|Review's Editor: Anthony Aristar
The book is a collection of thirty-five chapters organised in seven parts, an editors’ introduction, lists of illustrations (p. ix), abbreviations (pp. x-xii), contributors (pp. xiii-xviii), a glossary (pp. 590-598) and an index (pp. 599-609).
“Introduction” by Susan M. Gass and Alison Mackey (pp. 1-4)
In this short introductory chapter, the editors stress how complex second language acquisition is. They suggest that best results will come out from a multidisciplinary approach. They also explain how the book is organised and what each section in each chapter is about. Each chapter follows the same structure: introduction, historical information on the topic, theoretical approaches and studies in the literature, data and common elicitation measures, application of the topic in second language acquisition and finally future directions. According to the editors, the handbook is addressed to second language acquisition researchers, applied linguists, graduate students, upper-level postgraduate students, practitioners and any other professionals interested in second language acquisition.
Part I: Language in context (pp. 5-87)
Chapter 1: “Interactionist approach” by Alison Mackey, Rebekha Abbuhl and Susan M. Gass (pp. 7-23)
The authors first discuss how the interactionist approach has been developed since the 1970s. The starting point was the types of discourse patterns in native and learner conversations. Through the years, it was noticed that comprehensible input, opportunities to produce output and specific features hard to be acquired, all affect second language development. More recently, research was focused on: whether interaction is equally important, if it affects all forms of language acquisition (e.g. lexical, morphosyntactic), if there are any cognitive mechanisms which affect second language learning, whether factors -such as anxiety- affect second language learning and how interactive feedback also influences second language learning. They also discuss the different tests that can be used to test either learners’ production or perception. They bring examples from the literature to show which tests work better for specific purposes (e.g. to test explicit or implicit feedback). Finally, they highlight the areas of research which have not received much attention in the literature (e.g. long-term delayed post-tests, interdisciplinary research on interaction, the social relationships between teachers and learners, etc.).
Chapter 2: “The role of feedback” by Shawn Loewen (pp. 24-40)
The role feedback plays in oral production is discussed in this chapter. Loewen first explains that different types of feedback occur in second language classroom contexts: recasts, elicitations, explicit correction and update. He shows that feedback can be effective for second language learning and discusses the characteristics of feedback which influence its effectiveness (e.g. recasts and elicitation levels, timing and amount of feedback). Moreover, he shows that contextual characteristics –such as instructional and interlocutor variables- may also influence feedback effectiveness. He draws the attention to different methodologies that can be used to test the effectiveness and the role feedback plays in second language learning (e.g. production tests, grammaticality judgements, developmental stages, cognitive processes). Loewen shows that uptake, noticing and learning are the three indicators of feedback effectiveness. Research on feedback can be applied to second language classrooms. Attention, though, should be paid to two areas: teachers should employ as much feedback and not all students share the same views on its effectiveness. The amount of feedback as well as its effectiveness in specific linguistic items in various languages are two domains for future research.
Chapter 3: “Variationist perspectives” by Robert Bayley and Elaine Tarone (pp. 41-56)
Bayley and Tarone discuss the role social context play in second language learning. Second language learners produce different styles depending on the social context and the researcher’s identity. There are no standard categories according to which learners can be classified into speech communities (e.g. whether they first learn the informal style and then move on to the formal one). The authors briefly present the methodologies used in the variationist approach (e.g. sociolinguistic interviews, ethnographic observations, longitudinal studies). They conclude that second language speakers’ social networks play a role in second language acquisition and learners acquire language at different rates depending on the social contexts. The findings of the variationist approach can be used in teaching and assessment. They stress that language proficiency does not only entail acquiring the grammatical features in a language but also acquiring the use of these grammatical features in different social contexts appropriately. In order to achieve this, teachers should expose second language learners to videos, engage them in chats in and out of the classroom and encourage them to visit native speaking countries. Longitudinal studies on how social context and language learning outside schools and academic establishments are achieved are areas for future research.
Chapter 4: “Sociocultural theory: a dialectal approach to L2 research” by James P. Lantolf (pp. 57-72)
Lantolf discusses the sociocultural theory in second language. Despite the fact that second language learners may use the language successfully, they do not always succeed when they use it to complete cognitive tasks (e.g. lexical organisation). It has also been found that L2 learning is highly influenced by types of imitation; that is imitative suggestion and persistent imitation. In the first case, learners imitate the original model whereas in the latter they imitate the model by adapting new features. In sociocultural theory, the L2 private speech and social mediation are the most common elicitation measures. He claims that theory and practice guide each other and consequently the findings of sociocultural theory can be incorporated into L2 classrooms. Finally, he suggests that scientific knowledge should be formulated in such a way so that it is far from artificial and explicit conceptual knowledge should be combined with communicative tasks to enhance L2 learning.
Chapter 5: “Complexity theory” by Diane Larsen-Freeman (pp. 73-87)
Larsen-Freeman explains that according to the complexity theory in second language acquisition, learning is a complete system affected by various social factors and most importantly by the interaction between the speakers. Positive and negative evidence are present in speakers’ interacting environments. This means that negative evidence does not necessarily need to be applied in classrooms. Learners notice patterns, make generalisations, reach conclusions as far as the social value of structures is concerned, adopt patterns they notice and implement them. Language learning is achieved through implicit and explicit instruction. Learning is affected by physical, social, cognitive and cultural factors. So, language learning can be characterised as a complex and dynamic system. In complexity theory, two models have been used to analyse the data: the dynamic and the qualitative. Complexity theory can be applied to classrooms, as they are dynamic and complex environments. Teachers should be focused around learning, follow a curriculum-based approach and engage students to physically authentic activities so that they apply the grammar they learn in real social contexts. As for future research, one could investigate the limitations of computer modelling, as they are not real-time social situations.
Part II: Linguistic perspectives (pp. 89-176)
Chapter 6: “Second language phonology” by Fred R. Eckman (pp. 91-105)
Eckman offers a comprehensive account of the linguistic theories around second language phonology. He offers the historical background on the development of L2 phonology –starting from the contrastive analysis hypothesis to interlanguage- and the difficulties L2 learners have to acquire. In the first case, the difficulties in acquisition were attributed to the phonological differences between native language and target language. In the second case, L2 learners develop a mental system which enables them to produce and understand utterances in the target language similarly to L1. Different analyses in the literature are presented in favour of each theory. Eckman explains that data collection is based either on L2 learners’ production and perception of L2 sounds or empirical testing in terms of the application of L2 phonology. The theoretical discussion points to the direction that L2 phonological production should not be just a matter of learning the production of the target language.
Chapter 7: “Linguistic approaches to second language morphosyntax” by Donna Lardiere (pp. 106-126)
Lardiere discusses the morphosyntactic acquisition of L2s and more specifically L2 acquisition within the principles of Universal Grammar and the Principles and Parameters theory. She explains that different approaches to explain the role L1 knowledge plays in acquiring L2 morphosyntactic features. The most common data collection methods are: collection and transcription of conversational and interview data, narrations, film retelling, truth-value tests, sentence combining. Teaching could benefit as long as teachers receive training around the findings of morphosyntactic comparative research. They can then direct students’ attention to structures which they may struggle with. As far as future research is concerned, it is suggested that attention should be paid on the interfaces and not only strictly on syntax.
Chapter 8: “L2 semantics” by Roumyana Slabakova (pp. 127-146)
Slabakova discusses the acquisition of L2 semantics. She first offers some historical remarks on lexical and cognitive semantics and suggests that the semantic variation lies on the lexicon-syntax and syntax-semantics interface. L2 learners face the difficulty of mapping meaning to the syntactic structures. Moreover, the most common data collection methods are: grammaticality judgement tasks, truth-value judgment tasks, interpretive judgments and tasks which present learners a test sentence and spell out three or more interpretations. Research has shown that lexical semantics cause difficulties to L2 learners when their L1 lexical knowledge needs to be restructured. Moreover, it has been found that when L2 learners acquire inflectional morphology, semantic acquisition is not problematic. L2 classroom teaching may improve as long as teachers put emphasis on practising grammar in communicative-based activities. Learners need to be aware of the inflectional properties that trigger syntactico-semantic structures. One of the interesting future research areas are comparative child L1, child L2 and adult L2 studies on the acquisition of semantic properties.
Chapter 9: “Pragmatics in second language acquisition” by Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig (pp. 147-162)
Bardovi-Harlig discusses the role environment plays in L2 acquisition (e.g. host environments where the language learnt is spoken by the population or foreign language context where learners learn languages not spoken by the population). Instruction may also influence development in L2 pragmatics acquisition but different teaching methodologies further affect it. The most common data collection measures are spontaneous oral speech, production and non-production tasks and role plays. Research on L2 pragmatics can improve teaching activities, materials and assessment.
Chapter 10: “Vocabulary” by Batia Laufer and I.S.P. Nation (pp. 163-176)
Laufer and Nation explain that L2 learners should be acquainted with frequent and useful words, both easy and difficult ones. Teachers should make sure they target learners’ lexical knowledge (knowledge of the spoken and written forms, morphological and semantic knowledge, social constraints, etc.). Language input and word-focused instruction -which involves communicative and non-communicative tasks, tasks on production, comprehension and contextualised tasks- play a crucial role in vocabulary development. Some of the key future directions are studies on vocabulary learning tasks, vocabulary size and growth and computer-aided vocabulary learning.
Part III: Psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic perspectives (pp. 177-299)
Chapter 11: Second language processing by Norman Segalowitz and Pavel Trofimovich (pp. 179-192)
The authors discuss L2 language processing, the mechanisms and processes that underlie language learning and use: morphological, phonological, syntactic, lexico-semantic or even processing of different skills (reading, writing). Learners’ L2 processing is characterised by three features: it is volitional, social and variational. L2 learners are active agents, they produce speech with specific communicative intentions and they use the linguistic resources to communicate their intentional message. The role of the interlocutor is also very important. Language processing is also social as the meanings communicated are processed in such a way that they are appropriate to the social context. Learners’ speech is also influenced by situations they engage in. Methodologies -such as recall and recognition- are frequently used for data collection purposes. Research on L2 processing shows that target processing skills, activities which aim to exchange sociolinguistic information and activities which engage students with their interlocutors should be encouraged in class.
Chapter 12: Frequency-based accounts on second language acquisition by Nick C. Ellis (pp. 193-210)
Ellis reports on studies which show that frequency plays a crucial role in L2. L2 learners carry their L1 knowledge to construct or reconstruct. Four factors determine learning: input frequency, form, function and the interaction between them. Learners first observe patterns, they identify their linguistic forms and meanings and they map them to one another. So, how frequent these patterns are and the subsequent generalisations learners make are important. Implicit teaching enhanced by communicative methods should be enhanced.
Chapter 13: The logic of the Unified Model by Brian MacWhinney (pp. 211-227)
The author presents the principles of the Unified Competition Model (MacWhinney, 2008) according to which L2 learners learn languages through various processes: competition, cues, inputs to competition, entrenchment, resonance, connection, misconnection, proceduralisation, chunking, positive and negative transfer, parasitism and internalisation. Data is collected through picture tasks, selected corpora and data from online L2 studies. Research findings could further contribute to teaching strategies as the needs of different groups vary (e.g. young learners benefit from rich input, whereas adult learners require instruction which focuses on contextualised and decontextualized components).
Chapter 14: Processability theory by Manfred Pienemann and Jörg-U. Keβler (pp. 228-246)
Processability theory modeled in LFG is discussed in this chapter. The basic principle is that learners can only process L2 forms which can be handled by the language processor at any stage of their development. The authors first offer the historical background before moving on to the theoretical claims, the principles and hypotheses. The theory is based on four psycholinguistic principles: transfer of grammatical information, lexically driven grammar, lexical mapping and the TOPIC hypothesis (L2 learners do not differentiate between subject and other discourse functions). Conversational data collected through interviews as well as data collected through elicitation tasks are used. Processability theory can be used to diagnose language development and enrich language teaching techniques.
Chapter 15: Attention and awareness in second language acquisition by Peter Robinsion, Alison Mackey, Susan M. Gass and Richard Schmidt (pp. 247-267)
The role attention and awareness play in L2 acquisition either at the neurobiological or information processing level is discussed in this chapter. Input and intake, implicit and explicit learning and knowledge, conscious raising and input enhancement, apperception, the noticing hypothesis, detection, noticing and working memory as well as selective attention and frequency effects have been investigated in the literature. The authors discuss the interface between implicit and explicit knowledge in addition to the objects of attention. Research on attention and awareness can play a role in instructional input enhancement, aptitude, working memory and the design of language learning tasks.
Chapter 16: Input processing by Bill VanPatten (pp. 268-281)
VanPatten discusses those theories which investigate the role of input in L2 acquisition. Learners first make a connection between form and meaning or function. They process content words which appear in the input whereas the meaning of grammatical forms which is lexically encoded is not processed until it is matched to its corresponding lexical forms. The first noun or pronoun found in a sentence tends to be processed first but learners may also rely on lexical semantics or event probabilities to interpret sentences. Offline and online measures are commonly used. Input processing plays an important pedagogical role. Once one knows what strategies learners use to interpret sentences, interventions can be made to treat complex constructions.
Chapter 17: The neurocognition of second language by Kara Morgan-Short and Michael T. Ullman (pp. 282-299)
Morgan-Short and Ullman discuss the theoretical claims about the neural and cognitive basis of L2 acquisition: the declarative/procedural model (Ullman, 2004), Paradis’ model (Paradis, 2009), the competition model (Hernandez et al, 2005) and the convergence hypothesis (Abutalebi, 2008). The electrophysiological technique of ERPs and the hemodynamic neuroimaging approach of function fMRI are the most common brain-based methods used in neurocognitive L2 research. According to some findings, it could be suggested that adult L2 learners could benefit more from implicit construction.
Part IV: Skill learning (pp. 301-377)
Chapter 18: Development of second language reading skills: cross-linguistic perspectives by Keiko Koda (pp. 303-318)
Koda discusses the development of second language reading skills. It has been claimed that L2 reading is affected by three factors: L1 reading competence, L2 input and linguistic knowledge. Learners need to acquire two types of reading skills: language specific (symbol to sound mapping) and non-language specific (e.g. word segmentation). L2 reading development has been investigated in correlation studies and group comparison studies. Cross-linguistic relationships, factors which affect assimilation of L1 skills and cross-linguistic variations have also been investigated in the literature. Teachers should bear in mind that previously acquired reading skills play a role on L2 reading and should incorporate diagnostic reading assessments in order to accommodate individual students’ needs. The quantity and the quality of reading input are also areas teachers should focus on to enhance L2 learners’ reading development.
Chapter 19: The acquisition of second language writing by Charlene Polio (pp. 319-334)
Polio discusses various approaches around the acquisition of L2 writing (generative approach, emergentist/associative approach, processability theory, functional approaches, sociocultural approach, interaction approach). The findings on the role L1 plays in L2 learners’ writing development are not conclusive: in some studies learners translated from the L1 whereas in others they did not. Longitudinal L2 writing development has been investigated in the form of case studies or studies focused on one linguistic feature. Moreover, task variables such as task complexity, direct writing, translation and planning time have been looked at in studies. Stimulated recall, think-aloud protocols and key-stroke logging are some of the main techniques used. Research on L2 writing development could be relevant to teaching, assessment, writing, choosing the relevant medium and error correction.
Chapter 20: Second language speech production by Lucy Pickering (pp. 335-348)
Pickering presents theories and studies in the literature which aim to discuss the difficulties L2 learners face in the production of L2 speech. It is affected by age, language-specific factors (e.g. L1 and L2 differences and similarities) as well as socio-affective ones (e.g. task variation, motivation, extend of L1 and L2 use). Teachers should focus on oral practice, be concerned with comprehensibility and promoting different learning strategies.
Chapter 21: Second language speech perception: a cross-disciplinary perspective on challenges and accomplishments by Debra M. Hardison (pp. 349-363)
Hardison offers a discussion on the issues which have been extensively investigated in the literature as far as L2 speech production is concerned: length of residence, L2 input, L1 and L2 use, modification of the adult perceptual system through auditory training and auditory-visual input as well as the relationships between perception and production. It has been shown that teachers should provide feedback on categories which are more difficult to be established and L2 speech perception could be benefited from diagrams of mouth shapes which will help students practice not only sound perception but also production.
Chapter 22: Speaking and writing tasks and their effects on second language performance by Folkert Kuiken and Ineke Vedder (pp. 364-377)
The authors discuss the effect different speaking and writing tasks have on L2 performance. It has been found that various factors influence it: type and complexity of the task, the conditions under which it was completed, its nature and its mode (oral or written). Some tasks are better suited for oral development while others for checking written progress. Consequently, teachers should make use of the availability of tasks to achieve better results (e.g. information gap tasks, argumentative writing tasks, dictogloss, etc.).
Part V: Individual differences (pp. 379-521)
Chapter 23: Language aptitude by Peter Skehan (pp. 381-395)
Skehan reports on studies on aptitude. Matching aptitude profile (analytic versus memory orientated learners) to teaching methodologies leads to higher achievement. Age as well as different instructional contexts are also influential. It has also been found that working memory plays a crucial role in L2 aptitude which is also relevant to instructed, rule-search, implicit and incidental intervention conditions. The Modern Languages Aptitute Test (Carroll and Sapon, 1957), Pimsleur’s language apptitute battery (Pimsleur, 1966), and the cognititve ability for novelty in acquisition of language foreign have been widely used in the literature. Aptitude can be useful to L2 acquisition: course admission decisions should be also made on the basis of aptitude information or teachers could see where learners might have difficulties and choose the most appropriate teaching methodology. They could also council learners on how long it will take them to reach the desired levels of achievement.
Chapter 24: Motivation by Ema Ushioda and Zoltan Dörnyei (pp. 396-409)
The authors discuss the importance motivation plays in L2 acquisition. They first summarise the four main phases research on motivation focuses on: the social-psychological, the cognitive-situated, the process-orientated and the socio-dynamic. The attitude/motivation test battery (Gardner, 1985) has been widely used in the literature. Motivation is directly related to classroom teaching: if teachers engage students in setting goals and promote feelings of success, provide feedback, personalise teacher behaviour and teacher-learner relations, better results can be obtained. Additionally, teacher learning processes can be supported by motivational strategies: creation of the basic motivational conditions, generation of initial motivation, maintenance and protection of motivation and encouragement of positive retrospective self-evaluation.
Chapter 25: Identity, agency and second language acquisition by Patricia A. Duff (pp. 410-426)
Duff presents studies which show that language use conveys social information (language variety, educational background, etc.). Learners act as agents, are not passive participants. They make deliberate linguistic choices (standard variety or non-standard, formal or informal). Studies on identity have been influenced by post-structuralism, critical theory, feminist theory and other approaches. Case studies methods, ethnographic research, narrative inquiry, interviews, personal narratives and conversation or discourse analysis are the most common research methods. It is important for teachers to know the learners’ backgrounds or any other aspect of their identities, as it will help them accommodate their needs, choose the most appropriate projects and trigger their interest.
Chapter 26: Working memory and SLA by John N. Williams (pp. 427-441)
Phonological short-term memory has been shown to play a role in vocabulary and grammar learning. Evidence from studies on reasoning, category learning and artificial grammar learning show that working memory is related to explicit learning. Explicit instruction, task-based learning and intentional induction could be used in classrooms to enhance development.
Chapter 27: Age effects in second language learning by Robert DeKeyser (pp. 442-460)
DeKeyser discusses the core issues around the role age effects play in L2 acquisition. It cannot be supported that research findings are conclusive. Future work needs to be done on what linguistic features are harder to be learnt at what age. Data need to be collected from a variety of source and target languages. Generally speaking, age effects have been shown to influence pronunciation, morphosyntactic acquisition and vocabulary development.
Chapter 28: The role of educational level, literacy and orality in L2 learning by Martha Bigelow and Jill Watson (pp. 461-475)
The authors discuss the role L1 educational level and literacy play in L2 acquisition. It has been shown that learners with higher level of literacy performed better than participants with lower levels of literacy. Teachers should make sure they use concrete objects and real-time world examples when teaching non-literate adults. Academic content first needs to be made comprehensible orally. Language and context learning should be taught simultaneously.
Chapter 29: Fossilisation – A classic concern of SLA research by ZhaoHong Han (pp. 476-490)
Han looks into fossilisation, that is the permanent local cessation of development (Han and Odlin, 2006). This means that knowledge is deviant from the target, is resistant to explicit instruction and feedback and is out of the learners’ control. Discourse syntax and semantics are harder to be acquired and so they are most likely to be fossilised. Naturalistic data in longitudinal case studies is used. Teachers should bear in mind that everything cannot be acquired but it may be learned. Consequently, they need to focus on rules which can be easily explained to learners. Exposure to naturalistic input in classroom is strongly encouraged.
Chapter 30: Heritage language and L2 learning by Olga Kagan and Kathleen Dillon (pp. 491-505)
Heritage languages, the different terms used and the differences between bilinguals, foreign and L2 speakers are discussed in this chapter. The most common data collection methods are: analysis of written and oral errors, written texts, story telling, surveys and questionnaires. Research on heritage languages enables the development of new instruction approaches as well as the design of a heritage language curriculum. Despite the fact that the majority of the studies is done on immigrant communities in the U.S.A., similar research programmes could be extended to other groups.
Chapter 31: Advanced language proficiency by Heidi Byrnes (pp. 506-521)
Various areas on advanced language proficiency have been studied in the literature. For instance, is there a critical period, what are the constraints on native-like L2 performance, what are the ultimate levels of fossilisation in relation to learning capacity, how grammatical categories are attended in L2. To achieve advanced language proficiency, instructional programmes should include tasks which promote learning both language and content as well as study abroad periods.
Part VI: The setting of learning (pp. 523-569)
Chapter 32: Learning through immersion during study abroad by Sally Sieloff Magnan and Barbara A. Lafford (pp. 525-540)
Research findings have shown that L2 learners greatly benefit from long study abroad periods, as they avoid contact with L1 peers, and develop not only language skills but also broaden their attitudes and achieve personal growth. Magman and Lafford summarise data and common elicitation methods (e.g. language corpora and blogs, oral interviews, social network logs, etc.) and present the variables which affect study abroad programmes (e.g. length of stay, participants’ language learning background, living conditions, social networks and language contact, etc.).
Chapter 33: Classroom research by Jessica Williams (pp. 541-554)
Williams discusses research on classroom learning contexts, what it has to tell us about learning processes and in what ways instruction could become more effective and efficient. Studies examine the role of the teacher, the student-teacher interaction, student-student interaction what the patterns of interaction are and how language use in class is connected to language use outside the classroom. Common data collection methods include direct observations, interaction analysis and introspective methods.
Chapter 34: Language learning through technology by Trude Heift and Carol A. Chapelle (pp. 555-569)
The authors report on studies on the use of technology for language learning and more specifically on the types of interactions through technology (e.g. learners receiving computed-generated feedback). Research has also been concerned with individual learner’s differences and assessment, as well as learners’ autonomy. Interaction-based research, surveys, questionnaires and retrospective interviews are common ways of data collection.
Part VII: Conclusion: assessment of L2 knowledge (pp. 571-589)
Chapter 34: Assessing learner knowledge by John M. Norris and Lourdes Ortega (pp. 573-589)
Assessment of L2 learners’ knowledge aims at how learners acquire grammatical representations and what factors contribute to development. Researchers are concerned with what is assessed, how it is assessed and who is assessed. Grammaticality judgment tasks, elicitation of oral/written discourse production and naturalistic data are the main data collection methods.
The editors bring together papers covering a wide range of topics related to second language acquisition. The most influential theories and studies in each area are presented. Each chapter provides enough background knowledge and the theoretical points are generally well-exemplified. Case studies are presented in each case which further help the reader grasp a better understanding of the theoretical frameworks and claims. Moreover, the importance of this volume lies on the sections which bridge the gap between theory and its application to second language classroom. Possible future research and directions are also of great value.
The chapters are well-organised and referenced, and there are good cross-references, although repetition is inevitable in parts. All chapters stress the complexity of second language acquisition, evaluate the merits and the problems of theories, tests and studies in the second language literature and acquaint readers with a variety of data collection methods.
This book will be of great interest to researchers in SLA, language pedagogy and advanced students in linguistics. Second language teachers will also benefit, although the theoretical discussion may be somewhat advanced for those lacking a solid linguistic background and consequently further reading is essential. It can also be used as a reference book. It definitely presents interesting ideas for future research.
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Han, Z.-H, and T. Odlin. (2006). Introduction. In Z.-H and T. Odlin (Eds.), Studies of fossilisation in second language acquisition. Clevedon, UK:Multilingual Matters. pp. 1-20.
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