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Review of  Second Language Acquisition

Reviewer: Boris Yelin
Book Title: Second Language Acquisition
Book Author: Alessandro G. Benati Tanja Angelovska
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
General Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 27.3403

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


The proposed audience of “Second Language Acquisition: A Theoretical Introduction to Real World Applications,” by Allesandro Benati and Tanja Angelovska, is undergraduate students and trainee teachers. The goal of the book is to bridge the gap between theoretical and experimental work that has been done in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and its pedagogical implications. Besides the preface, which briefly outlines the goals and structure of the text. The book is divided into six chapters: Introduction to second language acquisition, Similarities and differences between first and second language acquisition, How learners process information in second language acquisition, How the internal system develops in second language acquisition, How learners learn to communicate in a second language, and What we know about SLA. There is also a short, but useful glossary of important terms used throughout the text. Each chapter begins with an overview of what will be covered, which is a helpful roadmap for the reader. The first chapter introduces and defines the concept of SLA, briefly describes the subfields of linguistics, and provides succinct summaries of the most influential theories in SLA, concluding with a model for SLA. The second chapter highlights the different factors affecting first language acquisition versus SLA, highlighting the Fundamental Difference Hypothesis versus the Fundamental Similarities Hypothesis; the chapter also discusses the well-known Critical Period Hypothesis, which looks at age as an influential factor. The third chapter focuses on what occurs in the learning process with a strong emphasis on individual differences. The fourth chapter explains what the interlanguage of learners looks like. The fifth chapter examines conversation and socialization as a means to foster SLA toward the end goal of communicative competence. The final chapter is essentially an overview of the past material with a larger portion devoted to the pedagogical implications, i.e. what theories and strategies we need to utilize in the classroom. Each chapter concludes with real-world applications and a reference list.


As promised, this book provides an overview of SLA that is beginner-friendly. This is in contrast to other introductory texts that focus more on analyzing theories and their originating studies (e.g. VanPatten & Williams, 2015). What this allows for is gaining a general understanding that can aid teachers in thinking through both the rationale underpinning what they do in the classroom and the progression of the field informing their work. Moreover, the text gives clear suggestions for the classroom, such as meaningful, task-based activities. The inclusion in this text of information regarding multilinguals and heritage speakers is especially welcome, since these types of students are increasingly common and have different needs than the traditional L2 learner who only has speaks one L1.

Though the book is quite accessible to those new to SLA, one caveat is that while SLA-based concepts and topic-essential terms, such as ‘markedness’, are well-defined, terms like ‘copular verbs’ and ‘SVO’ are not explained. Thus, it is occasionally necessary for the reader to have a firm knowledge of linguistics or at least an instructor that can fill in those gaps. Otherwise, the authors explain their concepts with examples, such as when they list durative and stative verbs, ‘seem’, ‘know’, and ‘need’, as they mention these terms. The glossary, especially, not only clearly defines terms but also directs readers to the principal texts that cover the terminology.

In line with the book’s emphasis on clear definitions, Chapter 5 differentiates terms that are commonly confused or treated as synonyms. In this case, their terms are the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’, ‘scaffolding’, and ‘i+1’, which all refer to supporting a person’s learning by helping them reach the next highest level of understanding. However, each term has different implications and direction for SLA. Discussing theories and concepts side-by-side makes it easier to see the differences than would grouping them together erroneously. The text, in Chapter 2, also does well to include discussions of L3 acquisition (TLA) and to discuss the terminological differences between SLA and TLA but also within TLA. As the authors mention, TLA is a growing field that will be even more important in a globalizing world, so including it as a topic definitely shows foresight.

Another helpful feature of the text that may seem redundant at first is the good deal of repetition present. In this case, repetition is helpful since the information is used in a different way in each subsequent mention. For instance, discussing Universal Grammar (US) with respect to L1 vs. L2 difference does not necessarily inform someone as to the specific learning processes that one sees in learners when put to the task. Also, by mentioning topics in different ways, this book is an effective bridge between theoretical concepts and analogous applied concepts (e.g. the strong interface position and Skill Acquisition Theory). In addition, the text explores the SLA field from its beginnings with the ideas of behaviorism (Skinner, 1957) and universal grammar (Chomsky, 1965) to the more recent work; but it explores in a holistic fashion, constantly incorporating and comparing theories and ideas. At the end of the book, the reader has a firm grip on the concepts explored through the text as well as how that translates to teaching.

A shortfall of the book is some of activities throughout the chapters. Some of them are definitely useful and ask to review/synthesize prior information or provide examples of ideas immediately following discussion of the topic, e.g. “Can you think of some examples of structures affected by the First Noun Principle?” (pg. 67). Nonetheless, many of the activities ask for information that will subsequently be mentioned. For example, one finds the following activity (pg. 48):

Think of possible arguments about why the CPH should/could be rejected.
Argument 1:
Argument 2:
Argument 3:

Just below, the reader can see three numbered arguments. After the reader discovers this occasional practice, it tends to lower the motivation to complete the activity. The activities would be better suited at the end of a chapter as comprehension checks/syntheses, and examples of these types of activities are also present (pg. 82):

What input manipulation techniques do you know?
How do these pedagogical interventions affect the learning of grammar?

This question occurs at the end of Chapter 3, which focuses on processing information. Thus, the reader has a better sense of how to approach these questions.

In the end the authors succeed at weaving together different findings and theories in SLA, as opposed to supporting a select few. This, in turn, gives a truer and more complete picture so that educators can make an informed decision. Furthermore, it allows educators to make conscious choices about what they will highlight in their teaching, depending on the task at hand. Besides the intended audience of undergraduates and teacher trainees, I would recommend this book to graduate students and even professors as a useful reference guide to which they can refer their students.


Chomsky, Noam. 1965. Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Skinner, Burrhus F. 1957. Verbal behavior. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

VanPatten, Bill, & Williams, Jessica. 2015. Theories in second language acquisition: An introduction, 2nd edn. New York: Routledge.
Boris Yelin is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Spanish Linguistics at Purdue University. His main interests are SLA and Pedagogy with a focus on L3 acquisition. Past research has included looking at the intersection of language variation and semantics with respect to mood.

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