LINGUIST List 24.1438

Wed Mar 27 2013

Review: Applied Linguistics; Language Acquisition: Sabine Doff (ed., 2012)

Editor for this issue: Anja Wanner <>

Date: 17-Jan-2013
From: Daniel Walter <>
Subject: Fremdsprachenunterricht empirisch erforschen
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Sabine DoffTITLE: Fremdsprachenunterricht empirisch erforschenSUBTITLE: Grundlagen – Methoden – AnwendungSERIES TITLE: Narr StudienbücherPUBLISHER: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. KGYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Daniel Walter, Carnegie Mellon University


“Fremdsprachenunterricht empirisch erforschen” (“Empirically researching theforeign language class”) covers the basic principles, methods, andapplications of current empirical research on foreign language instruction,primarily within a German context. The primary focus of this book is on theprocess of conducting empirical research in foreign language classes withdescriptions of different methods available to answer research questions.While the concepts discussed in this book are important for researchers at alllevels, the primary focus of this book is on budding researchers in the fieldof foreign language education. Although the concepts discussed are fairlyuniversal to research, this text is limited to those researchers who have astrong proficiency in German. In addition, the examples used in this book arealso concentrated on events pertinent to foreign language education in Germanyand, to a lesser extent, Europe.

This textbook is divided into four major sections: “Grundsatzueberlegungen”(“principle considerations”), “Fokus Untersuchungsdesign” (“focus on researchdesign”), “Fokus Datenerhebung” (“focus on data collection”), and “FokusDatenanalyse” (“focus on data analysis”). These sections span chapters two,three, four, and five, respectively. Each of these four chapters contains atleast one primary explanatory section written by one of the book'scontributors, as well as a secondary section which describes the applicationof the material covered in an actual research project, written by anothercontributor.

The first chapter “‘More than methods’ -- Vier Praemissen zur empirischenErforschung von Fremdsprachen” (“‘More than methods’ -- four premises to theempirical study of foreign languages”) outlines the editor's, Sabine Doff’s,intent with this publication. She discusses four premises she hopes will framethe purpose and structure of the book. Her first premise is that research inforeign languages is constituted by empirically supported theory as well astheoretically supported empiricism. Her second premise is that quantitativeand qualitative paradigms are to be seen as two endpoints on a single spectrumand that in between there are countless forms which research can take. Herthird premise is that methodology should be suited to the thing beingresearched. Her fourth and final premise for foreign language research is thatfundamental research methods and methodology training be part of teachereducation.

The second chapter, which focuses on principal considerations of foreignlanguage research, is divided into two subsections. The first section, “Wasist erlaubt? Ethik in der Fremdsprachenforschung” (“What is allowed? Ethics inforeign language research”) by Gerhard Bach and Britta Viebrock, covers thedifferent areas of ethics related to foreign language research. The authorsemphasize that the discussion of ethics in foreign language research is oftena “peripheral phenomenon,” and that a closer look at how ethics plays anintegral part in all studies is necessary for all researchers in the field offoreign language education. The authors promote taking both macro- andmicro-level looks at ethical concerns. While this chapter primarily overviewsthe state of research ethics in Germany, the authors recognize that themajority of research ethics in foreign language education stems fromEnglish-speaking areas, specifically citing Mackey and Gass (2005), McKay(2006), and Doernyei (2007).The second subsection of chapter two, “Was ist gute empirischeUnterrichtsforschung? Ein Plaedoyer fuer die vergessene reflexive Qualitaetvon Wissenschaft” (“What is good empirical class research? A plea for theforgotten reflexive quality of science”) by Daniel Troehler, highlights thedevelopment of empirical research over a historical context which includesreflections on how research into classrooms has changed and advanced over thelast century. The author’s main point is that only through reflection onothers’ and our own previous research and ideas can we continue to developforeign language classroom research.

The third chapter “Fokus Untersuchungsdesign”, focuses on two major topics,experimental and historical foreign language research. The first subsection,“Experimentelle Fremdsprachenforschung” (“experimental foreign languageresearch”) by Nicole Marx, encompasses the basic parts of experimental designand how it pertains to foreign language research, such as deciding on researchquestion, operationalizing and identifying differing variable, and creating aresearch design to answer the questions posed. The secondary text to thissection, “Anwendungsbeitrag: Latein und English -- eine empirische Studie zurKognatenerkennung” (“Application example: Latin and English -- an empiricalstudy on cognate recognition”) by Katrin Siebel and Nicole Marx, describes thepreliminary steps in designing a study which looks at how Latin and Englishknowledge can enhance students recognition of new words in each language.The second subsection of chapter three, “Historische Fremdsprachenforschung”(“Historical foreign language research”) by Sabine Doff and Tim Giesler,describes the historical nature of foreign language research and howinvestigating planning and policy change over time can lead to helpfulinsights into current research. This section includes information on how tofind and critically evaluate historical sources. The complementary section,“Anwendungsbeitrag: Historische Forschung am Beispiel des English-Unterrichtsfuer Kaufleute im 19. Jahrhundert“ (“Application example: Historical researchfrom the example of English classes for sales persons in the 19th century”) byTim Giesler, details the manner in which this study uses historical texts tointerpret changes in English education over a specific period of time.

The fourth chapter, “Fokus Datenerhebung,” focuses on different methods ofdata collection, including surveys, tests, thinks aloud and stimulated recallprotocols, and qualitative interviews. The first section,“Fragebogenkonstruktion im Kontext des schulischen Fremdsprachenlerners”(“Survey construction in the context of school foreign language learning”) byWolfgang Zydatiss, discusses the construction and uses of surveys in theirvarying forms, from more quantitative, scalar versions to more qualitative,open ones, and draws on sources such as Oxford (1990). The discussion alsocovers statistical procedures, such as Cronbach’s Alpha, that are important totest the reliability and validity of surveys. The adjoining secondary text,“Anwendungsbeitrag: Fragebogenentwicklung und -pilotierung im Rahmen desDissertationsprojekts ‘Bilinguale Module im Mathematikunterricht’”(“Application example: survey development and piloting in the frame of thedissertation project ‘Bilingual module in math class’”) by Katharina Pfuefer,outlines the way in which a particular survey is constructed from beginning toend, including the creation of items, the piloting of the test, and themathematical procedures needed to identify problems with the survey.The second section of chapter four, “Tests als Untersuchungsgegenstand undForschungsinstrument in der Fremdsprachenforschung” (“Tests as items ofinvestigation and research instruments in foreign language research”) byClaudia Harsch, looks at how language tests are developed and implemented todetermine students’ abilities as well as used as tools for empirical research.The secondary text, “Anwendungsbeitrag: (Sprach-)Tests in der Praxis: DieStudie ‘Development of North Rhine-Westphalian CLIL Students’ (DENOCS)”(“Application example: (Language-)Tests in practice: The study ‘Development ofNorth Rhine-Westphalian CLIL Students’ (DENOCS)”) by Dominik Rumlich, providesthe explicit example of the development, refinement, and implementation of aspecific language test over the course of time.The third section of chapter four, “Datenerhebung durch Lautes Denken undLautes Erinnern in der fremdsprachendidaktischen Empirie” (“Data collectionthrough think aloud and remember aloud in foreign language didacticempiricism) by Dianna Feick, covers what English researchers would callthink-aloud and stimulated-recall protocols for data collection (see Gass andMackey, 2000). The authors provide a clear summary for different uses of each,as well as the different means of collecting this type of data, i.e. audiorecording, video recording. In addition, they show the connection betweenthink-alouds and stimulated-recalls; namely, the raw data in think-alouds canbe used as a basis for stimulated-recall procedures. The secondary textprovided by the same author, “Anwendungsbeitrag: Videobasiertes LautesErinnern als Instrument zur Untersuchung fremdsprachlicherGruppenaushandlungsprozesse” (“Application example: Video basedstimulated-recall as an instrument of study of foreign language groupinteraction processes”), exemplifies her preference for video recorded dataand the connection between think-aloud and stimulated-recall protocols, withparticular emphasis on researcher-participant interaction before and duringthis type of data collection.The fourth and final section of chapter four, “Fuehren und Auswertenqualitativer Interviews” (“Conducting and assessing qualitative interviews”)by Matthias Trautmann, divides qualitative interviews into three mainsubcomponents: Planning, execution, and analysis. First, the planning ofqualitative interviews encompasses recruitment of interviewees, considerationsof where and how the interview should be conducted, how the interview will bedocumented, and ethical aspects, including the protection of interviewees’identities. The execution of the interview should incorporate a“pre-interview” informal interaction to promote an open and friendlyatmosphere, introductory questions, active listening on the part of theresearcher, appropriate questions, and concluding/summarizing questions at theend. In terms of analysis, the author provides three main examples:biographical (or narrative) analysis, documentation analysis, and qualitativecontent analysis. Along with this overview, the author also places interviewsin a foreign language context and discusses which languages one can and shoulduse (first language, target language) to conduct interviews with speakers andlearners of foreign languages. The secondary text, “Anwendungsbeitrag:Experteninterviews in der Fremdsprachenforschung: AnwendungsspezifischePlanung, Durchfuehrung und Auswertung” (“Application example: Expertinterviews in foreign language research: Application specific planning,execution, and assessment”) by Annina Lenz provides insights into a specifictype of interview, the expert interview (see Meuser and Nagel, 2009).

The fifth chapter, “Fokus Datenanalyse,” contains two sections. The firstsection, “Statistische Verfahren” (“Statistical Procedures”) by JuliaSettinieri, describes basic descriptive and inferential statistical proceduresof data analysis. While a full treatment of statistics in the social sciencesis not possible, the author does a proficient job of describing the basicthinking behind and application of the very basics. Additionally, she alsomentions, with brief definitions, more advances statistical procedures, suchas linear regression and multivariate analysis of variance, in order to atleast introduce these terms to her audience. The secondary text,“Anwendungsbeitrag: Anwendungsbeispiele statistischer Verfahren zur Analysevon Lernersprachdaten” (“Application example: Application examples ofstatistical procedures in the analysis of learner language data”) by UrskaGrum, provides an example of basic descriptive statistics as well as a t-testand Spearman correlation.The second section of chapter five, “Von der Rekonstruktion zur Integration:Wissenssoziologie und dokumentarische Methode in der Fremdsprachenforschung”(“From reconstruction to integration: The sociology of knowledge anddocumentary method in foreign language research”), provides a qualitativemethod of analysis. This section is concerned with the documentary method andits uses as a lens into historical and current practices in foreign languageeducation. While this method is only one of many possible methods inqualitative analyses, the authors do show the reflexive and iterative processthat is a core part of qualitative research. The secondary text,''Anwendungsbeitrag: Die dokumentarische Methode als Instrument zur Analysevon literarischer Anschlusskommunikation” (“Application example: Thedocumentary method as an instrument for analysis of literary understandingbetween interlocutors”) by Elisabeth Bracker, analyzes a group discussion.This type of documentary method is reminiscent of work in fields such asconversation analysis and discourse analysis.

The sixth and final chapter provides biographical data on all of thecontributors to this book.


Overall, this book provides interesting foothold for novice researchers intoempirical studies in foreign language learning. The secondary texts are usefulas tools to look at the processes and steps involved in different researchmethodologies, but they do not provide readers with examples of what finalresearch products should look like. In addition, the broad nature of the bookallows researchers some insight into a number of available methodologies, butthis does not always mean that all of the presented methodologies can alwaysbe applied without further studies. More specifically, the quantitativemethods introduced require a solid background in statistical procedures beforeone can conduct the proposed research, so this book is not necessarily animmediate entrance into conducting one’s own research. The same can said interms of the qualitative methods proposed. While there is a detailed overviewof what this kind of research entails, the practical implementation of thequalitative methods posed here require more finesse and analysis than ispresented here. Despite these shortcomings, this book does an excellent job ofintroducing graduate level students to the nuanced nature of research byproviding a straightforward overview, listing areas of further inquiry, andgiving descriptions of different steps throughout an empirical study. As anintroductory research methods books, it also emphasizes, to some degree, theoften overlooked or assumed ethical considerations. All in all,“Fremdsprachenunterricht empirisch erforschen” delivers a well-roundedintroduction to methods and methodology in foreign language and educationalresearch and a platform from which students can build a more in-depthunderstanding of how to conduct research.


Gass, S. and Mackey, A. (2000). Stimulated Recall Methodology in SecondLanguage Research. Mahwah, NJ. Erlbaum Associates.

Doernyei, Z. (2007). Research Methods in Applied Linguistics: Quantitative,Qualitative, and Mixed Methodologies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mackey, A. and Gass, S. (2005). Second Language Research: Methodology andDesign. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

McKay, S. (2006). Researching Second Language Classrooms. Mahwah, NJ: LawrenceErlbaum.

Meuser, M. and Nagel, U. (2009). Das Experteninterview -- konzeptionelleGrundlagen und methodische Anlage. ('The expert interview -- conceptualpremises and methodological design'). In Pickel, S., Jahn, D., Lauth, H.-J.,and Pickel, G. (Eds.), Methoden der vergleichenden Politik- undSozialwissenschaft (pp. 465-479). Wiesbaden: VS-Verlag.

Oxford, R. (1990). Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher ShouldKnow. Boston, Mass.: Heinle and Heinle.


Daniel Walter is currently a Ph.D. student in Second Language Acquisition inthe Department of Modern Languages at Carnegie Mellon University, where heteaches Reading and Writing for an Academic Context, as well as ElementaryGerman 1. His research interests include second language acquisition (SLA),with a focus on second language morphosyntax, second language grammaticalgender, and German as a second/foreign language

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