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Review of  Implicit and Explicit Language Learning

Reviewer: Cylcia Allen Bolibaugh
Book Title: Implicit and Explicit Language Learning
Book Author: Cristina Sanz Ronald P. Leow
Publisher: Georgetown University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Cognitive Science
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 22.3636

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EDITORS: Sanz, Cristina & Leow, Ronald P.
TITLE: Implicit and Explicit Language Learning
SUBTITLE: Conditions, Processes, and Knowledge in SLA and Bilingualism
SERIES TITLE: Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Georgetown University Press
YEAR: 2011

Cylcia Bolibaugh, School of Culture, Communication and Creative Arts, St. Mary's
University College, Twickenham.


''Implicit and Explicit Language Learning: Conditions, Processes and Knowledge in
SLA and Bilingualism'' is a collection of 17 refereed studies connected to the
theme of the ''implicit/explicit dichotomy in language development and use'' (p.
1) . All were originally presented at the 2009 Georgetown University Round Table
on Language and Linguistics (GURT 2009), which was held from March 13 to March
15, 2009. The articles are divided into four sections: (1) theory; (2)
methodological issues and empirical research; (3) L2 phonology; and (4)

Part I: Theory

The Theory section consists of four articles contributed by plenary speakers at
the event. The first of these, ''Stubborn Syntax: How It Resists Explicit
Teaching and Learning'' by Bill VanPatten, challenges the reader to be clearer
with their definition of language when considering explicit and implicit
learning in SLA. VanPatten limits his discussion to syntax, which he defines as
the abstract and formal properties of a UG governed grammar. It is these
properties which are resistant to external manipulation and instead unfold as a
result of the interaction of language input and UG. He illustrates this process
of the implicit derivation of syntax with a case study of null and overt
subjects in Spanish, and concludes with an exhortation that the
explicit/implicit SLA research agenda should be refocused on which ''aspects of
language can be affected by explicit learning and which cannot'' (p. 17, in
italics in original).

Arthur Reber's contribution, ''An Epitaph for Grammar: An Abridged History'',
argues that the 50 year dominance of a nativist, Chomskyan research agenda has
actively hindered the pursuit of an empirically based understanding of the
psychology of language. His central premise is that the fundamental error of the
generative project has been the rationalist reification, and consequent
isolation, of language. Instead he argues for a field of study in which
language is integrated with its cognitive and communicative functions, and
posits a general system of learning, implicit learning, as the replacement for
the LAD.

In ''Implicit and Explicit SLA and their Interface'', Nick Ellis examines the
contributions of applied linguistics, language pedagogy, psychology, and
cognitive neurology to our understanding of explicit and implicit knowledge and
learning. After a historical review which establishes the distinct bases of
implicit and explicit knowledge, and their dynamic interplay in language
processing, Ellis highlights the role of consciousness in general learning
before specifying the mechanisms by which it facilitates Second Language
Acquisition (SLA).

In the last of the Theory articles, ''How Analysis and Control Lead to Advantages
and Disadvantages in Bilingual Processing'', Bialystok first describes the
development of the two dimensions of her cognitive model: the analysis of
representations and the control of attentional processes. She then highlights
how two now well-known effects of bilingualism, decreases in speed and quality
of lexical retrieval, and increases in general attentional control, can be
explained by the model. In the last part of the paper, the explanatory mechanism
of the model is illustrated by a summary of empirical research which relates
task demands to each dimension of the framework. Performance by monolinguals and
bilinguals with high/low vocabulary scores, on two tasks, category and letter
fluency, is shown to differ both in number of words produced
(analysis/representation), and rate of production (control).

Part II: Methodological Issues and Empirical Research on Awareness, Pedagogical
Contexts, and Individual differences in SLA

Leow, Johnson and Zarate-Sandez conclude their methodological review of the
construct of awareness, ''Getting a Grip on the Slippery Construct of Awareness:
Toward a Finer-Grained Methodological Perspective'', with the statement that it
is a ''scientist's nightmare'' (p. 71). The preceding pages establish a diversity
of investigatory techniques in a review of studies in the fields of cognitive
psychology and SLA. These are summarised according to the object of learning
(what), point of measurement (where), and experimental task (how). The authors
suggest that any discussion of the role of awareness in learning must minimally
consider these aspects of the measurement of the construct, while further
variables such as levels of awareness, levels of processing and possible raising
of awareness outside the learning or testing phases need also be considered in
any investigations.

The next contribution, ''Aging, Pedagogical Conditions, and Differential Success
in SLA: An Empirical Study'' by Lenet, Sanz, Lado, Howard Jr., and Howard,
reports the results of a study investigating the interaction of age, and
provision of more or less explicit feedback in lab-based learning of Latin.
Older participants, mean age 72.3, and 20 younger participants, mean age 18.7,
were randomly assigned to one of two conditions, where feedback in a learning
task either simply reported the accuracy of the participant's response (less
explicit), or additionally provided a grammatical explanation (explicit).
Results support a position that less explicit feedback is more effective for
older language learners as well as demonstrating that older adults have the same
capacity as younger adults to acquire morphosyntactic rules after limited
exposure to input.

In ''Effects of Feedback Timing in SLA: A Computer-Assisted Study on the Spanish
Subjunctive'', Henshaw questions the widely accepted view that immediate feedback
best allows learners to confirm or refute interlanguage hypotheses, pointing out
that previous research has focused more on the degree of explicitness of
feedback than its timing. In the study reported here, fourth semester university
learners of Spanish undertook computer assisted training in one aspect of the
Spanish subjunctive, having been randomly assigned to one of four groups: (i)
item-by-item immediate feedback; (ii) end-of-task feedback; (iii) delayed
end-of-task feedback; and (iv) no feedback. Results showed a clear advantage for
all feedback groups in comparison with the no-feedback group, but did not
differentiate between them, thus showing no advantage for immediate feedback.

Linck and Weiss' article, ''Working Memory Predicts the Acquisition of Explicit
L2 Knowledge'', describes a longitudinal investigation of the effects of Working
Memory capacity over a semester of language instruction at university.
Participants completed a multiple choice grammar and vocabulary pretest,
motivation questionnaire, as well as measures of working memory and inhibitory
control at the beginning of the semester and repeated the language proficiency
measures at the end of the semester. The authors conducted a multiple
regression analysis with two criterion measures, language proficiency, and test
to retest improvement in proficiency. Results revealed that only working memory
predicted improvement over the course of the semester. Working memory also
accounted for variance in addition to Grade Point Average and motivation at time
of initial testing. The authors point to their findings as support for the claim
that working memory is a predictor of L2 learning.

In ''The Effects of Formal instruction and Study Abroad on Foreign Language
Development: The SALA Project'', Perez-Vidal, Juan-Garau and Mora report selected
results from the large and long-running investigation of the effects of the
study abroad context. Discussed here are analyses of oral accuracy, written
proficiency and pronunciation as measured four times: (1) at the beginning of
the degree course; (2) after 80 hours of formal instruction (FI); (3) after a 3
month Study Abroad (SA) period; and (4) 15 months after return from SA. Results
showed clear improvement in oral accuracy and in written accuracy, complexity
and fluency after the SA period. Interestingly phonological development
benefited most from the initial period of FI but showed no improvement after the
three month SA period.

''Input Processing Principles: A Contribution from First-Exposure Data'' by
Rebekah Kast reports an investigation of ab-initio learners' processing of a
novel language. The research is framed by two principles drawn from VanPatten's
Processing Instruction (PI), namely The Primacy of Content Words, and The
Sentence Location Principle. Performance on sentence repetition and sentence
translation task is found to be mediated by features of the input such as the
stress, syllable-length and sentence position of a word. Kast concludes that
these results do not contradict either of VanPatten's principles, but adds that
the categories of investigation designated by these principles may not be
relevant for the investigation of first-exposure learners' parsing of input.

In ''What Is Implicit and What Is Explicit in L2 Speech? Findings from an Oral
Corpus'', Hilton examines the hesitation behaviour of native speakers, and low
and high fluency learners in the PAROLE corpus created at the Universite de
Savoie. She first qualifies language disfluency as evidence of effortful,
non-automatic processing. A comparison of the three groups by location of
hesitation, rate of retracing, and distribution of syntactic unit leads her to
conclude that learners and native speakers differ not in the processes of speech
production but in the knowledge base to which they have access. She concludes
with speculation that it is a formulaicly structured knowledge base which
enables native speakers' fluent production.

Part III: Empirical Research on L2 Phonology

The first article of the L2 phonology section, ''Explicit Training and Implicit
Learning of L2 Phonemic Contrasts'', by Eckman, Iverson, Fox, Jacewicz and Lee
investigates whether learners' perception and production of two different types
of phonemic contrasts (where the native language has sounds corresponding to one
of two target language phonemes, and where the native language contains both
target language phonemes but in an allophonic distribution) follow predictions
generated by two phonological principles. Positive findings lead them to
conclude that these principles can be the basis of effective intervention

In ''English Speakers' Perception of Spanish Vowels: Evidence for
Multiple-Category Assimilation'', Gordon reports findings from a study
investigating whether native speakers of a language (English) with a larger
phonemic inventory than their L2 (Spanish) equate L2 vowel sounds with a variety
of L1 categories (Multiple-Category Assimilation). This question was
investigated in learners with differing levels of L2 proficiency. Results
support previous findings of Multiple-Category Assimilation and additionally
evidenced no improvement in perception with higher levels of proficiency.

Part IV: Empirical Studies on Key Issues in Bilingualism: Aging, Third Language
Acquisition, and Language Separation

Ingram, Dubasik, Liceras and Fernandez Fuertes' contribution ''Early Phonological
Acquisition in a Set of English-Spanish Bilingual Twins'' fills the gap between
studies of first language acquisition in twins and studies of early
bilingualism. The authors examine language samples taken at eighteen, nineteen
and twenty months of age from a set of bilingual twins for a range of
phonological features, operationalised in nine different measures. Differences
between twins, as well as between languages, are interpreted as support for
early language separation and non-identical phonological development in twins.

Hui-Ju Lin's contribution is entitled ''Language Learning Strategies in Adult L3
Acquisition: Relationship between L3 Development, Strategy Use, L2 Levels, and
Gender''. Here the performance of bilingual Mandarin-English speakers on various
measures of laboratory based L3 learning is scrutinized in relation to
individual difference variables such as gender, level of L2 proficiency, and
response to a self-report questionnaire of general strategy use (''Strategy
Inventory for Language Learning''). A complex set of results points to
differences in strategy use between genders, as well as among proficiency
groups. While strategy use is associated with greater L3 learning in low L2
proficiency users, the reverse holds for high proficiency L2 users.

The last contribution, ''Effects of Bilingualism on Inhibitory Control in Elderly
Brazilian Bilinguals'' by Finger, Dagort Billig and Scholl extends previous
research on the protective effects of bilingualism in elderly populations to a
bilingual community (Portuguese/Hunsruckisch) both previously unstudied and
socioeconomically distinct. Results on tasks indexing inhibitory control and
working memory point to a slight cognitive advantage for elderly bilinguals over
monolinguals not only in inhibitory control but also in general processing,
although the latter effect was small and not significant.


As attested by Susan Gass's back cover recommendation, one of the volume's most
significant attributes is the breadth of its contributions. Although the number
of studies investigating implicit and explicit learning has been steadily
growing since the 1990s, these have largely been concerned with explicitness of
instruction or feedback, often as indexed by the construct of noticing. Those
studies which have adopted a finer grained approach to the investigation of
implicit and explicit learning have tended to investigate acquisition of
morphosyntax (Leow, Johnson & Zarate-Sandez, this volume, p. 67). Against this
background, the present collection of studies stands apart for the variety of
topics and approaches included.

Part I: Theory contains a variety of perspectives on the mechanisms by which
second language learning occurs, and the roles of explicit and implicit
knowledge and learning therein. The broad scope of the contributions means a
novice reader would need a fair amount of guidance to understand how the
authors' theoretical perspectives relate to one another, what commonalities they
share and where they might be incompatible. The editors' commendable aim of
presenting a ''deep and broad view'' (Sanz & Leow, this volume, p. 6) means the
volume is likely most suitable for the reader at graduate level or above.

As illustrated above, the book's shortcomings are largely a consequence of the
diversity of topics addressed. The tension between selecting manuscripts
representative of the conference's output and devising an organisational scheme
for the volume is evident in the slightly hodgepodge nature of Parts II and IV.
This impression is magnified by the discrepancies between the table of contents
and the editors' introduction as to which study falls in a particular part.
These very superficial drawbacks, however, do not detract from the high quality
of the individual contributions.

Several reviews over the past decade have argued for greater precision in the
use of constructs of implicit and explicit learning (e.g. DeKeyser, 2003;
Hulstijn, 2005; Williams, 2009) This volume's subtitle, (''Conditions, Processes
and Knowledge'') is evidence that the editors have heeded these calls, but the
coherence of the book as a whole would have benefitted from ensuring that all
contributors did so. Although all the studies can broadly be said to address
issues of implicit & explicit learning, a number do not systematically relate
their research to either, nor indeed discuss them at all. This is perhaps the
most significant weakness in an otherwise excellent volume.

''Implicit and Explicit Learning: Conditions, Processes and Knowledge in SLA and
Bilingualism'' is an extremely informative collection of articles, remarkable for
the wide range of topic specific expertise underlying the studies. The great
majority of the papers present innovative and carefully designed research which
significantly advances our understanding of the dynamic interplay between
implicit and explicit processes in language learning and bilingualism. The
collection also affirms the importance and explanatory potential of these
constructs across the broader language research enterprise. The volume is an
essential addition to the researcher's library, as well as being of considerable
interest to those concerned with language instruction.


DeKeyser, R. M. (2003). Implicit and explicit learning. In C. J. Doughty, & M.
H. Long (Eds.), The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition (pp. 313-348).
Oxford: Blackwell.

Hulstijn, J. (2005). Theoretical and empirical issues in the study of implicit
and explicit second-language learning. Studies in Second Language Acquisition,
27 (2), 129-140.

Williams, J. N. (2009). Implicit Learning in Second Language Acquisition. In W.
C. Ritchie, & T. K. Bhatia (Eds.), The New Handbook of Second Language
Acquisition (pp. 319-353). Emerald Group Publishing Ltd.

Cylcia Bolibaugh is a lecturer and PhD candidate at St Mary's University College whose interests include second language acquisition and second language instruction. Her latest study investigates the role of individual differences, including phonological short term memory and implicit phonological learning ability, in the development of L2 native-like selection ability in long term immigrants.

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