LINGUIST List 23.4579

Thu Nov 01 2012

Review: Applied Ling.; Language Acquisition: Hansen (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>



Date: 01-Nov-2012
From: Robert Cote <rcoteemail.arizona.edu>
Subject: Second Language Acquisition Abroad
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-1211.html

EDITOR: Lynne HansenTITLE: Second Language Acquisition AbroadSUBTITLE: The LDS Missionary ExperienceSERIES TITLE: Studies in Bilingualism Volume 45PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2012

Robert A. Cote, University of Arizona

SUMMARYThe editor, Lynne Hansen, begins the book with a brief introductory chapter,''Investigating mission languages'', describing the foreign language learningexperience of a typical missionary from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-DaySaints (LDS). The majority of missionaries, native English speaking malesbetween the ages of 19 and 26, study a foreign language in order to spend thenext three years of their lives preaching the word of the LDS abroad. This isaccomplished by attending an eight-to-twelve week pre-departure immersionprogram at one of sixteen centers around the globe called Missionary TrainingCenters (MTC) in which the missionary receives six hours of language instructionper day five days a week (p. 4). The focus at the MTC is on oral communicationfor survival and sharing religious views. After completing the language course,the missionaries are sent to their host country, where they are matched up witha companion who is either a native speaker of the target language. The pairremains together 24/7 for language study and more importantly, ''trying to meetand teach people receptive to their message'' which is accomplished by going''from door to door asking those at home if they would be interested in learningmore about the Church'' (p. 4). Although the subjects in the book were allreligion students, the author draws attention to the fact that the age of theLDS missionaries and the time they spend in the target culture parallels theexperience of college-age study abroad students, making the book relevant to amuch wider audience of foreign language learners.

In Chapter 2, ''Language learning and teaching in the Church of Jesus Christ ofLatter-Day Saints,'' C. Ray Graham traces the history of language learning andteaching in the Mormon church and explores the language attrition that occursafter the missionaries return home. As far back as the mid 1840's, the leadersof LDS believed that English literacy was essential for church members, sospecial schools were created to educate adults and children using the DeseretAlphabet, a phonetic-based English script, which never caught on due to ''thelack of materials written in the alphabet and the fact that all communicationwith the outside world was...in traditional English characters'' (p. 17). Thechapter makes excellent use of reports by early missionaries, which bring thetext to life as they describe journeys to foreign lands and the many challengesthey faced due to insufficient language training. For the next 100 years,''learning ones [sic] mission language was mostly an individual matter in whichthere was little systematic institutional support'' (p. 21) forcing themissionaries to spend endless hours self-teaching by reading target languagetexts and grammar books before departure and then acquiring spoken skillsin-country ''through daily interaction with their companions and with nativespeakers'' (p. 20), a far cry from today's highly structured and very successfulLDS foreign language program. Realizing the challenges, the LDS created MTCs,basically target language boot camps which utilize a hybrid task-based andfocus-on-form approach (Doughty & Williams, 1998; Ellis, 2001) to assistmissionaries in both obtaining survival communication skills and acquiring theability to spread religious rhetoric.

Dan Dewey and Ray T. Clifford, in Chapter 3, ''The development of speakingproficiency of LDS missionaries,'' focus on ''what levels of speaking proficiencyare attained abroad'' (p. 5) by administering the ACTFL's oral proficiencyinterview (OPI) to nearly 400 recently returned missionaries (RMs) who spoke oneof seven languages (Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Mandarin orJapanese) to determine their level of target language acquisition (superior,advanced, intermediate or novice) based on ''can do'' statements. The roles ofvarious factors such as formal classroom instruction, practice, feedback andnegotiating meaning are explored. The author's primary questions were how muchtarget language the missionaries can learn naturally, how their languageabilities compare to more traditional students who only learn in the classroomand what the RMs can do with their language skills upon returning to anEnglish-dominant environment.

Using ACTFL-certified testers to conduct phone interviews, it was found that''ninety-three percent of the RM scores were at the Advanced or Superior levels''(p. 36) compared to only 47% of undergraduate language majors tested in thesesame seven languages (see Swender, 2003). The RMs were found to be mostproficient when discussing religion, personal experiences and hobbies, and mostdeficient when using general vocabulary, discussing abstract ideas and statingand defending opinions (pp. 43-44). Nevertheless, nearly all reached the minimallevels of target language proficiency to teach in K-12 classrooms, work aspolice or paramedics, social workers, customer service reps or office workers(p. 47). The authors concluded that length of time immersed in a target languageis better than only learning language in a classroom, but factors such asaptitude, motivation, amount and types of practice and nature of socialinteractions also play important roles (p. 47) and for optimal outcomes,''additional instruction and negative feedback may be necessary'' (p. 48).

Some issues with the population sample warrant mention. More than half wereSpanish speakers and nearly one quarter were Russian speakers, so findings onthose two languages are more reliable than for the other five, based on samplesize. Furthermore, 76% were male, which creates a gender bias. Much of the RMstarget language was centered on teaching about religion, and this was done bymemorizing chunks of language which were repeated over and over, creating apositive bias towards the ability to discuss religion. In other words, many ofthe RMs showed their highest levels of target language ability when discussingreligious matters, an ''ability pattern that OPI testers would describe as ahothouse special'' (p. 42), a skill rarely found in traditional students.

In Chapter 4, ''An examination of the effects of input, aptitude, and motivationon the language proficiency of missionaries learning Japanese as a secondlanguage,'' Jenifer Larson-Hall and Dan Dewey explore the roles of aptitude andmotivation on the ''language learning success of missionaries using oralproficiency interview (OPI) ratings and elicited imitation (EI) tasks'' (p. 5).The duo utilized the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT) part 4, Words inSentences, to activate short-term working memory (WM) to determine what, if any,role it plays in predicting second language success. They also created amotivation questionnaire modeled after research by Dörnyei. The authorsconducted the Simulated Oral Proficiency Interview (SOPI) for learners ofJapanese and an elicited imitation (EI) task consisting of repeating 42 Japanesesentences by 44 missionaries learning Japanese in Japan. As in the previouschapter, there are some problems with the data collection. First, theresearchers only ran half the SOPI (25 minutes versus 45), and they were alsothe raters. At the time of the study, though both had completed SOPI training,neither was officially certified, nor were they native speakers of Japanese.

To test aptitude, the researchers used two tests developed by Paul Meara, theLlama B, ''a test of paired-associates vocabulary-learning ability'' (p. 61) andLlama F, ''a test where participants must analyze sentences that are paired withpictures, thus working out grammar rules in a nonsense language'' (p. 61). Athird test, which measured ''phonological working memory, was recorded by ahighly proficient non-native university instructor of Arabic'' and was scored''with penalties only for changing or deleting phonemes but not for accent'' (p.62) (French, 2003). Having yet another non-native speaker serving as anevaluator raises concerns.

Target language proficiency as a correlate of time spent in Japan, presented inscatterplots, reveals one noteworthy finding: ''a discontinuity somewhere between11-12 months, where participants are progressing in much more directrelationship to their length of immersion before that point, but then show amuch slower and more varied pattern of progress after than point'' (p. 66). Thecritical number of exposure hours appears to be 1640 -- up to that point, amountof input is ''the major factor in how proficient they became in Japanese'' (p.68). The chapter continues with ample statistical analysis regarding languageaptitude and working memory, and it can be challenging reading at times.

Chapter 5, ''In the beginning was the word: Vocabulary learning in six missionlanguages,'' written collaboratively by Lynne Hansen, Karri Lam, Livia Orikasa,Paul Rama, Geraldine Schwaller and Ronald Mellado Miller, finishes the sectionwith an exploration of vocabulary learning by 480 missionaries in Spanish,Portuguese, German, Japanese, Mandarin or Korean, providing the audience with aninteresting and informative read as the authors explore the effects of severalfactors on vocabulary acquisition: language input as measured by time exposed tothe target language, language distance, gender, motivation, attitudes towardstarget language and culture and one rather unique aspect, the role ofspirituality/power of prayer.

Aside from the German learners, ''those with previous exposure to the targetlanguage did not learn words more rapidly in their intensive course'' (p. 97)than those with no prior target language experience. Participants increasedtheir target language vocabulary as time progressed and most quickly during theinitial two to three months in the MTC followed closely by further vocabularyincreases up to week 26 living in the target language culture. It was found that''after 26 weeks, influenced by a ceiling effect in the learning of the words,the correlations between time and vocabulary score are no longer significant''(p. 98). Language distance showed the greatest effects during the first 26weeks. Gender analysis revealed that the women learned significantly more wordsin the MTC, but the men made up the difference and eventually surpassed thewomen once in the target language environment (p. 100). The authors explain thatthis reversal could be a result of the women being forced to spend more hoursworking in the mission offices than preaching to the local population. It wasdetermined that overall, ''the strongest predictor of vocabulary attainment forthe learners...was time on the mission'' (p. 102) and of the affective variables(motivation, attitude and faith), motivation was the strongest predictor (p. 103).

Although Chapter 6, ''The lost word: Vocabulary attrition in six missionlanguages,'' starts the second half of the book with the new topic of languageloss, the editor made the wise decision of piggy-backing on the previous chapterby presenting details on the attrition of the same six languages by the samepopulation. This chapter, another compilation of data written by Lynne Hansen,Andrew Colver, Wonhye Chong, Helama Pereira, Jeremy Robinson, Akihiro Sawada andRonald Mellado Miller, examines vocabulary attrition as a result of severalvariables including language distance, gender and motivation. The authorsdecided to focus on the production of target words as opposed to the receptiveknowledge of words as has often been the case in past studies (Grendel 1993;Webb 2008; Weltens 1989; Weltens & van Els, 1986) and they were specificallyinterested to see if the past findings of a slight decline in lexicon over thefirst few years after leaving the target language environment followed by a muchsharper drop in subsequent decades would be supported (pp. 112-113).

432 participants (306 males and 126 females) were tested using the same methodof eliciting the 100 words from Chapter 5. With respect to vocabulary attritionover time, it was determined that there was a ''brief but steep decline inproductive vocabulary accessibility during the period immediately after returnto the L1 environment, followed by a period of gradual attrition which becomesslightly more pronounced after three decades'' (p. 122). In terms of languagedistance, it was found that vocabulary was retained at a significantly higherrate for similar languages (Spanish, Portuguese and German) than for distantones (Japanese and Chinese) ''and that the learners of Korean retainsignificantly fewer words than any of the other L2 cohorts'' (p. 123). The datashowed that men had a higher lexical maintenance than women, attributed to ''thelonger periods of L2 exposure experienced by the men'' (p. 130). It wasinteresting to see the effects that motivation and attitude had on the twolanguages at the extremes in terms of retention. Speakers of Spanish, which hadthe highest retention rates, viewed the language and its cultures highlypositively and were highly motivated to maintain the language. In contrast,speakers of Korean, which had the lowest retention rates, viewed both thelanguage and culture negatively and showed ''the lowest motivation for L2maintenance among all of the returnee groups'' (p. 130). In general, the moretime that passed and the less exposure to the target languages in the homeland,the more vocabulary that was lost.

One unexpected finding was the ''positive upturn in motivation, attitudes andbeliefs'' (p. 125) reported by returnees when reminiscing about their time abroaddespite the fact that these same missionaries had reported negatively whenserving overseas. The researchers believe the RMs were idealizing their time inservice and that data on affective variables collected after-the-fact may not bevery reliable.

C. Ray Graham in Chapter 7, ''Vocabulary attrition in adult speakers of Spanishas a second language,'' uses Patricia Nation's framework (2001) that examinesloss of word forms and their inflectional and derivational morphology, ''themeanings of words, the grammatical constraints placed on them, and the use ofwords in various collocations'' (p. 6) with respect to the production of spokenlanguage via story retelling with the aid of pictures and five simulatednarrative speech tasks. Graham recorded twelve randomly selected participantsfor forty minutes each twelve years apart ''to look at how speakers lose facilitywith various aspects of their vocabulary knowledge, including form, meaning,grammatical constraints and collocations'' (p. 137). All of the recordings werethen transcribed and analyzed by native-Spanish speaking linguistics studentswho identified ''irregularities in the Spanish that represented departures fromcurrent usage'' (p. 142). The non-standard words were categorized based onerrors in form, meaning and use, and each category was broken down further intosubcategories.

The data revealed several general but not unexpected trends. The total number oferrors increased for everyone from initial test to final test twelve years latereven though the text length decreased. All subjects scored best (leastattrition) on the story-telling task, obviously helped by the pictures, whereasmost scored worst on the unfamiliar narration task as it was the mostcognitively demanding. Participants also lost the ability to use morechallenging aspects of the language, like the subjunctive, over time which inturn affected the ability to use expressions that often collocate with this tense.

One interesting and informative aspect of this chapter is its in-depth analysisof the speech of particular individuals, most notably those at the extremes andmiddle of the attrition spectrum (p. 151). Some were no longer able to producemuch Spanish at all, while others were nearly as fluent as when they left thehost country twelve years earlier. Most tried to circumlocute when they did notknow the exact word, and many produced words that were phonetically similar orsynonyms of the target word, yet not appropriate to the context (p. 153). Thedata is rich with examples of English substitutions, phonetic alterations,morphological changes and various grammatical errors, especially articleomission, subject-verb agreement and clitic pronouns. The one area that reallystands out is mistakes related to grammatical gender, ''among the most numerousof all the categories'' (p. 170). Two distinct patterns emerged: (1) ''many moreincorrect assignments of masculine gender than feminine'' and (2) ''in many caseswhere a noun occurred repeatedly, the incorrect gender assignment was notconsistent'' (p. 171).Graham concludes with several findings, including ''the general structure ofwords appear to be consistent in memory even if the details are fuzzy'' (p. 178),''the area in which the greatest evidence of attrition occurred ... [is] theintersection of form and meaning on word collocations'' (p. 178) possibly due to''the encroachment of English into the subjects' Spanish'' (p. 178) and there is agreat deal of variability in terms of the consistency with which a subject useda particular word properly from one context to another. Graham also brieflycompares some of the findings in this study to work done earlier byBardovi-Harlig & Stringer (2010), and this reference would be well-worth readingfor more details on the similarities (interference/cross linguistic influencehypothesis) and differences (regression hypothesis) between the two studies.Chapter 8, ''Savings in the relearning of mission vocabulary: The effects of timeand proficiency,'' by Lynne Hansen, Melanie McKinney and Yukako Umeda, focuses onthe relearning of Japanese and Korean by English speakers. Specifically, theauthors were interested in determining if the knowledge that remains frompreviously known material that can no longer be recalled or recognized can bereactivated (p. 187). Subjects heard old words in the target language that theywould have memorized years earlier as missionaries to see if they couldtranslate them into English as well as new pseudo-words to test for a savingsadvantage in relearning. As expected, ''those who remembered the most old wordsbenefited significantly more from savings in the relearning of previously knownvocabulary than those who remembered the fewest words'' (p. 194). Similarly, ''theattriters with the highest vocabulary scores also learned significantly more newwords than those with the lowest scores'' (p. 195).Other findings included an increase in the inability to relearn old words andacquire new ones the more time that passed since leaving the target languagecountry as well as the younger participants out-performing the older ones. Itwas also concluded that ''the larger the lexicon, the greater the apparentsavings benefit in relearning old words, and the better able one is to learn newwords'' (p. 199), a possible result of aptitude. Lastly, the rate of lexical losswas ''greater for the L2 Korean attriters than for the Japanese'' (p. 198).

Lynne Hansen and Yung-Lin Chen, in Chapter 9, ''What counts in the retention ofnumeral classifiers in Japanese and Chinese?'' begin by defining and explainingthe roles of numeral classifiers, also called counters, in Japanese and Chinese.By examining the absence, presence and accuracy of numeral classifiers, theyattempt to show that ''the least marked distinction, human animate, to be theearliest to appear and the longest to be retained, and the unmarked end of thescale, function, to be the last to appear and the earliest to be lost after theonset of attrition'' (p. 204-5). They also offer evidence of the regressionhypothesis, which states that when ''losing a language, attriters will tracetheir steps back in an inverse order through the acquisition stages … with thelast learned being the first forgotten [and] the first learned being the longestretained'' (p. 206).

There are two errors in the chapter. On page 207, we are referred to AppendixII, items 1 to 24. Unfortunately, this appendix is not in the text. In addition,the last paragraph in the results section 5.1 ''Acquisition and attrition stages''on p. 211 is repeated in its entirety in section 5.2 ''Sequences of semanticaccessibility'' at the top of 212.

Chapter 10, ''Syntactic attrition in L2 Japanese missionary language,'' by RobertA. Russell, concentrates on ''whether there is a long-term, positive effect ofpost-return formal instruction upon the retention of oral production skills … interms of particle usage, syntactic complexity and syntactic variety'' (p. 222).Russell accomplished this by testing Japanese attriters during their first twoyears after serving overseas and then again ten years later. He looked atwhether overall error rates in particle usage increased over time, if syntacticstructure became less complex over time, and to what extent the use ofsubordinate clauses decreased over time (pp. 225-226). These were determined byan in-depth analysis of T-units and C-units (Foster, Tonkyn & Wigglesworth, 1998).

Participants formed two groups. Group 1 had no formal target languageinstruction after service, while Group 2 did. All responded orally to threeprompts: self-introduction, future plans and describe the differences betweenAmerican and Japanese society and culture (p. 230). ''Subjects' responses wererecorded, transcribed and edited for accuracy and consistency. The edited fileswere then analyzed to produce lists of words, their frequencies, type-tokenratios, and so forth. The subjects' utterances were then segmented into T-unitsand analyzed for lexical errors'' (p. 230).

Over the first two years, there was a significant decrease in vocabulary sizeand significant increases in lexical errors and the number of English tokensrelative to total tokens (p. 231). However, although there was ''a significantdecline in the number of different subordinate clause types for Group 1 … therewas a significant increase in the number of different subordinate clause typesfor Group 2'' (p. 232), indicating ''that there was a positive effect from formalinstruction'' (p. 233) which ''may also have the effect of helping the learner torestructure, reinforce, and retain for a longer period of time certain aspectsof grammatical competence previously acquired in a largely informal manner'' (pp.235-236). Ten years later, the same test showed further declines in fluency withthe largest losses coming from Group 1. Unfortunately, out of 80 originalparticipants, all males, only eight made it to the end of the twelve-year study,so sample size and gender are a problem.

In Chapter 11, ''The measurement of oral fluency in mission languages,'' LynneHansen, James Gardner, James Pollard, Joshua Rowe and Junko Tsukayama examinelanguage loss using speech recognition technology to measure hesitation, alsoknown as pause behavior or pausology, in oral narratives. Specifically, theywere looking to see if ''the first sign of language attrition is not the loss ofcertain items but rather an increase in the length of time needed for theirretrieval'' (p. 247). 40 learners and 82 attriters of Japanese received keyvocabulary, viewed an eight-photo picture story, listened to a description ofthe story in English, and were then recorded as they retold the story inJapanese. An analysis of the stories was used to measure the unfilled pausesinto one of seven categories: pre-particle, post-particle, sentence end,pre-filler, post-filler, word internal and other (p. 250), and several importantvariables were also calculated: total talking time, total unfilled pause time,total unfilled pause frequency, total filler frequency, total Japanese fillerfrequency, and total English filler frequency (p. 250). Both groups werecompared to native Japanese university students residing in the US.

The less time a learner was in Japan, the longer their pauses, and the more timea learner spent in Japan, the faster they could retell the story. Those with theleast time in Japan as well as those who had been out of Japan the longest usedthe most English fillers when retelling the story. One very interesting resultwas that ''the L1 Japanese speakers actually used more English fillers in theirJapanese narratives than did the L1 English missionaries after two years inJapan'' (p. 252) which may ''suggest that the use of L2 fillers in the narrativespeech of foreigners and immigrants may be an early indicator of L1 attrition''(p. 253). The researchers determined that the pause variables have a strongerrelationship to second language attainment, and ''the silent pauses, both infrequency and length, correlate most strongly with measures of languageproficiency'' (p. 255).

EVALUATIONThe book is divided logically into two sections. The first, chapters 2 through5, addresses the acquisition of mission languages before and during serviceabroad, while the second, 6 through 11, deals with the attrition of missionlanguages after the missionaries return home. Hansen emphasizes the importanceof the homogeneity of the subjects and their language acquisition experience:US-born native English speakers in their late teens to mid-twenties who attendeight to twelve-week intensive target language programs that emphasize survivalskills and religious content who are then immersed in the language abroad withthe 24-hour companionship of a native speaker. This ''similarity of learnercharacteristics and features of the L2 input and output help facilitate theexamination of the effects of other factors at play in second languageacquisition and maintenance'' (p. 1). However, a closer look at the participantsreveals that approximately 80% are male, undoubtedly resulting in gender bias.There is also the fact that for the past twenty-five plus years, the maleparticipants have spent, on average, six more months than the females in thetarget language countries, which would likely cause a time bias due to the extraexposure to the target language by the males. In addition, one cannot ignorethat aside from survival language skills, the participants focused most of theireffort memorizing religious information in order to spread proselytize, a strongmotivating factor and not the typical purpose for learning a foreign language.

At times, there were important references made to personal communications asopposed to published studies, which made the text feel somewhat non-academic.There were also occasions when the text was written in a manner that indicatedpersonal relationships between some of the researchers, resulting in an air ofinformality that comes across as odd in an academic publication such as this.

The book contains a great deal of statistical analysis which could beoverwhelming for some readers. It was good to offer a mini-lesson on researchstatistics as well as refer the reader to online and book resources for morein-depth explanations of statistical analysis as it pertains to languageresearch (Chapter 4, Appendix B). Many of the chapter appendices could behelpful for future researchers as they offer various types of questionnaires.Some (Hansen et al., Chapters 5 and 6) are suitable for the non-academic reader,while others (Larson-Hall & Dewey, Chapter 4) require familiarity with variousstatistical analysis for language studies. For example, I found myselfcontinuously rereading data interpretations and referring to Appendix B inChapter 4 to get the most out of the text. The in-depth statistics are helpful,though some readers may have difficulty accessing them. There is so muchquantitative data in the book that when the reader finally encounters thequalitative data in Chapter 7, it really brings the text to life, especially forreaders who know Spanish. One issue with Chapter 8 is the many references tosome very dated studies, and a great deal of research focused solely on Japaneseand Chinese. Lastly, one very positive aspect of the book is the comprehensivebibliographies (one annotated, one not) of mission language references locatedat the end which offer the reader an extensive list of material useful in thestudy of both second language acquisition.

REFERENCESBardovi-Harlig, K. & Stringer, D. 2010. 'Variables in second language attrition:Advancing the state of the art'. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 32: 1-45.

Doughty, C. & Williams, K. 1998. 'Focus on form in classroom second languageacquisition'. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, R. 2001. 'Investigating form-focused instruction'. In R. Ellis (Ed.),Form-focused instruction and second language learning. Malden, MA: Blackwell,pp. 1-46.

Foster, P., Tonkyn, A., & Wigglesworth, G. 1998. 'Measuring spoken language: Aunit for all reasons'. Paper presented at PacSLRF '98 (3rd Pacific SecondLanguage Research Forum), Tokyo, Japan.

French, L. M. 2006. 'Phonological working memory and L2 acquisition: Adevelopmental study of Quebec francophone children learning English'. New York,New York: Edward Mellen Press.

Nation, P. 2001. 'Learning Vocabulary in another Language'. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

Swender, E. 2003. 'Oral proficiency testing in the real world: Answers tofrequently asked questions'. Foreign Language Annals 36: 520-526.on and attrition.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERRobert Cote received his master's degree in TESOL from FloridaInternational University and is writing his dissertation in Second LanguageAcquisition and Teaching at the University of Arizona. He has taught ESL inhigh schools, community colleges and universities and recently completedthree years as Chair of English at the Higher Colleges of Technology inSharjah, United Arab Emirates. His interests include heritage languagelearning, Generation 1.5 students and their use of language to negotiateidentity, peer collaboration, IEP writing, CALL and ESL/EFL Teacher Training.

Page Updated: 01-Nov-2012