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Review of  English in Europe- The Acquisition of a Third Language

Reviewer: Matthew H. Ciscel
Book Title: English in Europe- The Acquisition of a Third Language
Book Author: Jasone Cenoz Ulrike Jessner
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Issue Number: 12.469

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Cenoz, Jasone, and Ulrike Jessner, Editors, (2000) English in Europe:
The acquisition of a third language. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
xii, 271 pp.

Reviewed by: Matthew H. Ciscel, University of South Carolina,

This collection of articles addresses the increasing role of English as a
third language (L3) in continental Europe and related issues of theoretical
and practical interest. Within the frame of an introduction and
conclusion from the editors, the book is divided into four parts. The first
provides sociolinguistic evidence and explanations for the expansion of
English use on the continent. In Part II, three articles consider the
legitimacy of studies in third, as opposed to second, language acquisition.
The third and fourth parts address psycholinguistic and educational
perspectives, respectively, on English as an L3 in Europe. To their
credit, the editors have balanced regional perspectives among east, west,
north, and south. For example, articles on pedagogy draw data from
Romania, Friesland, Basque country, Catalonia, and Finland. However,
like early research in second language acquisition, this volume over-
extends and provides an uneven analysis of both English in Europe and
L3 acquisition. Even so, both interrelated topics are sure to benefit from
increased attention as English continues to spread and the multilingual
contexts of adult language learning become ever more common and
salient. The book's value for language planners, researchers, and
educators lies in the many questions either only partially answered or still
unasked, but implied.

The short introduction presents a clear overview of the topics and articles
that appear in the rest of the book. Each chapter is summarized in two or
three sentences that serve as an abstract. Part I comprises two chapters,
each addressing aspects of the sociolinguistics of English in Europe. In
the first chapter, Charlotte Hoffmann discusses historical and political
trends that have led to the spread of English in Europe and the related
growth in multilingualism. In Chapter 2, Allan James takes a micro-
level look at the topic, using anecdotes to define terminology and
exemplify the complex issues involved in investigations of L3
acquisition and use. He focuses on the untutored, informal English skills
acquired by many young Europeans through the popular media, drawing
attention in the process to important theoretical issues addressed in
greater detail in Part II.

Chapter 3, 'Research on Multilingual Acquisition', by Jasone Cenoz,
begins Part II with a literature review of theoretical studies. Standing on
the shoulders of L2 acquisition theory, much of the research presented
here is preliminary and short of definitive. As the author points out in
her conclusion, 'the limited number of studies' do not manage 'to
identify the specific characteristics of third language acquisition' (50).
However, this literature review is an important first step. In Chapter 4,
Jim Cummins responds to criticism of his distinction between
conversational (BICS) and academic (CALP) orientations in language
proficiency by clarifying the graded character of these labels and the
educational advantages provided by an understanding of the dichotomy.
Finally, in Chapter 5, Philip Herdina and Ulrike Jessner provide a brief
account of a possible model of multilingual acquisition and use. In many
ways, this model reflects the overly simple models of L2 acquisition
from the early 1980's.

The psycholinguistic and educational studies in Part III and IV,
respectively, are more focused and empirical. The first of three chapters
in Part III, by Istvan Kecskes and Tunde Papp, reports data from an
investigation of metaphorical competence in L1 Hungarian learners of
English, some of whom also speak L2 Russian. High competence in
English is generally attributed to recent political and social changes in
Hungary. In Chapter 7, Ute Schoenpflug presents results from a word-
fragment completion task used to investigate the organization of the
trilingual lexicon. The study involved the testing of 27 foreign students
at a German university for word-completion skills in L2 German and L3
English. Chapter 8, by Christine Bouvy, examines transfer in L3 English
particularly in the context of another Germanic language as an L2. The
few transfer effects found are attributed to performance rather than

Part IV, which focuses on educational issues, begins with an article by
Carmen Munoz about the effect of introducing L3 English to children of
various ages in a bilingual Catalan-Spanish context. In the following
chapter, David Lasagabaster provides a similar study of the differing
roles of L3 English in the Basque regions of Spain. Shifting to the
opposite side of Europe, Siv Bjoerklund and Irmeli Suni describe early
exposure programs in L3 English in a Swedish-Finnish bilingual town in
Finland. Their findings support the use of immersion techniques even in
third and fourth languages. In Chapter 12, Jehannes Ytsma describes and
discusses the trilingual primary education project in the Friesland
province of the Netherlands. Dutch, Frisian, and English, all closely
related genetically and structurally, are introduced from an early age.
Finally, a chapter by Tatiana Iatcu comprises a description of foreign
language education in Romania and a brief focus on the instruction of
English to the Hungarian minority, primarily in Transylvania. After Part
IV, the editors complete the frame with a short conclusion that revisits
the purpose of the book and the highpoints of each chapter. Short
biographies of the contributors and an index round the volume off.

As mentioned earlier, the great strength of this volume is that it addresses
a topic which is rapidly becoming ripe for much deeper investigation: L3
acquisition. This trend is an obvious extension of L2 acquisition
research, as the latter field has become more refined and exacting. The
challenge to L3 acquisition studies is to avoid the shortcomings of
oversimplification and unproductive theorizing that plagued L2 research
in its early decades. Unfortunately, much of the research reported in this
book falls short on this challenge. While some chapters, such as Ute
Schoenpflug's on word-fragment completions, are empirical and
engaging, some others, such as Jehannes Ytsma's description of
trilingual primary education in Friesland, provided little to the project of
understanding either the characterisitics of L3 acquisition or the
increasing role of L3 English in Europe. The book will be useful to some
educators, language planners, and researchers. However, it will serve
better as a reference than as a definitive text. Perhaps, like L2 research
in the past, L3 research presently needs books like this to help incubate its
growth as an area of research.

Matthew H. Ciscel, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of South
Carolina, has research interests in second language acquisition theory,
language variation, and the politics of language. His dissertation
research involves investigating the role of national identity in
patterns of multilingualism in the former Soviet Union.