EDITOR: Brian Tomlinson TITLE: Language Acquisition and Development SUBTITLE: Studies of learners of first and other languages PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd PUBLISHED: 2007
Catherine N. Davies, Department of English Language and Communication, Kingston University, UK
SUMMARY 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 affiliations.
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 chapters.
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 reading.
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 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 proficiency concluded.
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 Centeno-Cortes 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 Tomlinson 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 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 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.
CRITICAL EVALUATION 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 overarching aims.
Overall, this collection is thoughtfully compiled; the chapters well-written, well-supported and well-referenced. It is a valuable resource in the field of language acquisition.
REFERENCES 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_. Cambridge: C.U.P.
Gathercole, S.E. & Baddeley, A.D. (1993) _Working memory and Language_. Hove: Erlbaum.
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. 465-72.
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.
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