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Review of  Mind and Context in Adult Second Language Acquisition

Reviewer: Antje Carlson
Book Title: Mind and Context in Adult Second Language Acquisition
Book Author: Cristina Sanz
Publisher: Georgetown University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 17.1236

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EDITOR: Sanz, Christina
TITLE: Mind and Context in Adult Second Language Acquisition
SUBTITLE: Methods, Theory, and Practice
PUBLISHER: Georgetown University Press
YEAR: 2005

Antje Carlson, Ph.D., Liberal Studies Department, Alaska Pacific
University, Anchorage, Alaska


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

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


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:

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).

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.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1589010701
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 344
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