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LINGUIST List 24.488

Mon Jan 28 2013

Review: Applied Linguistics; Language Acquisition; Psycholinguistics: Sanz & Igoa (2012)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <monicalinguistlist.org>

Date: 26-Nov-2012
From: Melissa Whatley <melwhatlindiana.edu>
Subject: Applying Language Science to Language Pedagogy
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-3537.html

EDITOR: Montserrat Sanz
EDITOR: José Manuel Igoa
TITLE: Applying Language Science to Language Pedagogy
SUBTITLE: Contributions of Linguistics and Psycholinguistics to Second Language Teaching
PUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Melissa Whatley, Indiana University Bloomington

SUMMARY

Introduction:
The book under review, “Applying Language Science to Language Pedagogy,” is an
edited volume whose purpose is providing a much-needed link between language
science and language pedagogy. Main ideas discussed in the introduction are
the non-linear path of language learning, the importance of learner errors and
their implications for language teaching, the need for language pedagogy to
understand the mental processes that occur during language learning, and the
conception of language as a mental computational system. The main goal of the
book is to provide language pedagogues with a resource that facilitates
accessibility to language acquisition research. The book is divided into
three main parts: syntax and syntactic processing, the lexicon, and classroom
learning. Each part consists of an introductory chapter written by the
editors followed by three additional chapters written by other researchers.

Part I:
Chapter 2 serves as an introduction to Part I and relates syntax and syntactic
processing to language teaching. The authors establish the approach adopted
as being one that very much falls into the realm of cognitive linguistics,
which focuses on the representation of language in the mind. It is important
to note that not all researchers in language acquisition agree with this model
(see Atkinson 2011). They present the idea that differences between languages
are due to specific traits of grammar that are often invisible, and argue that
a firm understanding of how these traits differentiate a learner’s native
language from the target language is essential to language teaching. In this
particular model, the learner’s task is to discover the locus of variation
between his or her native language and the language to be learned, and then
alter his or her mental representations to match those of the target language.

In Chapter 3, Luis Eguren, outlines the basic ideas surrounding Parametric
Syntax, as proposed by Chomskyan linguistics. The author presents arguments
both for and against these central components, such as Principles and
Parameters Theory, the existence of micro- and macro- parameters, and
parametric hierarchies.

The last two chapters in Part I deal directly with second language
acquisition. Chapter 4, by Thomas G. Bever, is centered around the idea that
language learning, in addition to innate ability, appeals to human beings’
natural desire to solve problems. In this view, learning is conceptualized as
hypothesis testing. The author presents evidence of hypothesis formation in
L1 acquisition and relates these results to late bilingual reading skills.
The remainder of the chapter deals with studies of how texts may be
manipulated physically in order to facilitate access by L2 learners.

In chapter 5, Noriko Hoshino, Judith F. Kroll, and Paola E. Dussias address L2
processing skills in speech production, dealing specifically with grammatical
encoding and lexical access. The authors point out that speech production in
an L2 is a cognitively demanding task that involves not only activation of L2
structures and lexical items, but also suppression of these same components
from the L1. The chapter asserts that the L2 should always be used in the L2
classroom, as input is the most important component of language learning, and
that teachers should focus on only one grammatical point at a time while
teaching.

Part II:
The second section of the book deals specifically with the lexicon. This
part, like the first, consists of four chapters with the first serving as an
introduction. In the introductory chapter, the authors develop the idea that
variation between languages is due to syntactic properties of different
lexical items whose features vary systematically. The second section of this
chapter uses argument structure of verbs in order to illustrate this idea,
making it clear in the final paragraph that it is not necessary that language
learners should be asked to learn linguistic theory, but rather the input with
which they are provided should consist of enough key examples for them to
figure out the features of various types of lexical items. The next few
sections of the chapter specifically address how verbs function within the
lexicon. Additionally, this chapter also explores the psycholinguistics of
lexical processing. In direct relation to language teaching, the authors
discuss interference from learners’ L1, various layers of representation of
lexical items and the role of grammatical gender, concluding that it is not
simply a matter of whether or not a word is introduced to the learner, but
also both when and how.

Chapter 7, by Elena de Miguel, offers an application of this model to Spanish.
This chapter advocates a projectionist approach, which holds that information
from the lexicon is projected to the syntax. The properties of words
determine which combinations are possible via feature agreement. The
Generative Lexicon Theory presented here seeks to explain why words can have
multiple meanings by exploiting their combinatorial properties; that is,
meaning must exist in syntactic context. Using this theoretical approach, the
author presents a discussion of five ways in which words can combine to create
meaning: selection, accommodation, type coercion, introduction, and
exploitation. The chapter ends with a brief discussion of how this theory
could be applied to language teaching, suggesting that the teaching and
learning of the structure of words would prevent learner errors. The author
advocates that language teachers discontinue use of “([…] rule discouraging)
lists” (p. 196).

Chapters 8 and 9 take a more pedagogical approach to the lexicon. In chapter
8, written by Noriko Iwasaki, outlines five of what the author calls myths
about L2 vocabulary learning: that using lists to learn vocabulary is
unproductive, presenting vocabulary in semantic sets facilitates learning,
using translations to learn vocabulary should be discouraged, guessing words
from context is a good strategy for learning them, and that the best
dictionary for the L2 classroom is a monolingual one. The author presents a
variety of empirical studies that aid in the “debunking” of these “myths”,
with several important points for vocabulary teaching emerging from her
discussion.

Chapter 9, by Georgy Nuzhdin, explores the development of emotion words in
bilingual speech, signaling that since emotions are not objects in the real
world, acquiring them along with their semantic scripts may be difficult, if
not impossible, for the L2 learner. The author presents the methodology and
results from four experiments regarding the use of emotion words by L1
Russian/L2 Spanish learners living in Spain, finding that when emotion scripts
are the same in both Russian and Spanish, learners are able to express emotion
in a native-like way, whereas when scripts are different, learners do not
express emotion in the same way as native speakers. In the conclusion, the
author suggests that, while emotion scripts may be difficult to acquire,
experience abroad in the target culture, as well as focusing students’
attention on emotion scripts, may aid in the acquisition of these concepts.

Part III:
The final section of this book focuses specifically on classroom learning. In
chapter 10, the editors introduce the idea that language learning is not
simply an activity that happens within the learner’s brain, but rather is
mediated by social activity. In the classroom, this social activity is often
standardized by a particular institution, such as a ministry of education.
The main ideas presented in this chapter are those of sociocultural theory and
communicative language teaching. Sociocultural theory views language learning
as the internalization of semiotic tools initially used in social contexts,
thus placing great importance on the L2 classroom as a social space.
Communicative language teaching, currently a popular teaching methodology,
emphasizes that language development depends on the relation of the
communicative and relational functions of language. The authors conclude by
asserting that the generative power of grammar, as outlined in the previous
two sections, must be included in language pedagogy. The goal of this
particular section, then, is to attempt to build bridges between formal
linguistics, sociocultural theories of language acquisition, and language
pedagogy.

The three chapters in Part III deal with specific aspects of language learning
within a sociocultural framework. Chapter 11, by Arturo Escandón, explores
learner orientation and its relationship to learning trajectories. In
addition to utilizing ideas from the sociocultural model outlined in the
previous chapter, the author makes use of Bernstein’s code theory, which
hypothesizes that codes are culturally determined; that is, that forms of
communication are regulated by social constructions. The development of
higher mental functions is mediated by social rules, specifically the idea of
what social order should be. The study presented in this chapter focuses on
determining students’ position via examination of their learning trajectories,
coding orientation, and, finally, realization, as judged by their instructors.
Results indicate that students with only a passive realization of
communication and grammar, often characteristic of spontaneous and
naturalistic language learning, may not be as successful in the L2 classroom
as other learners. The author concludes that instructors should create
activities so that they direct learner attention to instructional context,
guiding them to the correct orientation towards classroom social norms.

Chapter 12, by Lori Zenuk-Nishide and Donna Tatsuki, compares and critiques
two different methodological approaches to the use of a literary text in L2
English classrooms in Japan. The authors indicate that in recent years, the
use of authentic literature in the L2 classroom has dwindled. The authors
examine physical (external) features and internal features of two types of
materials used to teach an English novel: externally published materials and
internally created materials (by language instructors). While the externally
published materials do not appear to favor use of the L2 in the classroom, and
do not include materials that provide an area for true communication in the
L2, the internally created materials are firmly based in a communicative
language teaching approach that encourages the use of the L2 in the classroom.
The authors advocate a revision of materials that do not aid students in the
acquisition process as well as a perspective that literature instructors do
not simply teach literature, but rather, language as well.

In chapter 13, Olga Bever discusses the impact of the linguistic landscape,
that is, the texts visible in a learner’s environment, on the development of
language and literacy in a multilingual context. This particular study
examines the linguistic landscape in the Ukraine, where many people are
bilingual in Ukrainian and Russian. The author presents evidence for both
naturalistic and strategic bivalency in public texts, such as advertisements,
and discusses their impact on literacy development in a bilingual environment.

EVALUATION

The authors state at the beginning of this book that their main purpose is to
make language science accessible to language teachers with the goal of
improving language pedagogy. They partially achieve their goal. Many of the
chapters in this book, especially chapters 4, 5, 8, 11, and 12, have very
specific implications for language pedagogy. For example, chapter 4 links the
innate human desire to solve problems to language learning via hypothesis
testing when learners are presented with L2 input. The introductory chapters
in each part, written by the book’s editors, also provide a link between
linguistic theory and practical application. Several chapters of this book,
though, do not have a clear link to language pedagogy and may not be
particularly accessible to the book’s intended audience.

In general, the second chapters in parts I and II, while providing a sound
theoretical base for the linguist, are quite possibly inaccessible to the
average language teacher due to the level of technical concepts and vocabulary
that are incorporated. The authors of these sections appear to have trouble
striking a balance between theoretical linguistics and language pedagogy,
precisely what the editors claim is the goal of this book. Chapter 3 is an
example of this missing link between language science and language pedagogy.
While this particular chapter summarizes the general concepts of Parametric
Syntax and presents debates centered around these ideas very nicely, the
application of this chapter’s main points to language pedagogy remains
unclear. From the perspective of a language teacher, for example, who is
reading this book with the idea of improving what he/she does both in and out
of the classroom in order to facilitate students’ learning, this chapter has
very little to offer. While it may be that parameter resetting and access to
the properties of Universal Grammar are central to the acquisition of a second
language, these concepts, as well as their connection to what the language
teacher does in the classroom, are left undeveloped. Chapter 13, as well,
does not appear to be well connected to the stated goal of the book. The
pedagogical implications of the existence of bivalent texts remain unclear,
although the author does advocate for the inclusion of community resources
such as linguistic landscape artifacts, in the classroom.

Additionally, chapters 6, 7, and 8, all of which deal with vocabulary teaching
and learning, are another source of weakness in this book. For example, one
important critique offered in chapter 6 is that current language teaching
textbooks do not provide students with lexical items grouped according to
their features, something the authors assume would aid in acquisition. While
this is certainly a question open to empirical analysis, the authors fail to
provide any evidence for their claim. Chapter 7 claims that lists do not aid
in vocabulary learning; however, this assertion is directly contradicted in
the following chapter, which advocates the use of lists at the initial stages
of vocabulary learning. Chapter 8 offers empirical evidence that supports the
claim that semantic groups are possibly not the best way to teach vocabulary;
however, it is difficult to see how one might teach a foreign language using a
communicative approach while avoiding the presentation of words in semantic
classes and opting for word lists with L1 translation equivalents instead.

A final methodological critique applies to chapter 11. This study bases much
of its results on instructors’ evaluations of students – but poor evaluations
of performance do not necessarily indicate that one is a poor language
learner. An analysis of individual instructor differences, and their impact
on how instructors rate different learners, is lacking here.

Finally, it is also important to note that the cognitivist linguistic theory
advocated by this book is often viewed as in conflict with and even
incompatible with models of SLA that incorporate social factors, such as the
sociocultural approach adopted in the third section (Firth & Wagner 1997,
Zuengler & Miller 2006, Tarone 2007). The conflict in SLA theory between the
conception of language as a mental construction, presented in the first two
parts of this book, and language as a social phenomenon, the third part,
certainly merits a discussion that is lacking here.

REFERENCES

Atkinson, Dwight (ed.). 2011. Alternative Approaches to Second Language
Acquisition. New York: Routledge.

Firth, Alan & Johannes Wagner. 1997. On Discourse, Communication, and (Some)
Fundamental Concepts in SLA Research. The Modern Language Journal 81(iii).
285-300.

Tarone, Elaine. 2007. Sociolinguistic Approaches to Second Language
Acquisition Research-- 1997 - 2007. The Modern Language Journal 91. 837-848.

Zuengler, Jane & Elizabeth R. Miller. 2006. Cognitive and Sociocultural
Perspectives: Two Parallel SLA Worlds? TESOL Quarterly 40(1). 35-58.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Melissa Whatley is currently a Ph.D. student at Indiana University. Her
research interests include second language acquisition, sociolinguistics, and
syntax.
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