LINGUIST List 18.2281|
Tue Jul 31 2007
Review: Language Acquisition: Tomlinson (2007)
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Language Acquisition and Development
Message 1: Language Acquisition and Development
From: Randall Eggert <randylinguistlist.org>
Subject: Language Acquisition and Development
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EDITOR: Brian Tomlinson
TITLE: Language Acquisition and Development
SUBTITLE: Studies of learners of first and other languages
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd
Catherine N. Davies, Department of English Language and Communication, Kingston
Language Acquisition and Development is an edited collection of chapters divided
into eight Critical Reviews and eight Research Reports. The introductory chapter
by the editor clarifies the book's dual focus on both first (L1) and second
language (L2) acquisition research as an opportunity to explore the findings of
each domain and illuminate areas where findings from one area may inform the
other. This is followed by articles by researchers from a wide spread of
Alongside exploring connections between L1 and L2 research, the volume aims to
relate theories of language acquisition to its practice and is aimed primarily
at applied linguists and language teaching practitioners. Indeed, the latter
group, occasionally marginalised by theory-heavy applied linguistic research
reports, should find this resource highly practical in its scope and insights.
''Introduction: Some similarities and differences between L1 and L2 acquisition
and development'' by Brian Tomlinson
The opening chapter foregrounds the book's dual treatment of acquisition and
development as initial and subsequent processes, equally applicable to L1 and
L2. Comparisons of learner characteristics offer new perspectives on claims of
L1 superiority in ease of acquisition, with a concise review of research on the
critical period hypothesis in relation to the book's emphasis on facilitation of
language learning. The introduction ends with a brief preview of subsequent
Part I. Critical Reviews of the Literature
1. ''The role of proto-reading activities in the acquisition and development of
effective reading skills'' by Hitomi Masuhara
Masuhara reviews reading acquisition research in order to apply its findings to
the teaching and learning of reading in a second language. L1 children's skills
(such as phonemic awareness and print knowledge) which form the foundations of
reading are examined, underpinned by the acknowledgement of the higher order
thinking skills demanded by readers. This is then linked to skill deficiencies
and resultant reading problems in L1, as well as system-internal problems such
as the inconsistent sound-spelling correspondence in English. Using the example
of Japanese EFL learners, Masuhara highlights stark differences between the
environments of L1 and L2 learners, arguing for the use of cognitive and
L1-based compensatory strategies by L2 readers to override gaps in their
knowledge and skills. Some principles from neural network models (Kandel et al
2006) are then extracted from the way in which L1 learners progress, and then
recommended as the ideal basis of L2 reading pedagogies. Finally, proposals are
made for the nurturing of L2 reading, naturally stemming from Masuhara's
observations of L1 reading, e.g. first teaching oral language skills, and only
then adding reading instruction. Overall, the chapter argues for the promotion
of teaching and learning strategies which are strengthened by an awareness of
mental representations and the different types of neural networks involved in
2. ''The transfer of reading from the language of wider communication to the
first language'' by Agatha van Ginkel
Van Ginkel uses the case of Sabaot speakers in Kenya to illustrate some of the
processes involved in applying reading skills from the language of wider
communication (LWC; here Kiswahili and English), to L1 (Sabaot) which has a
recently developed orthographic system. In the absence of substantial research
to date on LWC-L1 reading, wider issues of relationships between L1 and L2
reading are explored, and their place in the Sabaot situation discussed. Remarks
on visual word recognition processes follow, in relation to their role in Sabaot
reading. Potential psycholinguistic, typological, and sociolinguistic influences
on mechanisms involved in LWC-L1 reading transfer are put forward, with some
tentative research suggestions for this new area of study.
3. ''The processing of past tense verbs for L1 learners of English'' by Natalie
Braber opens by providing an overview of L1 acquisition of verbs and posits
reasons for the relatively late verb spurt by English-speaking children (cf.
nouns). A brief account of verbal morphology in English and the distribution of
regular vs. irregular forms (vs. semi-regular such as ring-rang) follows. The
chapter's main thrust is in examining the dual-route (e.g. Ullman 1999) vs.
single mechanism (McLelland & Patterson 2002a, 2002b) theories for the
processing of past tense by language learners. A critical review of both
theories is presented, with comparisons of the research supporting the
rule-based system and that supporting the connectionist, memory-based system.
This leads to a discussion of the past-tense verbal productions of
language-impaired adults, examined from the perspective of both theories, with a
view to informing the wider issue of verb processing in L1. Syntactic, semantic
and phonological impairments are discussed as causal factors of the processing
difficulties by patients with neurological conditions, such as semantic dementia
and Broca's aphasia.
4. ''Seeing and saying for yourself: the roles of audio-visual mental aids in
language learning and use'' by Brian Tomlinson and Javier Avilla
Tomlinson and Avila highlight the importance of internal monologue and
visualisation in deep processing of information, and thus learning. They list
examples of naturalistic visual imaging in L1, and extrapolate its worth to L2
acquisition and development (mentioning the common lack of image generation
amongst early-stage L2 learners). Features of inner speech are presented, with a
detailed analysis of some of its functions, e.g. to achieve schematic
connections, for self-reassurance and to help prepare for outer speech. Research
support is provided throughout (Gathercole & Baddeley 1993; Sokolov 1972;
Akhutina 2003; Archer 2003). Incidence of inner voice work is examined both in
the classroom and naturalistically (where the L2 is the ambient language), with
a strong, tentatively causal, connection between use of mental aids and L2
5. ''Applications of the research into the roles of audio-visual mental aids for
language teaching pedagogy'' by Brian Tomlinson and Javier Avilla
The authors claim that Mental aids, in the form of visual imagery and inner
voice activities lead to increased performance in L2; they go on to note that
these techniques have not yet filtered into mainstream EFL textbooks. The bulk
of the chapter consists of practical suggestions (with staged schedules) for
helping L2 learners develop these mental aids, e.g. by incorporating physical
problem-solving activities, using more provocative reading material, and
encouraging the use of L1 in the classroom to enable greater internal voicing.
The argument rests on the premise that in L1 development, the external voice
does not precede the inner voice and that much of the learners' input is
colloquial, unplanned language. Both situations are claimed to be reversed in
L2. The effects of the authors' recommendations appear to be strengthened by the
use of neuroimaging techniques to detect inner speech (research in progress by
Tomlinson et al).
6. ''Internalization and language acquisition'' by James Lantolf and Beatriz
The starting point for this review is a description and analysis of
internalization: Vygotsky's concept of the transference of external interactions
into internal knowledge. Deemed central to this process is imitation , in its
complex and deferred forms, a uniquely human capacity, and demonstrative of
several skills necessary for language use. Examples of imitation in language
learners are given, along with the claim that during private speech, it promotes
internalization and thus acquisition. The authors suggest that observation of
imitation and other forms of inner speech provides some direct access to the
acquisition process (acquisition 'in flight'; Vygotsky 1987). Supported by new
and borrowed data, a learning sequence involving cycles of error, feedback, and
imitation is schematised. The chapter particularly complements other work in the
volume on recasts and inner speech.
7. ''Affect in teacher talk'' by Jane Arnold and Carmen Fonseca
Arnold and Fonseca's article is an interesting addition to the book in that it
takes its focus less from the delineated field of language acquisition and more
from approaches to learning and teaching more generally. The resounding premise
of the piece is that raising awareness of affect in the classroom (ostensibly in
teachers) is vital for learning to take place. Some interesting comparisons are
made between the linguistic and affective environments of L1 and L2 learners,
which are held to be similar in the 'simplified codes' that they employ and in
their constructivist, interactional vision of learning. The work of
psychologists such as Vygotsky and Carl Rogers are cited as foundations of the
constructivist approach which the authors advocate. Frameworks of distinct
teacher behaviour patterns are presented, and observations of prosodic meanings
in L1 caretaker-speak are extrapolated to teacher-talk in the L2 classroom. The
chapter sums up by reiterating the equal and critical importance in teacher
discourse of cognitive and affective awareness and input.
8. ''The attitudes of language learners towards target varieties of the language''
by Ivor Timmis
In harmony with the ethos of the collection, Timmis opens his chapter with a
comparative discussion of the effects of learner attitudes on acquired varieties
of L1 and then of L2 in immersion and classroom settings. Comments on the
separability of attitudes towards language variety, culture and identity follow,
with support for the claim that positive attitudes towards the target variety
are essential for effective language learning. Much of the remainder of the
paper examines target varieties used in the ELT classroom, touching on Kachru's
(1982) much criticised concentric circles of English model, and questions the
concept of native speaker varieties of English as the prestige. A balanced
discussion of the promotion of native-speaker varieties in international
contexts presents on the one hand the threat of cultural and linguistic
imperialism, and on the other, the need for a code with the full range of
communicative functions, as well as the fact that many learners still aspire to
native speaker norms. Finally, six options for target varieties and classroom
practice are presented (Willis 1999), with brief practical justification.
Part II. Research Reports
9. ''The value of recasts during meaning focused communication - 1'' by Brian
The chapter starts by comparing the nature and value of caretaker recasting of
children's (L1) utterances with the potential positive influence of recasts
during L2 classroom communication. Recasts, which maintain the learner's central
meaning while providing correction or enrichment, are observed to be common and
beneficial forms of teacher intervention, involving implicit positive and
negative feedback. Counter-views are cited, such as the risk of message-focused
learners misinterpreting recasts, and lack of self-initiated repair. Tomlinson
devised a series of activities (''the Mrs. King experiment'') to experimentally
test the long and short term effects of classroom recasts on a group of Chinese
learners of English (specifically in the use of contrastive 'but'). Results
suggest that teachers can influence the short-term productions of students by
implicitly modelling correct structures. The chapter as a whole contains many
practical suggestions for ways in which teachers can incorporate meaningful
recasts into their classes.
10. ''The value of recasts during meaning focused communication - 2'' by Javier
Avila replicates Tomlinson's experimental work on recasts (Ch. 9, this volume)
with small groups of learners of Spanish as a Foreign Language. The preamble
reiterates the supportive role of classroom recasts. Avila reports on not only
the potential of meaning-focused recasting in the foreign language classroom,
but also the motivational effects of the dramatic and competitive activities
used. Results are less conclusive than those from Tomlinson's data; instead, the
chapter highlights the salience of kinaesthetic activities performed in
conjunction with recasting as a boost to the use of imagery and mental aids (see
Ch.4, this volume), and ultimately effective learning.
11. ''Output like input: influence of children's literature on young L2 learners'
written expression'' by Irma-Kaarina Ghosn
This research report opens by highlighting the emphasis on reading before
writing by traditional foreign language learning resources. Ghosn claims that
story-writing is seen as an advanced skill which may not be fully integrated
until much later in L2 development, and argues that engagement with written
narratives has profound influence on learners' vocabulary development,
interlocutor sensitivity, analytical abilities, and language complexity and
accuracy. The experimental findings report on the pre- and post-test written
compositions of 140 Lebanese primary-age children, half of whom had received
regular story-based instruction over 15 weeks. Quantitative and qualitative
results show that the intervention group showed marked developments in
vocabulary range, discourse transitions, structural coherence and supporting
detail, concluding that similar benefits to those found in L1 classrooms are
ready for nurture in the L2.
12. ''The value of comprehension in the early stages of the acquisition and
development of Bahasa Indonesian by non-native speakers'' by Erlin Susanti Barnard
Comprehension- or input-based approaches to L2 learning/teaching are contrasted
with output-focused methods, stating that for acquisition to take place there
must be opportunities to process input without expectation or pressure to
produce output. Hypotheses predicting the beneficial effects of comprehension
training on both comprehension and production tasks are tested with
undergraduates in Singapore taking beginners classes in Indonesian. Detailed
discussion of experimental results follows, and the author concludes by
nominating an input-based approach in the early stages of learning, followed by
a greater focus on production after the foundations are in place.
13. ''Enhancing the language learning process for reticent learners of Vietnamese
and of English in Vietnam'' by Bao Dat
Reticence and silence in the language learning classroom are contrasted; Dat
claims that whereas silence can be a constructive tool, reticence suggests a
barrier to L2 acquisition. The discussion goes on to inform the reader about the
dominant teacher-centred approach in Vietnam, and the recent appeal for more
active learning styles. The link to reticence amongst learners is made clear.
Informed by the author's cultural sensitivity, longitudinal research into the
potential repair of verbal reticence was undertaken. Using qualitative feedback
from students and teachers, Dat compiles a list of the causes of reticence in
local and wider contexts (e.g. fear of breaking norms), and possible remedial
strategies (e.g. discuss student willingness to make changes). In consultation
with research participants, new communicative strategies were tested. Results
are predictably mixed, e.g. while the majority of students felt that their oral
communication improved, some showed resistance and dissatisfaction at the
perceived reduction of knowledge provision. Likewise, teacher responses are
summarised. Finally Dat concludes with positive remarks about the broadening of
teaching and learning options in Vietnam.
14. ''A sort of puzzle for English as a lingua franca'' by Luke Prodromou
Work with language corpora has revealed much of what native speakers say and
write to be phraseological/idiomatic, and Prodromou here explores the nature of
idioms as used by English learners. He observes that even in the most advanced
users, prefabricated units (e.g. 'spill the beans') are relatively rare.
Prodromou's corpus gathers spontaneous speech in naturalistic settings by highly
proficient L2 users of English from a number of L1 backgrounds, and it is used
herein to compare idiomatic patterns in L2 (here, speakers of English as a
lingua franca) and L1 users. Convergences and divergences are discussed with
reference to semantic and pragmatic functions. 'Sort of' is highlighted as both
an extremely common lexical phrase in native-speaker corpora and a rare
occurrence in the L2 corpus, and as such is discussed formally and functionally.
As representative of ''small words with big meanings'' (McCarthy 2003:60), such
idioms present slippery challenges to speakers of English as a lingua franca.
15. ''Perceptions of culture by British students learning French'' by Catherine
Von Knorring sets out to ascertain how her British undergraduate students of
French perceive both English and French culture (and overarchingly, how they
define 'culture'). The respondents overwhelmingly interpreted both cultures
sociologically, as ''the way people live'' (Hofstede 1980). This contrasts with
the author's expectation that they would perceive French culture as 'high
culture', in tandem with their academic studies of French traditions. The same
survey was carried out with French undergraduates, who commented less frequently
on contemporary examples and instead highlighted the notion of culture as
''intellectual, artistic and social pursuits'', i.e. high culture. The gap between
the two national perceptions is posited to be a product of the contrasting ways
in which language is taught and promoted in the UK and in France; the former
aiming to build students' skills for better employment, and the latter to
broaden experience and enrich knowledge.
16. ''A blind learner in EFL mainstream courses: A case study at the Lebanese
American University'' by Nola Bacha
This chapter offers insights into the advanced skills of memory, depth of
concentration and hearing in blind people, strengths which are particularly
compatible with L2 learning (an 'ear science'; Borisy 1931 in Nikolic 1987).
General recommendations for teaching methods most appropriate for use with blind
students and adaptations to learning materials are summarised. The case study
follows Jihad, a computer science graduate on an EFL programme in Lebanon.
Bacha's work reports on Jihad's successful development of academic writing and
presentation skills in mainstream classes incorporating group work and tutorials
as well as a visio-braille machine, PCs and recorded material. Bacha concludes
with some interesting reflections on the (non-) typicality of Jihad's situation,
challenges faced by tutors, and an optimistic outlook for increasing the tiny
numbers of blind students in post-compulsory mainstream education.
Conclusions: Tomlinson consolidates the volume by reiterating the gains which
can be made from testing what has been validated by empirical research in
classrooms across the globe. As such, he catalogues many of the practices
nominated as effective teaching/learning strategies by the authors of the
preceding chapters, and appeals for the expansion of applicable action research.
The volume has been described as ''an intelligently edited, probing and
innovative set of studies balanced between social and psychological insights''
(Ronald Carter, Chair of the British Association for Applied Linguistics). I
would add that the practical character of the book renders it an excellent
resource (there is an abundance of data where appropriate). The aim of relating
theory to practice is achieved very well - the emphasis of the book is on
practical application and scholarly discovery through doing, which mirrors many
of the papers' approaches to language learning.
Of course, as with all instruments, this book can only be reviewed along with a
clear vision of who might be using it. Following from the somewhat nebulous
title, the chapter titles indicate that the contents are very wide-ranging,
covering many domains, e.g. language pedagogy, psycholinguistics, corpus
linguistics, sociolinguistics, psychology, even cultural studies. Crucially the
book has a clear focus which unites the broad range of papers, i.e. effective
teaching and learning. Given this, the book is a great resource for ELT
practitioners. Conversely, it may be less useful for experimental or lab-based
researchers, such as those in the field of SLA processing. Due to its accessible
style and transparent data analysis, the book will not only be of use to
academics and practitioners, but also to interested undergraduates of
linguistics or education. Due to the discrete nature of the individual chapters,
the reader is allowed to pick specific areas of interest, although some
cross-referencing, for which there are many opportunities, would have been helpful.
The application of advancements in L1 research to L2 and vice versa raises
perennial problems - my students commonly extrapolate from L1 research to L2,
with varying degrees of success and coherence. This book initially seems to
achieve this, but as the reader progresses beyond the introduction to each
paper, the thrust of the arguments is soon restricted to either L1 or L2. This
is clearly something of which the editors are aware, given the warning in
Tomlinson's introduction (pp.9-10), but it does threaten to undermine the book's
Overall, this collection is thoughtfully compiled; the chapters well-written,
well-supported and well-referenced. It is a valuable resource in the field of
Akhutina, T.V. (2003) The role of inner speech in the construction of an
utterance. _Journal of East European Psychology_ 41 (3/4). 49-74.
Archer, M.S. (2003) _Structure, Agency and the Internal Conversation_.
Gathercole, S.E. & Baddeley, A.D. (1993) _Working memory and Language_. Hove:
Hofstede, G. (1980) _Culture's Consequences_. London: Sage.
Kachru, B. (1982) _The Other Tongue: English Across Cultures_. Urbana, IL:
University of Illinois Press.
Kandel E.R., Schwartz, J.H. & Jessell, T.M. (2006) _Principles of Neural
Science_ (5th ed.) New York: McGraw Hill.
McCarthy, M. (2003) Talking back: 'small' interactional responses in everyday
conversation. _Research on Language and Social Interaction. Special Issue in
Small talk_, 36 (1). 33-63.
McLelland, J.L. & Patterson, K. (2002a) ''Words or Rules'' cannot exploit the
regularity in exceptions. _Trends in Cognitive Sciences_ 6. 464-5.
McLelland, J.L. & Patterson, K. (2002b) Rules or connections in past-tense
inflections: what does the evidence rule out? _Trends in Cognitive Sciences_ 6.
Nikolic, T. (1987) Teaching a foreign language in schools for blind and visually
impaired children. _Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness_. 62-6.
Sokolov, A.N. (1972) _Inner Speech and Thought_. New York: Plenum Press
Ullman, M.T. (1999) Acceptability ratings of regular and irregular past-tense
forms: Evidence for a dual-system model of language from word frequency and
phonological neighbourhood effects. _Language and Cognitive Processes_ 14. 47-67.
Vygotsky, L.S. (1987) _The Collected Works of L.S.Vygotsky. Volume 1. Problems
of General Psychology. Including the Volume Thinking and Speech_ (ed. By
R.W.Reiber & A.S. Carton). New York: Plenum Press.
Willis, D. (1999) An international grammar of English? Unpublished paper, 33rd
IATEFL conference, Edinburgh.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Catherine Davies is a lecturer in English Language and Communication at Kingston
University, UK. She is interested in a wide range of aspects of first and second
language acquisition, particularly the development of discourse cohesion. Hoping
to start Ph.D. research at Cambridge University within the year, Catherine is
currently enduring the waiting game regarding her funding.
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