LINGUIST List 32.2054

Tue Jun 15 2021

Review: Applied Linguistics: Kreeft Peyton, Young-Scholten (2020)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 24-May-2021
From: Diego Agostini Ferrer <>
Subject: Teaching Adult Immigrants with Limited Formal Education
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Joy Kreeft Peyton
EDITOR: Martha Young-Scholten
TITLE: Teaching Adult Immigrants with Limited Formal Education
SUBTITLE: Theory, Research and Practice
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2020

REVIEWER: Diego Agostini Ferrer, University of Puerto Rico


The challenges faced by adult migrants lacking formal schooling have been a longstanding issue in efforts towards helping them adapt to their new countries, yet remain understudied and relatively absent from public discourse. This book, “Teaching Adult Immigrants with Limited Formal Education: Theory, Research and Practice”, takes aim at this problem, collecting chapters intended to assist teachers and tutors working with adult migrants with limited schooling. The authors and editors provide research-informed discussions of different aspects relevant to literacy acquisition in general and literacy development in this population specifically.

Chapter 1 introduces the volume. The editors briefly explain the state of research and practice in teaching literacy to adult migrants with limited formal education, as well as the terminology used and the project, “European Speakers of Other Languages: Teaching Adult Migrants and Training Their Teachers”, that gave rise to the chapters. The editors summarize the current social context of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research as well the relationship between literacy and language acquisition before providing brief summaries of the following chapters. A useful appendix detailing the development of the online modules from the aforementioned project closes the introduction.

The second chapter is authored by Minna Sunni and Taina Tammelin-Laine, who focus on the social context influencing language and literacy development. They introduce different cultural perspectives on literacy and research, investigating connections between dominant ideologies and and literacy skills. Drawing primarily from research in Finland and other Nordic countries, the chapter homes in on the role of interaction in SLA, as well as reviewing the research and different understandings of social factors driving adult language development. The discussion then moves on to literacy proper, examining literacy development in adults in light of adults’ roles as parents and workers in their host societies. Particular attention is also paid to multiliteracies in the multimodal context of 21st century societies and the nurturing of critical literacies in adult migrants. After a discussion of the available international surveys of adult literacy, their results, criteria, and limitations, Chapter 2 closes with a brief summary of adult migrant education in Finland.

Marcin Sosiński authors Chapter 3, focusing on the psycholinguistic perspective on reading. After an introductory overview of the research and its current limitations, we are presented with an analysis of the array of mental skills underpinning the act of reading, as well as several models attempting to describe the processes involved when deploying these skills. The author then moves on to examine writing systems, scripts, and their effect on reading. This is followed by a discussion of phonemic and phonological awareness, how reading depends on both, their development, and how this development is affected by the writing system readers become literate in. Sosiński then introduces research that explores these relationships with a focus on early reading, first examining children, then examining non-literate adults. As elsewhere in the book, the relative dearth of research on the latter group is emphasized. Chapter 3 closes by presenting possible applications of the preceding ideas and approaches that can nurture reading comprehension in readers at advanced levels. In both cases, the applications are usefully examined in terms of concrete examples of how they might look in the classroom and are accompanied by a description of several methods available to teachers.

Andreas Rohde, Kerstin Chlubek, Pia Holtappels, Kim-Sarah Schick, and Johanna Schnuch dedicate Chapter 4 to examining vocabulary. They begin by detailing what it means to know a word and to have vocabulary, discussing how the different conceptual aspects inform our understanding of a given word, as well as the possible relationships between words. Moreover, they survey what constitutes vocabulary knowledge and how the mind records and structures it. Thereafter, research into the process of learning words is presented and discussed. First, they focus on what children do as they acquire new words and what constrains them. Then they move on to discuss research examining the principles and mental processes underlying vocabulary development, noting different theoretical perspectives active in the field. A rich discussion of learning strategies used by learners to develop vocabulary follows, segueing into a closing survey of the implications for vocabulary instruction that can be adduced from the research and concepts discussed earlier in the chapter.

Chapter 5, written by Martha Young-Scholten and Rola Naeb, reviews and discusses research on the acquisition and assessment of morphosyntax from a generative perspective. Two questions guide the chapter: “Why don’t learners always learn what they are taught?” and “How do learners learn what is not explicitly taught?”. With these two questions in mind, as well as the perspective of both learner and linguist/teacher, Young-Scholten and Naeb discuss work in child language acquisition, SLA research, stages of morphosyntax acquisition, as well as stage-independent factors influencing morphosyntax acquisition and methods of assessment. The chapter presents a variety of competing hypotheses and discusses both their merits and implications for the pedagogical efforts that guide the book as a whole.

The sixth chapter is authored by Belma Haznedar and focuses on bilingualism per se, with particular attention paid to the bilingualism inherent to most experiences of migration. The chapter begins by emphasizing the importance, particularly for teachers, of understanding migrants’ bilingual experience and specifying just what exactly is meant by the term “bilingualism”. Haznedar also draws attention to heritage languages and their learners, who are often the children of migrant communities. The author moves on to another issue affecting migrant communities: the nature of language change, linguistic diversity, and code-switching, how these are understood by research and the general public, and the importance of both to the teacher or tutor working with adult migrant communities and their children. After a focused discussion of research into bilingual children, the chapter examines both the cognitive and neurological aspects of bilingualism, providing brief overviews of the history of research and discussing more contemporary findings. Against this backdrop, Haznedar provides an examination of typical and atypical development in bilingual children and how these can be distinguished, which is followed by a detailed review of bilingualism in several educational contexts.

Chapter 7 is authored by Nancy Faux and Susan Watson. It focuses entirely on the practical side of teaching and tutoring adult learners with limited literacy and formal education. After briefly conceptualizing literacy by drawing on research and referencing prior chapters, Watson and Faux dive into an extensive discussion of numerous aspects relevant to teachers and tutors working with this population. They examine what it means to be a literacy learner and their specific choices of terminology, before writing in detail about class preparation, starting with but going beyond materials and design. The chapter covers key goals such as developing print and phonemic awareness, as well as the challenges of teaching multilevel classrooms and designing meaningful learner assessments.


This book is a welcome addition to any bookshelf dedicated to language teaching, even if you do not work with adult migrants with limited schooling. It is surprisingly compact, and its appended glossary of key research terms marks it as a deliberately helpful and quick reference both for linguists unfamiliar with the subject and non-linguists looking for a linguistically informed resource to support their classroom efforts. It may seem strange to assert that it is useful even if you do not work with adults, but it is simply an odd consequence of the state of research into literacy development of adults with limited schooling; because this population is understudied, the authors often reference research into different populations and highlight aspects that are relevant to working with adults.

That, however, is an unintended consequence. In terms of its stated purpose and target audience, this volume is excellent. It provides a fairly cohesive overview of several distinct linguistic aspects involved in literacy instruction and adult second language acquisition. A focus on practical classroom applications threads the chapters together, even the most theoretical ones, and the final chapter is dedicated exclusively to several classroom situations and strategies, all of which are covered in compact, but useful detail. Basic linguistic concepts and state of the art research from different linguistic disciplines are presented clearly, while key concepts are capitalized to indicate their inclusion in the volume’s glossary. Moreover, the theoretical and research material presented is always accompanied by a discussion of its implications for the classroom. In addition, several chapters contain either direct references or links to useful websites, tools, and research that teachers can readily access and apply. I briefly volunteered as a German teacher for refugees a few years ago, refugees with little schooling facing a triple barrier: the German language barrier, the classroom culture barrier and, to top it off, we also lacked a common language with them. I was completely out of my depth and can safely say that a resource like this book would have gone a long way in helping me teach effectively.

At times, though, the book’s length felt like a small weakness instead of a strength. In Chapter 2, for example, the conclusion reads “[…] we have discussed the roles of various social contexts for language and literacy development and the value of literacy in different societies and historical periods” but while the first part of the statement is certainly true, the discussion of the value of literacy in different societies and historical periods does not range as widely as I had expected. The authors talk briefly about the role of the Reformation in the rise of literacy within Protestant Europe, contrast this development with later, similar effects stemming from the second Vatican Council, and make general remarks about post-industrialized countries, democracies, and non-democratic political regimes before moving on to a different topic. The only specifics are European, the relevant passage fairly brief, and the political categories mentioned fairly vague. A longer book might have had room for more detail about different continents and countries, as well as a more in-depth treatment. Nevertheless, I must concede that this point is more of a personal disappointment than a true flaw in terms of the volume’s purpose. It aims to be a source for teachers and researchers working with adult migrants with limited formal education and a guide for finding research efforts. This volume clearly hits the mark. I would gladly recommend it to all those actively seeking to deepen our understanding of this understudied population, the challenges they face, and the strengths they can bring to the table.


I hold an MA in General Linguistics. For my MA research, I focused on discourse analysis and the multilingualism of refugees in Europe, informed by my interest in language education, language policy, applied linguistics, refugee studies, sociolinguistics and multilingualism. I seek a career engaged with these areas, focusing on research, language education, and/or translation.

Page Updated: 15-Jun-2021