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Review of  Discourse and language learning across L2 instructional settings

Reviewer: Erhan Aslan
Book Title: Discourse and language learning across L2 instructional settings
Book Author: Eva Alcón Soler Maria Safont-Jordà
Publisher: Rodopi
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 24.2199

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The aim of the present volume is to establish a connection between discourse and language learning, integrating various factors affecting discourse structure in the foreign language classroom. As expressed in the introduction of the volume (p. 1), Eva Alcón Soler and Maria-Pilar Safont-Jordà emphasize the need to conduct more research that brings together discourse and language learning from different perspectives, such as information processing, conversation analysis, and socio-cognitive and ethnographic approaches. The studies included in the volume explore discourse patterns in different instructional settings ranging from computer-mediated, classroom, multilingual, primary, secondary, and university contexts. The volume is comprised of four parts consisting of thirteen chapters. The book is organized in a fashion that displays the interface between discourse and different instructional settings including a variety of target foreign languages.

Part 1 (Discourse in L2 Learning Contexts) presents studies which focus on the analysis of the discourse strategies and tools used by teachers in primary, secondary, and university level instructional settings. In the first chapter, “Primary school teachers’ language practices: A four year longitudinal study of three FL classes,” Elsa Tragant and Carmen Muñoz report the findings of a study conducted over a period of four years in a foreign language immersion context. They examined the classroom discourse features in a primary school context in Spain, particularly how the change of teacher throughout four grades reflected on students’ attitudes, perceptions, and linguistic progress. Case study findings from three different schools suggest that different teaching practices lead to different classroom discourse patterns such as elicitation or elaboration moves, student output, and teaching style. The study strengthens our understanding of how discourse patterns are dynamically co-constructed by both teachers and students in different primary school settings and subject to change and reorganization.

In Chapter 2 of Part 1, “Lexical scaffolding in immersion classroom discourse,” Nathalie Blanc, Rita Carol, Peter Griggs, and Roy Lyster present a study that investigates the instructional discourse patterns displayed by a French teacher and an English teacher in a French immersion primary school context in Montreal. The study focuses on the impact of different lexical scaffolding strategies executed by the two teachers through bilingual read-aloud sessions on lexical processing of French dominant, English dominant, and bilingual eight-year old pupils. The pedagogical significance of the study lies in its potential contribution to raise teachers’ awareness of the interplay between language and content through metalinguistic, cross-linguistic, and experiential connections established during the instructional interactions between teachers and students in the classroom.

Rita Tognini and Rhonda Oliver, in Chapter 3, entitled “L1 use in primary and secondary foreign language classrooms and its contribution to learning,” investigate the context, nature, and purpose of the use of L1 in foreign language instruction in primary and secondary classrooms in Australia. The authors report findings from audio and video recorded lessons in both primary and secondary schools. The findings suggest that L1 use is dominant in all instructional contexts, and L2 use seemed to be restricted to simple and predictable exchanges. In addition, most learning was found to take place in teacher-learner interaction rather than in peer interaction. In line with the purpose of Part 1, this chapter informs the reader of the various discourse strategies employed by teachers in L1 and L2 exchanges, and how and to what extent these exchanges contribute to learning, thus offering potential research venues in bilingual education, classroom discourse analysis and classroom interaction.

In the last chapter of Part 1, “Repair in Japanese request sequences during student-teacher interactions,” Yumiko Tateyama focuses on the types of repair sequences encountered during student-teacher role play activities and the dual role played by the teacher both as interlocutor and teacher. The conversation analysis of three request role plays from two audio and video recorded sessions of a low-intermediate Japanese as a foreign language (JFL) class at an American university revealed that the teacher organizes the interactional repair trajectories in the classroom by initiating repair and providing feedback when students encounter trouble. The author states that the shifts between the two roles enable the teacher to assess student forms, make corrections as needed, and adjust interaction during class activities. Along with the first three chapters in this part, this study also offers insights into classroom discourse with particular emphasis on teacher-student interaction from a conversation analytic perspective in a JFL higher education context.

The second part of the volume (Discourse in Content and Language Integrated Contexts), which focuses on the interaction and language use in content and language integrated learning (CLIL) contexts, starts with Chapter 5 on “Social perspectives on interaction and language learning in CLIL classrooms.” Ana Llinares and Tom Morton present an overview of two social perspectives, namely the socio-interactionist approach based on conversation analysis and situated learning theory, and systemic functional linguistics. According to the authors, this approach helps identify the lexico-grammatical features that CLIL students exhibit. Furthermore, the chapter stresses the importance of combining the two social approaches and elaborates on how such a combination contributes to the understanding of the interrelationship between content pedagogy, language learning, interaction, and the discursive structure of the CLIL classroom communities. Finally, the authors suggest implications derived from the fusion of social perspectives for CLIL research from both theoretical and methodological aspects.

Tarja Nikula, in Chapter 6, reports the results of the study entitled, “On the role of peer discussions in the learning of subject-specific language use in CLIL.” In line with the theme of the volume, this chapter approaches language learners’ discourse in CLIL environments from a discourse-pragmatic and social-interpersonal dimension. Specifically, the author focuses on the impact of students’ peer discussions in group-work situations on their subject-specific language use. The data derived from the recordings of 7th grade history lessons in secondary schools in Finland revealed that joint meaning construction through peer discussions in group-work situations enabled learners to be aware of the historical terms and concepts and use discourse patterns related to the content. This study brings forth a new perspective to CLIL research, stressing the socio-constructivist underpinnings of CLIL.

The effects of CLIL on higher education contexts are explained in the last chapter of Part 2. Ute Smit, in the study entitled “English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and its role in integrating content and language in higher education: A longitudinal study of question-initiated exchanges,” investigates the impact of ELF on the discourse-pragmatic structure of question-initiated exchanges with particular emphasis on the teacher-student interaction in an Austrian post-secondary program in international hotel management. The dataset collected during a period of four semesters, comprised of 50 semi-structured interviews, informal conversations with students, teachers, and administrators, and 33 audio-recorded and transcribed lessons was both quantitatively and qualitatively analyzed. The findings revealed that as the course progressed, initially teacher-centered question exchanges were gradually replaced by whole class and more student-generated exchanges that involved referential questions which focused on reason and explanation rather than facts (‘why’ vs. ‘what’ questions). Clearly, the study highlights the importance of how CLIL promotes student involvement in the classroom and informs teacher education programs of the discourse structure of ELF higher education contexts.

Part 3 (Discourse in New Language Learning Contexts), which focuses on the analysis of discourse in new language learning settings, begins with Chapter 8, “Identity and face in institutional English as Lingua Franca discourse.” In it, Juilane House presents a study conducted in a German university. The study looks at the institutional pedagogical interactions in ELF during academic advising sessions between advisors and their students coming from different L1 backgrounds, particularly the discourse structure pertaining to identity and face related issues. The author reports how code-switching and the I-plus-Verb constructions ‘I think’ and ‘I mean’ are primarily used as identity construction strategies. Academic advisors’ automatic switch to their L1 during their interactions with students is purported to be a connection with their L1 identity. Also, I-plus-Verb constructions are identified as an expression of a speaker’s opinion rather than mere discourse markers usually characterized as semantically empty fillers in native English speaker speech. The study concludes that the mode of interaction, either L1 or ELF, factors in the hierarchical perceptions and interaction in a language other than the mother tongue and might pose challenges for the institutionally sanctioned position of the academic advisor.

In Chapter 9, “The voices of immigrant students in the classroom: discourse practices and language learning in a Catalan-Spanish bilingual environment”, Josep Maria Cots and Laura Espelt present the findings of a case study that focuses on the social environment and language learning process of a female teenage immigrant student. Following a linguistic ethnographic approach, the study looks at the discursive means afforded to the student faced with three languages (Catalan, Spanish, and English) different from her L1 in the Catalonian educational institution, and the process in which her experiences feed into her identity construction and self-expression. Mainly comprised of observational data, the study also includes semi-structured and informal interviews with other students and teachers. The findings suggest that the student made use of the interactional negotiation of meanings to construct knowledge and displayed agency that resists the structure or adapts it to relevant goals. Unlike other studies included in the volume, this one emphasizes the macro analysis of the discourse structure of the learning environment, and offers insights to the understanding of the contextual factors of learning from a socio-cultural standpoint.

The focus of Chapter 10 in Part 3, “Email openings and closings: Pragmalinguistic and gender variation in learner-instructor cyber consultations,” by César Félix-Brasdefer is on the discourse practices in emailing in computer-mediated communication (CMC) environments with particular emphasis on greetings and closings. The author analyzed a natural corpus of 320 email messages sent from US undergraduate learners of Spanish to their instructors. The findings suggested that while the students displayed more informal and conversational features in the openings, they used a formal style in the closings. In addition, the type and frequency of the opening moves was influenced by the gender of the writer of the email message. For instance, the frequency of the use of the greeting word only (e.g. ‘Hola’, ‘Hello/Hi’) in the female L2 Spanish and L1 English data was significantly higher than in the male data. Overall, the study offers significant implications for the development of learners’ L2 pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic knowledge and competence in academic settings. Equally important is that the study informs the reader of the particular discourse conventions that are exemplified in a CMC environment and encourages further attention to and research on these fast-growing technology-mediated language learning contexts.

Finally, Part 4, “Issues for further research on discourse and language learning” presents three chapters that touch upon the effect of gender, corrective feedback, and codeswitching on language learning. Chapter 11, “Does gender influence task performance in EFL? Interactive tasks and language related episodes” by Agurtzane Azkarai and María del Pilar Garcia Mayo, focuses on differences that males and females exhibit in their conversational interaction and the effect of various tasks learners are engaged in during production. The context chosen for the study was an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) context. The authors investigated the interaction between matched and mixed gender pairs of Basque-Spanish bilinguals learning English during their engagement in both information-gap (picture description and picture placement) and collaborative tasks (dictogloss and picture story). The results indicated that the gender pairings did not affect the language related episodes (LRE). However, it was found that the type of task, especially the tasks that required written language, led to the production of a higher number of LREs. The authors suggest that future research can integrate other individual variables such as motivation, attention, working memory, etc., to see their relative effects on task-based interaction.

Patricia Salazar, in Chapter 12 on “Exploring learners’ reaction to corrective feedback through stimulated recall interviews,” explores how foreign language learners notice explicit and implicit corrective feedback (CF) on their written production through a stimulated recall (SR) interview. In the study, eight Spanish university students majoring in English philology were required to write an assignment for one of the subjects of their degree. The students who received both explicit and implicit feedback from the teacher during an interview were then asked to verbalize their thoughts about this interview in a second stimulated recall interview. The findings revealed that students noticed and reported both versions of feedback, and that 80% of the mistakes reported were corrected in the tailor-made posttests. The most prominent implication of the study is that SR is a useful methodological tool in second/foreign language learning to reflect the effectiveness of CF for grammar learning.

The concluding chapter of the volume, “Code switching in classroom discourse: A multilingual approach” focuses on cross-linguistic influence and code switching in an English as a foreign language (EFL) context. In their study, Laura Portolés Falomir and Sofia Martín-Laguna investigated the code-switching patterns in the English oral production of 25 Catalan-Spanish bilingual children in a Spanish primary school. The data consisted of recordings of daily English lessons in which the oral tasks were completed by the students. The results suggested that code-switches mainly had a pragmatic function in the sense that they were intentionally manipulated by the students to convey meaning in specific contexts. The study sheds light on the interaction among languages in multilingual learning environments and informs classroom discourse research of how multilingualism affects the learning process and contributes to the learning of additional languages.


The topic and purpose of this book emphasize the interface between classroom discourse and foreign language learning, describing the particular discourse patterns, strategies, and tools exploited by both learners and teachers in various educational contexts. The intended purpose is successfully achieved in the first three parts of the volume with clear focus on and relevance to the specific topics such as teacher, learner, and classroom discourse, teacher-learner interaction, and newly arising language learning contexts.

Of the various themes the studies display, the impact of the teacher in the language classroom with regard to the dynamics of interaction is pivotal. The first part of the book is dedicated to how teacher-student interaction affects the discourse structure of the classroom at different levels. Teachers, indeed, play an important role in providing feedback ,and students expect interventions from teachers with regard to their performance in the classroom (Lyster and Ranta,1997). To this end, the teacher constitutes an important segment of the classroom discourse and facilitates negotiation of meaning by providing corrective feedback in the form of elicitation, metalinguistic feedback, clarification requests, teacher repetition of error, etc. Therefore, as elaborately described in the studies in this part of the volume, the teacher-student interaction is more influential than student-student interaction, facilitates learning more, and appeals to students’ needs and expectations.

Content and language integrated learning (CLIL) forms the basis of the second part of the volume and the studies presented in this part offer several implications for language learning and teaching. CLIL seems to change the interaction type in the classroom and offers a more student-centered learning environment which is not generally observed in traditional classrooms where teacher-centered teaching practices are more prevalent. In addition, CLIL affords students enough discourse space to participate, discards the barriers between the teacher and the students, and gives them equal opportunities to interact in the classroom (Nikula, 2010). Thus, CLIL brings forth a new approach to classroom pedagogy and discourse. Equally important is the academic language CLIL displays and the discourse functions that are demonstrated by the contextualized interactions that take place in the classroom, such as explaining, defining, or hypothesizing (Dalton-Puffer, 2011). Finally, the theoretical foundation of CLIL is rooted in social constructivist approaches (Lantolf & Thorne, 2006). The immediate learning situation and context enable students to engage in social encounters and help them co-construct knowledge in a collaborative fashion.

The main theme of Part 3 of the volume is the interface between classroom discourse and sociolinguistic phenomena such as identity construction, gender differences in communication, and the social learning practices of immigrant students. The display of a wide range of social and cultural roles and identities by language teachers and students in various instructional contexts has been noted by Duff & Uchida (1997). These roles and identities play an important role in changing the dynamics and the structure of the classroom. The identities and beliefs are co-constructed, negotiated, and undergo change through the use of language. In addition to voice and identity, this part of the volume demonstrates how the gender variable causes pragmalinguistic variation in the email openings and closings of students in computer-mediated learning environments. Identity construction, voice, and gender are the most commonly studied variables in computer-mediated communication (CMC) (Pfaffman, 2007). Thus, this part of the volume could have included more studies on how these variables in CMC learning settings affect the discourse practices of both teachers and learners. Nevertheless, the manifestation of identity, voice, and gender by means of different discourse elements in the language classroom is clearly demonstrated.

The topical unity and coherence in the previous three parts of the volume is, unfortunately, not maintained in the final part. This part includes and highlights some issues (e.g. gender and EFL task performance, corrective feedback, and codeswitching) that are either touched upon in previous parts or lack a clear connection to discourse and language learning settings. For instance, Salazar’s study in Chapter 12 does not offer any explicit implications as to how stimulated recall interviews and corrective feedback tie into discourse features of the learning environment, thus it falls outside of the scope and purpose of the volume. In addition, some of the chapters in this part could have been included in one of the previous three parts according to their topic of relevance. For example, Chapter 11, which focuses on gender (a sociolinguistic aspect) in EFL task performance, could have been included in Part 3, whose focus is on sociolinguistic phenomena and discourse. As mentioned above, a new part that would include studies on the discourse features of online language learning communities (e.g. Second Life, Wehner, Gump, & Downey, 2011) as newly arising language learning contexts could have been integrated into the volume.

Overall, though, this book is a great source for language teachers, teacher educators, language policy makers, and those who want to familiarize themselves with classroom discourse in language learning. In addition, researchers and scholars interested in the interface between discourse analysis and language learning across various settings will find several issues deserving of further research in each chapter of the volume.


Dalton-Puffer, C. (2011). Content-and-language integrated learning: From practice to principles? Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 31, 182-204.

Nikula, T. (2010). On effects of CLIL on a teacher’s language use. In C. Dalton-Puffer, T. Nikula, & U. Smit (Eds.) Language use and language learning in CLIL classrooms, pp. 105-124. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Lantolf, J. P., & Thorne, S. L. (2006). Sociocultural theory and the genesis of second language development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lyster, R. & Ranta, L. (1997). Corrective feedback and learner uptake: Negotiation of form in communicative classrooms. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 20, 37-66.

Pfaffman, J. (2008). Computer-mediated communications technologies. In J. M. Spector, M. D. Merill, J. V. Merriënboer, M. P. Driscoll (Eds.) Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (third edition), pp. 225-231. New York: Routledge.

Wehner, A. K., Gump, A. W., & Downey, S. (2011). The effects of Second Life on the motivation of undergraduate students learning a foreign language. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 24(3), 277-289.
Erhan Aslan is a doctoral student in the program of Second Language Acquisition and Instructional Technology at the University of South Florida, where he also teaches Academic English in the English Language Program. His research interests include individual differences in second language acquisition, the interface between language learning, socio-pragmatic competence, discursive accordances of language learning contexts, teacher and learner beliefs about language learning, and native vs. non-native dichotomy in second language teacher education.