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AUTHORS: Rod Ellis, Shawn Loewen, Catherine Elder, Rosemary Erlam, Jenefer Philip TITLE: Implicit and Explicit Knowledge in Second Language Learning, Testing and Teaching SERIES TITLE: Second Language Acquisition PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters YEAR: 2009
Darcy W.R. Sperlich, Department of Applied Linguistics and Language Studies, University of Auckland/ School of English, Manukau Institute of Technology
This book is the culmination of three years of research into implicit and explicit knowledge in Second Language Acquisition (SLA). The authors set themselves three goals. The first was to develop test measures in Second Language (L2) implicit and explicit grammatical knowledge; the second to identify how general language proficiency relates to implicit and explicit knowledge; and finally to investigate the effect that form-focused instruction has upon L2 explicit and implicit grammatical knowledge.
The authors approach their goals via 12 research experiments. Hence, the book is a collection of annotated results from differing experiments. Ellis as the senior author and researcher provides a useful introduction to current issues in L2 acquisition, as well as contributing a succinct conclusion whereby he integrates the experimental results and considers whether or not they achieved their original aims.
The book itself is divided into five parts, three of which cover the respective goals they set out to investigate. Each part is comprised of one or more chapters, most of which represent individual research papers by the various authors.
Part 1, Chapter 1. Introduction: “Implicit and Explicit Learning, Knowledge and Instruction,” by Rod Ellis.
The first chapter focuses on the systems involved with implicit and explicit learning, knowledge and instruction, starting in the realm of cognitive psychology to the field of SLA. Ellis’ position is that in the first place a distinction between implicit and explicit knowledge, instruction and learning can be made. The book’s main focus, however, is the investigation into the respective aspects of knowledge and instruction rather than learning. Following a discussion of the basic concepts involved, Ellis provides an outline of the book, covering each chapter (on p. 24 a second mention of ‘Chapter 10’ should actually be ‘Chapter 11’).
Part 2: The Measurement of Implicit and Explicit Knowledge
This section consists of four chapters, all of which address the instruments used to assess implicit and explicit knowledge.
Chapter 2: “Measuring Implicit and Explicit Knowledge of a Second Language” by Rod Ellis.
Five knowledge tests are discussed, namely the Elicited Oral Imitation Test, the Oral Narrative Test, the Timed Grammaticality Judgement Test (TGJT), the Untimed Grammaticality Test (UGJT), and the Metalinguistic Knowledge Test. Ellis elaborates on the test features that distinguish between implicit and explicit knowledge. The experimental results found here indicate that these tests can be used for measuring either implicit or explicit knowledge.
Chapter 3: “The Elicited Oral Imitation Test as a Measure of Implicit Knowledge” by Rosemary Erlam.
The author investigates whether or not the Elicited Oral Imitation Test is a valid measure of implicit knowledge. The test consists of the participant listening to an utterance (grammatical or ungrammatical), where they try to reconstruct it orally. Erlam discusses the background of the test in detail, and then its design factors for this experiment. She concludes that while the Elicited Oral Imitation Test is a reliable and valid measure of implicit knowledge, further research is needed to fine-tune its application.
Chapter 4: “Grammaticality Judgement Tests and the Measurement of Implicit and Explicit L2 Knowledge”, by Shawn Loewen.
Here the author compares the types of knowledge tested by TGJT and UGJT, providing a quick background for the tests. The difference between the two tests is the timing aspect (both test whether the participant feels the target sentence is grammatical or not), the timed one testing implicit knowledge while the untimed one tests explicit knowledge. Loewen finds that TGJT are more biased towards explicit knowledge, and UGJT more towards implicit knowledge - with some reservations.
Chapter 5: “Validating a Test of Metalinguistic Knowledge”, by Catherine Elder.
Elder investigates what type of knowledge is tested by the Metalingusitic Knowledge Test (MKT). This tests the participant’s explicit knowledge of grammar. She constructs several hypotheses around the MKT, and finds that overall the MKT is a valid measure of explicit knowledge, but with issues that need to be addressed in the future.
Part 3: Applying the Measures of Implicit and Explicit L2 Knowledge
As the title suggests, the respective studies apply the measures of knowledge to four rather diverse situations (covered by each chapter, in this order): learning difficulty of various grammatical structures, nature of language proficiency, individual differences in language proficiencies, and metalinguistic knowledge of teacher trainees.
Chapter 6: “Investigating Learning Difficulty in Terms of Implicit and Explicit Knowledge”, by Rod Ellis.
Based on 17 different grammatical structures, Ellis tests whether learning difficulties for these structures differ for implicit (using Elicted Imitation - EI - and TGJT) and explicit knowledge (using UGJT and MKT). He also discusses the various factors that can influence learning of grammatical structures. Ellis finds that while some structures may be easy to acquire in terms of implicit knowledge, the same structures may be difficult to learn for explicit knowledge, and vice versa.
Chapter 7: “Implicit and Explicit Knowledge of an L2 and Language Proficiency”, by Catherine Elder and Rob Ellis.
First there is the question as to what type of knowledge is tested in the ubiquitous International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) tests, that is, whether or not a particular test is biased more towards explicit or implicit knowledge. Taking a novel approach, not only do the authors assess the tests through the participation of test takers, but also ask an ‘expert panel’ of judges to assess the tests to see what kind of knowledge would be used. The results of the study suggest that explicit knowledge is drawn upon to a large extent in both the IELTS and TOEFL tests. This is an important finding for the many IELTS and TOEFL preparation courses offered around the world.
Chapter 8: “Pathways to Proficiency: Learning Experiences and Attainment in Implicit and Explicit Knowledge of English as a Second Language”, by Jenefer Philip.
This is an assessment of the variability of learners, and whether or not their variability can be linked to the type of knowledge they possess, e.g., will a person who experiences a particular instruction type have greater implicit or explicit knowledge? The study finds positive correlations between the type of knowledge and the learner variable.
Chapter 9: “Exploring the Explicit Knowledge of TESOL Teacher Trainees: Implications for Focus on Form in the Classroom”, by Rosemary Erlam, Jenefer Philip and Catherine Elder.
The metalinguistic knowledge of two different trainee teacher types is assessed in this chapter, native speakers and non-native speakers, and the implications it has upon Focus on Form teaching. The key finding of the study is that both groups have a relatively low metalinguistic knowledge, even more so in the native speaker group. As one can imagine, this has serious consequences for the classroom. The language learners will be short-changed, if not confused, by teachers who lack the knowledge to impart form and function of the English language.
Part 4: Form-Focused Instruction and the Acquisition of Implicit and Explicit Knowledge.
This part tries to establish whether or not form-focused instruction influences the acquisition of implicit and explicit knowledge. The form-focused options include input based options, explicit, production and corrective feedback options. The four studies below investigate these options, either by themselves or together.
Chapter 10: “The Roles of Output-based and Input-based Instruction in the Acquisition of L2 Implicit and Explicit Knowledge”, by Rosemary Erlam, Shawn Loewen and Jenefer Philip.
What are the outcomes of input-based versus output-based teaching of the indefinite article ‘a’ to express generic meaning? Each method combines several options, and the study finds that instruction that includes producing language output is beneficial to the acquisition of implicit knowledge.
Chapter 11: “The Incidental Acquisition of Third Person -s as Implicit and Explicit Knowledge”, by Shawn Loewen, Rosemary Erlam and Rod Ellis.
When learners come across the third person -s without much explanation, will they be subject to incidental acquisition? The study found that if the learners are exposed intensively to the target structure without their attention focused upon it, there was no effect on their implicit or explicit knowledge. They speculate this may be due to a number of features, one of them being for example, problems with learners even noticing the third person -s.
Chapter 12: “The Effects of Two Types of Input on Intake and the Acquisition of Implicit and Explicit Knowledge”, by Hayo Reinders and Rod Ellis.
This chapter investigates the effects that enriched and enhanced input has upon the intake and acquisition of English negative adverbs. By using Grammaticality Judgement Tests (GJT), they found that enriched input has a positive effect on intake and acquisition.
Chapter 13: “Implicit and Explicit Corrective Feedback and the Acquisition of L2 Grammar”, by Rod Ellis, Shawn Loewen and Rosemary Erlam.
The research question posed is whether or not there are different outcomes when using implicit versus explicit corrective feedback in the target structure, past tense -ed. The authors found that the group that received explicit feedback (in the form of metalinguistic information) benefitted more than the implicit (recasts) group.
Part 5, Chapter 14. Conclusion: “Retrospect and Prospect”, by Rod Ellis.
In this final chapter Ellis provides a considered evaluation as to whether or not the goals of the study were achieved. He concludes that the first goal was achieved, while the second goal was not. The third goal was achieved but with some reservations. This casts the whole endeavour as a work in progress whereby definitive outcomes are not always possible and a lack of outcomes is equally acknowledged. Ellis and his team give substance to the often used but empty formula of ‘further research being called for’. As such Ellis correctly points to the limitations of the study as a whole, and thereby suggests real research avenues to pursue.
My view of the book is that it is a must-have for any person interested in SLA. It represents the peak of collaborative effort in tackling the issues at hand. I come to this conclusion by bringing two different perspectives to the table, one as a researcher, and the second as a teacher of ESOL.
Firstly commenting as a researcher, this book certainly brings new depths to our understanding of implicit and explicit knowledge. Overall, the studies are methodologically extremely rigorous, giving detailed information about participants, test designs, delivery of instruction (where applicable) and test situations, allowing others to replicate the experiments if they wish. Regarding the battery of tests used, each test has been assessed to their suitability in measuring either implicit/explicit knowledge, not just in theory but with empirical data to back up their claims. The use of statistics is extensive to prove the reliability of test results, and used to good effect to observe different types of influences upon the acquisition of implicit and explicit knowledge. On the other hand the authors also note the limitations of each study, which indeed is a welcome feature. Their analyses enable anyone considering an experiment of a similar nature to enhance what has been found already, instead of starting from scratch and possibly replicating the same problems and errors. Each experiment is put into retrospect, noting areas for improvement, other underlying factors that may have influenced the study, and directions for further study. An example regarding limitations are the confidence ratings, where a scale from 0-100% was used. Ellis notes in the conclusion that this may have been the wrong way to go, and perhaps a 50-100% rating would have been better. He quotes from a paper that scales 50% as a complete guess and as such would represent a more intuitive approach to confidence scaling. Such remarks are very useful for researchers who are contemplating similar research designs. As Ellis also considers aspects of the psychology of language and SLA, we gain a much broader understanding of the issues involved - confidence ratings as a question of psychology being a case in point. Finally, the book is very easy to read, language is used in a straight-forward manner, with technical concepts clearly explained and described, making the book all the more accessible to students of language and SLA.
Assessing the book from a language teacher’s point of view, Ellis states on p. 352 that “Tests of implicit and explicit knowledge, then, can assist course designers in deciding the order of items in a syllabus and can also help teachers establish to what extent their students have developed implicit and/or explicit knowledge of a specific target feature”. I whole-heartedly agree with this statement, for as a teacher I am able to see the immediate benefit of applying these tests in order to assess my students’ knowledge for specific items. I can use these tests as a diagnostic tool for student errors, as exemplified by the Elicited Oral Imitation test. More generally, interesting issues are raised with regard to testing language students. For example, once tests have been devised for implicit and explicit knowledge, how are we supposed to, as a next step, assess students’ language progress? Would it be fair to ‘fail’ a student who has not internalized language principles and parameters, but is better able to expound them than a teacher does? Or do we instead concentrate on communicative production, regardless of what kind of non-linguistic knowledge is used in the process? Also of interest is Part 4, where the authors study the effect of instruction on implicit and explicit knowledge. Certainly one very important finding concerns the type of corrective feedback to give to students. The study notes that explicit feedback helps with language attainment more than implicit recasts – which can be easily applied by any teacher. Of equal note for any teacher must be that enriched input outperforms enhanced input. Hence with this book, the authors have done well to bridge some of the gaps between theoretical and pedagogical concerns.
This book makes a valuable contribution to the field of SLA , and it will become an indispensable text for graduate students, researchers and language professionals alike.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Darcy Sperlich is currently a lecturer of ESOL in the School of English of
the Manukau Institute of Technology, in Auckland, New Zealand. He is also a
PhD student at the Department of Applied Language Studies and Linguistics
at the University of Auckland, investigating anaphoric interpretation of
Mandarin in English and Korean learners of Mandarin, and whether or not
this suggests an anaphoric pragmatic/syntactic division of labour in the
languages concerned. His other research interests include Chinese
comparative dialectology, especially as related to syntax.