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Review of Mind and Context in Adult Second Language Acquisition
The book ''Mind and Context in Adult Second Language Acquisition: Methods, Theory, and Practice'' is a collection of highly scholarly essays by various authors. This volume describes latest research in adult second language acquisition (SLA) and discusses the external and internal variables of SLA and their interactions on various levels of the learning process. Though SLA has its foundation in the quantitative research paradigm, the contents includes a description of qualitative research methodologies that gradually have been employed and recognized in SLA classroom inquiry to provide a more holistic and contextualized view and understanding of the influencing SLA factors. The purpose of the book is ''to provide, in one place, a coherent, well-structured picture of latest research on processing and approaches to SLA'' (Sanz, 2005, p. ix). The audience is identified as researchers and practitioners.
The book begins with an introduction by the editor. The volume has four parts that are each subdivided into two or three chapter essays. The structure of each chapter is consistent throughout: key words, an introduction, main body, summary, suggestions for further readings, and references. Chapters 2 through 8 conclude the discussion with exercises, guided critique activities, and a list of recommended reading. The following provides a synopsis of each chapter essay:
Part 1: Theory and Methodology Chapter 1: Adult SLA: The interaction between external and internal factors. Christina Sanz provides the width and breadth of SLA research and places the learning processes into context. Sanz argues that the adult L2 learning process may be explained by the interaction of internal processing mechanisms, individual differences, as well as the quality and quantity of language input.
Chapter 2: Research methodology: Quantitative approaches. Rusan Chen presents an abbreviated review of statistical procedures that are commonly used by SLA researchers. The chapter begins with the statistic basics, proceeds to discuss hypothesis testing, explains rudimentary concepts (sample, mean, variable, median, and more), and illuminates the various forms of data analyses, such as t-test, ANOVA, correlation and regression methods, Chi-square test, etc. The chapter concludes with exercises regarding data analysis and leads with seven questions into a guided critique activity based on a suggested article. The author provides recommendation of literature.
Chapter 3: Research methodology: Qualitative research. Rebecca Adams, Akiko Fujii, and Alison Mackey present an overview of qualitative approaches to instructed SLA. The authors open the discussion with theoretical assumptions and methodological characteristics and describe commonly used qualitative inquiries for data collection that include classroom observation, interviews, case studies and ethnographies, verbal protocols, diaries, journals, and survey-based procedures, i.e., interviews and questionnaires. In a research area dominated by the quantitative paradigm, Adams et al., outline the underpinnings of qualitative research approaches that aim to present a more holistic and comprehensive of a phenomenon in its natural environment. The authors proceed to describe the various L2 research topics that used qualitative research methodologies (cognitive processes, classroom processes, learner variables). Substantive explanation is provided for the data analyses by illustrating the process through specific methods (coding). They also address the issues of reporting, credibility, transferability, and dependability of qualitative research, issues that need to allow for empirical scholarship and rigor. Exercises, guided critique, and recommended reading conclude the chapter.
Part 2: Internal Factors Chapter 4: Individual differences: Age, sex, working memory, and prior knowledge. Harriet Wood Bowden, Christina Sanz, and Catherine A. Stafford explore these four aspects of individual differences in relationship to L2 learning as a result of renewed interest and discussions in the subject matter. The elaboration on age particularly addresses the critical period hypothesis, the biological factors influencing the language learning process. The authors conclude that age-influenced factors may influence the success of SLA but that it cannot be attributed to the closing of the critical language learning period. The issue of sex is explored from the male and female perspectives and it is suggested that men and women process languages differently on the base that verbal memory seems to be modulated by estrogen. Working memory (WM) falls into the category of language aptitude that is further divided into the historical perspectives on memory (short-term-, long-term memory), recent theoretical accounts, ''span'' tests of verbal working memory and phonological short-term memory. Bowden et al., argue that more research has implications how brain regions collaborate during complex cognition processes. Prior knowledge takes into consideration prior experience in L3 acquisition that demonstrated the L3 learner's ability to classify, abstract, and generalize linguistic information that allows for transferability to subsequently learned languages. In a subsequent paragraph the authors describe how input of language is perceived and organized. Exercises, guided critique, and recommended reading conclude the chapter.
Chapter 5: A cognitive neuroscience perspective on second language acquisition: The declarative/procedural model. With his neurocognitive model, Michael T. Ullman comes to the aid of otherwise thin research in L1 development in correlation to mind and brain. He initiates the discussion with neurocognition of lexicon and grammar and proceeds to elaborate fully on the declarative/ procedural (DP) model on which also the remainder of the chapter builds. Therein the author proposes and elaborates at length that aspects of the lexicon-grammar distinction are tied to the distinction between declarative and procedural memory. In his discussion, Ullman compares and contrasts L1 and L2 learning in relationship to the procedural (PM) and declarative memory (DM). He concludes that learning grammar in PM becomes more problematic with late L2 learning. It is more difficult than learning lexical or other linguistic knowledge in DM. Ullman maintains that adult learners rely on the DM for storing idiosyncratic lexical knowledge and complex forms and rules and becomes more difficult with the progression of age. Exercises, guided critique, and recommended reading conclude the chapter.
Chapter 6: Attention and awareness in SLA. Ronald P. Leow and Melissa A. Bowles describe the current standing and the development of various attention models in cognitive psychology and SLA all of which is followed by brief reports of empirical studies in the major framework of SLA. These include awareness and learning, measurement of awareness and the role of attention/noticing (Schmidt's noticing hypothesis) in L2 development. The authors believe in a facilitative effect of attention and awareness on adult L2 learners' subsequent processing and intake but also call for more rigorous and robust attention/awareness research designs. Exercises, guided critique, and recommended reading conclude the chapter.
Part 3: External Factors Chapter 7: Input and interaction. Alison Mackey and Rebekha Abbuhl discuss the role of input and interaction in L2 learning and maintain that interactionally modified input (changes through conversation with interlocutor) may be more effective than simple input modification (made less complex) because it allows learners to control the input that is adjusted to their specific needs at a particular stage of learning. Part of input is feedback that the authors divided into explicit feedback and recasts both of which are suggested to be linked through a variety of variables to L2 development. Research on output suggests that it may promote automatization, which allows learners to recognize L2 knowledge gaps. This in turn invites the individual to adjust their processing and check their own drawn conclusions about their learned understanding. A brief section on pedagogical implications stresses the benefits of interactionally modified input, feedback, and output on SLA. Exercises, guided critique, and recommended readings conclude the chapter.
Chapter 8: Explicitness in pedagogical interventions: Input, practice, and feedback. Pedagogical intervention in Christina Sanz' and Kara Morgan-Short's essay is defined as ''provision of manipulated input, explicit rule explanation or feedback in combination with feedback'' (p. xi). In this chapter the author discuss respectively positive, no effects, and negative effects of explicit rule presentation prior to input, explicit feedback, and research on both-explicit rule presentation and explicit feedback. A survey-summary of researches is presented in table- format in the appendix. Sanz and Morgan-Short summarize that adults seem to fare better from explicit intervention (metalinguistic intervention) which in turn seems to expedite the learning process. Exercises, guided critique, and recommended reading conclude the chapter.
Part 4: Pedagogical Implications Chapter 9: Processing instruction. Bill VanPatten gives attention to processing instruction (PI) that ''considers the nature of real-time input processing and the ways in which learners make form-meaning connections during comprehension . . . . it attempts to identify particular processing problems and treat them'' (p. 267). VanPatten presents a set of principles that interact in complex ways in the working memory under the premise that learners have a finite capacity of information processing before the working memory is exhausted and forced to provide new storage area for new incoming information. The question ''to what degree can we either manipulate learner attention during input processing or manipulate input data so that more and better form-meaning connections are made'' (p. 272) underlies the PI framework. PI is considered a complementary technique to existing teaching approaches, such as TPR or the Natural Approach and that helps to identify the learners' problematic processing strategies and then suggests activities that help learners move away from them.
Chapter 10: Content-based foreign language instruction. With her chapter contribution Heidi Byrnes moves away from SLA research and focuses on the pedagogical implications of content-based instruction (CBI). The crucial question for the author was ''How can the classroom setting affirm the social embeddedness of language in a way that facilitates learners' acquiring comfortable competence . . . .?'' (p. 282). With this question in mind, Byrnes proceeds to explore the answers through addressing the development of extended curricula paired with pedagogical approaches that support the teachers' decision making that guides learners in establishing macro-and microlinks between meaning and form, advanced proficiency of L2 in form of high levels of literacy. Byrnes criticizes what she calls ''scientized'' understanding of language and the lack of connecting the knowing with the doing. She argues ''both CBI and SLA research as practiced in the U.S. have been shaped by a kind of intellectual displacement, finding remedies for problems that do not exist and ignoring those that do'' (p. 286). In this chapter the author calls for the development of genre-based literacy within the curricula because language is a meaning making tool that is embedded in social practice and that is best developed through guided engagements with texts. Only through the adequate and pedagogically sound linking of content and language form, so Byrnes, can competent L2 use in a variety of discourse environments emerge, which has yet to be fully employed.
Though researchers and practitioners are described as the audience, ''Adult Second Language Acquisition: Methods, Theory, and Practice'' is a book for which also many graduates have been waiting. Well-structured and intensely informative, this collection of essays fabulously covers the current standing in adult L2 learning in a very scholarly fashion. For the longest time, research on SLA or L2 learning was focused on children's cognitive processing and learning behavior but, finally, as we begin to increasingly value, recognize, and understand the long neglected species adult learner, research has broadened its interest base to include the FLA or SLA needs of adults.
The book presented the knowledge that has been gathered and documented from the various respective research disciplines, i.e., sociopsychology, linguistics, and neuroscience. Needless to say, that research methodologies in these fields are primarily quantitative in nature; noteworthy and laudable is therefore the included chapter on qualitatively based inquiries that gradually take a scholarly foothold in adult SLA research and that serves to present a more holistic and deeper understanding of a human phenomenon as it presents itself in its natural environment. It serves as an encouragement to do conduct more qualitative research.
Of fundamental value and a rather novel presentation are the exercises and critique guides that concluded most of the essays. For the novice researcher they stimulate critical examination of methods and critical thinking about literature to which they were led by Chapters 2 and 3. These chapters were of preparatory nature and presented a detailed review of quantitative and qualitative research procedures. The inclusion of the exercises, guided critiques, and methodology explanations makes this book a good supplemental textbook in a graduate class.
A shortcoming of this book was the hesitance with which the ''knowing'' was connected to the ''doing'', the employment of theory to practice, though the last two chapters are a wonderfully affirmative and encouraging step in the right direction. Particularly refreshing was Byrnes' contribution that exuded common-sense and practical concern and called for making practical use of a communication tool. In the reviewer's opinion, science has aggregated a wealth of knowing in terms of the SLA cognitive linguistic processes and illuminated the many underlying variables that may influence the adults' learning. Byrnes referred to this as ''scientized'' and the reviewer fully agrees. Time has come to pay attention and to explore more fully the practice- oriented application and to push for the translation of theories that prominently considers and applies the practices of adult education to allow for more pedagogically competent and effective FL teaching of adults at universities and colleges.
Carlson (2005) in her dissertation ''Adults' experiences in learning a foreign language in a university classroom: A heuristic study'' posited her research in the frameworks of Knowles' (1970; 1998) concept of andragogy, Tough's (1971) self-directed learning theory, and Mezirow's (1991; 2000) perspective transformation theory, and evaluated them for their relevance and applicability in the German classroom. With her interpretative concept of Foreign Language Andragogy, Carlson provided a pedagogical guideline that moves the adults as FL learners more prominently into the center of the methods and didactics that are appropriate, relevant, and motivating to who the adults are, what they want, and how they want their learning to unfold. It is mindful and considerate of the adult as the individual who is life- experienced, self-directed, and autonomous.
In conclusion, the book ''Mind and Context in Adult Second Language Acquisition: Methods, Theory, and Practice'' is an essential book for any graduate learner interested in adult SLA studies. It is insightful, informative and conveys an almost mentoring character by illuminating the various fields of scholarship of SLA thereby helping students taking their first steps in graduate studies to narrow their fields of interests. Hopefully, another book of such nature and quality is forthcoming.
Carlson, A. (2005). ''Adults' Experiences in Learning a Foreign Language in a University Classroom: A Heuristic Inquiry''. In ProQuest/UMI publication process. Union Institute and University, Cincinnati, OH.
Knowles, M. S. (1970). ''The modern practice of adult education: Andragogy versus pedagogy''. New York: Association Press.
Knowles, M. S., Holton, III, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (1998). ''The adult learner''. Houston, TX: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Mezirow, J. (1991). ''Transformative dimensions of adult learning''. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, J. (2000). ''Learning as transformation''. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Tough, A. (1971). ''The adult learning projects: A fresh approach to theory and practice in adult learning''. Toronto, Canada: The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Antje Carlson works at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, Alaska. She received her doctoral degree from Union Institute and University with a concentration in Adult Education and a specialization in adult foreign language (FL) instruction and learning. Carlson researches adults' experiences in learning a FL, and FL learning and motivation from a qualitative paradigm and investigates the applicability of Knowles' andragogical concept, Mezirow's perspective transformation theory, and Tough's self-directed learning theory in the adult FL learning environment.