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Review of  The Routledge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition

Reviewer: Conxita Lleó
Book Title: The Routledge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Book Author: Susan M. Gass Alison Mackey
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 24.1761

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The present book is comprised of 35 chapters, an Introduction, a Glossary with 154 specific relevant words, and an Index. The chapters are distributed into seven parts: (1) Language in context, (2) Linguistic perspectives—form and meaning, (3) Psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic perspectives, (4) Skill learning, (5) Individual differences, (6) The setting for learning, and (7) Assessing learner knowledge. Contributors have been encouraged to organize their chapters following a unified pattern: historical discussion, core issues in the area, data and common elicitation measures, applications/instructional relevance, and future directions. There are 49 contributors, i.e., authors of the chapters. The universities to which contributors are affiliated are located in various countries, with the vast majority being North-American: USA (34), Europe (7), Canada (4), Australia (1), Israel (1), Japan (1), and New Zealand (1).

The “Introduction,” by Susan M. Gass and Alison Mackey, explains that an effort has been made to incorporate a wide range of different approaches to understanding how languages are learned, and that linguistic, psychological, and sociological factors have been considered. The Handbook is designed to provide a state-of-the-art survey of second language (L2) research exploring theoretical issues of particular significance in L2 learning and teaching, and has tried to cover topics not dealt with in other surveys, like issues related to heritage learners, study abroad, or education level of learners. Its target readers are professionals directly interested in Second Language Acquisition (SLA).

PART I – Language in context – is comprised of five chapters that place contextual issues in the foreground of present SLA research topics. This initial part sets the stage for the book: interaction, variation, and feedback are defined as the most important aspects of language, which are also taken as the most relevant in relation to SLA. From this perspective, sociocultural notions play an important role as well, and a discussion on ‘complexity theory’ allows the editors and authors of the book to distance themselves from Newtonian science, in general, and from Chomskyan theories of language, in particular.

Chapter 1, “Interactionist approach,” by Alison Mackey, Rebekha Abbuhl, and Susan M. Gass, underscores the importance of comprehensibility in the SLA research of the 1970s. Krashen’s model was important at the time because he proposed that the driving force behind learning an L2 is comprehensible input that goes slightly beyond the learner’s current level of proficiency. Researchers began to suggest that interaction between native and nonnative speakers was crucial to learn an L2. On this basis, the Interaction Hypothesis was formulated. It was subsequently noticed that input was not enough, and that producing output was crucial for the L2 learner. This so-called Output Hypothesis was later on subsumed, together with the role of attention in L2 learning, in the new formulation of the Interaction Hypothesis (Long 1996). According to the interactionist model, a communication breakdown is beneficial for L2 development because attention is then drawn to a possible “gap” in the interlanguage, which attracts the attention of the learner to the subsequent input. The core components of the interactionist approach are: interactional input, opportunities to produce output, and especially, opportunities to receive feedback.

The authors believe that further research will be needed in order to determine ‘what’ features are more amenable to interaction-driven learning and ‘why’. They distinguish two types of quantitative studies in interaction research: those focusing on production and those investigating perception. One aspect of production often investigated is the influence of feedback on the learner’s performance. Interaction seems to be more effective in promoting lexical and grammatical development, but not in phonology or pragmatics. It has also been found that explicit feedback is more effective than implicit feedback, and that younger learners benefit more from corrective feedback than older learners. The chapter ends with an open reflection on the need to achieve a complete understanding of what interaction can offer to L2 learners.

Chapter 2, “The role of feedback,” by Shawn Loewen, deals with oral negative feedback from the perspective of the interactionist approach. Depending on the method advocated for teaching, negative feedback was rejected, but the interactionist approach has dealt with feedback intensively, and has shown that it appears in the language classroom, but to varying degrees. Negative feedback has been classified in three types: recasts, elicitations, and metalinguistic feedback. The most investigated type is recasts, which are a type of input-providing feedback that correctly reformulates a learner’s erroneous utterance but maintains the learner’s intended meaning. Negative feedback has been shown to be necessary in the case of linguistic structures that are otherwise non-salient in the input or that require negative evidence. The grammatical phenomena highlighted are mostly syntactic and morphological, and most studies have been done for English, with only a few for French, Spanish, Korean and Japanese. The author attributes the differences in findings as being due to the various contexts in which negative feedback studies have been conducted: immersion classes, language school classes, and laboratories.

Learner’s responses to feedback have alternatively been called ‘repair,’ successful uptake, or modified output. Not all studies have found feedback to be equally effective. Some studies have found an overall effect in favor of prompts, which elicit self-corrections from learners rather than providing them with the correct form. Given that it is not clear what type of feedback is more effective, the author suggests some rules of thumb, such as raising teachers’ awareness of this issue by means of workshops. Given that many negative feedback studies have targeted one or two English structures, there is a need for additional studies of other languages and further linguistic structures. The chapter ends with an optimistic note, namely saying that SLA theory and pedagogy will profit from further research into the effects of negative feedback.

According to Chapter 3, “Variationist perspectives,” by Robert Bayley and Elaine Tarone, the notion that “interlanguage” is variable goes back to Selinker (1972). The first variationist studies of interlanguage drew upon the models of variation developed by Labov (Dickerson 1975). Further studies explored the impact of social factors, such as interlocutor and task, on interlanguage variation. The variationist approach assumes that every speaker has a range of styles that are appropriate for use in different social situations. Perhaps the most obvious problem concerns accessing the vernacular, or speakers’ more unmonitored styles, given Labov’s observer’s paradox. Identities are multifaceted and cannot be reduced to predefined social categories. For example, Bigelow (2009) documents the hybrid identities being created by Somali adolescent immigrants in Minnesota and the creative mix of Somali and English language forms they produce. The authors feel that more such SLA research is needed.

In a study of the English language development of a five-year-old Chinese immigrant to Australia, three situations are compared, which show that the rate of acquisition of L2 is faster in the at-home setting than in the classroom. Acquiring full proficiency in a language entails acquiring native speaker patterns of variation, including the ability to style shift. Classrooms do not contribute to informal varieties, which is why some authors suggest using telenovelas (‘soap operas’), and chats. Longitudinal studies should help to better understand how L2 users move toward variable and near native-like use of target language grammatical forms. Finally, the authors recognize that the research agenda in this area of variationism is still large.

In Chapter 4, “Sociocultural theory: a dialectical approach to L2 research,” James P. Lantolf claims that although sociocultural theory (SCT) is a general theory of human mental development, it has been productively extended to include the investigation of L2 development. A learner’s ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development) is defined by Vygotsky (1978) as the difference between what individuals can do independently and what they can do with appropriate mediation from someone else. According to this theory, development does not depend solely on internal mechanisms, but rather on the quality and quantity of external forms of social interaction that are attuned to a learner’s potential ability. Given that the central tenet of the theory is that higher forms of thinking are symbolically mediated, two questions are posed with regard to L2 learning: To what extent can learners deploy a new symbolic system to mediate their communicative and psychological behavior? How does this new system develop?

Vygotsky was skeptical about methods that rely on introspection, such as think-aloud research, because he believed that if language is implicated in the thinking process, it is likely to affect that process. According to Vygotsky, dialectical epistemology practice is integrated with theory. In this view, theory without practice is verbalism, while practice without theory is mindless activity. The unity of theory and practice is known as ‘praxis.’ One of the main challenges noted is formulating appropriate scientific knowledge in a way that learners can understand it and use it to guide their own performance. The author suggests that future research within the SCT-L2 paradigm should address areas like: the relationship between private speech and internalization, or how to effectively implement dynamic assessment in large group formats.

Chapter 5, “Complexity theory,” by Diane Larsen-Freeman, shows how this theory has significantly contributed to the shift from innatism to emergence, from a top-down process of computation to a bottom-up process of self-organization, from rules to patterns, from a static system to a dynamic one, or from universal to contextually sensitive behavior. This shift of perspective is applicable to SLA, as well as to first language (L1) acquisition. There has been a great deal of research in developmental psychology based on principles from complexity theory (CT), dynamic systems theory, and chaos theory. The author claims that these theories share a common rejection of Newtonian linear determinism. Rather than seeing the world through a reductionist lens, CT and its relatives adopt a more holistic perspective. Language is supposed to be a complex adaptive system, and it has the shape that it does because of the way that it is used, not because of an innate bio-program or internal mental organ. CT maintains that language moves between stability and instability. Negative evidence from the environment is not needed because the predictive learner generates his or her own negative evidence. Thus, it is not necessary to posit a central, rule-governed mental grammar that applies itself in a top-down manner. The chapter strongly rejects the Chomskyan view of language and grammar, and proposes to use the term “second language development” rather than “second language acquisition” because learners have the capacity to create their own patterns with meanings and uses, not just to internalize a ready-made system.

PART II – Linguistic perspectives – is comprised of five chapters that deal with grammar from a wide perspective: phonology, morphosyntax, semantics and pragmatics.

Chapter 6, “Second language phonology,” by Fred R. Eckman, begins by acknowledging three different types of factors that may influence the acquisition of L2 phonology, namely, psychological constructs (e.g. short-term memory), sociolinguistic categories (e.g. prestigious dialect), and biological factors (e.g. the Critical Period Hypothesis). The historical discussion begins in the 1950s with the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis and error analysis, with the addition of the notion of typological markedness. The latter was proposed to account for phenomena like the final devoicing produced by L2 learners of English, in spite of not being present in the target language (TL) (English) or the native language (NL) (Hungarian, Spanish or Mandarin). The author views the Interlanguage Hypothesis (ILH) as representing the basic caesura, according to which research on L2 phonology would have a Pre-ILH and a Post-ILH. The most important characteristic of the Post-ILH period is considered to be the search for grammar, with the involvement of psycholinguistic aspects. The author goes into newer ways of analyzing segmental phonology, using concepts such as parameters and constraints, and also considers Metrical Phonology and the role of the Prosodic Hierarchy.

This chapter leaves some questions open for discussion, such as: Is it possible for an L2 learner to achieve native-like competence or proficiency? What will the role of cognitive neuroscience be in L2 phonological research? The paper ends on a somehow negative note, asking whether neuroscience will be able to provide direct evidence for constructs of L2 phonology, such as “underlying forms” and “lexical representations.”

According to Chapter 7, “Linguistic approaches to second language morphosyntax,” by Donna Lardiere, linguistic research on the acquisition of L2 morphosyntax is based on the syntactic theories that have been the most successful in the last thirty years. The chapter begins with the topic of Universal Grammar (UG), which has inspired much work on L2 acquisition of morphosyntax. Much of this work has been developed from a nativist point of view, which has led to the search for evidence in favor of the fundamental similarities between L1 and L2 grammatical representations. The author refers to the shift that has taken place in generative SLA studies since the early 1990s, away from the earlier primary focus on “access to UG” debates, and more toward seeking a greater understanding of the nature of IL grammatical representations in their own right.

SLA research in the 1980s was guided by ‘Parameter’ theory, which accounted for cross-linguistic variability. One topic that attracted the attention of SLA research most often was the ‘null-subject-parameter,’ especially with regard to the cluster of phenomena related to it, namely null expletive subjects, post-verbal subject inversion, and overt complementizers in subordinate clauses with subject wh-movement. The most persisting result of this research is that these phenomena do not appear as a cluster in the L2. With the advent of the Minimalist Program, cross-linguistic variation is accounted for in the lexicon by means of features. Accordingly, the “Interpretability Hypothesis” predicts that a particular morphosyntactic feature, which is required in the L2 but was not previously activated in the learner’s L1, will no longer be acquirable. The author also mentions the “Prosodic Transfer Hypothesis” of Goad & White, which is otherwise missing in the book (e.g. Goad & White 2006). It “proposes that L1 prosodic constraints may impede the spoken production of L2 functional morphemes, by restricting the kinds of phonological representations that can be built in the L2” (p. 114). The author argues that the conversion of findings into pedagogically useful materials is doubtful, as Minimalism does not provide the type of testable hypotheses that previous generative models did. The chapter ends with the suggestion of broadening the perspective to additional theories, like categorical and phrase structure grammatical frameworks, as argued by Carroll (2009: 252) for the acquisition of morphosyntax.

Chapter 8, “L2 semantics,” by Roumyana Slabakova, distinguishes between ‘representational’ (i.e. Jackendoff and Cognitive Grammar) and ‘denotational’ (i.e. formal) theories of semantics. Formal semantics calculates the truth values of sentences, whereas cognitive semanticists take meaning to be an experiential phenomenon. Following Jackendoff’s (2002) Parallel Language Architecture, linguistic structure is viewed as a collection of independently functioning layers, or levels, of structure: phonological structure (PS), syntactic structure (SS), and conceptual structure (CS). Some languages differ as far as what semantic categories are grammaticalized, or expressed by means of features such as inflectional morphology, whereas in other languages, the same categories may be expressed by lexical units such as adverbs. When learning an L2, a speaker may be confronted with different mappings between units of meaning on the conceptual level and units of syntactic structure. Learners who speak a language where alternations are overtly marked in the morphology (e.g. a suffix signaling the causative in Turkish, a clitic signaling the inchoative in Spanish) are more sensitive to these alternations in an L2 than learners whose native language has no overt morphological reflex of the alternation (e.g. English). These findings suggest that overt morphology facilitates the acquisition of argument structure alternations.

According to the author, the meaning computation mechanism is universal and should come for free in L2 acquisition, transferred from the native language or UG. She proposes the “Bottleneck Hypothesis” (previously formulated by the same author), which states that inflectional morphemes and their formal features present the most formidable challenge to learners, while syntax and phrasal semantics pose less difficulty. A consequence of this hypothesis on L2 teaching is that the focus of teaching should not be on communicative competence (as certain approaches want), with the exclusion of focusing on form, but rather precisely on form, most notably, on inflectional morphology.

In Chapter 9, “Pragmatics in second language acquisition,” by Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig, “pragmatics” is defined (following Crystal 1997: 301) as “the study of language from the point of view of users, especially of the choices they make, the constraints they encounter in using language in social interaction and the effects their use of language has on other participants in the act of communication.” It is argued that pragmatics has a universal basis (and an array of language-dependent specificities), and that when adults acquire an L2, they have an implicit universal pragmatic competence which makes available the ability to use constraints like turn taking, repairs and sequencing, conversational and institutional talk, main categories of illocutionary acts, specific communicative acts, politeness, etc.

The most general question of L2 pragmatics, regarding whether L2 pragmatics can be acquired or not, is answered with a clear “yes.” The next question, whether L2 pragmatics can be acquired better, faster, or more efficiently under different conditions, has received various answers based on environment and instruction. Variables relating to the environment deal with whether the learner is in the L1 country, in an L2 host country, or in a foreign country. If the stay abroad takes place because of study, the length of stay may be another variable. There has also been some research on the influence that teaching may have on acquiring L2 pragmatics. The summarized conclusion drawn by the author is that instruction appears to facilitate the development of L2 pragmatics. As far as the type of data used, nowadays, there is a preference for oral data. Regarding analysis, there is a certain amount of variety: the use of semantic formulas, speech act analysis, external and internal modifiers, modal particles, modal verbs, discourse structure, etc. Finally, the author proposes that L2 pragmatics should increase its acquisitional orientation.

Batia Laufer and I.S.P. Nation, the authors of Chapter 10, “Vocabulary,” agree with the common opinion in the field that vocabulary poses a real difficulty to learning a foreign language. The difficulty is quantitative, because many items must be learned, and qualitative, because words are constrained in several ways in terms of possible combinations. The growth of research in this area is relatively recent, namely since the 1990s. The authors state that instructors of L2 vocabulary should realize that non-native speakers operate with a limited vocabulary in comparison with native speakers. They suggest the use of word lists, while also warning instructors of encounters with items such as homonyms, cognates, and false cognates.

Lexical knowledge “involves a range of inter-related ‘sub-knowledges’: spoken and written form, morphology, word meaning, collocational and grammatical knowledge, connotative and associational knowledge, and the knowledge of social or other constraints to be observed in the use of a word. […] In spite of the very long history of interest in vocabulary measurement, there are remarkably few standard, well-researched vocabulary tests” (p. 165). The authors propose that “active knowledge” be separated from “use” and from “fluency,” that is, the speed with which the word form, combined with its meaning, can be retrieved. The latter is not part of knowledge, but rather “control” over it. Furthermore, some helpful links are given, such as that of the Lexical Frequency Profile, developed by Laufer & Nation (1995), and applied to French by Cobb, which is available at

The authors note that learning vocabulary in a foreign language tends to be subordinated to the learning of grammar, and is thus largely left to take care of itself in language courses. In order to promote the growth of vocabulary, the authors suggest reading a lot, which should be complemented with looking for the meaning of new words and memorizing them. As part of the “computer-assisted vocabulary learning” of the near future, the authors make the suggestion of using cell phones and iPods (along with other technological devices) with word card programs to increase vocabulary in the L2.

PART III – Psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic perspectives – comprises seven chapters focusing on processing and the neurolinguistics of SLA. The topics dealt with here are among the prevailing ones in language acquisition nowadays.

The thrust of Norman Segalowitz’s and Pavel Trofimovitch’s Chapter 11, “Second language processing,” is that language processing is not simply a cognitive task, but also volitional, social and variable. These tasks are automatic in the case of the L1, but require much attention and effort in the case of the L2. The authors draw volitional processing back to Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920), considered to be the founder of modern psychology and psycholinguistics. The term “social” refers more or less to some notions of sociolinguistics, whereas “variable” implies “being able to handle changes as they occur in real time” (p. 185).

Before the 1970s, the methodologies involved in testing processing were recall (i.e. retrieving previously encountered language units from one’s memory) and recognition (i.e. indicating whether certain language units had been previously heard). After the 1970s, these tasks were deemed insufficient because they might not tap into automatic processing, which is the only type of processing “accurately reflect(ing) how languages are organized and used” (p. 186). With that purpose, Reaction Time (RT) measures were introduced, “includ(ing) lexical decision, repetition priming, and phoneme detection” tasks (p. 186). Modern on-line processing techniques also include the use of eye-tracking and event-related brain potentials. One of the main concerns of the authors is that learning must “transfer beyond the instructional setting,” which is the reason why “instructional settings need to promote L2 processing in a pedagogically sound and cognitively engaging multitasking context” (p. 188).

Chapter 12, “Frequency-based accounts of second language acquisition,” by Nick C. Ellis, goes back to Saussure (1916) and the inception of Structural Linguistics to define language as “form-meaning pairs,” with “factors relating to the form, such as frequency and salience; factors relating to the interpretation, such as significance in the comprehension of the overall utterance, prototypicality, generality, redundancy, and surprise value; factors relating to the contingency of form and function; and factors relating to learner attention, such as automaticity, transfer, and blocking” (p. 205).

The author points out that psychological research recognizes “three major experiential factors that affect cognition: frequency, recency and context” (p. 195). After years of neglecting frequency, “the last 50 years of Psycholinguistic research has demonstrated language processing to be exquisitely sensitive to usage frequency at all levels of language representation” (p. 196). Moreover, “language learning is the associative learning of representations that reflect the probabilities of occurrence of form-function mappings” (p. 196). Language acquisition involves learning constructions (of form-function): “every language comprises very many constructions,” thus, “it is no wonder then that the accomplishment of native levels of attainment involve thousands of hours on the task of language usage. […] This conception of language learning as statistical sampling and estimation” (p. 203) leads to the proposal of three fundamental instructional aspects: sample size, sample selection and sampling history. The chapter concludes with a positive note, claiming that research in this area has shown that “focused L2 instruction results in substantial target-oriented gains, that explicit types of instruction are more effective than implicit types, and that effectiveness of L2 instruction is durable” (p. 205).

The model presented in Brian MacWhinney’s Chapter 13, “The logic of the unified model,” is a renewed version of the Competition Model. According to the author, the main difference between the two models regards social processes, which, in the older model, did not have a central role. According to both versions of the model, learning a language is cue-driven, and is based on cue strength, which “is determined by cue validity” (p. 214). The author defines ‘cue reliability’ as the proportion of times the cue is correct over the total number of occurrences of the cue. Additionally, ‘cue availability’ is the proportion of times the cue is available over the times it is needed. The product of cue reliability and cue availability is overall ‘cue validity.’ Early in learning (both the L1 and the L2), cue strength is mainly determined by availability, but “as learning progresses, cue reliability becomes more important than cue availability” (p. 214).

The model rejects both Bley-Vroman’s (1989) fundamental difference hypothesis (FDH) and the CPH in explaining the differences between the L1 and the L2, and sees more parallelisms than differences between the two languages. The differences are related to the interaction between risk-generating processes (i.e. entrenchment, parasitism, misconnection, negative transfer, and isolation) and protective, support processes (i.e. resonance, internalization, chunking, positive transfer and participation). To conclude, the author provides useful links to bibliography and to teaching methods.

Manfred Pienemann and Jörg-U. Keßler, in “Processability theory” (Chapter 14), present and defend this theory. Processability Theory (PT), with a clear psycholinguistic background, is defined on the basis of the following logic: at any stage of development, the learner can process only those L2 linguistic forms that the current state of the language processor can handle. Some predecessors of PT are briefly discussed, like the Multidimensional Model of Meisel et al. (1981) or Clahsen’s (1984) Strategies Approach. The two main constructs of PT as presently formulated are: (a) Processability Hierarchy and (b) Hypothesis Space. The former refers to several levels relevant to acquisition, like categories, phrases and sentences, whereas the latter assumes that at a certain stage, grammatical information can be exchanged only within that level. For example, at the stage of “phrase,” grammatical information can be exchanged only within phrases, not beyond the phrasal boundary. The notion of exchanging grammatical information is also referred to as “transfer of grammatical information,” and in PT, transfer from the L1 into the L2 implies that L1 forms can be transferred to the L2 only when they can be processed in the developing L2 system. Moreover, according to PT, grammar is lexically driven, which is supported by research on slips of the tongue and other on-line psycholinguistic research.

According to the authors, the main type of data used in PT based research is conversational data. Reaction-time data have also been used because they can potentially tap directly into the language production process. Most work on PT has adopted the use of emergence criterion as acquisition criterion, and considers that accuracy criteria (e.g. 80 percent suppliance) are arbitrary. In contrast, the point of emergence (of a linguistic form) is not arbitrary, as it operationalizes the first point in time when a structure can be processed. The authors claim that PT has been confirmed in several studies on SLA and various languages. They refer to annual international workshops on PT-based research, as well as to “a book series published by Benjamins” (p. 239).

Chapter 15, “Attention and awareness in second language acquisition,” by Peter Robinson, Alison Mackey, Susan M. Gass, and Richard Schmidt, deals with a topic that has a relatively long tradition in SLA studies, and that nowadays can rely on functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) techniques, which are able to show how attentional networks in the brain give rise to ‘awareness.’ Attention can also be studied at the information processing level. Some distinctions have attracted the interest of research from very early in the field of SLA, such as “input” and “intake,” as well as Krashen’s (1982) monitor model, distinguishing language learning systems responsible for unconscious knowledge, or “acquisition,” and conscious knowledge, or “learning.” Successful SLA was supposed to be the result of the former.

This chapter focuses on three issues related to attention and awareness in L2 research: (1) the interface between implicit and explicit knowledge, (2) objects of attention, and (3) the role of attention to and awareness of output. There are different positions in relation to (1): according to the “non-interface” position, the two types of knowledge are stored and used differently by learners; in “the weak interface” position, explicit knowledge can become implicit knowledge under the right conditions; and finally, according to Paradis (2009), there is no interface between the two systems, “but rather the replacement of one system with another” (p. 253). Concerning (2), in the process of language learning and language processing, attention is selective, as learners are less sensitive to syntactic cues to grammatical gender than they are to morphophonological and lexical cues. With regard to (3), some authors argue that “breakdowns in performance” are caused by limits on “attentional capacity,” whereas others suggest that breakdowns in “action-control,” not capacity limits, are the cause. As far as the application of research findings on attention, the chapter puts much weight on individual differences based on aptitude, like “phonemic coding ability, grammatical sensitivity, associative memory ability, working memory, and inductive language learning ability” (p. 258).

Chapter 16, Bill VanPatten’s “Input processing,” deals with questions traditionally posed in SLA, namely dealing with what constraints act upon input and thus prevent the incorporation of many aspects of input into L2 mastery. The author argues that in the 1980s, such constraints were attributed to the learner as a kind of filter, and that input was taken globally. However, nowadays, input processing is defined as a connection between form and meaning/function. At the beginning of acquisition, the learner is supposed to abide by the ‘Primacy of Content Words’ (i.e. learners process lexical items before grammatical or functional entities) and by the ‘First Noun Principle’ (i.e. learners tend to process the first noun or pronoun they encounter in the sentence as the subject). Previously, this principle had been interpreted as a universal processing principle, which received some criticisms. Other principles, like the ‘Lexical Semantic Principle’ and the ‘Event Probabilities Principle’ have been proposed to relativize the strength with which learners apply the ‘First Noun Principle.’

Pedagogical intervention resulting from the constructs and principles of input processing is known as “processing instruction.” This model has received several criticisms for being “meaning based” rather than structurally based, and for containing an inherent contradiction in that it purports to aid acquisition (an unconscious process) yet still contains both explicit information and form-focused activities. A possible way out of the dilemmas posed by input processing lies in the inclusion of parsing features. For instance, in a null subject language like Spanish, during processing, the parser attempts to meet the requirements of the theta criterion. If there is no overt subject in a sentence that corresponds to an underlying thematic element of the verb, then the parser must posit a null subject in order for the parse of the sentence to be accepted. In summary, the author sees “input processing and parsing merging in some way to better account for how a grammar is acquired” (p. 277). This would preserve the advantages of input processing as meaning based and occurring at the beginning of acquisition, and would contribute to the crucial role of the parser later on, as learning advances.

Chapter 17, “The neurocognition of second language,” by Kara Morgan-Short and Michael T. Ullman, clarifies the relation between SLA and cognitive neuroscience. The latter has focused on the similarities and differences between the neurocognitive representation and processing of the L2 and the L1, as well as on what factors influence such similarities and differences, in particular, L2 age of acquisition and proficiency. Neurocognitive theories and their predictions regarding representation and processing are checked against the findings of neuroscientific experimentation, especially Event-related Potentials (ERPs) and fMRIs.

The theories considered are: (a) The declarative/procedural (DP) model, according to which declarative memory stores knowledge about facts and events, and procedural memory underlies the implicit learning and use of motor and cognitive skills. As practice with the L2 increases, aspects of grammar are predicted to increasingly rely on the procedural memory system; (b) Paradis’ model (e.g. Paradis 2009), which assumes isomorphic relations between declarative memory and explicit knowledge and “claims that procedural memory is necessarily implicit” (p. 285); (c) The Competition Model, which proposes that language learning is cue-driven (see Chapter 13, above); (d) The Convergence Hypothesis, comparable to the Competition Model, which claims that L2 acquisition depends on the same neural mechanisms that L1 acquisition does, and that these mechanisms operate in the context of the already-specified L1 neural system.

Considering all neuroscientific experimentation, results from the ERPs seem to be the clearest: processing difficulties in the L1, namely (morpho)syntactic violations, lead to an early left-to-bilateral anterior negativity (LAN) at 150-500 milliseconds (ms) and to a late centro-parietal positivity at 600 ms (P600). These two effects seem to be characteristic of native-speaker processing of such violations, but are absent in the L2 at lower levels of exposure and proficiency. Recent studies, though, have shown LANs, sometimes bilaterally distributed, if subjects have a high level of proficiency. The authors conclude that Paradis’ model, according to which the L1 and L2 are qualitatively different, is supported by these results.

PART IV – Skill learning – is comprised of five chapters dealing with the various reading, writing, producing and perceiving skills involved in SLA.

The objective of Chapter 18, “Development of second language reading skills: cross-linguistic perspectives,” by Keiko Koda, is to explore how L2 reading development is jointly affected by L1 and L2 factors. In the 1960s, reading was considered to be universal across languages, but this view has not prevailed. Research today addresses three interrelated questions: (1) How do reading skills in two languages relate to one another? (2) Which factors affect the way transferred L1 skills are assimilated in L2 reading? and (3) How do the resulting L2 skills vary across learners with diverse L1 backgrounds? The author reports on findings of previous research, according to which in learning to read, phoneme and syllable manipulation skills are both strong predictors of word reading ability in Korean children. However, in Hebrew, children develop stronger sensitivity to consonants than to vowels, and this sensitivity plays a pivotal role in Hebrew literacy development. On the other hand, morphological awareness has been found to be a more powerful predictor of initial reading success in Chinese. One of the questions analyzed is whether L1 skills are indeed involved in L2 reading. Whereas reading skills in the L1 facilitate reading in another alphabetical language (e.g. Spanish-English), such a facilitation has not been found in, for example, English-Chinese.

The observed differences are attributable to the structural variations in participants’ respective L1 systems. Some data have demonstrated that both phonological and graphic manipulations significantly interfere with category judgment performance among English as a Second Language (ESL) learners regardless of their L1 backgrounds. However, the magnitude of interference stemming from each type of manipulation varied between the groups: Korean learners made more errors with homophonic (i.e. phonologically manipulated) items, while similarly spelled (i.e. graphically manipulated) targets seriously affected judgment performance among Chinese learners. The studies investigating cross-linguistic variation generally suggest that both L1 literacy experience and L2 properties have an impact on L2 reading development. The author proposes that in the near future the field should be expanded to incorporate a broader range of skills, and a wider variety of languages.

Chapter 19, “The acquisition of second language writing,” by Charlene Polio, aims to review what is known about the acquisition of written language by examining studies on both L2 acquisition and L2 writing pedagogy. The author claims that only recently has the relationship between SLA research and L2 writing been made explicit. She considers that research in this field has not developed much, especially given that studies of writing development tend to be cross-sectional and rarely follow students for more than a semester. Significant findings in the area include a small-scale study on English as an L2, which concluded that integrating written and oral language leads to greater gains in oral proficiency. A question that remains somewhat unanswered is that of how to best address error correction in research, which, according to the author, should be improved in terms of design, and should also be grounded in SLA theory.

As far as the teaching consequences of research on writing, the author estimates that models of L2 writing are not well developed and have not been tested among different groups of writers. Moreover, it is not clear what a teacher can do with the information that, for example, working memory is an important factor in composing. Other findings may have more impact on teaching; for example, if it is the case that certain tasks elicit more complex language, then this should inform teachers and writing assessors who may want to vary writing tasks accordingly. At the end of the chapter, the author reflects on different types of writing systems. For example, she states that learning how to write logographs is a significant challenge. As for learning syllabaries or non-Roman alphabets, problematic issues are not obvious. For example, are the challenges of learning to write in Arabic trivial (i.e. memorizing a new writing system) or are they qualitatively different than those associated with learning to write in other languages?

In “Second language speech production,” (Chapter 20) by Lucy Pickering, the author considers the application of new theories to SLA (e.g. Optimality Theory (OT)) as a positive move. The chapter emphasizes different aspects of the main topic, namely that research has broadened to encompass oral discourse and intonation, and that the most important theme is language use rather than language structure. Computer assisted and, in general, technology applied to L2 teaching will contribute to the pedagogy of foreign languages, and the application of psychological and social factors will help to understand the differences between L1s and L2s. Intelligibility is crucial in SLA, and, according to the author, teachers should aim for their students to reach a level of intelligibility rather than trying to equate their L2 with their L1.

The author underscores that in SLA, socio-affective factors may be as important as age-related and language-related effects. She refers to some specific studies as exhibiting a more recent research agenda in which social factors are at the center of the analysis. Research has shown that psychological variables, such as intensity of motivation, satisfaction with attainment, and professional motivational orientation account for a larger percentage of variance than age of onset combined with length of residence.

Chapter 21, “Second language speech perception: a cross-disciplinary perspective on challenges and accomplishments,” by Debra M. Hardison, presents an up-to-date, state- of-the-art review of L2 perception research, and suggests what future development in this research area should look like. After referring to early stages of perception development, in which the child is able to discriminate any sounds, followed by the subsequent limitation of discriminating only those sounds present in the target language, research on L2 perception is explored. In particular, the perception of the /r/ - /l/ contrast by L1 speakers of Japanese or Korean, which has been often studied in SLA research, is reported in detail. The author suggests that L2 speech perception must be analyzed through the lens of many disciplines including phonetics, phonology, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and SLA. Factors that influence the various outcomes of L2 perception research are length of residence and L2 input (the latter being somehow more important than the former), L1 and L2 use (hardly using the L1 favors perception in the L2), modifying the adult perceptual system through auditory training and auditory-visual input, and the relationship between perception and production (which is not really well-understood yet). The role of memory is also analyzed; the goal for learners is to have the echo from clearly defined L2 traces overshadow that of any similar L1 traces.

The chapter concludes with some suggestions for teachers: for example, manipulating input can positively influence perception and production. Giving feedback to the learner has also proven to be effective. A few links are given, which may contribute to improving perception and L2 ability in general (e.g. phonetics/ or

Folkert Kuiken and Ineke Vedder, in Chapter 22, “Speaking and writing tasks and their effects on second language performance,” subscribe to the well-known principle that “speaking is primary and writing is secondary” (p. 364), but still try to ascertain what influence mode of language (i.e. oral versus written) may have on task performance in an L2. It is a shared opinion that while oral production is generally considered to give evidence of the learner’s implicit knowledge, written production seems to allow for the use of explicit knowledge. Obviously, speaking takes place faster, and writing has a lower “cognitive load,” but still, both modes have much in common. However, they also involve several differences as far as target languages, variety in participants, data collection procedures, and language measures, which makes such studies difficult to compare. Thus, many of the results of experimental studies involving both modes are so far contradictory. The author believes that “a possible explanation could be that learners have preferences for either the oral or the written mode” (p. 368). However, a result that has been repeatedly found is that the written mode tends to involve more syntactic complexity (e.g. subordinate clauses). More lexical diversity has also been found in the written rather than the oral mode. As far as accuracy is concerned, no clear difference has emerged from comparative research. The chapter closes with three research questions, which correspond with those areas that research so far has not been able to answer: (1) How do task type and task complexity relate to the effect of mode? (2) To what extent is the superiority of either the oral or the written mode constrained by the proficiency level of the learners? and (3) How can preferences of learners for either the oral or the written mode be explained?

PART V – Individual differences – is comprised of nine chapters dealing with different factors like aptitude, motivation, identity, memory, age, and educational level.

Chapter 23, “Language aptitude,” by Peter Skehan, argues that this topic had been neglected in SLA research, but is now central to it. According to researchers in the field, such as J.B. Carroll, language aptitude is composed of four factors: phonemic coding ability, inductive language learning ability, grammatical sensitivity and associative learning. The MLAT (Modern Language Aptitude Test) was the practical culmination of his work. This test was originally intended for English L1 speakers learning other languages, and later on extended to other languages such as French, Hungarian, and Japanese. Aptitude profiles have been developed, distinguishing “between analysis-oriented and memory-oriented learners” (p. 383). In recent years, research on memory has developed in relation to working memory (its role is explained in Chapter 26). Evidence on working memory as aptitude has concerned vocabulary learning. Other areas considered are phonological working memory in relation to grammar (e.g. agreement rules) and morphology. As far as the relation between aptitude and the CPH, work with Hungarian immigrants to the USA found that learners who seemed to defy the existence of a critical period had a high language aptitude. A similar conclusion is reached by Abrahamsson and Hyltenstam (2009). The author wonders why there has not been much research in this area, and tries to explain it on the grounds that practitioners have avoided its use, perhaps because it is too cumbersome or because it does not fit well with textbooks and materials which assume only one kind of learner.

In Chapter 24, “Motivation,” by Ema Ushioda and Zoltán Dörnyei, the authors claim that motivation has been a major research topic within SLA for over five decades, ever since it became recognized as an important cause of variability in language learning success. The authors think that despite the moves toward more cognitive-situated and process-oriented approaches, L2 motivation research has not really succeeded in bridging the gap between psychological and linguistic perspectives in SLA. Previously, the second author’s expanded framework analyzed L2 motivation in terms of three levels: the ‘language level’ (i.e. integrative and instrumental motivational subsystems), ‘the learner level’ (i.e. individual motivational characteristics), and the ‘learning situation level’ (i.e. situation-specific motives relating to the course and the social learning environment).” The authors agree that motivation is notoriously difficult to measure in an objective way. It is not directly observable, since observable behaviors may well reflect a variety of underlying motivational factors. Consequently, motivation research has generally relied on gathering self-reported data to access L2 learners’ own perspectives. To minimize the inherent subjectivity of such data, attention has been paid to constructing rigorous measurement instruments.

A key criticism has been that research on motivation has “provided few genuinely useful insights for teachers” (p. 404). Interesting questions remain about how far teachers can be trained to use motivational strategies or to adopt more conventional teaching practices. The research areas for future investigations, according to the authors, refer to how motivation changes over time, and what factors drive this change, how aspects of one’s identity are related to facets of one’s motivational intentions, and how environmental influences and contingencies shape motivational dispositions.

According to Chapter 25, “Identity, agency, and second language acquisition,” by Patricia A. Duff, early research did not see issues encountered by learners (e.g. anxiety, competitiveness) as social or sociological, but rather as internal and psychological. More recently, SLA research, informed by critical theory, sociology, feminist theory and post-structuralism, has recognized the centrality of identity and agency. These notions reflect the view that learners are not simply passive participants in language learning and use, but can also make informed choices and exert influence. ‘Identity’ is crucially related to one’s core ‘self,’ but scholars increasingly emphasize the ‘multiple’ possible social groups or roles that individuals such as language learners may identify with at any given time. ‘Agency’ refers to people’s ability to make choices, take control, self-regulate, and thereby pursue their goals as individuals, all of which potentially lead to personal or social transformations.

The research methods more frequently used in relation to identity and agency in SLA are ethnographic research with embedded case studies, narrative inquiry, mixed-method research involving proficiency interviews and personal narratives, and conversation analysis or discourse analysis. The author predicts the following future directions: “Research on identity and agency in SLA shows every sign of becoming a more significant aspect of SLA theorizing. […] Identity research now goes well beyond issues of ethnic or linguistic affiliation to other social factors, including gender, race, sexuality, transnationalism, and extends to digital or textual identities. Identity categories once seen as relatively monolithic are now being viewed as much more differentiated, variable, and socially and temporally constructed” (p. 421f).

Chapter 26, “Working memory and SLA,” by John Williams, deals with the relation between working memory capacity (WMC) in L1 and L2 processing and learning ability. The term ‘working memory’ (WM) refers to a temporary storage system that lies at the core of complex cognition. Two components are posited in the WM system: short-term memory, and an executive component responsible for controlling that information. In the most accepted model, the former consists of a phonological loop for the storage of phonological information, referred to as phonological short-term memory (PSTM). According to the author, there is good evidence for the contribution of PSTM to grammar learning. On the other hand, syntactic processing, at least in native speakers, is modularized and does not draw on general verbal WMC. In general, there is surprisingly little evidence for WMC constraints on on-line L2 syntactic processing.

The bottom line is that PSTM ability affects the efficiency of learning novel word forms and the retention of sequences of forms. Where analysis depends upon conscious, intentional, explicit learning processes, the executive component of WM appears to be implicated. Thus, the construct of WM is undoubtedly an important component of the notion of language learning aptitude. Two relevant observations stand out at the end of the article: one on the pedagogical consequences of the findings, and the other on bilingualism. According to the former, one would like to see tests of WM being used as a means of directing students to instructional programs that are tailored to their cognitive abilities. According to the latter, being a fluent bilingual appears to be associated with enhanced executive functions, presumably because of the increased control demands of managing two languages.

Chapter 27, “Age effects in second language learning,” by Robert de Keyser, starts from the clear fact that L2 learning generally leads to a diminished mastery of the target language as compared to mastery of the L1, and weighs the various arguments in favor of and against the existence of a critical period. The author clarifies that no biological basis (i.e. brain maturation) for a critical period has been discovered, in spite of recent developments in neuroscience and its concomitant sophisticated methods like neuroimaging and ERPs. In fact, the closest approximation to an explanation for the decline of language acquisition ability is the hypothesis that “aging implies a shift from implicit/procedural to explicit/declarative learning” (p. 443). However, admitting a “critical period” should correlate with clear onset and offset points, as well as some biological basis.

As the author argues, the controversy about the critical period is plagued with confounds: the CPH should not be concerned with speed of learning, and the various components of language (e.g. phonology, morphosyntax, and lexicon) should be separated, since the CPH seems to be most relevant in relation to phonology. Morphosyntactic structures show different degrees of decline with increasing age of acquisition, whereas the lexicon does not seem to be susceptible to AoA (age of arrival or age of acquisition). It has often been shown that adults cannot reach native command of their L2, especially in the area of pronunciation, if data are obtained under strict scrutiny. The core questions, thus, are whether there is a specific period of decline in the ability to implicitly learn a language, and whether any such decline is due to maturational factors. One of the conclusions of research in this area is that AoA plays a significant role, but that it is often confounded with other variables. The chapter ends with a pedagogical question related to whether children should be taught an L2 in primary school. The answer seems to be a negative one: although children are better equipped than adults to learn an L2, results are not necessarily good, especially given certain negative circumstances like the artificiality of classroom interaction, the reduced frequency of teaching, or the relative proficiency of non-native teachers.

Chapter 28, “The role of educational level, literacy, and orality in L2 learning,” by Martha Bigelow and Jill Watson, focuses on the incidence of literacy experience in the learning of an L2. There is much research on the relationship between literacy and the oral command of the L1, but hardly any research with regard to L2s. The authors underscore the literacy of the Western World, as well as a widespread orality of most immigrant groups. This creates an array of problems in the context of learning the language of the host country, as cultures with a high command of literacy are more used to manipulating language. Moreover, many immigrants have a low educational level. Research on literacy of the L1 has shown that educational level is a crucial variable for the effective use of the L1, and something parallel can be expected of the L2. Most studies on SLA have been carried out with university students and learners with a high educational level. According to Piagetian theory, in which this chapter is couched, the cognitive development in many subjects among immigrants to the Western World has taken place in a more concrete oral context, which is problematic, since they are not used to much of the abstraction assumed in school. In the future, the authors wish for better training of teachers, who generally are not prepared to teach adolescent or adult learners who have never been to school and do not have literacy in their native language(s), and who may have had traumatic experiences prior to immigrating.

Chapter 29 on “Fossilization—A classic concern of SLA research,” by ZhaoHong Han, presents the notion of ‘fossilization,’ which was introduced by Selinker (1972) as a global phenomenon. As time has elapsed, we have learned that certain language phenomena lead more readily to fossilization than others, and thus, fossilization has been shown to be local rather than global. The author points out that in the earliest conception, the term “interlanguage” was almost synonymous with “fossilization.” The term has actually been used and abused, such that it has become a catch-all term, and thus has become theoretically and empirically vacuous. An overall theory is missing. Paradigmatic cases of fossilization found in older theory, like Alberto (from Schumann 1978), are put in a new light here. By applying multivariate statistical analysis (e.g. logistic regression), it has been shown that Alberto was making some progress in the acquisition of negation. This could mean that Alberto was not experiencing fossilization, but rather “slow learning.” As the author argues, many confounds underlie the notion of fossilization. In order to ascertain that learning is not taking place anymore, three preconditions must be satisfied: “abundant exposure to input, adequate motivation to learn, and plentiful opportunity for communicative practice” (p. 479).

Fossilization is “incomplete learning” and should thus be driven by the same mechanism as language learning. Research has led to the conclusion that “instruction is helpful sometimes, under certain conditions, and in relation to certain linguistic elements” (p. 485). Two sets of morphosyntactic features have proven to be immune to instruction: (1) interface features closely interacting with semantics and pragmatics, and (2) grammatical morphemes and functors. While awaiting the right theory, the author suggests that “in the meantime, multiple types of data must be sought,” as “only when an adequate data base is in place can any theoretical work become meaningful and useful” (p. 486).

Chapter 30, Olga Kagan and Kathleen Dillon’s “Heritage languages and L2 learning” deals with a new field, associated with children who speak the language of their immigrant parents. Such children are termed Heritage Language Learners (HLL) or Heritage Language Speakers (HLS). The chapter describes the short history of this field of research, which goes back to the late 1990s. HLS show certain characteristics that differentiate them from both L1 speakers and L2 learners; in general, they are less proficient than the former and more proficient than the latter. HLS have more oral command than written command of their heritage language (HL). Their main strength in comparison with L2 speakers lies in pronunciation. Their vocabulary is generally richer than that of L2 speakers as well, although such proficiency lies mainly in the area of familiar and everyday words. They tend to use an informal register and their command of the language tends to stagnate at about age 6 or 7, because once in school, English becomes the dominant language. Some empirical studies have shown that former speakers of a HL, who abandoned it at about age 7, can relearn the language while still showing a clear advantage over L2 speakers.

The authors resent that HLL are not the target of language programs. They would need a specific curriculum, but this has not been yet developed. Additionally, standardized means for HL assessment are missing. One of the weaknesses of the field brought about by the authors is the lack of a comprehensive theory of HL. Even the naming of these speakers varies a lot, depending on the country where research is pursued. For example, even though the name HL originated in Canada, nowadays it has been replaced by “home-background” language there. In Australia, HLs are named “community languages,” and in Europe, they are “immigrant languages.” These languages had been neglected for many years, but in recent decades, many studies have devoted themselves to the L1 of immigrants and their children; such studies are included in bilingualism research. Finally, it is important to note the existence of the Heritage Language Journal (UCLA), which this year (2012) issued its ninth volume.

In Chapter 31, “Advanced language proficiency,” Heidi Byrnes views “advancedness” as a problematic field in SLA because the American “use”-related orientation and the European “inter-ethnic” one “have thus far not been linked,” and “the field does not yet have a sufficiently comprehensive theoretical basis for understanding advanced language, much less advanced language use” (p. 506). The author considers that notions like the CPH and fossilization have had a negative effect on the field because they relativize and negativize the idea of “advanced language proficiency.”

The Chomskyan concept of “competence” is rejected in this chapter. The author follows sociolinguistics pleas for labeling L2 learners as multicompetent speakers, and joins a few voices in the field of SLA who deny any prerogatives to the monolingual native speaker. She complains that public education provides surprisingly little specification for advanced language performance and introduces what she calls a “semiotic dimension” to advanced L2 performance. This dimension addresses “the relationship between contexts of language use and textually oriented formal features of language” (p. 512), for which she refers to M.A.K. Halliday (e.g. Halliday 2002) and systemic-functional linguistics as the only sources of this type of research. An important part of this notion consists of the relation between formulating sentences with, for example, a main verb, and then moving to the nominalization of the action expressed by the verb, which has to do with the differences between oral and written language. The author wishes for this type of relation to be taught in L2 instruction.

PART VI – The setting for learning – contains three chapters related to the various contexts in which learning may take place, ranging from the classroom to immersion, as well as virtual environments.

Chapter 32, “Learning through immersion during study abroad,” by Sally Sieloff Magnan and Barbara A. Lafford, focuses primarily on the individual and social factors that facilitate learning during study abroad. Research on this topic is attributed to the “social turn” in second language studies. According to the authors, the two basic questions are: (1) What do sojourners learn? and (2) What factors facilitate that learning? Obviously, study abroad offers intensive input and interaction with native speakers, and is generally advantageous to become more fluent and proficient in an L2. However, there are many other factors influencing the effect of such programs: the length of the stay, as generally longer stays lead to a larger gain than short ones; degree of language mastery at the beginning of the stay, since in general, a higher degree of proficiency allows for more interaction and a larger gain; the attitude of the student and the student’s personality, which interact with other factors to either increase or decrease the effect. Social effects can be derived from study abroad, too, as there are students who may experience changes in their identity. Research on this area includes quantitative and especially qualitative data. Such data are generally comprised of interviews, observations/field notes, journal/diaries, and role plays. This type of mixed methods approach has been used primarily to investigate social factors including identity, race and gender motivation, attitude, learning styles and strategies, and intercultural competence.

Chapter 33, “Classroom research,” by Jessica Williams, begins with a short overview: in the 1960s and 1970s different teaching methods were compared in order to find out whether they led to different results; after that, “the classroom itself […] became the focus” (p. 541). Research has shown that interaction patterns do not greatly differ between a classroom and a laboratory setting. Furthermore, the author outlines varied ways to elicit data: direct observation, interaction analysis, introspective methods, sociocultural analysis, conversational analysis, etc.

One of the topics that has attracted more recent attention is feedback. According to the author, there are two broad categories of feedback: ‘recasts’ or ‘reformulations’ and ‘prompts’ or ‘elicitations.’ An immediate learner’s response to a feedback move is usually referred to as ‘uptake.’ Several studies suggest that teachers are more likely to provide feedback on grammatical errors than on other types of errors. Different aspects of feedback are discussed: explicitness of their corrective intention, length and complexity, etc. The effect of feedback on learning has led to different results, which may appear as contradictory (see Chapter 2). A further topic investigated has been ‘focus on form,’ which has sought to answer questions about whether teachers and learners focus on formal aspects of language, and whether this has any effect on acquisition. There is considerable variation in findings, which is attributed by the author to “varying task demands” (p. 547). Finally, another aspect present in research is ‘negotiation’: generally, meaning can be negotiated, but morphosyntactic features are not. These three aspects – “corrective feedback, focus on form, and negotiation – have been at the heart of classroom second language research in the last two decades. All three have been found to be facilitative of acquisition” (p. 549). Some decades ago, classroom teaching concentrated on the formal aspects of language, which was repeatedly criticized in favor of communicative and interactive teaching. Regarding more recent trends, the author states: “However, recent research has also raised doubts about pedagogical approaches that focus exclusively on communication” (p. 549). The author’s proposal for the future is to pursue both the cognitive and social aspects of language learning in a more unified way.

Chapter 34, “Language learning through technology,” by Trude Heift and Carol A. Chapelle, clarifies that applied linguists working in this area today want to understand what, why, how, and to what end technology leads to successful learning outcomes. In its beginnings (in the 1960s) “computer-assisted language learning” (CALL) responded to language theory of that time and consisted of text-based interactive programs intended to teach grammar and vocabulary. However, “CALL evolved through application of ideas from communicative language teaching to include interactive language games” (p. 555). As microcomputers evolved, in the late 1980s, the introduction of multimedia materials and natural language processing was made possible. The authors state: “Beyond the language classroom, the Web […] provides an unprecedented amount and quality of target language opportunities for input, help, information, and interaction for learners who know how to use them” (p. 556).

The authors focus on three topics: the role of interaction, the challenge of individual differences, and the goals of autonomous learners. They feel that computer-aided research allows us to examine aspects of SLA and use that go beyond the possibilities found in classroom-based research. However, some researchers are also concerned with claims about the relative value of CALL when compared with classroom learning. Some research has found that for all proficiency levels, computer-based students significantly outperform teacher-directed students on open-ended tests. No significant differences, however, were found between computer-based and teacher-directed student scores on multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank tests. One clear conclusion in relation to the coming future is that a new “type of professional knowledge” is “required of language teachers in view of the changed landscape for L2 learning,” as “a new set of teaching competencies is required for helping learners to take advantage of technology” (p. 565).

Part VII – Conclusion: assessment of L2 knowledge – is comprised of a single concluding chapter.

Chapter 35, “Assessing learner knowledge,” by John M. Norris and Lourdes Ortega, defines “assessment” as “a systematic and replicable technique that allows researchers to elicit, observe, and interpret indicators of L2 knowledge (however defined), with underlying standards of practice that govern its development and use” (p. 573). The choice of “assessment method in SLA should be guided by three concerns: ‘what’ gets assessed […], ‘how’ to assess […], and ‘who’ gets assessed and ‘why’ ” (p. 573). A look at the journals specializing in SLA shows that statistical considerations and experimental techniques have enormously increased. The authors claim that “from a formal linguistic SLA perspective, […] what is acquired is grammar construed as mental ‘representations’ of morphosyntactic rules, defined via theoretically specialized knowledge constructs which have been categorized successively at the level of parameters, functional categories, features, and interfaces” (p. 575). At the other end, “for researchers working from a usage-based, emergentist, and probabilistic perspective, […] grammar is also in focus, but the construct refers to a wide range of layered inventories of form-meaning mappings known as ‘constructions’” (p. 576).

An important aspect of assessment is finding ‘benchmarks,’ or providing a stable frame of reference for interpreting L2 development. Again, “SLA researchers working from a formal linguistic perspective take a group of L1 speakers to be the baseline to be compared with the L2 data,” whereas “researchers working from the perspective of L2 learners as emerging bilinguals whose two grammars interact have suggested that the best comparison is an early, balanced bilingual baseline group” (p. 578). The chapter closes “with a few optimistic predictions on the directions that assessments will take” regarding ‘what’ gets assessed, ‘how’ to assess what is being acquired, and ‘who’ is being assessed (p. 585).


The book is clearly written and very well organized. The intention of the book is to cover a full range of topics relevant to SLA, and this is accomplished. It addresses a large audience, from researchers, to teachers, to students. Very informed historical summaries precede all chapters, which include thorough lists of references. Besides presenting all possible topics related to SLA, from linguistic, psychological and sociological angles, various pedagogical implications are also discussed in most of the chapters. In sum, an admirable and effective effort has been made to show the present state-of-the-art of SLA. Chapters have been organized according to a pre-conceived pattern, and have been outlined on a similar basis. This is certainly advantageous, and results in a high degree of unity. However, given that all chapters have been conceived according to this pre-established plan, it was not necessary to discuss the structure of individual chapters, as some authors have done.

Even though some topics are treated several times, in various chapters, the perspectives are relatively different. For instance, regarding the effects of neuroscience in relation to research on SLA, authors can be divided into optimistic, or positive ones, and neutral ones. Given the state of neurolinguistic research, these different conclusions on the role of neuroscience in SLA appear to be basically intuitive. ‘Feedback’ is also discussed in several chapters, and deemed necessary by some authors, and as having doubtful consequences by others. The various perspectives, approaches and theories allow for a wide range of proposals, which should be seen as one of the advantages of the book.

However, in my view, in spite of the large array of topics, some imbalances should be noted, namely related to a few specific notions: a) Against formal treatments and in favor of functional, individual, and what (in the Chomskyan tradition) can be considered performance-related topics and approaches. That is, the formal linguistic perspective is clearly in the minority in this book; b) In favor of studies done in North-American Universities, with omissions of work done in European universities; c) A disregard for child second language acquisition (cL2), which is an emerging topic in acquisition. Such imbalances are even more clear, when one considers that non-formal topics are dealt with in many chapters (e.g. CPH, feedback, fossilization, IL, literacy, motivation, neurolinguistics, proficiency), whereas formal linguistics is limited to five chapters (Part II) devoted to phonology, morphosyntax, semantics, pragmatics and vocabulary. Moreover, it can be argued that only the first two chapters out of these five deal with formal linguistics, proper. Formal linguistics is accused of too much abstraction; however, it should be noted that findings inspired by it turn out to be more tangible and clear-cut than some of the findings emerging from other non-formal treatments. It is also noteworthy that some of those treatments considered to be more concrete indulge in pedagogical suggestions (e.g. word lists, chats, word cards, etc.) that are based on intuition and more or less experience-based views hardly inspired by a scientific or theory-based treatment of SLA.

Some chapters attribute a decisive role to the Interlanguage Hypothesis (ILH) as the engine that led to the notion of grammar in SLA. However, such a role should be relativized. In fact, some of the original studies dealing with the IL did not place grammar at the center of the L2 (e.g. Selinker 1972). The birth and success of Generative Grammar in the 1960s is, in fact, one of the milestones that stimulated the beginnings of SLA research.

Out of all the perspectives presented, the variationist approach is, in my view, an essential one, since it is one of the least developed areas of SLA in general. Foreigners with many years of instruction, even having been immersed in the language, often lack the “sensitivity” to distinguish registers when speaking the (foreign) language. Some chapters only provide positive evidence (e.g. Chapter 5), however, certain aspects of language are resilient with regard to the influence of positive evidence. For instance, after many years of training in ESL, L1 speakers of Spanish build ungrammatical word orders, for example, *NP+V+Adv+NP, which is grammatical in Spanish but not in English. To consider that language is based on variability, at the meeting point between stability and instability, is a useful move for SLA. However, the rejection of grammar as a top-down concept does not bring any advantages to the field of SLA, as this notion constitutes a necessary step to improve L2 learning and L2 teaching.

Converting individual differences into objectively measurable entities is a hard job, and after all the effort here, the reader remains with some of the original questions about what factors count in defining foreign language aptitude, motivation, identity, memory, or educational level. It is true that materials are generally designed for one type of learner only. However, it is not clear whether teaching targets can be differentiated on a solid basis. In general, the impression emerges that research on individual differences tries to structure the unstructurable, as the factors determining such differences are so varied that they appear to be endless. There is still a long way to go in order to understand the role of such factors like aptitude, motivation, or working memory in SLA, which is clear through the fact that some chapters do not go beyond a declaration of intentions. Much emphasis is put on the need to collect more data while awaiting theory formation (e.g. Chapter 29). However, as scientific development has shown, data collection should be driven by theory, and although some theoretical insight has been reached in research on individual differences, we are still far from an encompassing and guiding theory. That is, data collection may contribute some interesting information on individual learners, but such data are generally limited to gathering anecdotal evidence. Despite efforts to objectivize various contextual scenarios, much of the research on the classroom, on study abroad, and on the role of virtual learning with the help of the computer, is limited to relatively trivial truths.

Another shortcoming is that the phonological treatment of SLA stops at segments and syllables. Topics like rhythm and intonation, or the role of the prosodic hierarchy in comparisons between languages, for example, between demarcative languages and grouping languages (see Lleó & Vogel 2004), are not dealt with. In some parts of the book, there is a tendency to assume that L2 learning parallels L1 learning, and that final attainment of the L2 parallels final attainment in the L1. However, not enough evidence is presented showing that such parallelisms between L1 and L2 learning take place. Some SLA research considers foreign accent as a minimal evil that is not necessary to improve. However, the learner should be the one to decide whether an effort must be made (or not) to improve his/her foreign accent. Moreover, this view overlooks the idea that foreign accent is often used against foreigners to limit their professional life (e.g. Lacey 2011, “In Arizona, complaints that an accent can hinder a teacher’s career.” The New York Times, September 24th.)

Although sociolinguistics has taught us some crucial lessons, which have partly modified the way we view competence nowadays, we still need some model against which to measure the degree of proficiency of an L2 learner. If we want to find out how the languages of a bilingual speaker influence one another (e.g. how the L1 influences the L2, and how the L2 influences the L1), we have to possess prior knowledge about how each language develops by itself, without the influence of the other language. If proficiency is not measured against the monolingual speaker, we run the risk of circularity. It is important, though, as defended by some of the authors (e.g. in Chapters 31 and 35), that our theoretical model be flexible and multi-competent. On the one hand, according to what we know about bilinguals, there is interaction between the two languages, especially in the case of unbalanced bilinguals, whose weak language receives much influence from the dominant language. Thus, comparisons with unbalanced bilinguals might be most adequate. On the other hand, in order to find out what degree of interaction is present, comparisons with an L1 monolingual group are necessary, as suggested above.

Another problematic aspect, as briefly mentioned above, that we find throughout the book, is a clear bias in favor of research done in the US, which ignores work done in Europe. Obviously, the L2 par excellence is English in the whole world, and most work on English as an L2 has been done in North-America. However, the reader gets an impression of a bias in favor of the US and of a certain “tokenism” in relation to other countries that exhibit an old and rich tradition of SLA research, which the book does not reflect. Work done on a new variety of English mixed with Somali is mentioned as something unique (Chapter 3). However, much research on such mixed forms of language exists in Europe. For such studies, the reader is referred to Backus (2006), for Dutch and Turkish, Rehbein & Karakoç (2004), for German and Turkish, as well as several articles in the John Benjamins book series, ‘Hamburg Studies on Multilingualism.’

Another area in which work done in Europe is neglected relates to HLL. For example, work done on the phonology of German-Spanish bilingual children has shown that although in some areas, the phonology of their HL Spanish is equivalent to that of L1 monolingual speakers, in relation to complex and variable categories, they differ from L1 monolingual speakers. That is, since the HL is generally the weak language, it may show negative transfer from the strong language (see Lleó and Cortés 2013). One of the European projects mentioned in the book is the ZISA project, developed in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s, which was the first to focus on L2 acquisition of German by Italian and Spanish immigrant workers in Germany. This is one of the few references to European studies on L2 in the book. Given the need to intensify research in all areas of SLA, it would seem appropriate and necessary to unify efforts. Nowadays, Europe is experiencing much migration, and thus, countries with long traditions of migration, like the US or Australia, as well as European countries, with much recent multicultural migration movements, should exchange experiences and learn from each other.


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Conxita Lleó has been a professor of linguistics at several universities, notably in the Romance Languages Department of the University of Hamburg (Germany) between 1985 and 2008. She also teaches acquisition of phonetics and phonology by monolingual and bilingual children as part of the Master course in phonetics and phonology offered yearly by the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo in Madrid (Spain). Her research interests lie in L1 acquisition, both from a monolingual and especially bilingual perspective, and L2 acquisition. Within acquisition, her main area of interest is phonology. She has published many articles on these topics in international journals and specialized books.

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