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Review of  The Routledge Encyclopedia of Second Language Acquisition

Reviewer: Florentina Taylor
Book Title: The Routledge Encyclopedia of Second Language Acquisition
Book Author: Peter Robinson
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 23.5147

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EDITOR: Peter Robinson
TITLE: The Routledge Encyclopedia of Second Language Acquisition
PUBLISHER: Routledge
YEAR: 2012

Florentina Taylor, Department of Education, University of York, UK


The 756-page ''Routledge Encyclopedia of Second Language Acquisition'' begins with the declared aim ''to provide readers with a user-friendly, authoritative survey of terms and constructs that are currently thought to be important to understanding research in second language acquisition (SLA) and its applications'' (p. xxii, Introduction). This aim is achieved to a great extent through 246 general entries of variable length (500-2,000 words) and 9 ''survey entries'' or ''thematic areas'' (around 4,000 words), with some authors contributing more than one entry. The longer and more developed sections incorporate various concepts, which have their own short entries, into more in-depth discussions of associated theories, approaches and notions, offering readers the opportunity to familiarize themselves with terminology in context while underlining important relationships between various perspectives. The nine survey entries are: Development in SLA (Jürgen Meisel), Discourse and pragmatics in SLA (Eva Alcón-Soler), Individual differences in SLA (Rebecca Oxford), Instructed SLA (Nina Spada and Patsy Lightbown), Language and the lexicon in SLA (Marjolijn Verspoor and Norbert Schmitt), Measuring and researching SLA (Andrew Cohen and Ernesto Macaro), Psycholinguistics of SLA (Ping Li and Natasha Tokowicz), Social and socio-cultural approaches to SLA (Dwight Atkinson) and Theoretical constructs in SLA (Geoff Jordan).

All sections end with six ''see also'' key words/ phrases discussed in the book, a reference list and, in some cases, suggestions for further reading. There are also very useful lists of contributors and entries, as well as a subject/ author index that facilitate navigation around the volume and make it easy to locate topics and authors. The titles of the survey entries/thematic areas appear in the list of entries in bold characters. As most sections begin with concise definitions of the term in question, the encyclopedia can also serve as a dictionary, allowing for both quick reference and more in-depth understanding of the concepts discussed.

Although organized alphabetically, the sections present a helpful historical overview of the SLA literature, from older concepts such as Classroom interaction, Relative clauses, Scaffolding or Speech acts to more recent concepts and perspectives such as Complexity theory, Ecology of language learning or Event-related potentials. Topics are not limited to SLA concepts and theories, but also include research perspectives (e.g., Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed-method approaches, as well as Longitudinal, Cross-sectional and Time-series designs) and introductions to methods of qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis. Some statistical concepts are also covered briefly (e.g., Effect size, Significance levels), in line with the growing need for these to be reported in published SLA research.


As stated in the introduction, this is clearly an authoritative survey of SLA terminology, written by a respected body of international specialists, many discussing their own innovative contributions. This offers the reader a valuable opportunity to find out more about the field from the best informed sources. However, this can also diminish the level of criticality and introduce a certain amount of bias in instances where authors discuss their own instruments or projects, supporting their entries exclusively with their own (or their team's) references (e.g., Attitudes and Motivation Test Battery; ZISA project).

As most entries are relatively short, deciding what content to include in each of them was clearly an evaluative exercise resulting in often partisan positions. This becomes more of an issue in overview/multiple-perspective entries such as Individual differences or Theoretical constructs in SLA, where clearly not all readers will agree with the selection included and the arguments developed. In addition, by fragmenting such sections into yet smaller sub-sections, it can become difficult to provide any meaningful review of the topics discussed (see, for example, Gender and age, in Individual differences in SLA). The result of an evaluative process in deciding what content to include may also be visible at the macro level, the volume overlooking several recent and not so recent areas such as affect/beliefs (e.g., Arnold, 1999; Horwitz, 1995), autonomy (e.g., Little, Ridley & Ushioda, 2002), goal theory (e.g., Woodrow, 2012) and self-concept (e.g., Mercer, 2011). While many readers will consider the absence of such concepts from the encyclopedia objectionable, this may also be an indication that far more (and more rigorous) published research is necessary for these topics to be regarded as on a par with more established themes in SLA research.

These limitations, which are perhaps inherent to any encyclopedia, do not, however, distract from the important contribution that the volume makes to the SLA literature. As Peter Robinson explains in the introduction, one of the aims of the encyclopedia is to provide a complement to several recent SLA handbooks that, through their very nature, can only cover a limited number of topics in as many chapters. The Routledge Encyclopedia of Second Language Acquisition does so successfully, offering the best of both worlds -- a collection of expanded dictionary entries and a number of more developed sections that bring together several different perspectives, each with its own entry in the volume. As such, it will be of great use to students looking for an introduction to core SLA concepts, as well as to supervisors confronted with less familiar terminology. It is also a helpful reference tool for researchers, authors and professionals with an interest in SLA.


Arnold, Jane (ed.). 1999. Affect in Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Horwitz, Elaine K. 1995. ''Student Affective Reactions and the Teaching and Learning of Foreign Languages.'' International Journal of Educational Research 23 (7): 573–579.

Little, David, Jennifer Ridley, and Ema Ushioda. 2002. Towards Greater Learner Autonomy in the Foreign Language Classroom. Dublin: Authentik.

Mercer, Sarah. 2011. Towards an Understanding of Language Learner Self-concept. Dordrecht: Springer.

Woodrow, Lindy. 2012. ''Goal Orientations: Three Perspectives on Motivational Goal Orientations.'' In Psychology for Language Learning: Insights from Research, Theory and Practice, ed. Sarah Mercer, Stephen Ryan, and Marion Williams, 188–202. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dr. Florentina Taylor is a Lecturer in Education and MA TESOL Programme Leader at the University of York, UK, where she currently teaches English Linguistics and Teaching English for Academic Purposes to postgraduate students, as well as Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages to undergraduates. Her main research interests focus on the self and identity in language learning, especially the interface between identity perceptions, language acquisition and academic achievement.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780415877510
Pages: 732
Prices: U.S. $ 250.00
U.K. £ 150.00