LINGUIST List 23.2388

Sat May 19 2012

Review: Language Acquisition; Psycholinguistics: Mackey & Gass (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 19-May-2012
From: Pamela Wesely <>
Subject: Research Methods in Second Language Acquisition
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EDITORS: Mackey, Alison and Gass, Susan M.TITLE: Research Methods in Second Language AcquisitionSUBTITLE: A Practical GuidePUBLISHER: Wiley-BlackwellYEAR: 2011

Pamela M. Wesely, Foreign Language and ESL Education, Department of Teaching andLearning, University of Iowa

SUMMARYFollowing on their 2005 book, ''Second Language Research: Methodology andDesign'', this edited volume by Mackey and Gass offers an updated perspective onthe approaches to research in second language acquisition (SLA). Importantly,this volume is intended "as a guide for students as they design researchprojects," as a collection of chapters that give what the authors call "basicbackground" (p. 1). As such, the volume as a whole seeks to characterizecurrent SLA research and to offer concrete suggestions as to how to followwidely-accepted procedures for research.

The short introductory chapter establishes the general goals of the volume andgives an overview of each subsequent chapter. The chapters in the volume areorganized into two different parts: Part 1, Data Types (consisting of ninechapters); and Part 2, Data Coding, Analysis, and Replication (consisting offive chapters).

The introduction also describes the five different elements present in eachchapter: (1) the basic background to the area of research; (2) a "how-to"section consisting of a practical, step-by-step guide to the method it covers,often with a reference to actual studies; (3) project ideas and resources,including actual readings; (4) brief summaries of studies that reflect the areaof research, presented in shaded "Study Boxes" that contain subsections likeBackground, Research Questions, Method, and Results or similar; (5) studyquestions.

Chapter 2, "How to Use Foreign and Second Language Learner Corpora," by SylvianeGranger, offers a precise definition of learner corpus research (LCR), depictingit as currently shifting from an orientation in corpus linguistics to one morein SLA research, and focused on computerized databases of written or spokentexts. The chapter reviews the main stages in LCR, also taking intoconsideration the challenges of that type of research. Four sample studies aresummarized. The project idea section lists multiple online resources, and thestudy questions focus on definitional understanding.

Tanya Ionin, in Chapter 3, "Formal Theory-Based Methodologies," focuses ongrammatical acceptability judgment tasks and truth-value judgment tasks (withrelated picture-matching tasks). Five sample studies utilizing these tasks andaddressing formal theory are provided. The author offers a thoughtful sequencefor designing and implementing such tasks in the framework of a study.Additionally, she provides print resources and study questions focusing onresearch design issues.

Chapter 4, "Instructed Second Language Acquisition," by Shawn Loewen and JeneferPhilp, tackles a broad topic of study in SLA. Limiting themselves to addressingresearch on general L2 classroom instruction, they focus on three substantivelydifferent research methods: observations, non-interventionist quasi-experiments,and interventionist quasi-experiments. Action research is mentioned but notdescribed procedurally as are the other three. The "how-to" for each of thethree methods focuses on the selection of a topic (research question), setting,and instruments, and continues through coding. Seven sample studies aresummarized, and the authors provide a short list of published resources andstudy questions that focus on the theoretical as well as the practical aspectsof this topic.

The foremost expert on individual differences in SLA today, Zoltán Dörnyei,works with Kata Csizér to address "How to Design and Analyze Surveys in SecondLanguage Acquisition Research" in Chapter 5. Focusing on survey research in"characteristics, opinions, attitudes, and intended behaviors" of a group (p.74), they offer a brief background of the topic, and then a substantial overviewof the processes of creating a questionnaire, sampling, administering,analyzing, and reporting the survey results. One sample study is provided. Theauthors, in the "Project Ideas and Resources" section, provide one entirequestionnaire as well as some additional print references; the study questionssubsequently ask the reader to reflect on the provided questionnaire as well asadditional application-oriented topics.

Patricia A. Duff focuses on qualitative case studies of individual learners inChapter 6, "How to Carry Out Case Study Research." Starting with a backgroundsection that acknowledges the difficulty in identifying case studies as justanother data type (the author also calls it "a type of research design andwritten report that highlights cases," [p. 95]) Duff spends some time situatingcase studies historically within SLA research. An understandable set of stepsfor conducting case study research, from identifying a conceptual framework todefending the case study report, follows. The project ideas and resourcesprovide additional information about the topic. Three study examples areprovided, as well as a set of complex and interesting study questions.

Chapter 7, "How to Use Psycholinguistic Methodologies for Comprehension andProduction," by Kim McDonough and Pavel Trofimovich, addresses four types oftasks in characterizing this area of SLA research: self-paced reading tasks,self-paced listening tasks, picture-word interference tasks, and sentencepreamble tasks. In all four tasks, the authors describe the task, suggesttheoretical frameworks, and offer methodological considerations. Four examplestudies are offered, one for each type of task described. A short list offurther readings and definitional and application-oriented study questions areprovided.

In the eighth chapter, "How to Research Second Language Writing," Charlene Poliotakes on a considerably broad topic in SLA research. The author summarizestwelve examples of studies on L2 writing that use different research methods ina table. She then discusses each in turn, grouping some together as eitheranalysis of writers' texts or analysis of the writing process. She offers abrief and open-ended review of the steps of conducting an experimental writingstudy. Three example studies are described, and although study questions do notappear in this chapter, a substantial set of project ideas and resources areprovided.

As with the previous chapter, Chapter 9, "How to Do Research on Second LanguageReading," by Keiko Koda, addresses a vast topic in SLA research. Koda tacklesthe topic somewhat differently from Polio, explicitly adopting one view ofreading, as a "psycholinguistic process involved in reconstructing the messageintended by the author based on visually encoded information" (p. 158). Innarrowing her focus to one particular theoretical and methodologicalorientation, she then represents the basic background in some detail, followedby sections about hypothesis formulation, empirical testing, data constructionand implementation, and pedagogical interpretations. The author contextualizesall of her explanations of the research process in current studies in the field. Four studies are offered as specific examples; selected further readings, andsome detailed study questions are provided as well.

Debra A. Friedman's Chapter 10, on "How to Collect and Analyze QualitativeData," focuses on ethnography and conversation analysis in SLA research, whichshe identifies as two of the three qualitative research traditions that arewidely accepted in applied linguistics (other than case studies, addressed inChapter 6). The author provides a very readable summary of backgroundinformation about both traditions, followed by a summary of the process forconducting each type of study, including suggestions for conducting dataanalysis. Two studies are summarized as examples, and substantial and helpfulproject ideas and study questions round out the chapter.

Part II focuses more precisely on Data Coding, Analysis, and Replication.

Chapter 11, "Coding Second Language Data Validly and Reliably," by AndreaRévész, narrows the focus from the overall design of a study to one specificstage of the research process. The emphasis here is on "top-down, theory- andinstrument-driven coding methods" (p. 203). In her explanation, the authoradvises the reader on important issues related to validity and reliability incoding at all points, shifting from selecting and preparing data, to the codingitself (including coder selection and reliability), to the reporting of codingprocedures. Two model studies are reviewed. A short set of provocative studyquestions and project ideas are included at the end.

A counterpart to Chapter 11 is provided in the twelfth chapter, entitled "CodingQualitative Data," and written by Melissa Baralt. The chapter exclusivelyexamines computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software (CAQDAS),independent of theory-building and other aspects of qualitative researchmethodology. With the aid of screenshots and other visuals, the author reviewsthe process of programming and evaluating the results from using NVivo, stoppingat the point of the process where the results are presented to another audience. Three studies that used NVivo are presented as examples, and a short list ofresources and study questions are provided.

Jenifer Larson-Hall offers an overview of another stage of the research processin SLA in Chapter 13, "How to Run Statistical Analyses." As she acknowledges,the chapter is "of necessity a brief survey," (p. 245), where she focuses onwhat she identifies as the most basic types of inferential statistical tests inSLA: one-way ANOVA, correlation, the chi-square test, and the t-test. After ashort background section, Larson-Hall proceeds through the tests, providing anexplanation of when it is used and how to conduct it, followed by sections onits results, effect sizes, reporting, and graphics. Three sample studies areprovided, as are multiple useful links to websites, and several study questions.

In Chapter 14, "How to do a Meta-Analysis," Luke Plonsky and Frederick L. Oswaldgive a strong overview of meta-analysis in SLA research. They review thespecific actions required to craft careful and precise calculations, also whileaddressing the theory and content knowledge needed in designing a meta-analysis. The authors offer guidance in interpreting results, and include two samplestudies, including one by Plonsky. Their lengthy list of study questions isremarkable in its depth and breadth, as is their very logically labeled list ofresources.

The final chapter of the text, Chapter 15, "Why, When, and How to ReplicateResearch," was written by Rebecka Abbuhl. She provides a basic background thatoffers the reader examples of different types of replications, includingliteral/exact replications, approximate/partial replications, and conceptualreplications. In the framework of a five-step procedure for conductingreplications, the author smartly plots out the pitfalls as well as theadvantages to this type of research. She concludes with some intriguing ideasfor other projects, as well as important study questions.

EVALUATIONThis volume has numerous strengths. It achieves what a single-authored (ordouble-authored) text on research in SLA can never do: it provides a variety ofperspectives that truly reflect the diverse and multifaceted research base ofSLA. The individual authors are well-known researchers in their areas, andtheir advice for their readers, ostensibly novice scholars, is always preciseand accurate, and sometimes remarkably insightful. There were many, manymoments as I read this book when I wished I had had access to it earlier in mycareer.

Indeed, the editors underestimate the diverse uses for this book. Beyond thevolume's potential as an introduction to research methods in SLA, this book canserve as an important reference volume for any researcher in SLA. Researchersat every stage must craft rationales for and explanations of their researchmethods, and this volume contains many chapters that could buttress theserationales quite well.

This leads to a consideration of the book's depth and breadth. The depth isrepresented by how well each chapter meets the goal of "providing a practical,step-by-step guide to the method it covers" (p. 1). Many chapters, as indicatedabove, do just that, by offering specific steps and guidelines, as well aswarnings about pitfalls, in the method of interest. Some topics are so vast,however, that this "step-by-step" goal is simply not attainable. Some authorsresolve this problem by narrowing the definition of the topic. Two notableinstances of this are Koda's focus on reading as a psycholinguistic process inChapter 9, and Baralt's emphasis in Chapter 12 on using NVivo only forqualitative coding. In these cases and others, it can be made more explicit,either through the title or through a more extensive acknowledgement of otherperspectives, that the authors are selecting one perspective rather than givinga definitive overview of the topic. Other authors resolve the issue of having avery broad topic area by attempting to address the major sub-categories of thetopic each in turn. This includes Loewen and Philp's Chapter 4 that addressesfour types of research on instructed second language acquisition, Polio'sChapter 8 examining twelve different ways to research second language writing,and Chapter 13 by Larson-Hall, which covers four different common statisticaltests. Although this prevents the chapter authors from meeting the editors'stated goals, it is a reasonable solution to a difficult challenge.

Beyond these considerations, I commend the editors for getting a diverse set of14 different authors to conform to one template for writing about a given topic. Some authors excel in some specific sections. For instance, some (like Dörnyeiand Csizér in Chapter 5, and Duff in Chapter 6) offer truly insightfuldescriptions of the analysis and reporting stages, while others only addressthat stage briefly. Other authors give comprehensive and wide-ranging lists ofwell-organized project ideas, resources, and study questions (notably, Plonskyand Oswald in Chapter 14), where others only offer a few definitional studyquestions and a short list of resources.

An individual's preferences for what should be included in this volume willvary; I myself would have appreciated a chapter specifically on how to conductresearch on individual differences (e.g. Dörnyei, 2005, 2006) and pragmatics andinterlanguage (e.g. Bardovi-Harlig, 2006; Kasper & Rose, 1999). More notableomissions are chapters addressing manual qualitative coding (e.g. Miles &Huberman 2005) and mixed methods research (e.g. Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011;Dörnyei, 2007; Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2009).

Finally, in regard to the volume's breadth, the editors deserve praise forstriking a satisfactory balance between qualitative and quantitative approachesto SLA research. As such, the volume might have benefited from either a moresubstantial introductory chapter or a conclusion chapter. There, the editorscould have offered a more comprehensive overview of the approaches to researchthat have traditionally been associated with SLA research, beyond a simplemention in the first sentence of the introduction. For instance, in the tableof contents and as chapter topics, the following are all presented as "datatypes," among others: learner corpora, instructed second language acquisition,case studies, qualitative data, and second language writing. An overview mighthave helped guide the reader to a better understanding of how these areasinterrelate and overlap.

This volume ultimately deserves strong praise for its wide-rangingrepresentation of current topics and procedures in SLA research. Althoughintended for students, it guides all scholars to a better understanding of howwe study our field and is an important addition to the library of all SLAresearchers, novice or seasoned.

REFERENCESBardovi-Harlig, K. 2006. Interlanguage development: Main routes and individualpaths. AILA Review 19. 69-82.

Creswell, J.W. & Plano Clark, V.L. 2011. Designing and conducting mixed methodsresearch (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Dörnyei, Z. 2005. The psychology of the language learner: Individual differencesin second language acquisition. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Dörnyei, Z. 2006. Individual differences in second language acquisition. AILAReview 19. 42-68.

Dörnyei, Z. 2007. Research methods in applied linguistics: quantitative,qualitative and mixed methodologies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kasper, G. & Rose, K.R.R. 1999. Pragmatics and SLA. Annual Review of AppliedLinguistics 19. 81-104.

Mackey, A., & Gass, S.M. 2005. Second language research: Methodology and design.Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Miles, M.B., & Huberman, A.M. 1994. Qualitative data analysis: An expandedsourcebook (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Teddlie, C. & Tashakkori, A. 2009. Foundations of mixed methods research:Integrating quantitative and qualitative approaches in the social and behavioralsciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERPamela M. Wesely, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Foreign Language andEnglish as a Second Language (ESL) Education in the Department of Teachingand Learning in the College of Education at the University of Iowa, and anaffiliate faculty member of the SLA interdisciplinary doctoral program.Her current research interests focus on foreign language and ESL in theK-12 traditional and immersion/bilingual settings, and include L2 learner,teacher, and parent beliefs and attitudes, the instruction and learning ofculture and intercultural competence, and the use of social media in the L2classroom. She specializes in mixed methods research methodology.

Page Updated: 19-May-2012