LINGUIST List 22.266

Sat Jan 15 2011

Review: Applied Linguistics: Schmitt (2010)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <monicalinguistlist.org>


        1.     Melanie Rockenhaus , An Introduction to Applied Linguistics, 2nd edition

Message 1: An Introduction to Applied Linguistics, 2nd edition
Date: 15-Jan-2011
From: Melanie Rockenhaus <rockenhaussns.it>
Subject: An Introduction to Applied Linguistics, 2nd edition
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Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/21/21-1066.html
EDITOR: Norbert SchmittTITLE: An Introduction to Applied Linguistics, 2nd editionPUBLISHER: Oxford University Press; Hodder & Stoughton LtdYEAR: 2010

Melanie Rockenhaus, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa

INTRODUCTION

As the title indicates, this book aims to provide the reader with anintroductory overview of the field of Applied Linguistics (AL). At the sametime, the editor makes it clear that it is his intention not only to introduce aseries of topics within the field of AL but also to provide the reader withenough material, at a sophisticated enough level, to permit immediate, further,more advanced reading and research in each of the areas covered.

The volume contains sixteen chapters. After an introductory chapter, the book isdivided into three macro sections (more on this below), each of which is furtherdivided into four or five chapters, for a total of fourteen subject areachapters. Each of these chapters, independently authored by specialists, followsthe same basic format: introduction, an explanation of the key issues, thepedagogical implications of the topic, a brief further reading list and at leastone hands-on activity. Since this format is unvarying, it is not described againin each chapter but is commented upon in the Evaluation section below. Thesixteenth and final chapter features suggested solutions to the hands-onactivities of the other chapters.

SUMMARY

In the introductory chapter, 'An Overview of Applied Linguistics', co-authoredby the editor and M. Celce-Murcia, a working definition and a brief historicalreview of AL are offered. This latter very naturally dwells at greater length onthe twentieth century, focusing briefly on socio- and psycholinguistics. Thechapter ends with a look at the themes which will emerge in the book, includingthe interrelationship of many AL areas, the move from discrete to more holistic,integrated perspectives, lexico-grammar or formulaic language, the move toinclude the language learner in AL discussions, and the impossibility of findingclear-cut solutions in many AL debates.

The three major sections and their chapters are as follow:

I. Description of Language and Language Use

'Grammar': This chapter, co-authored by D. Larsen-Freeman and J. DeCarrico,opens by distinguishing prescriptive, descriptive and pedagogical grammars,indicates that the latter more closely resembles the second and uses this as aspringboard to explain the difficulties of writing a descriptive grammar. Thesedifficulties include deciding which rules (and exceptions) to include, thetension between form-driven or function-driven grammatical models, the inclusionor not of suprasentential discourse grammar and the inadequacies of grammaticaldescriptions based on writing to describe the grammar of speech. There follows abrief look at recent holistic, multidimensional approaches which attempt to takeinto consideration the entire lexico-grammatical spectrum. The chapter ends witha lengthy consideration of learning and teaching grammar, offering a careful andinformed review of some of the ongoing debates in this area of languageteaching, such as the role and limits of noticing or prompting vs. immediatefeedback for error correction. The authors prudently recommend the use of avariety of approaches and the inclusion of all three dimensions of form, meaningand use in grammar instruction.

'Vocabulary': Co-authored by P. Nation and P. Meara, this chapter proceeds froman attempt to define vocabulary to a long section considering what vocabularyshould be learned. The authors come down firmly on the side of explicitlyteaching high-frequency vocabulary, then instructing learners invocabulary-learning strategies for acquiring lower-frequency words in their owntime. This section is thus naturally followed by an excellent and detailedreview of recommendations about how words can, indeed be learned, recommendedreading for any teacher interested in classroom techniques. The authors thenoffer some pointers for developing learner strategies and a series of specificsuggestions for assessing vocabulary knowledge. The chapter ends with a veryuseful section dwelling on the enormous load English vocabulary represents forthe learner and what this means for both learners and teachers.

'Discourse Analysis': The co-authors M. McCarthy, C. Matthiessen and D. Slade,after providing a working definition of their field, look at various sub-areasand/or approaches to the topic, including the conversation analyses ofsociology, the ethnography of sociolinguistics, linguistic approaches and abrief look at critical discourse analysis. After this more research-orientedmaterial, the authors turn to practical considerations such as a look at thedifferences between spoken and written discourse, the connections between corpuslinguistics and discourse analysis, and a look at how the materials reviewed inthe chapter can directly inform educators and materials writers.

'Pragmatics': The co-authors H. Spencer-Oatey and V. Žegarac introduce theirspecialization by explaining that pragmatics deals with ''the interrelationshipbetween language form, (communicated) messages and language users'' (p. 70).Fortunately for complete novices, they immediately offer the reader a concreteexample in the form of an authentic dialogue which they investigate at somelength from a pragmatics perspective, using their considerations as a platformto introduce a good number of useful pragmatics terms and techniques. This isfollowed by a brief look at pragmatics research approaches, broadly divided intocognitive- and social-psychological, and the chapter concludes with detailed andexceedingly valuable considerations of applications of pragmatics in languageteaching and learning.

'Corpus Linguistics': The co-authors R. Reppen and R. Simpson-Vlach illustratethe area of corpus linguistics, describing in some detail how corpora aredesigned, compiled and (often) annotated, all material of use to any reader whomay be considering compiling a personal corpus for pedagogical or researchpurposes. The authors then dedicate no little effort to describing what sort ofinformation can be gleaned from corpus analysis and the different types ofcorpora available. They end with recommendations for classroom use of corpora,perhaps the most disappointing part of the chapter, as they make no mention atall of any recent research in this area (see the Evaluation below).

II. Essential Areas of Enquiry in Applied Linguistics

'Second Language Acquisition': The co-authors N. Spada and P. Lightbown beginwith a review of some of the linguistic and psychological theories which arebackground to and part of second language acquisition research. This is followedby a brief overview of some of the research findings on learners' languagedevelopment and use. The chapter ends with an updated and carefully documentedreview of the research findings concerning the effects of both different typesof instruction and implicit/explicit degrees of instruction on second languageacquisition. These final pages will be of special interest to any readerinterested in practical aspects of language instruction.

'Psycholinguistics': Given the pedagogical slant of the book, co-authors K. deBot and J. Kroll sensibly choose to focus on the psycholinguistics of what theycall 'bilinguals', that is, ''individuals who are acquiring or actively usingmore than one language'' (p. 124). They look first at the models psycholinguistsconstruct to study language production in bilinguals, then review somerepresentative research, including exceedingly interesting and very recentresearch into the costs and benefits of bilingualism across a lifetime oflanguage use. They conclude by looking at future trends in psycholinguistics,which is in the opinion of these authors moving towards more holistic research(dialogues, larger units and non-verbal communication as opposed to simplymonologues, words and speech only), as well as the potentially very excitingarea of neuro-imaging.

'Sociolinguistics': By offering a broad definition of sociolinguistics as ''thestudy of language variation and language change'' (p. 143), the co-authors ofthis chapter, C. Llamas and P. Stockwell, leave themselves room to explore someof the many issues involved, including how to categorize and describe languagevariants, for which they offer a considerable review. Their section onsociolinguistic research is regrettably brief, but neatly exemplified by one ofthe co-authors' own research efforts, which is explained at length -- perhapstoo great a length, given the scarce general introduction to research offered.They conclude by reviewing myriad practical applications of sociolinguistics,ranging from influencing government and educational policy to how accent anddiscourse pattern studies can benefit acting and law enforcement, politiciansand psychologists.

'Focus on the Language Learner: Styles, Strategies and Motivation': The authorof this chapter, A. Cohen -- who acknowledges the contribution of Z. Dörnyei forthe section on motivation -- first considers those learner characteristicsoutside of teacher control (learner age, gender, aptitude, learning styles),then turns to learner strategies. These latter are usefully discussed insufficient detail and readers interested in language learner strategies for anyreason will find the concise but inclusive coverage of strategies to be of greathelp. The section on motivation follows, and tidily segues into the conclusion,where the author outlines his recommendations on how to help learners integratetheir learning styles with new strategies and self-motivation. This chapter hasbeen greatly reworked and updated, offering a successful and satisfyingdevelopment from the first edition which will be of great interest to anyoneworking in this area.

III. Language Skills and Assessment

The four language skills chapters -- 'Listening', co-authored by T. Lynch and D.Mendelsohn; 'Speaking and Pronunciation', co-authored by A. Burns and B.Seidlhofer; 'Reading', co-authored by P. Carrell and W. Grabe; 'Writing',co-authored by P. Matsuda and T. Silva -- can be usefully jointly reviewed. Theyare, in fact, the most uniformly structured chapters of the volume, each movingas outlined in the description above from a definition of the material of studythrough a discussion of the issues involved to a concluding section on thepedagogical implications of the research reviewed. They are also all four, notsurprisingly, weighted towards the more practical aspects of second languagelearning. The chapter on Listening and the one concerning Speaking andPronunciation feature lengthy considerations of how research in the respectiveareas can be utilized in the classroom, while the chapter on Reading and that onWriting are nearly entirely focused on second language learning. It is clear,then, that any reader concerned with the 'four skills' in an educational contextwill find these chapters of use.

These chapters, however, are not only classroom-oriented, but also offeradequate theoretical analysis and references in the sections dedicated to areview of the issues. Lynch and Mendelsohn therefore look at the many modelsused to describe listening and its processing, Burns and Seidlhofer look atresearch into the genres of speaking, Carrell and Grabe look at a remarkableamount of applied second language reading research and Matsuda and Silva movefrom the consideration of the aspects (relational, strategic, textual) ofwriting to a lengthy triangulation of second language writing theory, researchand pedagogy.

'Assessment': This chapter, co-authored by C. Chapelle and G. Brindley,structured like the chapters above, likewise offers both theoretical (initially)and practical (lastly) information. The authors begin by differentiating testingand assessment -- the latter is used in a broader sense to include both formal,quantifiable and informal, qualitative assessments -- then nimbly lead thereader through a good bit of the terminology, research and issues involved inassessment, from various construct definitions to methods, covering validation,analysis of test items, correlation and washback. By the end, the reader has agood sense of how much richer and complex the field of language assessment hasbecome over the last decade or so. The final pages are slightly less technical,offering updated information on alternative assessment methods (observation,portfolios, self-assessment) and a satisfactory discussion of the pros and consof these assessment techniques.

'Suggested Solutions', the sixteenth and final chapter, offers not onlysolutions to the Hands-on Activities with which each chapter ends but also acertain amount of discussion of the activities themselves, and is one of theelements which makes this introductory book particularly pleasing, as isdiscussed below.

EVALUATION

Overall, this book is a very good introductory text for AL, in particular forany reader involved in English language education. The decision to featureco-authors for most of the chapters offers a greater guarantee ofauthoritativeness and breadth of treatment, and, despite the introductory natureof the volume, the authors are mostly well-known specialists in their fields.This allows the editor to stay true to his promise of providing a 'sophisticatedintroduction' to those areas of AL treated in this volume, and provides thereader with a satisfying sense of having engaged with authentic AL material andthus being prepared to delve into further research.

This sense of satisfaction is fueled in great part by the surprisingly balancedfeel of the book, given the editor's decision to request that authors organizetheir chapters generally in the same way. Thus the reader knows that eachchapter will be organized around the reassuring, repetitive framework ofintroduction, key issues, pedagogical implications, further reading and hands-onactivity as s/he explores what may be the completely unknown territory of an ALsub-discipline. The concluding Hands-on Activities are particularly gratifying,offering the reader the opportunity to explore and test new knowledge, conceptsand theoretical suppositions. Likewise, the chapter dedicated to the 'SuggestedSolutions' for these activities contains rather more feedback than is often thecase in introductory books, adding to the reader's sense of engagement with thematerial.

On a less positive note, readers from outside language education may find thisbook less appealing, but in fairness they are forewarned as early as the backcover, which claims the book to be ''ideal for students of applied linguistics,TESOL and second language pedagogy, as well as practicing teachers''. Moreover,second-time readers (arguably a minority) will be disappointed to find thatseveral chapters were simply reprints of the first edition. Two quick examplesof this: Typos can slip in anywhere, but the chapter on vocabulary regrettablystill features a fairly evident misprint found in the first edition. And in thecase of the corpus linguistics chapter, the further reading list has not evenbeen updated and features no Further Reading suggestion more recent than 1998,surprising in a field of rapid and multi-faceted expansion (but see below).

Still, these are minor objections for what can only be considered a successfuland useful introductory level book. The volume closes with more than fifty pagesof updated references provided by the various authors, divided by chapters (andhere the corpus linguistics references have been updated), and extremelycomprehensive Index pages significantly expanded from the first edition. Thesefeatures render the book not only accessible and pleasurable but also valuableto the reader, guaranteeing that the volume can be used as starting point for ALnovices as well as a reference book for practitioners who occasionally needbackground information about a specialist area outside their own.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Melanie Rockenhaus is the English Language Lecturer at Scuola Normale Superiore, an honors university in Pisa, where she teaches mainly first-year university students. She also teaches composition for the University of Maryland in Europe. Her interests include phrasal (formulaic) language and assessment.


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