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Review of  Introduction to Instructed Second Language Acquisition

Reviewer: Marga Stander
Book Title: Introduction to Instructed Second Language Acquisition
Book Author: Shawn Loewen
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 26.2056

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Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


This book gives attention to Second Language Acquisition (SLA), but focuses more specifically on Instructed Second Language Acquisition (ISLA). Throughout the book, the author follows a pattern of looking at several aspects of ISLA from a theoretical, research and pedagogical perspective. He also provides ample examples of research done in this area. The author tries to stay close to the goal of SLA, but explicitly to the goal of ISLA, in the author’s own words, i.e. how best to “manipulate or intervene in the process of L2 acquisition” or “what we do in the classroom matters” (p.179).

The book has 11 chapters and includes aspects like the nature of second language (L2) knowledge, interaction in the L2 classroom, focus on form, the acquisition of grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and pragmatics, different contexts for ILSA and individual differences of L2 learners. Each chapter ends with activities and discussion questions based on the content of the chapter, as well as an additional reading list based on research applicable to the content of the chapter. These are very useful for discussions of the topics for students as well as researchers.

The Introduction (Chapter 1) considers the similarities and the differences between ISLA research and SLA research. ISLA research specially addresses the effectiveness of instruction in L2 learning and how that instruction can be optimized. Here the author defines and explains the concepts that will be used throughout the book: what ISLA is, SLA theory, SLA research methodology, L2 pedagogy, and the effectiveness of L2 instruction. This chapter also gives an overview of what will be discussed in each chapter and also states the purpose of the book, namely to “provide information on what is known about L2 learning in the classroom, based on theory and research” (p.16).

In Chapter 2 the nature of L2 knowledge is discussed and it contemplates the goal of L2 instruction which includes explicit and implicit knowledge. Aspects covered in this chapter are the theoretical concerns of the nature of the learner’s L2 cognitive linguistic systems and the acquisition and measurement of L2 knowledge. The author provides empirical evidence for the relationship between instruction and knowledge and asks whether implicit and explicit instruction can result in both implicit and explicit knowledge respectively. As in all the chapters, the author looks at the pedagogical implications for the L2 classroom and concludes that a combination of explicit and implicit instruction may be the best option for L2 acquisition.

Chapter 3 focuses on the importance of interaction and communication in the L2 classroom. Once again the author discusses the theoretical concerns thereof, i.e. components of interaction and the different factors that affect interaction, for example task characteristics and individuals who participate in the tasks, as well as contextual characteristics. The author provides empirical evidence for the theoretical concerns discussed and also the pedagogical implications of interaction in the classroom. The chapter concludes that a variety of interaction activities like task-based language learning, focus on form, negotiation for meaning and meaning-focused tasks may be best for developing L2 learners.

In Chapter 4 one of the key issues in the book is addressed, namely focus on form and whether it is beneficial to L2 learning. It is described by the author as something that occurs when learners pay attention to linguistic items within a larger meaning-focused context and is considered by Han (2008) to be a leading paradigm for SLA research. Theoretical concerns are discussed, looking at the different features of focus on form, noticing (an important aspect in L2 acquisition) and negative evidence which is most relevant to focus on form and corrective feedback. Also discussed are the different types of focus on form, which include input flood, input enhancement and corrective feedback. Once again empirical evidence and the pedagogical implications of focus on form are considered.

In Chapters 5 to 8 the acquisition of grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and pragmatics are discussed in detail. The chapters follow the same pattern, i.e. the theoretical concerns, the aspects , the empirical evidence and the pedagogical implications of each topic. While explicit types of instruction can be beneficial for learners in the acquisition of grammar and vocabulary, implicit types of pronunciation focus, such as corrective feedback, may be more beneficial in pronunciation acquisition. In the case of pragmatics, there are other issues to consider, namely the fact that L2 learners have limited opportunities to develop pragmatic competence outside the classroom, while the social roles in the classroom are also limited. Therefore teachers need to be creative in providing authentic materials, making use of technology or using oral and written examples. Another option is for the learner to consider studying abroad.

In these chapters several concepts are discussed, according to the topic of the chapter. In the case of grammar acquisition (Chapter 5) they are: consciousness-raising tasks; input-based instruction; present, practice produce (PPP); output-based instruction and explicit instruction. Here the author also distinguishes between focus on form (which is more implicit) and focus on forms (which is more explicit to make learners aware of linguistic forms).

In the case of vocabulary acquisition (Chapter 6) the author looks at form-meaning mapping; depth and breadth of knowledge (form, meaning and number of words); frequency of exposure and types of vocabulary knowledge (receptive, productive, implicit, explicit). Instruction in vocabulary includes incidental and intentional learning, exposure, the Load Hypotheses (Laufer and Hulstijn, 2001), lexical focus on form and explicit instruction.

In Chapter 7 an issue in pronunciation acquisition is considered, namely perception (whether the L2 learner can identify and discern certain phonemic characteristics of the L1 and L2) versus production (the learner’s ability to pronounce the sounds of the L2). Other matters such as goals of pronunciation learning, age and aptitude, identity, and explicit and implicit pronunciation knowledge, are also discussed. The discussion on the instruction of pronunciation includes focus on form, explicit instruction and technology.

Chapter 8 looks at the acquisition of pragmatics, which does not receive enough attention in the classroom. There are several factors to consider in this regard: the learner’s explicit and implicit pragmatic knowledge, developmental stages of pragmatic knowledge, L1 transfer and social values (where learners do not always feel comfortable with the L2 culture). Explicit instruction is recommended for pragmatics acquisition.

The following two chapters deviate slightly from the previous four chapters in looking at a different context of ISLA and individual differences of learners. Chapter 9 emphasizes the fact that it is important to consider the different contexts in which ISLA can take place. Different contexts mean different challenges and advantages for L2 learners. The three main contexts that are discussed are at-home study (the traditional way of L2 learning), immersion and study abroad. The author looks at these from a theoretical perspective regarding foreign language versus L2 in the three different contexts mentioned above, as well as computer-assisted language learning. The pedagogical implications for the different contexts are found to be similar. The author states that some of these contexts might be more beneficial than others, depending on the type of instruction.

The last chapter (Chapter 10), before the conclusion, looks at the individual differences of learners in ISLA, mainly based on psychological traits and includes characteristics such as intelligence, language aptitude, motivation and anxiety. The author provides a view on theoretical concerns regarding motivation, willingness to communicate, learning strategies, learning styles, personality, language learning aptitude, and working memory (learner’s ability to hold and process information for a short period of time); it also provides the empirical evidence for these. The pedagogical implications are discussed and the chapter concludes that individual differences can influence the success of L2 acquisition; however, the author emphasizes the role of the teacher in these factors.

In the concluding chapter (Chapter 11) the author gives a summary of the main issues discussed in the preceding chapters. The main conclusion is that ISLA is an attempt to manipulate or intervene in the process of L2 acquisition and that the cognitive processes of learning are the same, regardless of context. The main themes of each chapter are summarized again: the nature of L2 knowledge, interaction in the classroom, focus on form, the acquisition of grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and pragmatics, the different contexts in ISLA, and the individual differences between learners that play a role in L2 acquisition. Some concluding remarks are that researchers, teachers and learners cannot do much to influence L2, but on the other hand ISLA can influence acquisition a lot. The author ends by presenting a list of general principles for successful instructed learning, based on the work of Rod Ellis (2005).


By providing a broad overview of ISLA, the author succeeds in filling a gap in the ISLA research base. This is a much needed source of information in the growing popularity of the study area.

The book has a very specific audience: the author intended this book as a textbook in post-graduate ISLA studies. It is compiled in such a way that it can easily be followed as part of a course of study in L2 acquisition. It considers many theoretical issues and research studies done by others in ISLA; these are quite useful in an academic and university setting.

The author gives a comprehensive account of ISLA and compares studies of various researchers with regard to the acquisition of different aspects of language and in different contexts. The author also touches on the more abstract aspects of L2 acquisition that some teachers or learners might not be familiar with. With the growing emphasis in teaching and learning at university level, the author manages to highlight the processes behind L2 acquisition as it occurs in the classroom.

The book approaches language acquisition mainly from a cognitive-interactionist perspective, which might be a point of criticism in some cases. But as the author explains himself – it was not his intention to suggest that other approaches are not valid and he hopes that this work will encourage other researchers to embark on different perspectives of ISLA.

The author recognizes the vast proportions of SLA research and hopes that his readers will be inspired by its many possibilities.


Ellis, R. (2005). Instructed second language acquisition: A literature review. Wellington: Ministry of Education, New Zealand.

Han, Z. (2008). On the role of meaning in focus on form. In S. Han (Ed.), Understanding second language process (pp. 45-79). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Laufer, B., and Hulstijn, J. (2001). Incidental vocabulary acquisition in a second language: The construct of tasked-induced involvement load. Applied Linguistics, 22, 1-26.
Marga Stander, Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics (Afrikaans) is a lecturer/researcher in the Centre for Teaching and Learning and the coordinator of the Writing Centre on the Qwaqwa Campus of the University of the Free State, South Africa. Her research interests include L2 acquisition, L2 teaching and learning, sociolinguistics, aspects of applied linguistics, translation, sign language linguistics and culture. She specializes in L2 learning and the problems students encounter in academic writing. She has taught linguistics and applied linguistics in English and Afrikaans, as well as academic literacy courses. She has done several translations from English to Afrikaans of academic and religious texts. She also does regular proofreading and editing of scholarly articles and essays.

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