Doing Second Language Research

March 2004 — Volume 7, Number 4

Doing Second Language Research

James Dean Brown and Theodore S. Rodgers (2002)
Oxford: Oxford University Press:
Pp. xiv + 314
ISBN 0-19-437174-3
$23.95

This accessible introductory research methodology book engages the reader through accessible examples and clear explanations, in other words, it takes up where the reader is and initiates the reader into the community of second language researchers. The book includes the novice second language research through activities and discussions which involve thinking about research from at least three perspectives: the subject, the researcher, and the consumer of the research. By doing so, the reader gains awareness of practical, theoretical, and methodological issues of second language research. It is an exemplary second language research introductory text.

The book consists of four parts simply titled introduction, qualitative research, quantitative research, and conclusion. The qualitative research part consists of three chapters: case study research, introspection research, and classroom research. The quantitative part examines descriptive statistics and survey analysis, correlational research, and quasi-experimental research. The conclusion combines the different research methods in exploring course evaluations.

The introductory chapter, the nature of research, presents some fundamental elements of research such as defining types of research and discussing the contexts of research. The sorting out of different types of research is done carefully since the authors go on to make the point that often qualitative and quantitative research overlap in the hands on environment. The many exercises in this section engage novice researchers in exploring their understandings of research and how to apply these understandings to second language research. It is in this chapter that a central strength of this book emerges: the discussion and exercises stimulate each reader to develop a personal understanding of research based on current thinking and practice. [-1-]

The second part of the book explores three types of qualitative research: case studies, introspective studies, and interaction analyses. Chapter two presents case studies. This is rather a bold move since case study research is very complex requiring a researcher to gain control of several different elements. However, this very complexity allows the writers to introduce elements of data collection, recording, and reporting through the use of charts that also apply to subsequent research methods. Furthermore, since a case study can be a self-study, the novice researcher has the opportunity to do research almost from the beginning. The case study that provides the structure for this chapter revolves around a study of Helen Keller’s language development. This engagement allows the researcher to develop skills that can be improved upon while gaining an appreciation of the complexity of research involving people.

In chapter three, introspective research: verbal protocols, the writers expand upon the self-study analysis of case studies. In verbal protocols, researchers seek to understand how a person is thinking or feeling at different times while doing a task. The chapter discusses the history of this type of research in order to make a point about how fashion influences research techniques as well as to show how a type of research develops through responding to criticism. In exploring this approach, practical considerations are presented along with a presentation of data compilation and analysis that involves the readers in confronting some of the difficulties of recording data and analyzing them. Consequently, by the end of the chapter, the reader obtains not only an understanding of effective practices and overall design, but also the reader experiences the complexities of gathering and analyzing data, the most difficult part of introspective research.

While introspective research presents certain problems of data gathering and analysis, the task becomes much more complex when several people are added in classroom research. Chapter four examines interaction research in the classroom setting. With so many people producing much more data, the researcher must decide which data to examine. In doing so, the researcher makes the task practical but introduces the bias of data selection. The authors clearly present the complexities of this problem as they examine the different challenges and possible solutions for classroom research. At each step in the process, they provide the practical guidance gained from their own research studies.

In discussing correlational research in chapter 6, readers are taken through three types of correlational research, Pearson, Spearman-Rho, and Chi-Square. The treatment of each type of research begins with an exposition of the type of data used, an activity or two to practice using types of correlational research, and practice with the calculations. With this chapter, there is an important and straightforward discussion of the meaning of significance along with a reminder that correlation is not causation. The writers focus on central issues in correlational research by identifying central issues of correlational research and examining how they are resolved.

Chapter seven deals with quasi-experimental research which acknowledges the reality that pure scientific research is rarely possible in the constraints of human studies. Through setting up a controlled vocabulary remembering experiment, the authors explain how to design an experiment, develop hypotheses, test the hypotheses, record results, and analyze them. The path through the design gives the authors opportunities to discuss the different demands of a true and quasi-experimental design for the experiments and the limitations involved.

The conclusion, chapter eight, combines the different types of research in doing a course evaluation. Course evaluation demands more than one type of research to enable the researchers to fully understand the situation. The different types of research enable triangulation, that is, looking at something from different points of view. This use of both qualitative and quantitative methods has gained increased acceptance for both practical reasons, the agencies and people spending money on education want to know their money is well spent, and educational reasons as we seek a deeper understanding second language learning and acquisition. At the end of the chapter, the authors indicate that this type of research has not been done very much or consistently well, so it offers many future opportunities. [-2-]

The book includes several appendices which contain materials or answers for the exercises in the chapters. It does not include the statistical tables that books on research design often provide, so the teacher accustomed to these resources will need to supplement. However, the book’s chapter provide the basic formulae for the commonly used statistics and practice in using them. Furthermore, there is an accompanying website which requires registration in order to use the materials on it. At the time of this review, the website contained links to several Excel files that accompany exercises in the book.

The greatest disappointment I found in reviewing this book is the lack of a full treatment of ethical issues involved in research. There is no treatment of choosing subjects, getting subjects consent, dealing with institutional review boards, and how much information to share with the participants. Admittedly, research standards may shift depending upon the site, but it would still seem appropriate to consider these ethical issues since research usually involves some type of intrusion into another person’s life. To ignore this aspect of doing research weakens what is on the whole a very fine book.

Still, this is the most readable book on doing research that I have met. It speaks to the reader with the authority of practitioners aware of the practical limitations and constraints of actually doing research. The researchers draw upon their experiences to show what can be done and at times what should not be done. In doing so, they speak as fellow researchers interested in guiding the novice researchers through the different methods. Furthermore, the discussion and exercises ably challenge the readers to develop their personal research identities.

The authors have written a practical readable introduction to second language research that provides novice researchers with a repertoire for examining the three basic elements of the classroom: the students, the materials, and teachers. The examination of the different research approaches gives guidance for choosing the appropriate method or methods and how to proceed in a rigorous manner in conducting second language research. The book examines many of the current issues facing researchers as it explores the different methods. The authors act as mentors which should make the book a very useful means to initiate novice researchers into the community of second language researchers.

John M. Graney
Santa Fe Community College
<john.graney@santafe.cc.fl.us>

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