Review of Innovative Research and Practices in Second Language Acquisition and Bilingualism
| Review's Editor: Anthony Aristar
This edited volume brings together research from generative linguistics to cognitive psychology, including chapters by well-established researchers in their field. Almost all relate their findings to classroom second- or foreign-language instruction, including classrooms with bilinguals or heritage learners. In the introduction, editor John W. Schwieter and Gabrielle Klassen outline the structure of the volume. Part I: Linguistic perspectives and implications for L2 pedagogy (Chapters 1-9) includes theory and research from linguistics. Part II: Cognitive perspectives and implications for L2 pedagogy (Chapters 10-13) includes theory and research from cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. Part III: Concluding remarks consists of one chapter that ties together the pedagogical implications from previous chapters.
Chapter 1: Mental representation and skill in instructed SLA (Bill VanPatten)
VanPatten begins with the basic tenet of Universal Grammar (UG): that language consists of mental representations and use of those representations (skill). According to him, L2 learners need to be exposed to rich and manipulated input to maximize the building of their mental representations in L2. Learners also need to have some sort of representation in place before they can be expected to develop skill in the language, just as L1 speakers have nearly fully complete mental representations of their L1 by the time they start school, at which point they practice using those representations in all four skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening). VanPatten distinguishes his notion of practice (communicative activities) from the practice of skill acquisition theory (e.g. DeKeyser 1997), in which learners practice (pedagogical) grammar rules to build proficiency in a new language. For VanPatten, both input and output need to be “meaningful”, that is, transmitting or receiving new information, so that the learner is practicing the exact skill they will need when using the L2 outside of the classroom.
Chapter 2: Input and output in SLA: Applying theories of mental representation and skill (Wynne Wong)
Wong’s chapter builds on VanPatten’s by delving deeper into pedagogical practices that aim to build mental representations and skill. First, she evaluates three well-known teaching methodologies in terms of these goals (the audiolingual method, Krashen’s input hypothesis, and communicative language teaching), arguing that none of these methodologies maximizes opportunities for developing both representations and skill. The activities she then suggests include, first, for building mental representations: (1) structured input (“input activities designed to make form-meaning connections”, p. 28), (2) discourse scrambling (putting sentences in order to recreate the original conversation), and (3) dictogloss (similar to dictation). The activities suggested to build skill level include: (1) structured output tasks requiring use of a specific grammatical form, (2) rewriting a scene from a film, and (3) remaking a film. The Appendices include a sample film-remaking activity with a corresponding grading rubric. Overall, this chapter is a valuable addition to the book in its very practical applications of Chapter 1.
Chapter 3: Interaction and the noun phrase accessibility hierarchy: A study using syntactic priming (Jennifer Behney and Sue Gass)
This chapter reports on an empirical study conducted by the authors in which L2 learners of Italian were primed to produce subject and direct object relative clauses through an interaction activity (picture description task). Results showed priming effects with both types of relative clauses, although the effect was greater for subject relative clauses than for direct object relative clauses. The authors conclude that priming may be a useful way of exposing learners to input, especially in learning easier structures (e.g., subject relative clauses). The authors acknowledge that their study is limited by its lack of a pretest and in addition, it is also limited by its lack of a posttest: we do not know whether the priming results in lasting changes to learners’ developing systems. However, it does seem to be an innovative approach that should be pursued further, to understand better how it works and how it can be implemented in the classroom.
Chapter 4: Generative approaches and the competing systems hypothesis: Formal acquisition to pedagogical application (Drew Long and Jason Rothman)
Long and Rothman propose the Competing Systems Hypothesis (CSH) as a theory-based hypothesis that is also useful for teachers. The CSH distinguishes underlying grammatical knowledge (mental representations) of the L2 from the metalinguistic information about about the L2 taught in the classroom (pedagogic rules). They also report findings that disentangle the two by testing areas in which pedagogic rules fall short of the full native-speaker norms of use. In terms of best classroom practices, Long and Rothman acknowledge that it would not be easy to remove all grammatical explanations from classrooms, nor is such an extreme step necessary. They also recognize that it is not likely that adult L2 learners will be able to learn via naturalistic settings. The compromise they suggest, then, is to present grammar rules and metalinguistic information in a flexible way. In order to do so, teachers should learn about different types of grammar (prescriptive, pedagogical, and descriptive) to ensure they know what it is they are presenting to the class: an approximation rather than a truth.
Chapter 5: Why theory and research are important for the practice of teaching: The case of mood choice in Spanish relative clauses (Joyce Bruhn de Garavito)
Since mood choice in Spanish relative clauses depends both on meaning at the sentence level (semantics) and at the context level (pragmatics), Bruhn de Garavito argues that generative theory of semantics, pragmatics, and the interface between the two should drive SLA research as well as language teaching. The chapter outlines this problem and details how the actual patterns of subjunctive use are not well explained by the grammar rules given in typical textbooks. Her conclusion includes several suggestions for the classroom, such as not introducing the subjunctive until the intermediate level, and then limiting exposure to the most learnable contexts and introducing relative clauses in the indicative before adding the complication of the subjunctive (Collentine, 1995). Presumably, similar suggestions can also be made for other processing and acquisition problems, including in other target languages.
Chapter 6: Input-based incremental vocabulary instruction for the L2 classroom (Joe Barcroft)
This chapter serves as a state-of-the-art review of input-based incremental (IBI) vocabulary instruction. IBI instruction is based on theories of input processing similar to those of Processing Instruction (VanPatten, this volume), but applied to the processing and integration of lexical, rather than morphosyntactic, items into a developing system. Specifically, the type of processing -- resource allocation (TOPRA) model outlines how processing for meaning versus form yields different learning outcomes (Barcroft, 2002). Barcroft outlines ten principles of vocabulary instruction based on empirical research, a checklist for developing IBI lessons, and a sample lesson plan. Two sample principles are: frequent presentation of target items in a variety of contexts and limiting forced output or semantic elaboration (e.g., thinking of synonyms) in initial stages. The checklist is a natural extension of these principles. The sample lesson, perhaps the most valuable contribution of the chapter, was designed for advanced-level ESL students and consists of steps to be conducted over multiple class sessions. This chapter clearly demonstrates direct effects of research on teaching and learning practices.
Chapter 7: Experimentalized CALL for adult second language learners (Nora Presson, Colleen Davy and Brian MacWhinney)
This chapter addresses how internet technology can be integrated with classroom practices for robust learning and retention. Specifically, it focuses on experimentalized computer-assisted language learning (eCALL), which unites experimental rigor in data collection and SLA theory with pedagogical approaches. For example, SLA places weight on corrective feedback, most of which is more individualized and more frequent, and thus more effective, when delivered by a computer than by an instructor in a classroom setting. eCALL materials are also innovative in that there are programs that can aid with materials development: the REAP Project, for example, scans the internet for readings that use vocabulary items from a given wordlist. The authors also list several limitations to eCALL, such as the cost to set up new programs and the lack of human interaction, reminding the reader that it is meant to be used in conjunction with a classroom, not instead of one. Clearly, though, there are numerous opportunities: the chapter ends by exploring the possibilities of analyzing the large datasets collected by eCALL and the still-developing options with mobile technology.
Chapter 8: Accounting for variability in L2 data: Type of knowledge, task effects, and linguistic structure (Silvia Perpiñán)
Perpiñán’s chapter combines generative and cognitive approaches to SLA to explain the variability inherent in L2 data. Specifically, she reports a study that considered two variables: type of linguistic structure (drawing on generative theories) and task modality (drawing on cognitive psychology theories). The linguistic structures were direct object and oblique relative clauses; participants were native Spanish speakers (control group), native speakers of Arabic or English learning Spanish. In native speaker and L2 groups, scores were higher on the written production task than the oral production task. In addition, learners’ accuracy was higher with direct object clauses than oblique clauses. Perpiñán relates the effect of modality to cognitive demands: oral tasks likely draw on implicit knowledge, whereas written tasks likely draw on explicit knowledge. She relates the difference in performance according to structure to linguistic theory. However, the difference in linguistic structure likely also means one structure is more cognitively demanding to produce than the other. Finally, she concludes by including suggestions for teaching relative clauses, such as beginning with the formal que and adding other complementizers later.
Chapter 9: The development of tense and aspect morphology in child and adult heritage speakers (Alejandro Cuza, Rocío Pérez-Tattam, Elizabeth Barajas, Lauren Miller and Claudia Sadowski)
This chapter reports on an empirical study of oral production of Spanish preterit and imperfect in bilingual children (approximate ages 5-7 and 8-9) growing up in the United States, adult heritage speakers (approximate age 18-23), and monolingual controls matching each age range taken from the CHILDES database. Interestingly, overgeneralization of the preterit and present tenses was found in older child bilinguals, but not younger child bilinguals or adult bilinguals. The researchers interpret the similarity between young children and adults as evidence of adults’ attrition to an earlier stage of bilingual development and to generative theory of tense and aspect in English and Spanish. Pedagogical implications include a focus on the imperfect for classrooms of heritage speakers, which might be done naturally be reading stories aloud.
Chapter 10: Control and representation in bilingualism: Implications for pedagogy (Deanna Friesen and Ellen Bialystok)
The first chapter in Part II of the book complements VanPatten’s chapter on generative approaches to SLA and his definitions of mental representations and practice with Bialystok’s definitions of representation and control, a cognitive approach. For Bialystok and colleagues, language representation is crystallized knowledge and control is the “fluid operation” that speakers use to manipulate representations. The authors report that bilingual children and older adults (although not necessarily young adults) have an advantage over monolinguals in control, but not representation. In addition, when linguistic tasks make demands on control, bilinguals are able to use their advantage to outperform monolinguals, for example in inhibiting lexical competitors within one language. The authors suggest that both control and representation need to be addressed in the classroom, where currently most of the focus is on building representations. In addition, tests that draw on both control and representation might make for fairer evaluations of bilinguals’ language ability than tests focused on representation (e.g., naming).
Chapter 11: Language selection, control, and conceptual-lexical development in bilinguals and multilinguals (John W. Schwieter and Aline Ferreira)
This chapter reviews several recent theories on bilingual speech production to explain how bilinguals are able to select the correct word in the appropriate language for the task at hand. Some approaches suggest a language cue at the conceptual level that leads to only target-language lexemes being activated, while others place the majority of the work on domain-general inhibitory control, or differences in language proficiency. Since both language control or inhibitory control and language proficiency are components of both models, the authors suggest that learners study abroad, especially in programs run by educators from their home institutions, since such programs have shown gains in both control in switching between languages and in target-language proficiency. Given that study abroad is not always a possibility for adult learners, the authors suggest that activities that involve language switching should also be incorporated into classrooms.
Chapter 12: Lexical access in bilinguals and second language learners (Gretchen Sunderman and Eileen Fancher)
This chapter considers processes in bilingual word recognition and comprehension rather than production. The authors describe the bilingual interactive activation model for word recognition, which posits that words from both languages are in competition during processing, citing evidence from studies investigating effects of lexical relations to show that cross-language competition exists. To some extent, there is evidence of similar competition in L2 learners. Sunderman and Fancher conclude with three suggestions for language teachers based on the competition inherent in bilingual word recognition: First, teachers should not insist that learners “turn off” their L1, since that is not how fully proficient bilinguals operate. Secondly, teachers should not despair when their students mix up orthographically similar words in the target language. Finally, to avoid confusion between orthographically related words, new vocabulary should be presented in rich semantic context, to strengthen the activation to that specific word.
Chapter 13: Cognitive foundations of crosslinguistic influence (Scott Jarvis, Michelle O’Malley, Linye Jing, Jing Zhang, Jessica Hill, Curtis Chan and Nadezhda Sevostyanova)
Jarvis and colleagues explore the idea of bilinguals’ enhanced executive control outlined in previous chapters and relate it to the presence of crosslinguistic interference (CLI) in bilinguals. They suggest that learners of closely related languages develop less ability in control than learners of less closely related languages, due to the increase of CLI in the former. In addition, individuals with better executive control are better able to avoid CLI. The authors are currently investigating the larger question of how CLI and working memory capacity interact, since executive control is only one component of working memory. Finally, the authors also review research on CLI in terms of conceptualization, such as the difference between bounded and unbounded events in verb phrases. What this chapter lacks is pedagogical implications for reducing CLI.
Chapter 14: Ideas for the practice of instructed SLA and their rationale: A summary and commentary (James F. Lee)
The sole chapter in Part III brings together the varied topics and classrooms implications discussed in this book by grouping them into three categories: instructional materials and development, curricular changes, and teacher education. Suggestions for instructional materials include balancing input-based and output-based activities, moving away from inaccurate pedagogical rules in explicit instruction, following IBI guidelines for vocabulary learning, incorporating eCALL, and differential instruction for heritage learners at various ages. In terms of curricular changes, implications can broadly be construed as timing instruction to correspond with learners’ L2 development. In addition, curricula should develop both representation and control. Finally, in terms of teacher education, the theme of understanding the disconnect between pedagogical grammar and native-speaker language use returns. Also, teachers should be educated on priming studies so that they can use this type of implicit learning to their advantage. Language curricula should include immersion experiences, yet should not insist on the L1’s deactivation, since that is unlikely to occur. In sum, there can and should be direct relationships between both linguistic and cognitive theory, research, and SLA practices in the classroom.
As a whole, this volume can serve many purposes. One is that it provides researchers with models for linking research to pedagogy in ways that are relevant and informative, while reminding us of why it is important to do so. It is also unique in the variety of approaches it brings together. Finally, it can be useful for language practitioners to ground their practices in empirical findings, especially those who have some level of training in language science, broadly construed.
The editor is to be commended for the breadth of theoretical perspectives presented in this volume, which brings together the work of, for example, VanPatten, Gass, and Bialystok, all prominent researchers in different subfields. However, it is clear that all areas are not equally represented. First of all, the two main sections of the book are unevenly divided: there are nine chapters in the first part, labeled “linguistic perspectives” and only four in the second part, labeled “cognitive perspectives.” Secondly, within each section there is an imbalance in the perspectives represented. Six out of the nine linguistics chapters are theoretically grounded, at least in part, in formal or generative theory, leaving only three to represent the interactionist approach and cognitive approaches to SLA. (While Part II would seem to be the place for such cognitive approaches, it really represents contributions from cognitive psychology or psycholinguistics rather than SLA researchers.) No mention is made of sociocultural theory (although VanPatten does say that language is social). Finally, some chapters address L2 lexicon and some morphosyntax, but only one mentions phonology (Presson, Davy, & MacWhinney). Perhaps the editor had his reasons for focusing on these theories and these linguistic domains, but he never explains any such reasons, nor does he acknowledge that these imbalances are present in the book.
In the end, the mix that the editor achieves is still a novelty and is useful for learning about, as the title states, “innovative research and practices” in the fields of SLA and bilingualism (and overlap between the two, such as teaching heritage speakers). Individually, the authors did a remarkable job of relating their research and theory to classroom practices in a way that is rational and relevant for instructors, something that is not always true of reports on empirical studies. Although some went into more detail (Barcroft’s sample lesson plan) and some less, only one chapter did not include pedagogical implications (Jarvis et al.). Lee’s final chapter also did a remarkable job tying all the ends together and providing the reader with a shortcut to a variety of empirically informed suggestions relating to several different areas of language teaching, all in one place.
Collentine, J. (1995). The development of complex syntax and mood selection abilities by intermediate-level learners of Spanish. “Hispania”, 78, 122-135.
DeKeyser, R. (1997). Beyond explicit rule learning: Automatizing second language morphosyntax. “Studies in Second Language Acquisition”, 19, 195-222.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Jessica G. Cox received her PhD in Spanish Applied Linguistics from Georgetown University and will be an Assistant Professor of Spanish and Linguistics at Franklin and Marshall College starting in Fall 2014. She studies bilingualism and SLA from a cognitive perspective, considering internal variables such as aging and external variables such as type of instruction. Cox currently teaches Spanish language and Linguistics at Georgetown University and has studied in Mexico, Costa Rica, China, and Brazil.