LINGUIST List 28.978

Thu Feb 23 2017

Review: Applied Ling; Lang Acquisition: Sato, Ballinger (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 12-Oct-2016
From: Bronson Hui <>
Subject: Peer Interaction and Second Language Learning
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Book announced at

EDITOR: Masatoshi Sato
EDITOR: Susan Ballinger
TITLE: Peer Interaction and Second Language Learning
SUBTITLE: Pedagogical potential and research agenda
SERIES TITLE: Language Learning & Language Teaching 45
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Bronson Hui, (personal interest - not currently working at a university)

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Peer Interaction and Second Language Learning: Pedagogical potential and research agenda, edited by Sato and Ballinger, consists of a total of 13 chapters divided into 3 sections: first, interactional patterns and learner characteristics; second, tasks and interactional modalities; and finally, learning settings. Chapter 1, by Dobao, is the first of the 5 papers in Section I. It focuses on the silent learner in interactions. Using a collaborative writing task, the author created opportunities for their participants, who are American learners of Spanish at intermediate levels (N=32, age: 18-24), to work in dyads and groups. Their interactions were audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed in terms of language learning episodes. These episodes were then taken together with the data of pre- and post-tests on productive vocabulary knowledge to determine whether or not learning took place for different learners playing various roles in the interaction. Such roles include the trigger (i.e., the learner raising the issue of talk) and the observer (i.e., the learner who did not express any ideas). Results suggest that the observer was able to gain new vocabulary knowledge from the interaction, almost as much as the trigger. This finding evidences the active engagement of these silent learners despite their silence.

Chapter 2 looks at the effects of metacognitive instruction on feedback provision by learners of English as a foreign language (EFL) in Japan. Fuji, Ziegler and Mackey trained their participants to offer feedback in peer interactions. This training included introducing the benefits of interactional feedback and presenting successful negotiation processes as examples. The learners were also taught useful phrases (e.g., ‘so you mean…’ to seek confirmation) before practice. Adopting a quasi-experimental design, the training was only given to the experimental group, and all participants took part in two interactive tasks as the pre- and post-tests. The analysis of their recorded interactions shows that the experimental groups generally provided significantly more interactional feedback. When analysed by feedback types, only clarification requests were made significantly more by the experimental group. The data also show significantly more opportunities for modified output experienced by the experimental group. The authors conclude that metacognitive instruction could enhance interactional feedback in subsequent tasks, and hence is ‘a useful and welcome addition’ to language classrooms (p.84).

Both Chapters 3 and 4 delve into the influence of proficiency on group dynamics and interactional behaviour. Sato and Viveros report, in Chapter 3, the effects of proficiency on 4 aspects: offering corrective feedback, providing modified output, engagement in collaborative interaction, and actual language development. The participating 10th grade Chilean learners of English were divided into a high proficiency and a low proficiency class. They all received teaching involving presentation of a movie clip, followed by a communicative activity intended to enhance their awareness in the target grammar item (i.e., the past tense). The final two stages of the teaching involved guided production and free communicative practices. The recorded interaction data of a focus group of each class were collected and analysed. Quantitatively, the low proficiency class showed improvements in knowledge of the past tense as well as in their vocabulary size, while the high proficiency group did not. In addition, the low proficiency class produced more corrective feedback and modified output. They also demonstrated more collaborative engagement. Qualitatively, the learners of lower proficiency were engaged in collaboration, typically without anyone dominating the exchange. In Chapter 4, Young and Tedick explore the influence of group composition on peer interaction and collaborative dialogue. The 5th grade participants were Spanish learners in America’s two-way immersion programme where students were mixed in accordance with their linguistic backgrounds (i.e., Spanish home language & English home language), creating opportunities for heterogeneous grouping with group members of different proficiency levels placed together in the classroom. Quantitative data analysis of the recorded sessions shows that groups with members of similar proficiency produced more collaborative dialogues. The qualitative micro-analysis on the interactions suggests that less proficient learners are subject to marginalisation and becoming silent in groups with different proficiency levels, casting doubt on heterogeneous grouping as derived from the Vygotskyian school of thought.

Section II moves away from learner characteristics to tasks and interactional modalities. The first chapter, Chapter 6 by Loewen and Wolff, investigates second language (L2) learners’ interaction in 3 modalities: face-to-face (F2F), oral synchronous computer-mediated communication (SCMC) (i.e., oral real-time communication on a computer; e.g., talking in a Skype meeting), and written SCMC (i.e., concurrent messaging in writing; e.g., in a chat room). The participants were from a university intensive English programme, and they were randomly assigned to one of the three modalities before completing a picture differences task, a consensus task, and a conversation task. The data analysis involved coding for such interactional features as negotiation for meaning, language-related episodes, and recasts. Results show absence of task effects, while the written SCMC differed from the oral SCMC and F2F. Specifically, there were significantly more confirmation checks in the two oral modalities. The authors conclude that different modalities afford different learning opportunities for learners.

In Chapter 7, McDonough, Crawford and De Vleeschauwer focus on learners’ interaction in collaborative writing tasks and its relationship to the eventual quality of the writing. Thai university learners of EFL were asked to write a summary paragraph and a problem-solving paragraph in pairs. The recorded interactions were coded based on the focus of their discussion, such as content, language, and task management (e.g., discussing task requirements and monitoring time). Task effects were apparent in this study in that the learners, for example, spent significantly more time on talking about organisation in the problem-solving task while spending more time on reading and re-reading in the summary task. The correlation between the time spent on content, organisation, and language and overall text rating was significant only in the problem-solving paragraphs.

Chapter 8, by Baralt, Gurzynski-Weiss and Kim, explores learners’ focus on forms from social and affective perspectives. The Spanish learners were assigned to 2 interaction environments (i.e., face-to-face or SCMC). They, in pairs, then completed a cognitively simple and a cognitively complex task, with the former requiring the learners to simply retell a story presented in comic strips and the latter requiring, on top of retelling, deduction about the mental states and emotional reasoning of characters. After the tasks, they all filled in a questionnaire targeting their cognitive, social and affective engagement during the tasks. Analysis of their interaction and responses to the questionnaire reveal that the face-to-face group reflected on the target grammatical form in most cases across the two tasks. In contrast, this cognitive engagement was not observed in the SCMC group. This difference is attributed by the authors to the different levels of affective and social engagement. The face-to-face group showed, in the course of completing the tasks, more willingness to engage, joy and fun as well as encouragement, support, and praise, all of which were absent in the SCMC group. Taken together, the authors urge awareness of the potential implications of affective and social engagement on cognitive engagement.

García Mayo and Azkarai compare language-related episodes (LREs) and level of engagement in written and oral modalities in Chapter 9. The Spanish-Basque learners of English completed two written tasks (i.e., a dictogloss and a text editing task) and two oral tasks (i.e., a picture placement and a picture differences task). LREs were first identified from the recorded interactions, before being coded according to the nature (i.e., meaning vs form) and outcome (i.e., resolved vs not resolved) of the LREs. The learners’ level of engagement was also analysed. Results show that LREs in the writing tasks were significantly more formed-focused, while there were more meaning-focused talks in the oral tasks. For outcome of the LREs and level of engagement, there were no major differences between the two modalities.

Chapter 10 presents research by Rouhshad and Storch looking at patterns of interaction in face-to-face and computer-mediated modes during a collaborative writing task. The adult learners of English were asked to complete 2 writing tasks in which interaction took place in the face-to-face mode or the written SCMC mode (i.e., through Google Docs where the 2 learners could write, edit and chat concurrently). The analysis of the interactions was conducted in accordance with 4 interaction patterns: collaborative (i.e., high equality and high mutuality between the interlocutors), cooperative (i.e., high equality and low mutuality), dominant/passive (i.e., low equality and low mutuality), and expert/novice (i.e., low equality and high mutuality). LREs were also categorised based on their nature (i.e., form, lexis, and mechanics), their resolution (i.e., correctly resolved, incorrectly resolved, or left unresolved), and the level of engagement (i.e., extensive and limited). Significant results include that, first, collaboration was found to be common in the face-to-face mode, while cooperation was the dominant pattern in the SCMC mode. Also, the level of engagement in the SCMC mode was, perhaps surprisingly, limited, leading the authors to suggest that teachers should carefully consider the implementation of online collaboration tasks.

The final chapter of this section, Chapter 11 by Moranski and Toth, deals with the relationship between meta-analytic talk and grammatical performance. The L2 adolescent Spanish learners were taught in a lesson following the PACE paradigm, involving the teacher presenting the target forms (i.e., the Spanish pronoun se in the present study) and drawing students’ attention to it, before the students co-constructing the grammar rules to be applied to extension production tasks. It was during the co-construction stage where learners were expected to conduct meta-analytic talk. Such talk was recorded, transcribed and coded according to their levels of analytical abstraction (i.e., high vs low) as well as interactional patterns (mutuality vs isolation). The outcome measures were the pre-, post-, and delayed-post tests of grammaticality judgments. The major results are that individual analytic talk time was positively associated with scores in grammaticality judgement tasks. Also, less-participating learners in high mutuality groups improved their scores too. It is concluded that analytic talk can facilitate grammatical development, and mutuality is an important element in a successful group work.

Section III focuses on the effects of learning settings on interaction. Chapter 12 by Martin-Beltrán, Chen, Guzman and Merrills, looks at the interaction between learners in a two-way language exchange programme in an American high school. The data were collected from a language ambassador programme where students of complementary linguistic backgrounds (i.e., native Spanish learners of English and native English learners of Spanish) took part in community building and literacy activities. These activities typically include students’ responding, in writing, to a prompt before verbally sharing their thoughts and offering feedback on the language use by their peers. The data analysis was based on the concepts of comity (i.e., communication being not only information exchanges, but also negotiating interpersonal relationships). Specifically discursive moves such as social inquiry, solidarity and support as well as LREs were coded. This exploratory study reveals the more instances of co-constructing language as the learners build their social relationships. It concludes that relationship-building discourse serves as a mediational tool for talk about language, highlighting the social aspects of interaction in L2 learning.

Bigelow and King investigate interaction between two asymmetrically paired new immigrants in the US in Chapter 13. With beginner levels of English, they were given a pair reading task in which they had to discuss the happenings of a story. The data include video recordings of the learners’ physical interaction with the book and the transcription of their verbal utterances. The findings reveal 4 participation structures in which the authors suggest they brought complementary skills and experience to the task. The study concludes that while there might be limited L2 development as a result of the task, such interaction could provide opportunities for the two learners to help each other in ‘doing school’ (p.370).

In the epilogue, Philp concludes the volume by bringing all chapters together to shed light on new pathways in researching interaction. The author highlights the different approaches to describing and exploring interaction and the importance of social relations in learning through interaction, as well as issues on engagement and the role of teacher in interaction.


This book is one of the first, if not the first, volumes dedicated to peer interaction (i.e., interaction between language learners), a specific and distinctive field within the broader field of interaction research. It succeeds rather well in achieving its aim to provide an up-to-date overview. Thoughts are given to organising the chapters into the three sections, each of which addresses a prong in this research. The methodology adopted by the papers, often being the mixed-method approach, is exemplary: quantitative data are capable of providing a global picture of trends and micro-analysis offers the details of happenings during the interactions. The volume is written in clear and succinct language, and is easy to follow for readers with varying levels of experience and knowledge in the field. It certainly deserves strong recommendations, especially to students of Applied Linguistics and Second Language Studies, as well as language teaching professionals interested in peer interaction research, all of whom should find it insightful, informative and useful.

Section I attempts to address the question: ‘How do interactional patterns and learner characteristics affect L2 learning in peer interaction?’ (p. 1-2). Given this objective, it might be surprising, perhaps, for some readers to find that 3 studies (out of 5) in this section do not have a learning outcome measure. In a case where there is an outcome measure (i.e., Chapter 3), the reporting could have been more elaborated and clearly put together with other findings (i.e., under ‘Quantitative results’).

On the up side, this section has nicely captured some key uniqueness of peer interaction: first, the silent learner, as looked at in Chapter 1, appears to be a unique interaction role in peer interaction in the sense that interaction with a trained teacher, for example, could result in the less proactive learners being explicitly prompted to break their silence. Similarly, when all group members are learners, the quality of the feedback could be a legitimate concern, which could have an influence on its potential benefits; yet, the findings in Chapter 2 have served as a first and important step to remove such doubts fairly convincingly. Finally, the mixed findings of the research into the influence of proficiency have demonstrated the complexity of how different variables play out. The 2 papers in question, Chapters 3 and 4, have altogether opened up opportunities for further investigation. On a personal note, the findings in Chapter 5 suggesting that the traditionally perceived benefits of heterogeneous grouping could well be a myth were particularly arresting for myself as a teacher-researcher. Given the scope of learner characteristics, the papers in this section have collectively provided a rather extensive coverage.

The question Section II would like to address is: ‘How do tasks or interaction modality affect interaction patterns and L2 learning?’(p.2). This section has achieved this aim quite successfully. All chapters have shown clearly how tasks and modalities could have an influence on interactional dynamics, including the nature, outcome and features of their talk. It has been very rightly pointed out that different tasks and modalities afford different learning opportunities for learners. Perhaps there is not such a thing as the best task or modality which is conducive to students’ learning; but readers of this volume could gain a strong sense of how tasks and modalities matter. For example, interaction in the oral modality appears to focus more on meaning rather than grammar. This focus might be excellent for such teaching objectives as introducing or consolidating the semantics of lexical items. With these findings, language teaching professionals are able to make more informed decisions as to what task and modality to use in order to promote certain elements of interaction and hence learning. In this regard, this section has been very useful for practitioners.

Perhaps, a limitation would, again, be the lack of outcome measures. While one study laudably includes an outcome measure (i.e., scores in grammaticality judgement tasks) and indeed a delayed post-test designed to understand the long-term effects of treatment, all other studies have not reported clearly their outcome measures. As mentioned, some studies in Section 1 do not have outcome measures indicating whether or how much students can learn from the interactions as well. It is perfectly understandable that this volume sits within a much larger body of interaction research which has rather clear and sufficient evidence for learning benefits. In that case, when a study can show that certain treatment/variable could promote interaction, one could logically claim that the increased negotiation for meaning, for example, could at least potentially promote some learning. Yet, while this logic is fairly cogent, caution might also be advised due to some fundamental differences between traditional interaction with a teacher or a native speaker and peer interaction. One of these differences is that learners may not be expert users of the target language. This difference could have an influence on the quality of their feedback to other learners. It is not clear whether or not learners may acquire items that are not target-like in the course of peer interaction. If it is possible, fossilisation of common errors resulting from negative transfer from their native language, for example, could be a problem.

Section III focuses on settings and interaction. The two chapters have presented cases of a two-way immersion programme and immigrants with beginner levels of the L2. The descriptive exploration is informative and insightful. For example, Chapter 12 makes a strong case to consider how relationship-building between learners of different backgrounds could have an impact on their co-construction of the target language. One minor question readers might have is the reason why Chapter 5, also on two-way immersion and asymmetrical pairing/grouping is not placed in this section. It might have been a plus if these chapters are linked even more closely together in the volume.

Overall, as an EFL teacher-research, I enjoy reading this book, and I have acquired many insights. Readers who find this topic relevant to their work and research interests should spend some serious reading time on it.


Bronson Hui is currently a teacher-researcher in Hong Kong. He received his Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics from University of Oxford. His research interests include interaction, vocabulary acquisition, second language processing, L1 use in second language classrooms. He has also written book reviews for System and Asian Journal of Applied Linguistics.

Page Updated: 23-Feb-2017