LINGUIST List 32.2405

Fri Jul 16 2021

Review: Applied Linguistics; Language Acquisition: Bardel, Sánchez (2020)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 27-Apr-2021
From: Maria Turrero-Garcia <>
Subject: Third language acquisition
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Camilla Bardel
EDITOR: Laura Sánchez
TITLE: Third language acquisition
SUBTITLE: Age, proficiency and multilingualism
PUBLISHER: Language Science Press
YEAR: 2020

REVIEWER: Maria Turrero-Garcia, Drew University


“Third Language Acquisition: Age, proficiency and multilingualism”, edited by Camila Bardel and Laura Sánchez, presents work by scholars in the field of third language acquisition, particularly with regards to the role of age and proficiency and the interference from previously acquired languages in the interpretation and production of an L3. This volume could be a good introductory book for scholars who are not overly familiar with L3 studies but are looking for an overview of some of the main issues currently being researched in this field.

This book is a collection of eight theoretical and empirical studies. It opens with an introduction (Chapter 1) that provides a detailed summary of the content of each subsequent chapter, while simultaneously offering a brief working definition of the three dominant themes discussed: age, proficiency, and multilingualism.

Chapter 2 defines two subtypes of multilingualism (L3 acquisition for learners who have learned a non-native language before, and subsequent language acquisition for early/simultaneous bilinguals), and emphasizes the similarities and differences between these groups. The author, L. Sánchez, talks about how age can play a crucial role in the study of multilingual acquisition, pointing to a potential advantage for older learners due to their greater cognitive development and metalinguistic awareness. Input is also considered as a defining factor of L3 acquisition. This chapter also emphasizes the importance of proficiency in L3 acquisition studies. Previous work has shown that prior language knowledge can be facilitative at specific proficiency levels (Cenoz 2013), thus highlighting the need to understand previous language experience and competence. Finally, this chapter describes different types of cross-linguistic influence and the models that have attempted to account for them.

Chapter 3 is a conceptual chapter that explores the acquisition of aspect in the L3 based on the effect of previously acquired languages. In it, R. Salaberry looks into distinctions of typological proximity and into the processing mechanisms that are applied differently to implicit competence vs. explicit knowledge. The author establishes aspect as a particularly relevant linguistic phenomenon to study, due to its intricate semantic, syntactic, and discourse-related nuances and to the wide array of cross-linguistic differences that exist with regard to this category. Through a meta-analysis of the few existing L3 studies on aspect that are available, Salaberry proposes that the L3 acquisition of aspect relies on processing mechanisms used in the L2 rather than on those used in the L1.

In Chapter 4, A. Gudmundson partially replicates Fitzpatrick & Izura’s 2011 study on bilingual word associations, extending it to encompass an L3 in speakers of L1 Swedish, L2 English, and L3 Italian. She studies different types of word associations ([non-]equivalent meaning, form-based relations, collocational relations…) by measuring the effect of language status and reaction times through a word association task and a lexical decision task. Her results indicate a differential distribution of association types based on language status (there were more equivalent meaning relations in the L1 than in the L2 and in the L2 than in the L3, for example), as well as some association patterns that are language-specific (such as collocational associations being restricted mainly to the L1). Additionally, reaction times in the tasks studied varied by association type, but this is argued to be a by-product of proficiency. Ultimately, Gudmunson argues that “lexical representations, access and development proceed similarly in all languages known by a trilingual user, and […] the L1 is not qualitatively different from non-native languages” (Gudmunson 2020: 101).

Chapter 5 investigates the role of proficiency in the target and background languages in the acquisition of clitics in L3 Italian. Studying speakers of L1 German with either Spanish or French as their L2, S. Sciuti conducts an elicited production task, a grammaticality judgment task, and a written translation task. Because clitics are a complex, multi-faceted linguistic phenomenon with many morphosyntactic properties, their acquisition often leads to omission and avoidance in the early stages of acquisition of Italian. However, speaking a Romance language fluently as an L2 seems to lessen the instances of clitic omission. Sciuti’s results point to a facilitative effect of transfer from a Romance L2 such as French or Spanish, particularly at high levels of L2 proficiency.

Chapter 6 is a study of cognate recognition by young bilingual Spanish-Catalan learners of English as an L3. In it, C. Muñoz looks at how age can impact cognate recognition in the L3 in groups of 7 vs. 9 year-olds (that is, the extent to which these speakers rely on phonological similarity when assigning meaning to the words they hear in their L3). Through a Peabody picture vocabulary test, the author gathered data that show a cognate advantage in word recognition for both age groups, albeit with a significant recognition advantage for the older group. Age, and not contact hours (that is, hours of English instructor and content and language integrated learning), was a strong predictor of cognate recognition. Muñoz’s conclusion offers a pedagogical proposal to use this cognate advantage in early language instruction.

Chapter 7, written by S. Pfenninger, investigates the potential advantages in acquiring a new language (English) for early bilinguals vs. late bilinguals and monolinguals, as well as the role that literacy in the L1 plays in the development of literacy in English as a Foreign Language (EFL). Through an extensive battery of linguistic tasks, the author tests listening comprehension, receptive and productive vocabulary, and oral and written syntactic complexity, fluency, and accuracy. The results from this study point to an initial advantage for early bilinguals that are lost at the end of mandatory school time. Additionally, this initial advantage seems to be closely tied to parental support in the language learning process rather than being the direct result of bilingualism and biliteracy per se.

In Chapter 8, L. Sánchez examines the effect of L2 syntactic proficiency on the interlanguage transfer of syntactic structures from the L2 to the L3. The originality of this chapter comes from the distinction made by the author between measures of overall proficiency vs. measures of proficiency of specific linguistic constructions (L2SP, as per the author’s abbreviation). The author focuses on the latter type of proficiency to analyze the production of word order in L2 speakers of German acquiring L3 English (Catalan and/or Spanish are the L1s in this speaker group). Through a story-telling task, the author finds an influence from the L2 in the L3, particularly in instances of low L2SP. This is claimed to support the notion that the weakest language is processed via another non-native language (Abunuwara 1992). Sánchez ultimately places an important weight on the higher occurrence of interlanguage transfer in the L3 in cases where the equivalent construction “was still under development in their L2” (p. 231).

Chapter 9 studies the differential role of the L1 (Dutch) and the L2 (English) as sources of transfer in the L3 (French). Through a Grammaticality Judgment Task (GJT) and a guided production Gap-Filling Task (GFT), Stadt, Hulk & Sleeman explore the extent to which each previously acquired language impacts the early stages of acquisition of the L3 in 118 first-year secondary school students. Their results show a clear prevalence of transfer from the L1 word order into the L3, with drastically fewer instances of L2 interference. The authors interpret these results as supportive of the Hierarchical Inference Frame (Pajak et al. 2016), which posits restructuring of the interlanguage based on an adjustment of linguistic hypotheses that occurs as learners receive more input from the L3. This can explain why initial transfer from the L1 appears to be prevalent at the earliest stages of L3 acquisition.


Overall, this volume provides a good perspective on the roles of age and proficiency in the acquisition of a third language in a variety of acquisitional contexts. It is a good introduction to the field of L3 acquisition for non-experts, and also a good source of empirical studies for experts. Therefore, one of the highlights of this volume is the wide range of potential audiences that it could attract.

The experimental studies presented in this volume cover a wide range of topics, ranging from syntax and morphology to the lexicon. These studies advance our knowledge of how age and proficiency interact with L3 acquisition, and they contribute to discussions on the potential source of cross-linguistic transfer in multilingual acquisition.

There are some chapters that may raise some reasonable doubts, such as whether German and Swiss German can be considered different languages or are rather an example of bi-dialectal acquisition (Ch. 7), and the implications that this may have for the study of L3 acquisition, or a potential confusion between influence of previously acquired languages vs. a regular acquisition path in the analysis provided in Ch.5.

However, these issues do not detract from the broad scope and reach of this book which is, generally speaking, a work that may interest many experts and non-experts who wish to learn more about the field of L3 acquisition and its intersection with age and proficiency.


Abunuwara, E. (1992). The structure of the trilingual lexicon. “European Journal of Cognitive Psychology”, 4(4), 311-322.

Cenoz, J. (2013). Defining multilingualism. “Annual Review of Applied Linguistics”, 33(3).

Fitzpatrick, T., & Izura, C. (2011). Word association in L1 and L2: An exploratory study of response types, response times, and interlingual mediation. “Studies in Second Language Acquisition”, 373-398.

Gudmundson, A. (2020). The mental lexicon of multilingual adult learners of Italian L3: A study of word association behavior and cross-lingual semantic priming. “Third language acquisition”, 67-109.

Pajak, B., Fine, A. B., Kleinschmidt, D. F., & Jaeger, T. F. (2016). Learning additional languages as hierarchical probabilistic inference: Insights from first language processing. “Language Learning”, 66(4), 900-944.


María Turrero-García holds a Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is currently an Assistant Teaching Professor at Drew University, where she teaches Spanish and Linguistics and serves as Director of the Minor in Linguistic Studies. Her main research interests are Bilingualism and Multilingualism, Second and Third Language Acquisition, and Applied Linguistics.

Page Updated: 16-Jul-2021