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Review of  Social Interaction in L2 Classroom Discourse

Reviewer: Andrea Eniko Lypka
Book Title: Social Interaction in L2 Classroom Discourse
Book Author: Oljay Sert
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 27.1798

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Through a close analysis of second language (L2) classroom talk from a social interactionist perspective, Social Interaction and L2 Classroom Discourse by Olcay Sert investigates the complex relationship between second language acquisition (SLA) and interaction in instructed L2 learning settings. Using Conversational Analysis (CA) methodology, a micro-analytic approach, the author examines both verbal and nonverbal aspects in moment-by-moment teacher-student talk in foreign language (FL) and English as an additional language (EAL) contexts. The turn-by-turn examination of interactions with emphasis on epistemic (i.e. learner’s claims of knowledge or lack of knowledge), nonverbal (e.g., gaze, head nods, hand gestures, and visual artifacts), and multilingual (e.g., code-switching or code-mixing) resources highlights various practices enacted to make meaning and construct knowledge.

The book is part of the Studies in Social Interaction Series edited by Steve Walsh, Paul Seedhouse, and Christopher Jenks. It contains nine chapters and is divided into three sections. The first section surveys research and theory related to L2 classroom discourse, L2 Classroom Interactional Competence (CIC), and CA in SLA (Chapters 2-3), following the list of abbreviations of key terms and introduction chapter. Chapters 4-6 analyze various L2 interactional troubles, such as claims of insufficient knowledge, silence, and unwillingness to participate. The author offers guidelines to manage claims of knowledge/insufficient knowledge. Resources to mediate learning and teaching and enhance participation include the adoption of hand gestures in tandem with linguistic explanations and code switching, among others. Following the analysis, pedagogical implications for L2 classrooms and language teacher education are provided in the third section (Chapters 7-8). The book concludes with future directions for research.

The first chapter introduces the notion of L2 learning as socialization process. Specifically, Sert defines “L2 classroom” discourse as scripted interaction to negotiate identity and co-construct knowledge “in and through the use of language-in-interaction” (p. 9) and using epistemic, multimodal, and multilingual resources. In addition to definitions of L2, instructed language learning contexts, and L2 classroom discourse, the chapter surveys CA, its methodological strengths in L2 classroom discourse, and CA-SLA intersections. This chapter also provides an overview of the significance of this study, data, and structure of the book.

Chapter 2 foregrounds the notions of social interaction and CA in L2 classroom discourse. The author provides a comprehensive survey of the field of L2 classroom discourse through theoretical frameworks, such as systemic functional linguistics and sociocultural theory, and evaluates methodological approaches, such as discourse analysis and CA. Drawing on his evaluation of diverse methodological approaches he argues that through CA or a turn-by-turn examination of interactional structures, micro-details of meaning-making-in-action can be traced, including strategies employed by the teacher to repair, correct, or elicit information or by the student to display (lack of) knowledge or misalignment with pedagogical goals.

From a CA perspective, Chapter 3 brings together a review of literature on epistemic, multimodal, and multilingual aspects displayed by interactants to mediate learning and co-construct meaning in instructional learning contexts. Awareness of these resources can help teachers promote L2 learning or CIC (Walsh, 2006). In addition to operationalizing key concepts, a growing body of research is synthesized to identify research gaps and assess the relevance of L2 classroom discourse with focus on non-linguistic resources, such as gaze orientations, pointing gestures, and head nods (Kääntä, 2012; Kupetz, 2011; Mortensen, 2008) as well as code-switching and language choice (Bani-Shoraka & Jansson, 2007; Üstünel & Seedhouse, 2005).

Through microanalysis of classroom talk examples in the UK, Luxembourg, and Turkey, Chapters 4- 6 complement the survey section. These chapters illustrate how interactants display nonverbal features, including epistemic (Chapter 4), multimodal (Chapter 5), and multilingual (Chapter 6), and the pedagogical consequences of these cues in various L2 learning contexts. Using turn-by-turn analysis of detailed transcripts of audio-visual data, examples of various interactional troubles that hinder participation and successful management of interactions that lead to learning are provided to illustrate the interactional, social constructed nature of teaching and learning.

Chapter 4 turns attention to how students initiate insufficient knowledge through verbal (e.g. ‘I don’t know.’) and nonverbal behavior, such as headshakes and raising eyebrows in classroom interactions, and how these troubles can be managed through the teacher’s orientation to this claim by allocating the turn to another learner and combining gestures with vocabulary explanations. For example, in excerpt 4.9 (p. 80), following a learner’s claim of insufficient knowledge, the teacher discusses the vocabulary item ‘mutter’ in an 11th grade class in Luxembourg by combining hand gestures to illustrate the notion of “fading away” and explaining the word in the target language (English). His effective use of gesture prompts the learner to produce a whispering sound to demonstrate understanding of the word ‘mutter.’ Further examples of the role of particular gestures, such as hand to ear to address hearing or understanding troubles are also analyzed to demonstrate that L2 learning involves negotiation of meaning between interactants through verbal and nonverbal cues.

Chapter 5 investigates the role of multilingual resources to resolve troubles in L2 learning, including language choice, the use of translations, and L1- L2 mixing. For example, the excerpt on page 114 from a corpus of video-recorded data from kindergarten EFL classes in Turkey highlights how teachers combine teacher initiated translation and code-switching with visual artifacts (Powerpoint slides with fruit pictures and real objects) in repetition drills of vocabulary related to fruits in English. Other examples illustrate how multilingual resources could be employed by teachers to position learners as language experts and enhance L2 communication. These resources can be used to request choral repetition, paraphrasing or induce learners’ code switching to elicit or clarify meaning. For example, extract 6. 4. (p. 120) in an EFL classroom in Luxembourg illustrates how a teacher initiates the German (L1) translation (‘einsam’) for the word ‘lonely’ to explain differences between two L2 words, ‘alone’ and ‘lonely’ in the target language (English). By using L1 translation resource, the teacher could increase participation by asking students to explain the connotations of these words in the target language, instead of providing students verbal explanation in the target language.

Drawing on these analyses and examples, the next two chapters are devoted to practical implications for L2 classrooms (Chapter 7) and teacher education programs (Chapter 8).
In Chapter 7, drawing on Walsh (2011, 2012), L2 learning in instructional contexts can be maximized by “using language convergent to the pedagogical goal, maximizing space for learning, shaping learner contributions, and effective eliciting are effective displays of CIC [classroom interactional competence]” (p. 155). In addition to these characteristics, Sert provides evidence on how combining CA methodology with reflective tools can help teachers track management of epistemic, multimodal, and multilingual resources in the L2 classroom.

Chapter 8 presents a five-step framework for a L2 teacher education model based on CA and CIC, drawing on self-reflections, observations, written feedback on participants’ teaching performance, and lesson plans collected in a preservice EFL program in Turkey. In the first phase of this model, preservice teachers are introduced to the basics of L2 classroom interaction competence by reading and discussing relevant literature. Next, preservice teachers create a lesson plan and conduct a video-recorded micro-teaching. In step three, after transcribing sequences of teaching and analyzing transcripts and feedback from a teacher educator, preservice teachers reflect on their micro-teaching. Finally, after conducting a video-recorded teaching session in real classrooms, they transcribe and analyze this session with teachers and peers, using CA.

The book concludes with a discussion about research ethics and future research directions. To complement cognitive based approaches to SLA, the author calls for more research that examines the relationships among epistemic, multimodal, and multilingual modes in various L2 classrooms using multimodal CA of longitudinal data.


The aim of Social Interaction and L2 Classroom Discourse is to explore multimodal L2 classroom discourse with a focus on CIC and L2 learning, using a micro-level analysis of talk-in-interaction. The emphasis on close examination of both verbal and nonverbal aspects of interactions enriches understanding of the dynamic and relational nature of L2 learning in formal learning in bilingual and multilingual contexts. The author argues that awareness of the way L2 learners orient to multimodal resources in interactions, such as head or body orientation, and multilingual resources, such as code-switching or language alternation, are key to understanding L2 learning in institutional settings. The detailed analysis, reconceptualization of L2 classroom interaction through verbal and nonverbal features, and the inclusion of data from various L2 learning contexts, including language tasters, EFL classrooms, and L2 teacher education programs in the UK, Turkey, and Luxembourg provide a nuanced understanding of how L2 learning and teaching collaboratively unfold. By connecting theory, research, and practice, using clear language and data collected in various institutional L2 learning contexts, the book provides alternative insights about the complexity of L2 learning and the implications for researchers and practitioners.

Approaches in this book, a multidimensional approach to L2 learning and teaching and a CA-based multimodal analysis of L2 classroom discourse, have been less adopted in SLA inquiry. In addition to analytic focus on linguistic features, the detailed transcripts from audio-visual data capture nonlinguistic cues of L2 learning, such as gaze, smile, and hand gestures. In addition to gestures and gaze, multimodality can be expanded to visual and artistic representations, such as drama, creative writing, digital storytelling, as well as L2 classroom interactions on Second Life and Google Hangouts (Balaman, 2015).

Though the book does not explicate the basics of the CA paradigm (for an introduction to CA in Applied Linguistics research, see Sert & Seedhouse, 2011), the overview of CA in SLA is comprehensible for novice researchers and practitioners. For example, Chapter 2 provides an in-depth discussion about the methodological strengths of CA and transcription conventions to capture diverse forms of interaction, verbal and nonverbal features, such as gaze, walking away, and head orientation, and temporality. In addition to discussion on methodology and transcription, the author contextualizes each excerpt by providing details about the L2 classroom demographics, seating arrangement, curriculum, and learning objective. Transcript extracts contain linguistic and non-linguistic aspects employed by teachers and learners, such as phonetic transcriptions for analytically important items, gaze, gestures, and orientation to classroom artifacts among others that enrich understanding of multimodality of L2 learning. Transcripts are also accompanied by figures to track gaze and gestures in the moment of interactions. Such features provide opportunities for the reader to revisit and reanalyze various excerpts.

Although the explanation of the various data sets is comprehensive, a more in-depth discussion about the creation of data corpus, the primary goal of the initial data collection, the data extraction for analysis, and researcher reflexivity would help the reader unpack the data collection process, including the selection of discursive data for analysis in this book.

The data collected in intermediate-level classrooms with young literate learners, in kindergarten, K-12, and L2 teacher education settings don’t not address L2 learning in other instructional settings, such as community- or faith based L2 learning. There might be other L2 learning patterns in adult L2 classrooms with learners on various levels of L2 proficiency and literacy. Drawing on the theoretical and analytical frameworks in this book, future research could emphasize how learner awareness on epistemic, multimodal and multilingual resources can enhance agency and motivation in both formal and informal L2 learning settings using longitudinal data. More research should examine how multilingual language learners with low literacy make meaning in their L2 in English as a Second Language (ESL) and EFL contexts.

Beyond insightful analysis of various multimodal interactions using CA, pedagogical implications for both L2 classrooms and teacher education programs are discussed in-depth, drawing on excerpts showcased in the analysis section. The analyses of extracts in Chapters 4-6 reveal “micro-moments of teaching and learning” (p. 81) or the interrelationship between interactions and pedagogical practices by showcasing both successful and less successful management of L2 learning. Language learning phenomena, such as code switching, and the use of multilingual resources are showcased within relevant and up-to-date references, excerpts, and analyses of excerpts. Drawing on the methodological strengths of CA and findings, in Chapter 8, the author provides a CA-based model for L2 teacher programs. Sert provides a case study of a female preservice teacher in an L2 teacher education program in Turkey to illustrate the participant’s evolving language awareness and CIC over time. Using CA, the author traces the participant's evolving CIC in her reflections on her micro teaching, lesson plans, teacher observations, actual teaching, and feedback from her teaching mentor. Findings reveal that the participant’s CA analysis of her teaching transcripts, reflection on her teaching, and feedback from her mentor maximized her teacher development. The author proposes the framework based on CA, CIC, and reflection as a model for other L2 teacher programs and calls for more research in this field.

By combining research and practice, this book is a comprehensive resource for in-service L2 teacher development projects and L2 language teacher education programs. Teacher educators could adopt examples and transcripts of excerpts along with visual phenomena from the book for analysis, discussion, and reflection with pre-service teachers to enable understanding of L2 learning in various contexts. The discussion of research ethics in Chapter 9, the detailed analyses in Chapters 4-6, and the CA orientation, make this book invaluable for qualitative research, CA, and/ or SLA courses.


Balaman, U. (2015). Collaborative construction of online L2 task accomplishment through epistemic progression. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 199, 604-612.

Bani-Shoraka, H., & Jansson, G. (2007). Bilingual practices in the process of initiating and resolving lexical problems in students' collaborative writing sessions. International Journal of Bilingualism, 11(2), 157.

Kääntä, L. (2012). Teachers’ embodied allocations in instructional interaction. Classroom Discourse, 3(2), 166-186.

Kupetz, M. (2011). Multimodal resources in students’ explanations in CLIL interaction. Novitas-ROYAL (Research on Youth and Language), 5(1),121-141. Retrieved from kupetz.pdf

Mortensen, K. (2008).Selecting next-speaker in the second language classroom: How to find a willing next-speaker in planned activities. Journal of Applied Linguistics, 5(1), 55-79.

Sert, O., & Seedhouse, P. (2011). Introduction: Conversation Analysis in Applied Linguistics. Novitas-ROYAL (Research on Youth and Language), 5(1), 1-14. Retrieved from

Sert, O. (2015). Social interaction and L2 classroom discourse. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Üstünel, E., & Seedhouse, P. (2005). Why that, in that language, right now? Code‐switching and pedagogical focus. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 15(3), 302-325.

Walsh, S. (2011). Exploring classroom discourse: Language in action. London: Routledge.

Walsh, S. (2006). Investigating classroom discourse. New York: Routledge.
Andrea Lypka is a PhD Candidate in the Second Language Acquisition and Instructional Technology (SLA/IT) program at the University of South Florida (USF). Her research interests include motivation, learner identity and agency, and digital storytelling. Correspondence regarding this book review can be addressed directly to: Andrea Lypka at, [email protected]

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