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Review of  Second Language Acquisition and the Younger Learner

Reviewer: Yujeong Choi
Book Title: Second Language Acquisition and the Younger Learner
Book Author: Jenefer Philp Rhonda Oliver Alison Mackey
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 20.3340

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EDITORS: Philp, Jenefer; Oliver, Rhonda; Mackey, Alison
TITLE: Second Language Acquisition and the Younger Learner
SUBTITLE: Child's play?
SERIES: Language Learning & Language Teaching
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2008

Yujeong Choi, Department of Linguistics and TESOL, the University of Texas at

Child second language acquisition (SLA) has been considered primarily within the
realm of adult second language acquisition or bilingual acquisition even though
numerous distinctive characteristics of child SLA can be found. By separating
child SLA from adult and bilingual acquisition, this book presents a
comprehensive overview of child SLA in which the age of acquisition ranges from
three to adolescence. Its four sections include ''Characteristics of child SLA,''
''Instructed language learning in the early years of education,'' ''Instructed
language learning in the later years of education,'' and ''Child SLA at home and
in the community,'' for a total of twelve insightful studies in diverse settings.
The target audience of this book is graduate students, researchers, and ESL
teachers who are interested in second language acquisition, second/foreign
language teaching, and childhood education.

This is a collection of scholarly articles edited by Jenefer Philp, Rhonda
Oliver, and Alison Mackey. Starting with a discussion of some characteristics of
child SLA, this volume attempts to answer the question of how younger children
(ages 2-11), early adolescents (ages 12-14), and late adolescents (ages 15 and
older) learn a second language in instructional settings or natural settings
such as the home and communities. Various research methods ranging from
ethnography to experimental studies, from short-term to longitudinal
investigations, are employed to elicit and analyze the data.

Section 1 discusses some notable characteristics of child SLA. In the first
article in this section, Nicholas and Lightbown delimit the age range of child
SLA from two to seven years old, with child SLA emerging after first language
acquisition. Drawing on the distinctive features of child first language
acquisition, they propose that a unique pedagogy different from first language
acquisition is needed to maximize second language acquisition in children. In
the second article, Dimroth presents a longitudinal study of two Russian sisters
learning German to see how age-related factors impact the acquisition of syntax
(word order) and morphology (subject-verb agreement, tense, noun plurality, and
adjective declension). She concludes that younger learners are more target-like
learners, providing an explanation for age-related differences between learners
in the amount of prior L1 knowledge, previous experience of learning L2s, and
motivation for linguistic integration and adaptation.

Section 2 discusses empirical research on acquisition in instructional settings
from sociological and cognitive perspectives. In the first article in this
section, Philp and Duchesne investigate the characteristics of peer interaction
and social goals in one L2 English speaker and one L1 English speaker. They
examine how peer interactions contribute to language acquisition, and how social
goals such as equality and mutuality influence peer interactions in the context
of language acquisition. In the second article, Cekaite describes a longitudinal
study of the development of the conversational skill of soliciting a teacher's
response as produced by two L2 Swedish-speaking children in a primary school
immersion classroom. The author presents the different strategies used by the
children in each developmental phase. In the third article, Oliver and Mackey
examine the relationship between instructions and examples and the interactions
of age. This relationship was investigated in three different conditions:
pre-task instructions, pre-task instructions with examples, and pre-task
instructions with on-task feedback and examples. The interaction between
children was measured in terms of the patterns of feedback used: non-target like
turns, feedback, opportunity to use feedback, and use of feedback. In the final
article in this section, Branden examines negotiation of meaning conducted by
eleven-year-old children during reading comprehension activities in the
classroom. More specifically, he investigates whether children are able to
negotiate meaning as adults do and provides an explanation for the learners'
hesitation to reveal their non-understanding of the interlocutor's input. He
also discusses the teacher's role in the classroom and some variables that
prevent children from negotiating meaning.

Section 3 presents empirical research on adolescent learners in classroom
contexts. In the first article, Soler and Mayo investigate to what extent
incidental focus on form is accomplished, the effect of the incidental
focus-on-form approach on learners' uptake, and the relationship between uptake
and long-term accuracy of lexical items in adolescent learners in an EFL
context. After recording and transcribing seventeen 45-minute lessons, they
analyzed incidental focus on form in terms of numbers and types of focus-on-form
episodes (FFEs). In the second article, White presents three pedagogical
intervention studies on third person possessive determiners in pre-adolescent
and adolescent learners. The first and second studies were conducted with
pre-adolescent French L1 learners at age 12 in Quebec, Canada. The third study
was conducted with French L1 learners and Spanish/Catalan bilingual adolescent
learners at age 14 in Quebec, Canada, and Catalonia, respectively. These
learners were given a pre- and post-test that involved written and oral
production tasks.

Section 4 describes case studies of child SLA in uninstructed settings such as
the home and community. In the first article, Iwasaki presents a longitudinal
study of developmental stages in terms of three verbal morphosyntactic
structures in Japanese. More specifically, she examines the existence of
developmental stages of acquisition in child SLA and whether the developmental
stages correspond to adult SLA within the framework of Processability Theory,
which claims that developmental stages start at the lexical level and develop to
the phrasal and interphrasal levels. In the second article, Mitchell and Lee
explore a longitudinal study of the ways in which home activities promote child
L2 English from a sociocultural perspective. Their study is based on an L1
Korean family consisting of three children and the children's mother and
grandmother. They examine each family member's collaboration and linguistic
scaffolding to develop their children's L2 proficiency through L2 literacy
activities such as picture storybooks and imaginative role play. In the third
article, Fogle investigates mealtime interactions between two adopted children
from abroad with their parents and siblings in two families. The linguistic
focus of the study involves the functions of self-repetition and
other-repetition conducted by two children in the context of narratives and
explanation with other individuals. She also discusses how self-repetition
strategies facilitate discourse competence as well as grammatical competence.
In the final article of the book, Kwon and Han present a longitudinal study of
language transfer in a three-year-old L1 Korean child learning L2 English in
school or at home during peer interaction. They examine the morphosyntactic
language transfer in terms of the learner's production of negation, plural
marking, and possessive marking. Their explanation of language transfer is
framed within the ''sliding window'' approach suggested by Foster-Cohen (2001),
which views language development as a continuum of various axes.

This volume provides an integrative and comparative overview of child SLA
research. The strength of this book comes from its empirical studies with clear
explanations in various contexts, along with its pedagogical suggestions
appropriate for different ages. In addition, the research methods in this volume
are evenly balanced, not only quantitatively, but also qualitatively so that the
readers can understand the different aims and goals of the research and gain
broadened perspectives on many issues in the field of child SLA. Finally, there
are a few other ideas in the book which deserve special attention.

First, this volume provides strong support for why child SLA should be
recognized in its own right, even though child SLA shares some commonalities
with bilingual and adult second language acquisition. As the editors argue,
child SLA is different from bilingual acquisition in that bilingual acquisition
emerges in the context of the grammar of two languages occurring simultaneously,
whereas child SLA emerges after acquisition of the first language is completed.
Moreover, child SLA is different from adult SLA in that it involves different
interactive styles such as spontaneity, enjoyment, and experimentation with
language play. In this sense, as this volume shows, separating child SLA from
adult and bilingual acquisition indeed offers a better understanding of child
language acquisition and development.

This volume emphasizes different pedagogies that are tailored to different ages.
As the editors mention, even though many studies discuss the effectiveness of
focus-on-form instruction in classroom settings, little research has been done
on which types of focus on form are more beneficial to certain age groups based
on cognitive development. In this sense, the research in Section 3 connects
empirical research with pedagogical application in classroom settings. Second or
foreign language teachers can certainly benefit from these findings.

In addition, case studies in natural settings (Section 4) highlight the
importance of considering uninstructed settings as a ''safe'' place where children
can practice and experiment with linguistic features. Moreover, interlocutors
serve an important role in learning. All participants in interaction in natural
settings are dynamic, rather than having only one speaker and the others as
listeners. Such dynamic interactions lead to mutual scaffolding and consequently
successful learner's acquisition.

However, most of the research in this volume focuses on acquisition and
development of lexical or morphosyntactic features in different social contexts.
Therefore, those who are interested in acquisition of broader linguistic
features including discourse style, discourse marker, pragmatics, and different
speech styles in context may find this volume lacking in such topics.

Overall, all of the chapters in this volume are excellent and valuable in that
readers can grasp various approaches in diverse settings. This book should draw
a range of audiences. For novice students, it introduces the breadth of
different research methods and approaches in child SLA. For researchers, it
opens up many possibilities for carrying out new studies, expanding on the
challenges found in each article. For ESL teachers, it can serve as a guide for
different age groups in various pedagogical contexts.

Foster-Cohen, S. (2001). First language acquisition... second language
acquisition: ''What's Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba?''. _Second Language Research_
17 (4), 329-344.

Yujeong Choi is a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas at Arlington. Her
research interests include second language acquisition, sociolinguistics, and
discourse analysis.