Studies and Global Perspectives of Second Language Teaching and Learning
reviewed by Richard Schlight - November 15, 2013
Title: Studies and Global Perspectives of Second Language Teaching and Learning
Author(s): John W. Schwieter
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623962102, Pages: 256, Year: 2013
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This collection of research papers is the result of an open call for studies intended to gather a diverse set of perspectives from researchers and language educators from various parts of the world in order to provide practical and thought-provoking insight on innovative approaches to L2 learning (p. viii). The contributors serve on the faculty of universities in the United States, Canada, Spain, Italy, Japan Kenya and Iran. Contributors also include an elementary school and a private language institute teacher. Participants in the various studies were learners of English, French, Spanish and Chinese. The contributors represent a wide variety of theoretical approaches to foreign language acquisition ranging from associative-cognitive approaches to those rooted in Processability Theory to the Vygotskian tradition.
The books jacket states that it is intended as a reference for language educators, practitioners, specialists, and anyone studying or wishing to gain an overview of successful teaching practices and learning nuances in the L2 classroom that cross all languages, cultures, and regions. Indeed, the book will serve as an excellent reference volume for researchers in particular but also for foreign language teacher trainers and anyone involved in curriculum design. As useful as the individual papers are, each provides an extensive reference list for anyone wishing to delve further into its particular area of research. Due to an extensive use of specialized language and for reasons outlined below, the book will be of limited use to some non-native speakers of English. Because of this technical language and frequent references to the theory of second language acquisition, the book may prove frustrating to novice English language teachers. Anyone anticipating a lively, entertaining read is also likely to be disappointed.
Sandwiched between a preface and an afterward are 14 chapters, each of which comprises a discrete research paper. In order, the topics covered are as follows: implicit/explicit foreign language grammar instruction; instruction in nonverbal communication; the integration of peace education and foreign language instruction; learning strategies for foreign language students; multimedia presentations for foreign language students; strategies for effective listening instruction; Spanish heritage language learning and instruction; the correlation between study abroad programs and lexical development; effective vocabulary learning; a cognitive perspective on teaching phrasal verbs; increasing pragmatic awareness in the classroom; intercultural online exchanges; understanding motivation in its many forms; and combining technology and social justice in foreign language teaching contexts.
Four chapters will be of particular use to language instructors. For instructors who are unsure about how or under what circumstances explicit grammar instruction is effective, Chapter One provides balanced background information about the topic and, while not suggesting any specific techniques, it does explain why past emphasis on the importance of input in the acquisition of grammatical structures has been overstated. The author frames the issue as a debate among proponents of three separate positions on the role of grammar instruction; each of which views the interface between implicit and explicit grammar knowledge differently. The author supports the weak interface position that posits that, under the right circumstances, learners can internalize explicitly learned grammar rules. Even readers who disagree with the authors position or those who believe that effective approaches are best determined by learner characteristics (as opposed to researchers) will find this chapter useful and informative.
Chapter Six is a well-written explanation of process-based listening instruction suited to readers who are new to teaching listening skills and to those wishing to bring their knowledge up to date. In addition to some theoretical background, practical exercises are included which can be used to teach in both conversational and academic contexts. Current textbooks are also discussed with regard to their inclusion or omission of cognitive, metacognitive, and socioaffective strategies.
Also of practical value to language instructors is Chapter Nine. This chapter reports the findings of a study that examined the effectiveness of a series of innovative activities designed to develop English vocabulary among students in Kenyan ESL classes. After a clearly written discussion of the theory associated with lexical development, a number of activities are discussed, along with sound methods of assessment. Readers will appreciate the guidance the chapter offers in avoiding the mistakes that are often made in lesson and assessment design.
Foreign language teachers who feel they have more to learn about student motivation will probably find chapter thirteen of value. After providing a concise synopsis of the various theoretical approaches to the issue of motivation, the chapter describes detailed activities that can be used to increase motivation in the areas of phonetics, grammar, and lexical development. The drama, story-writing, web page design, and other activities are explained in relation to their theoretical contexts. This makes it easy for creative teachers to tailor the activities to suit their own students needs.
Both Chapters Three and Fourteen encourage the use of social media and videoconferencing in foreign language instruction. Coincidentally, both are written from a Freirean perspective. Chapter Three describes a series of lessons in which secondary students are encouraged to think, read blogs, and electronically communicate with target language speakers about their anorexia, obesity and other food related problems. The students also brainstorm the issues of food waste and famine. While the paper encourages teachers to include content that is related to social justice, there is no indication that such content is particularly effective in increasing learners communicative competence. Chapter Fourteen points out that videoconferencing can be a particularly effective means of preserving endangered languages and a way for members of diaspora populations to learn or practice using their heritage languages. Classroom platform designs have apparently been slow to emerge, unfortunately, and the chapter offers no practical advice for teachers wishing to incorporate this technology in classrooms.
Too many second language research papers suffer from cryptic and cumbersome prose. This often necessitates that passages be read multiple times in order to discern authors precise intended meanings. The irony is that this careless and wordy writing puts valuable research beyond the reach of many English language learners who might otherwise have benefited from it. Educators and other potential readers of such papers will undoubtedly resort to reading abstracts and skipping to conclusions rather than trudging through page after page of tedious, lazily written text. In this regard, some of the papers in this volume unfortunately represent the current foreign language learning research corpus. In the absence of any impetus or mechanism to improve the standards of academic writing, the current state of affairs seems unlikely to change.