Vol. 1. No. 3 — March 1995
An Introduction to Second Language Acquisition Research
Diane Larsen-Freeman and Michael H. Long (1991)
New York, NY: Longman Inc.
ISBN 0-582-55377-6 (paper)
As stated by the authors themselves in their preface, the intent of this book is to introduce readers to second language acquisition (SLA) research. No prior knowledge of SLA or its research methodology is presumed, and the book is meant to be useful for individual study or as a text in a graduate course for language teaching practitioners. The authors hope to spur further investigation of the literature and possibly even research projects undertaken by readers. To this end, each chapter is followed up by a series of comprehension questions and additional activities for application of the chapter’s content. An unusually large number of bibliographic references is included at the end of each chapter as a guide for further in-depth reading on the topics addressed therein. A helpful addition for an introductory book of this sort would be a glossary of terms specific to SLA research, although the authors have dealt with many of these terms in notes at the end of each chapter.
Chapter 1, a rationale for studying SLA, delineates numerous reasons for investigating SLA, discusses the development of SLA as a field in its own right, and addresses the scope of SLA research.
Chapter 2 is an extensive examination of SLA research methodology, focusing on the strengths and limitations of various methodologies. The schism between quantitative and qualitative research paradigms is addressed, with the authors advocating a research design that has the optimal combination of components to address the concern in question. Setting, instrumentation, and variability problems are also covered. The chapter concludes with two issues of primary concern in SLA research: the problem of defining language proficiency and measurement of learner performance.
Chapter 3 focuses on the development of modes of inquiry and the evolution of issues since the inception of SLA research. Contrastive analysis, error analysis, performance analysis, and discourse analysis are all discussed from an historical perspective. These data analysis procedures evolved from successive realizations of the complexity and extensiveness of SLA and each subsumed rather than replaced its predecessor. Key concepts such as learner errors and interlanguage (IL) are addressed.
Chapter 4 continues the discussion of IL and presents substantive research findings relating to this concept. The [-1-] findings are summarized in terms of three governing principles of IL: systematic variability, presence of common accuracy orders and developmental sequences, and first language (L1) influence on SLA. Variability is treated extensively. The analysis of developmental sequences includes the morpheme studies as well as those dealing with interrogatives and negation. Also included in this chapter are discussions of the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH), markedness, U-shaped behavior, learner strategies, and formulaic utterances, along with their respective influences on and role in SLA and its extant research base.
Chapter 5 examines the nature of second language (L2) input. Linguistic and conversational adjustments to nonnative speakers (NNSs) are considered, including such subtopics as foreigner talk and the effect of deviant input on SLA, the role of conversation in L2 syntax development, and the relationship between input frequency and accuracy of L2 production. A large body of research on input modification and L2 comprehension is reviewed. Finally, the relationship between comprehensible input and SLA is discussed.
Chapter 6 addresses individual learner variables and differen- tial L2 achievement. The issue of age and SLA is extensively treated, and the conclusions uphold the sensitive age hypothesis, supporting the idea that “younger is better” for optimal L2 study and acquisition. Other learner variables discussed are aptitude, socio-psychological factors such as motivation and attitude, cognitive style and hemispheric specialization, personality, and learning strategies. A smattering of other factors that possibly affect SLA are mentioned briefly toward the end of the chapter. The conclusion drawn from an examination of the issues and related research is that practical implications based on the myriad of inconclusive or contradictory findings must remain tenuous at best. Nevertheless, the authors feel that some educational practices are related to and can be supported by the research, and implications are drawn.
Chapter 7 begins with an examination of the value of theory in general. An evaluation of several SLA theoretical frameworks follows, divided into broad categories of nativist, environmen- talist, and interactionist theories. General characteristics of each theoretical categorization are offered, and explanations and critiques of several theories follow. Among the theories discussed are Chomsky’s Universal Grammar, Krashen’s Monitor Theory, Schumann’s Pidginization Hypothesis and Acculturation Model, Givon’s Functional-Typological Theory, and the Multidimensional Model. The chapter concludes with a note on comparing and evaluating theories, as well as a caveat about adhering to a theory as an explanatory framework for SLA.
Chapter 8, on instructed SLA, addresses the differences between instructed and naturalistic SLA, and identifies the contributions of language teaching. The effect of instruction on developmental [-2-] sequences and accuracy orders is concluded to be minimal, based on available research to date. The principles of Pienemann’s learna- bility/teachability hypothesis are outlined„important reading for any classroom language instructor. The effect of instruction on rate and level of ultimate SLA appears to be positive. The wide differences implicit in manner of instruction, however, make the generalizability of studies in this area difficult at best. The authors call for further study of the effects of instruction on processes, sequences, and ultimate attainment of SLA. In addition, the important question of “how” instruction affects SLA remains to be resolved.
Larsen-Freeman and Long’s book is an excellent introduction to SLA research. Its strengths are many. The authors address issues in the field of SLA, giving them an historical perspective, a current framework, and a future direction. The book provides a comprehensive treatment of SLA theories and their research bases and includes a very lengthy bibliography for those inclined to delve further into the issues. The book is written for those not previously schooled in the field and, as such, is a very readable compilation of what sometimes seems complicated and overwhelming material.
Readers might be challenged by the sheer density and amount of information in the book, but the authors have made this introduction as comprehensible and undaunting as possible for a book of this nature. A glossary of terms frequently used in SLA literature would make the volume more reader-friendly, especially for those not familiar with the data base. These caveats notwithstanding, the information and insights gained from this book will inform and improve second language instruction by providing language educators a theoretical framework on which to base their practices. The extensive bibliography of related and cited works provides an ample starting point for further self-education and professional development, as well as a basis for research initiated by the reader in the classroom. An Introduction to Second Language Acquisition Research is a very useful resource for all who wish to gain a greater insight into how second and foreign languages are learned. Language teaching practitioners should not exercise their profession without this vital knowledge base, now made quite accessible by this volume.
Jean W. LeLoup
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