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Review of  Speaking and Instructed Foreign Language Acquisition

Reviewer: Caroline Payant
Book Title: Speaking and Instructed Foreign Language Acquisition
Book Author: Mirosław Pawlak Ewa Waniek-Klimczak Jan Majer
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 23.3856

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EDITORS: Mirosław Pawlak, Ewa Waniek-Klimczak and Jan Majer
TITLE: Speaking and Instructed Foreign Language Acquisition
SERIES TITLE: Second Language Acquisition
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2011

Caroline Payant, Department of English, University of Idaho

The development of second language (L2) speaking skills is a complex endeavor
marked by periods of instability and regression: the complexities are even
greater in foreign language (FL) settings where target language exposure is
often limited to classroom-based instruction. Pawlak, Waniek-Klimczak, and Majer
present 20 articles that discuss current theoretical frameworks and key concepts
underlying instructed FL acquisition. The volume is organized into three
sections: (1) theoretical perspectives on instructed acquisition of speaking,
(2) individual variables, and (3) research topics into the instructed
acquisition of speaking. This comprehensive volume is a positive addition to
current discussions, with a clear focus on the instruction of oral skills in FL

Part I ‘Theoretical perspectives on instructed acquisition of speaking’
introduces current and prominent cognitive and social theoretical perspectives
in the field of second language acquisition (SLA) in the area of oral skills.

In Chapter 1, ‘Instructed acquisition of speaking: Reconciling theory and
practice’, Pawlak presents a general overview of current theoretical models that
inform oral instruction practices. After discussing the complexities underlying
speaking acquisition, four cognitive theories of instructed SLA are presented:
(1) the speech production model (Levelt, 1989), (2) the interactionist
perspective (Long, 1996), (3) the skill-learning theory (DeKeyser, 2007), and
(4) the proficiency model (Skehan, 1998). Pawlak, drawing on key tenets and
principles from each of these theories, rightfully highlights the importance of
providing FL learners with opportunities to produce language via the use of
meaningful and holistic pedagogical tasks.

In Chapter 2, ‘Authenticity in oral communication of instructed L2 learners’,
Agnieszka Nowicka and Weronika Wilczýnska propose an integrative model for the
teaching of speaking skills that highlights the importance of developing
individual communicative competencies (ICCs) anchored in larger social
environments. Challenges for the development of ICCs include: the integration of
a threefold ‘learning unit’ (i.e., pragmatic value, semantic meaning, and
knowledge of discourse forms); limited exposure to conventionalized and
individual realizations of learning units; and limited opportunities to interact
with learning units in classroom settings. Pedagogical implications include the
application of textual typologies to oral skills, for instance, genre, text
types, routine interactional sequences, and speech structure-based didactics of

In Chapter 3, ‘Formulaic sequences in the output of instructed L2 learners’,
Piotr Białas, drawing extensively on Wray (2000), presents the benefits of
teaching formulaic sequences. The two primary functions of formulaic knowledge
discussed include saving effort (e.g., reducing processing load) and
socio-interactional functions (e.g., identity formation and manipulation of
others through presentation of self). In discussing pedagogical implications,
Białas discusses Gatbonton and Segalowitz’s (2005) pedagogical proposal that
success is contingent upon meeting various conditions: (1) genuine communicative
needs, (2) psychological authenticity, (3) authentic tasks, (4) formulaic
sequence, and (5) repetition of formulas. While the topic of formulaic sequences
is of great importance, a more comprehensive review of work in this area rather
than an in-depth review of Wray’s (2000) work would have enriched the discussion.

In Chapter 4, ‘Formulaicity vs. fluency and accuracy in using English as a
foreign language’, Agnieszka Wróbel reviews some of the potential benefits of
teaching formulaic language (e.g., reduced processing load, effective use of
genre and registers; production of natural-sounding language). Then, Wróbel
problematizes the effectiveness of formulaic language for accuracy development
as a result of erroneous memorization of formulas. Given that formulaic language
is culturally constrained and difficult to teach, Wróbel argues that FL teaching
should focus on raising learner awareness about the use of formulaic sequences.
The author clearly presents the benefits and limitations of teaching formulaic
sequences in FL contexts.

One of the characterizing features of language output in FL settings is
bilingual discourse, code-switching. In Chapter 5, ‘Talking the same language:
Sociocultural aspects of code-switching in L2 classroom discourse’, Majer
reports on an empirical study that examined sociocultural aspects of
code-switching in teacher-learner and learner-learner interactions. Results from
the analysis of 14 extracts indicate that code-switching serves both social
functions (e.g., lowering learner anxiety) and cognitive functions (e.g.,
feedback and metatalk). Although pedagogical and research implications are
covered, findings from the empirical study are only marginally contextualized
vis-à-vis previous research on the mediating functions of language.

In Chapter 6, ‘Speaking in English for academic purposes in the light of lingua
franca English and sociocultural theory’, Anna Niżegorodcew introduces the
tenets of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and sociocultural theory to propose a
new view of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) oral skills. Niżegorodcew argues
that EAP should be examined from an ELF perspective rather than a native speaker
perspective. Drawing on the discourse produced during face-to-face and email
communications between a group of nine international partners, the author
presents 13 features of successful EAP discourse. Important pedagogical
implications include the need to consider the norms of the language being
taught, treatment of errors, differences between spoken and written EAP, and
social aspects of EAP in identity formation.

Part II, ‘Speaking and individual variables’ includes empirical studies that
examine individual differences hypothesized to impact the acquisition of oral
skills such as individual characteristics of highly proficient learners,
phonetic awareness, and learner anxiety.

In Chapter 7, ‘Near-nativeness as a function of cognitive and personality
factors: Three case studies of highly able foreign language learners’, Adriana
Biedroń presents the findings of a multiple case study that examined cognitive
and affective features of highly able FL learners. Biedroń used 13 measures to
assess aptitude, intelligence, working memory, learning styles, motivation,
personality, psychological need, locus of control, stress coping styles, and
emotional intelligence. The multiple case analysis uncovered similarities in the
cognitive-emotional profiles of two of the three participants. While the study
is highly relevant, following the provision of the focal participants’ profiles,
greater synthesis of the findings and a clearer consideration of pedagogical
implications would have been useful.

In Chapter 8, ‘I am good at speaking, but I failed my phonetics class’,
Waniek-Klimczak examined 50 advanced undergraduate learners’ attitudes towards
English pronunciation classes and sought to identify a relationship between
success in pronunciation classes and learners’ personality traits. Attitudes
towards pronunciation were surveyed; success in pronunciation was based on
course grades; and personality traits were measured by a language-learning
attitude questionnaire. Results indicate that learners placed greater importance
on two sub-skills, vocabulary and pronunciation. Contrary to the initial
hypothesis, a positive correlation between grades in pronunciation classes and
attitudes was not identified. Success in pronunciation classes did however
correlate with ego-permeability and negatively with risk-taking. The author
argues that the development of specific pronunciation-related strategies is

In Chapter 9, ‘Oral skills awareness of advanced EFL learners’, Krystyna
Droƶdział-Szelest examined 13 MA learners’ awareness of what it means to be a
good speaker. Beliefs and communication strategies were elicited using a
questionnaire with demographic data, open-ended questions about beliefs,
perceptions of self, and self-assessment of accuracy and fluency, and
communication strategies. Pertinent findings include a general orientation
towards accuracy and a relationship between self-image and interlocutors’
language background (e.g., interactions with native speakers increase learner
anxiety). A consideration of communicative strategies, divided into three
temporal groups (before-speaking, while-speaking, and after-speaking), shows
that while-speaking strategies were most common. The need to examine learner
awareness is well motivated; insights and techniques on how to increase learner
awareness are not addressed.

In Chapter 10, ‘Pronunciation learning strategies: Identification and
classification’, Aneta Całka proposes a new classification for specific
pronunciation learning strategies (PLS) that includes both macro-strategies and
specific tactics. After establishing a taxonomy, the author examined 74
participants’ strategies using Oxford’s (1990) Strategy Inventory Language
Learning questionnaire. Findings indicate that participants rely on multiple
strategies (e.g., memory, compensation, metacognitive, cognitive, affective, and
social strategies) but apply a small repertoire of tactics relevant to each
strategy. A suggested pedagogical implication includes the development of a
larger and more creative set of tactics. Useful ideas for helping learners
develop PLS are introduced.

In Chapter 11, ‘Metaphonic awareness in the production of speech’, Magdalena
Wrembel investigated participants’ self-perception of metaphonic awareness.
Wrembel conducted introspective think aloud protocols and a retrospective oral
protocol with 15 participants. Results indicate that participants engage in
self-repairs primarily at the segmental level and that they have some
metalinguistic awareness of vowel quality, vowel length, and consonantal errors.
Wrembel proposes stages for monitoring phonetic coding in order to develop
learners’ metaphonetic awareness.

In Chapter 12, ‘Foreign language speaking anxiety from the perspective of Polish
students of German studies’, Krzysztof Nerlicki examined learner anxiety with 83
first- and second-year undergraduate students. A qualitative analysis of
student-teacher journal entries was conducted and findings indicate that
personalities and beliefs about speaking, impacted by previous experiences, are
the primary causes of anxiety. Nerlicki argued that anxiety was heightened by
teaching practices that gravitate towards formal correctness. Pedagogical
implications derived from the study include increasing discussions surrounding
anxiety with learners in order to increase their own awareness about anxiety and
to help them overcome the fear of speaking.

Part II concludes with a second study on learner anxiety. In Chapter 13, ‘The
relationship between language anxiety and the development of the speaking skill:
Results of a longitudinal study’, Ewa Piechurska-Kuciel conducted a
longitudinal, quantitative study exploring the relationship between anxiety and
self-assessment of speaking skills. On three separate occasions over a
three-year period, 393 learners completed the FL classroom anxiety scale
questionnaire (Horwitz, Horwitz, & Cope, 1986). Findings indicate that speaking
skills negatively correlate with anxiety and that anxiety diminishes with
increasing proficiency. In sum, findings appear to be in line with the
established claim that low-anxiety environments are more conducive to language

Part III, ‘Research into instructed acquisition of speaking’ covers an array of
empirical topics, namely, task-based language teaching, learner beliefs, and

In Chapter 14, ‘On the authenticity of communication in the foreign language
classroom’, Sebastian Piotrowski identifies specific features of typical
classroom-based discourse thus illustrating how classroom and naturalistic
discourse share few resemblances. Results from a qualitative analysis of
discourse from 148 French as a FL lessons show that: (1) authentic
meaning-focused discussions are rare, (2) focus on form interferes with
communication, and (3) focus is on task performance. The author concludes that
authenticity lies in the discourse, rather than the task, and suggests that
increasing meaning-oriented discussions in the target language may serve to
increase authenticity in FL settings.

Oral assessment in FL settings often takes the form of standardized tests and/or
the application of batteries of tests, which fail to capture specific areas of
development over time. In Chapter 15, ‘Ways to proficiency in spoken English as
a foreign language: Tracing individual development’, Irena Czwenar examines
gains in three areas that characterize oral skills: lexical and grammatical
complexity, lexical accuracy, and fluency. Over a three-year period, 35
interviews with nine learners were conducted. Results show that one aspect of
oral skills may develop at the expense of another and that regression occurs in
one or more aspects over time. The present chapter supports the idea that
current language assessment methods may be too general, failing to capture the
non-linear and complex nature of oral skills development.

Proponents of task-based language teaching show that the use of tasks benefits
the development of oral skills. In Chapter 16, ‘Task repetition as a way of
enhancing oral communication in a foreign language’, Anna Mystkowska-Wiertelak
examines task repetition effects in an intact classroom context with
participants who completed a three-stage collaborative task. Using measures of
complexity, accuracy, and fluency, the author identified gains in various areas
of oral proficiency. An important limitation is the operationalization of task
repetition. Learners did not repeat the same task, but rather a task that
included parallel stages. While driven by a pedagogical concern (i.e., identical
tasks may be less attractive to learners), the findings are difficult to
contextualize in the current task repetition literature given the use of
slightly different tasks.

To provide learners with multiple opportunities to experience the language
outside the classroom, many teachers and researchers rely on
computer-mediated-communication. In Chapter 17, ‘The use of the internet and
instant messengers in assisting the acquisition of speaking skills in English
lessons’, Mariusz Kruk investigates the benefits of using synchronous chat
activities on oral proficiency development. Relying on a quasi-experimental
design, Kruk compared chat room-based and face-to-face interactions. Language
gains were measured with a pretest, an immediate posttest and a delayed
posttest. The study is pedagogically motivated, but an important limitation was
identified: measures of oral fluency were not clearly operationalized and
reported gains cannot be assessed by the readers.

Researchers exploring learner beliefs about language learning have utilized
self-reports, questionnaires, and interviews. In Chapter 18, ‘Investigating the
perception of speaking skills with metaphor-based methods’, Dorota Werbińska
investigated learner beliefs using the construct of metaphors and narratives. In
Study 1, 184 adult undergraduate learners (i.e., extramural learners) responded
to a single prompt, namely, ‘Speaking in language X is like…’. The use of
metaphors and narratives revealed some of the contradictions that learners
associated with language learning. In Study 2, Werbińska invited 40 learners to
complete a narrative about their language learning experiences. The
contributions of this qualitative analysis were manifold: examination of mature
students’ language learning experiences; metaphorical tools of data elicitation
and analysis; and a consideration of static and fluid views of learner beliefs.
The in-depth portrayal of experiences and frustrations highlights the fluid
nature of language learning experiences, which may not be captured via more
traditional data elicitation methods.

In Chapter 19, ‘Phonetically difficult words in intermediate learners’ English’,
Jolanta Szpyra-Kozłowska examines learners’ perception of local errors,
hypothesized to have greater consequences on intelligibility and
comprehensibility than global errors. A total of 100 teenage learners were asked
to identify problematic areas of pronunciation in English words. The analysis
yielded the following classification of pronunciation difficulties:
spelling-pronunciation correspondences, phonetic false friends, word stress,
consonant clusters, long words, liquids, high front vowels, and
morphophonological patterns. Findings are of particular relevance to Polish
language teachers.

In Chapter 20, ‘Transcultural interference, communities of practice, and
collaborative assessment of oral performance’, Przemysław Krakowian discusses
some of the challenges attributed to the evaluation of oral skills with a focus
on intra-coder reliability. Oral speech samples from a range of linguistic
backgrounds were collected during a three-year collaborative project between
eight European universities. The analysis led to the identification of
discrepancies between how oral skills are being evaluated, a finding that is
believed to be symptomatic of the larger European communities. The author
provides two theories that address sources of misunderstandings (e.g., the
psychological anthropology theory of intercultural interference and Hymes’
communicative competence). While the larger project offers researchers a large
database of speech samples and ratings, the present chapter focuses extensively
on the description of the project and intra-coder reliability was only minimally

The development of oral skills, particularly in a FL, is complicated by a number
of social and cognitive factors. The edited volume “Speaking and instructed
foreign language acquisition” is an excellent testimony to this and is thus an
invaluable contribution to our understanding of current ideas and topics on the
acquisition of oral skills in FL settings. Unlike many other volumes on FL
acquisition, the present volume presents theoretical discussions drawing on
cognitive and sociocultural perspectives. Given recent efforts to adopt a more
holistic approach to the study of language acquisition, readers will enjoy the
thorough examination of factors at play.

The volume includes a balance of theoretical discussions as well as empirical
studies. Part I in introduces current theoretical models guiding research. The
first two pieces focus most directly on dominant theoretical perspectives: (1)
cognitive models and (2) pedagogical models highlighting the integration of
individual and social dimensions. I found the sequential inclusion of these two
perspectives to be highly effective in setting the tone for future research,
namely, research on instructed FL acquisition that examines the praxis of
cognitive processes, individual learner characteristics, contexts, and text
types. Part I concludes with an important discussion on language ideology in the
teaching of English as a FL, encouraging the reader to reevaluate the
native-speaker model in FL settings for the instruction of oral skills.

Another contribution lies in the relevance of the topics under investigation to
recent findings from the field of SLA. In Part II, the editors carefully
selected seven articles that address a breadth of topics relating to individual
variables: (1) cognitive and personality features of highly able FL learners,
(2) relationship between success in speaking and pronunciation classes, (3)
awareness of what it means to be a good language speaker, (4) pronunciation
learning strategies, (5) participants’ self-perception of metaphonic awareness,
and (6) anxiety. Part III, less focused on a particular aspect, includes
specific areas of research. Topics included: (1) task repetition, (2) task-based
language teaching in face-to-face and computer-mediated-communication, (3)
beliefs about FL learning, and (4) assessment. While the topics included in this
volume contribute positively to our understanding of the acquisition of oral
skills, the topics in Part III appear to be less unified thereby lacking a clear
focus. Overall, there was minimal overlap across the topics, reflecting the
array of factors that complicate the study and acquisition of oral skills.

From a research methodology perspective, I found that the empirical designs and
data elicitation techniques overlapped significantly. With the exception of one
multiple case study, the studies are primarily quantitative in nature. Although
this is in line with SLA research, a more balanced number of studies
investigating specific cases from a qualitative perspective could inform our
models and current practices. In addition, a number of studies relied on
questionnaire data which, in my humble opinion, should have been supplemented by
other types of data. Finally, the editors highlight the intricacies of acquiring
a FL in instructed contexts; yet, only one study was conducted in a
classroom-based setting. Thus, the findings continue to only marginally inform
pedagogical practices. The decision to conduct studies outside authentic
classrooms could explain the limited representation of pedagogical implications
gleaned from the studies.

The editors have targeted researchers and advanced graduate students. Readers
should have previous knowledge about research paradigms and ideas from the field
of SLA to interpret the findings. A secondary audience includes methodologists
and material developers. The editors maintain that the volume offers
context-sensitive pedagogical recommendations; however, my impression is that
these discussions and recommendations were either limited or elusive. A
concluding chapter presenting concrete pedagogical implications obtained from
the studies would thus have complemented the discussions making this volume
relevant to a larger audience, including teachers.

Despite some minor limitations regarding the themes and research methodologies,
the volume provides readers with a sound overview of theoretical underpinnings
of the study of oral skills in FL settings. The empirical studies are supported
by relevant theoretical models and the results present researchers with new
insights and open the possibility to future areas of study. The research
presented reflects ongoing efforts to identify challenging aspects specific to
the development of successful oral skills in instructed FL contexts.

DeKeyser, R.M. (2007). Skill acquisition theory. In B. vanPatten & J. Williams
(Eds.), Theories in second language acquisition: An introduction (pp. 97-113).
Mawhaw, NJ: Erlbaum.

Gatbonton, E., & Segalowitz, N. (2005). Rethinking communicative language
teaching: A focus on access to fluency. Canadian Modern Language Review, 61,

Horwitz, E.K., Horwitz, M.B., & Cope, J. (1986). Foreign language classroom
anxiety. Modern Language Journal, 70, 125-132.

Levelt, W.J.M. (1989). Speaking: From intention to articulation. Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press.

Long, M.H. (1996). The role of the linguistic environment in second language
acquisition. In W.C. Ritchie & T.K. Bhatia (Eds.), Handbook of Second Language
Acquisition (pp. 413-468). San Diego: Academic Press.

Oxford, R. (1990). Language learning strategies: What every language teacher
should know. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Skehan, P. (1998). A cognitive approach to language learning. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Wray, A. (2000). Formulaic sequences in second language teaching: Principle and
practice. Applied Linguistics, 21, 463-489.

Caroline Payant received her MA from the Universidad de las Américas Puebla in Mexico in 2006 and her Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from Georgia State University in 2012. Her key interest is cognitive and sociocultural aspects of language acquisition involving two target languages: French and English. This research analyzes interaction through collaborative tasks in classroom-based and experimental settings. Her other areas of interests are teacher training and reflective practices. She joined the faculty at the University of Idaho in 2012 where she teaches courses in the MA-TESL program.

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