Aug 2004 20:21:16 -0400 (EDT)
From: John Levis <>
Subject: Studying speaking to inform second language learning

EDITORS: Boxer, Diana; Cohen, Andrew 
TITLE: Studying Speaking to Inform Second Language Learning 
SERIES: Second Language Acquisition 
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2004 
Announced at

John M. Levis, Iowa State University


Applied linguistics books about speaking, from any perspective, have
been rare. Until the past few years, such books as did exist were
either so highly technical that they were pedagogically unusable (such
as Levelt 1989), or they were pedagogically useful but theoretically
dated (e.g. Bygate 1987). Several books on spoken discourse analysis
with a focus on intonation have recently appeared (Chun 2002;
Wennerstrom 2001; Wichmann 2000), but for those of us who teach
language teachers, speaking has been a catch-as-catch-can type of
skill, taught by cobbling together a mixture of teaching exercises and
articles that can only suggest a coherent framework for understanding
and teaching spoken language. The volume reviewed here attempts to
provide such a framework and to describe general pedagogical
implications for the study of spoken language.

The purpose of this collection of papers is to offer various
methodological perspectives on how spoken language can be studied and
to suggest how these perspectives can be used to inform second
language studies. Many of the papers also try to apply their findings
to second language pedagogy.


The book is divided into four parts. The first provides a conceptual
framework for how the study of spoken language can be understood. It
connects studying spoken language to general theoretical frameworks,
describes common methodologies for studying spoken language, and gives
a rationale for addressing context in research on spoken language.

The second and third parts report on various studies, most of which
look at the spoken language of second language (L2) learners. Those
that examine first language (L1) speech do so with the goal of
teaching speaking to L2 learners. The key difference between parts 2
and 3 is the nature of the data. Part 2 includes studies which
examine spontaneous speech, while Part 3 examines elicited speech
(such as interviews and discourse completion tasks).

The final section of the book focuses on issues of assessment,
examining how studies of spoken discourse can be applied to the
assessment of speaking knowledge and performance. Three main topics
are addressed: interviewer effect in oral interviews, assessment of
pragmatic competence, and assessment of speech act performance. Part
I consists of two papers. The first is ''studying speaking to inform
second language learning: A conceptual overview,'' by Diana Boxer, one
of the editors of the book. The chapter includes three major
sections: Background, Theoretical Frameworks, and Methodological
Perspectives. Three theoretical frameworks (Language Identity,
Language Socialization, and Sociocultural Theory) and various
approaches to studying spoken data are discussed.

The second paper is ''Discourse domains: The cognitive context of
speaking,'' by Dan Douglas. Douglas elaborates on his established
notion of discourse domains, which are internal constructs created by
language learners (similar to schemata) which allow the learners to
successfully use language in external contexts. Douglas addresses
recent critiques of discourse domains and show how the concept can be
adjusted to address the findings and critiques of other researchers

Part II, which focuses on the study of spontaneous spoken discourse,
includes four papers. The first, by Anne Lazaraton, is called
''Conversation analysis and the nonnative English speaking ESL
teacher: A case study.'' This paper analyzes one fragment of
nonnative teacher discourse, and starts with an open-minded view as to
results, but ends with results that do not address any research
question very clearly. This is presented as a virtue of Conversation
Analysis, which ''rejects the use of investigator-stipulated
theoretical and conceptual definitions of research questions''
(p. 53). Unfortunately, it also meant that the paper was far less
enlightening than I had hoped.

The second paper, ''Practicing speaking in Spanish,'' by Joan Kelly
Hall, is a study of how classroom discourse socializes beginning L2
learners into both a set of communicative skills and into an identity
as a learner. In Hall's words, ''what the students learn here [in a
foreign language classroom], both in terms of what counts as language
and as the process of learning, sets the foundation upon which
subsequent development is based'' (p. 85). Future development, if
this classroom is typical, is likely to be stunted, since the
classroom studied provided ''cognitively, linguistically, and socially
limited resources ... [which do] not provide much groundwork upon
which subsequent learning experiences in speaking Spanish can build''
(p. 85).

The third paper in this section is ''Repair of teenagers' spoken
German in a summer immersion program,'' by Heidi Hamilton. The study
examines the use of other-initiated (i.e. teacher) and self-initiated
repairs for learners of German at Waldsee, an immersion language camp
in Minnesota (USA). The study examined whether relative proportions
of other- and self-initiated repairs differed in four contexts: A
beginning class, an intermediate/advanced class, a cultural class, and
non-classroom interaction. It also examined whether the types of
errors triggering repair differed in the four contexts. The findings
showed that teacher-repaired utterances varied with context, with
relatively little correction in the non-classroom context, and that
learners monitored form in all contexts.

The fourth paper, by Helena Halmari, is ''Codeswitching patterns and
developing discourse competence in L2.'' This longitudinal study of
codeswitching follows in the diary tradition of child language
acquisition and looks at how strategies for codeswitching changed over
12 years for the author's two children, both Finnish-English
bilinguals. Early codeswitching was seen as a strategy to practice
and acquire the L2, while the girls' later codeswitching (toward the
end of the 12 years) was used for pragmatic communicative goals, or as
the author says, ''to send intricate pragmatic messages [which] had to
do with alignment and bonding, disalignment, persuasion, and overall
organization of discourse'' (p. 141).

Part III, which focuses on elicited discourse, also includes four
papers. The first, ''Giving directions as a speech behavior: A
cross-cultural comparison of L1 and L2 strategies,'' by Carrie
Taylor-Hamilton, looks at a common functional use of language in
language teaching textbooks. Using data elicited from role-plays, the
author examines L1 English, L1 Arabic, and L2 English strategies for
giving directions. She found that all three groups had different
patterns of using three direction-giving strategies, and that the L2
English speakers behaved differently from both the L1 English and L1
Arabic speakers (with whom they shared an L1) in giving directions.

The second paper, by Koji Konishi and Elaine Tarone, is ''English
constructions used in compensating strategies: Baseline data for
communicative EFL instruction.'' The paper uses data elicited from 30
L1 speakers of English in explaining the meaning of words to a
Japanese interlocutor. The goal of the paper is to show how
instruction in communication strategies can fit within the kinds of
structural syllabi favored in many EFL contexts. The authors try to
identify linguistic structures that co-occur with certain
communicative strategies in order to allow nonnative teacher feel
confident that the strategies they want to teach also serve to teach
the linguistic structures they must teach. The findings identify
several sentence structures and categories of attributes that co-occur
with the strategies used in the tasks used by the L1 English speakers.

The third paper in this section, ''The organization of turns in the
disagreements of L2 learners: A longitudinal perspective,'' by
Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig and Tom Salsbury, uses data from conversation
groups in an intensive English program. ESL learners and native
English-speaking graduate students in applied linguistics met
regularly in semi- structured conversation groups over the course of a
year. The interactions were tape-recorded, and the data was used to
examine how L2 learners' ability to express disagreement developed.
The data demonstrate a clear pattern of development in ability to
mitigate disagreements through dispreferred response strategies.

The last paper in this section, by Leslie Beebe and Hansun Zhang
Waring, is ''The linguistic encoding of pragmatic tone: Adverbials as
words that work.'' It attempts to connect grammatical and pragmatic
abilities by examining how higher- and lower-proficiency L2 users of
English use adverbials in a discourse completion task designed to
elicit responses to rudeness. The results suggest that the use of
adverbials to express differences in pragmatic tone is greater for
higher proficiency speakers than for those of lower proficiency, who
lack the same ability to create nuanced meanings.

The final section of the book focuses on spoken discourse and
assessment. It includes three papers, the first of which reports on a
research study, and the others which address issues in assessing
spoken language. In ''Discourse analysis and the oral interview:
Competence or performance?'' Annie Brown examines how different
interviewers can affect both candidate performance and the subsequent
ratings of performance. She finds that an engaging and chatty
interviewer, who was more involved, actually helped decrease the
ratings that a test-taker received because the test-taker did not have
sufficient opportunity to elaborate. Conversely, the interviewer who
did not take turns when silence occurred appeared to have a style that
encouraged elaboration by the test-taker, leading to higher scores.

The second paper in this section, ''Difficulty and practicality in
tests of interlanguage pragmatics,'' by Carsten Roever, reviews ways
that L2 pragmatic competence has been assessed and discusses ways of
making such assessment more practical. This paper does not report on
a particular study but rather is a review of issues in testing
pragmatic competence, especially focusing on issues related to
implicature. There is also a discussion of test item types that can
be used to test pragmatic competence and which item types are
effective for different goals.

The final paper is ''Assessing speech acts in a second language,'' by
Andrew Cohen, the second editor of the book. Cohen reviews how speech
act ability has been measured, examines the effects of setting on
speech acts, discusses the difficulty of getting authentic speech act
data, and looks at the effects of task and respondent on performance.
Like the previous paper, this paper does not report on a new study but
rather summarizes research on speech acts and describes outstanding
issues involved with assessing them. Interestingly, Cohen wonders
whether adequate assessment of speech act behavior is yet possible, as
he says: ''the question still arises as to whether we know enough
about them at this point in time to be able to adequately assess their
performance in an L2 classroom setting'' (p. 322). Since speech acts
are among the most studied types of speaking behavior, it suggests
that the assessment of spoken language is more fraught with difficulty
than most teachers would guess it to be. Clearly, speech acts in
spoken language are both well-known yet unknown, teachable yet
difficult to assess.


This book has many strengths. The quality of the papers, the variety
of studies highlighting different ways of researching spoken language,
the emphasis on L2 learner language, the interdisciplinary theoretical
perspectives, and the focus on spoken language in discourse are
important features of the book that will make it useful in a variety
of applied linguistics classes. I especially found the focus on
methodological perspectives useful. I knew of almost all the
approaches to studying spoken discourse, but seeing them highlighted
and illustrated next to one another helped create an overall picture
of successful approaches to researching speaking. The book is most
useful for courses focusing on discourse analysis, or perhaps research
methodology. Even though it makes a strong effort to blend research
and pedagogy, it struck me as too technical to be used in courses
emphasizing methodology (my particular need in examining the book, but
one that may not be shared by many readers of this review).

The inclusion of pedagogical implications for many of the studies was
a nice touch. I felt that a final chapter summarizing and discussing
these implications would have been a useful addition to the book. The
beginning chapter summarized and discussed the theory, and a similar
chapter on teaching implications would have made a nice bookend to the

Although the chapters in the book were overall of high quality, I
found some less useful than the others. For example, the chapter on
Conversation Analysis seemed intended to demonstrate the technique
rather than report on research based on a question. In another
problem, the study on ''Giving directions'' was missing part of its
data collection. Although it extensively discussed the results from
the role play task, the promised results of an ethnographic interview
of L1 Arabic speakers were not reported.

Another issue I found problematic was the lack of division between
naturalistic and classroom second language acquisition (this should
not be confused with the distinction between spontaneous and elicited
speech, which the book does make). This acquisition/learning
distinction, made popular by Stephen Krashen, is normally one that I
do not find useful, and it is a distinction that the editors of the
volume deliberately do not make. However, in many of the studies, it
would have been useful, as the kind of language performance reported
for classroom learning was very different from that reported for
naturalistic use of the L2. Douglas' chapter on discourse domains
emphasizes the importance of context of learning. He says that
''understanding the systemic effect of different contexts on the
acquisition of language knowledge'' (p. 41) is a central issue in
speaking research, a statement which finds strong support in the
variable kinds of language performance reported on in the volume.
Making a distinction between more formal contexts of leaning and more
naturalistic ones helps make sense of the very different kinds of
spoken performance in the research studies, and it is an important
implication of the idea of discourse domains. Learners whose only
input is the classroom clearly construct different discourse domains
than those who have other input.

A final issue had to do with how I ended up reading the volume. I
started as anyone would, at Chapter 1 and tried to move through the
book in order. Chapter 1 (the Conceptual Overview), however, was the
most challenging of the volume, and it was far more understandable
after reading the rest of the book. Many of the concepts discussed in
Chapter 1 were far easier to process after being exemplified by the
studies reported in the rest of the book. This is an important issue
when considering this book for a graduate level class on spoken
discourse. As an experienced reader with a lot of background, I found
the conceptual overview to be packed with ideas that I had never
encountered or had only before encountered peripherally. Reading the
studies helped to build a schema for the first chapter. The content
of the first chapter (and indeed the book as a whole) is not for a
novice, but it does meet an important need in the field, that of
filling the empty middle between pedagogically and theoretically
oriented texts.


Bygate, M. 1987. Speaking. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chun, Dorothy. 2002. Discourse intonation in L2: From theory and
research to practice. New York: John Benjamins Publishing Co.
Levelt, W. 1989. Speaking: From intention to articulation.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Wennerstrom, Ann. 2001. The music of everyday speech: Prosody and
discourse analysis. New York: Oxford University Press.
Wichman, Anne. 2000. Intonation in text and discourse. London:


John M. Levis is assistant professor of TESL/Applied Linguistics at
Iowa State University (USA), where he teaches courses in ESL/EFL
teaching methodology, oral communication teaching methods,
linguistics, sociolinguistics, dialects. His research interests
include pronunciation and the intelligibility of spoken language.
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