Post written by Jan H. Hulstijn, based on an article in Language Teaching
The second language acquisition (SLA) ﬁeld is characterized by a wide variety of issues and theoretical perspectives. Is this a bad thing? Are there signs of disintegration?
In applied linguistics in general, and in particular in the field of SLA, it is not uncommon to distinguish between quantitative and qualitative approaches or between cognitive and socio-cultural approaches. In my view, what is potentially more threatening to the ﬁeld than a split between quantitative and qualitative subﬁelds is the proportion of nonempirical theories. If an academic discipline is characterized by too many nonempirical ideas and too few empirical ideas, it runs the risk of losing credit in the scientiﬁc community at large (and in society).
In this paper, I propose to distinguish, instead, between theories formulated in a way that allows empirical testing and theories that are not, or not yet, empirical in this sense. I am not advocating banishing all nonempirical ideas from the SLA ﬁeld, but what would really make the ﬁeld more transparent for both SLA-ers and outsiders is if scholars who propose theories were to indicate to what extent their theory is ready for empirical scrutiny. It does not matter whether the field of SLA is inhabited by many theories. However, it would be a good thing if we viewed the field not only in terms of the ‘issues’, as do most of the textbooks, but also in terms of their empirical or nonempirical status. This would also help us gain a better view of the agenda of our discipline.
For this purpose, I provide a list of theory-classification criteria. Sticking out my neck, I categorize a number of theories as having a more or less falsfiable status. While welcoming theories not yet ready for empirical falsification, I also express my concern about the possibility that the non-empirical theories may outnumber the theories that lend themselves to falsification.
Access the full article without charge until January 31st 2014 here.
The development of the grammatical system in early second language acquisition
Post written by Anke Lenzing
A central issue in SLA research concerns the question of what kind of linguistic resources are available to the L2 learner at the very beginning of the L2 acquisition process. My thesis sets out to explore this question. It aims at providing an explanatory account of the initial mental grammatical system and its development in early L2 learners of English in a formal context.
When examining the oral performance data of early L2 learners, it can be observed that initially, their speech production is characterised by single words, formulaic sequences and ungrammatical structures. These structures do not only deviate syntactically from the target language pattern; they are also semantically ill-formed and diverge from the target language as regards the arguments that the learners express; i.e. the utterances contain either too many or too few arguments or entirely different arguments than those the learner intends to express.
To account for these utterances, I propose a theoretically motivated model of the L2 initial mental grammatical system as well as specific hypotheses concerning its development, which are based on Lexical Functional Grammar and Processability Theory. The core claims are that 1) the initial L2 mental grammatical system is constrained semantically, i.e. at the level of argument structure, and syntactically; i.e. at the level of constituent structure and that 2) the L2 lexicon is gradually annotated in the process of L2 acquisition.
To test these hypotheses, I conducted a combined cross-sectional and longitudinal study focussing on the spontaneous oral speech production of 24 German primary school learners of English as an L2. I carried out linguistic profile analyses of the learners’ speech samples by analysing the morphological and syntactic structures in the data by means of distributional analyses. I also conducted distributional analyses of the argument structure of the lexical verbs occurring in the learner data.
The results of the analyses support the hypotheses, as they indicate that 1) the grammatical system of early L2 learners is highly constrained at the level of both constituent and argument structure and that 2) the L2 lexicon is being successively annotated. It can be seen that initially, the learners rely predominantly on formulaic sequences and that in the course of SLA, there is a development away from formulaic utterances towards a more productive use of the target language.
A revised version of my thesis has been published by John Benjamins. For more details about my research and references please visit http://kw.uni-paderborn.de/institute-einrichtungen/institut-fuer-anglistik-und-amerikanistik/personal/lenzing/.
Visit the Language Teaching homepage to read more about the 2013 Brumfit Award
Post written by Jim Ranalli
It’s a great honor to receive the 2012 Christopher Brumfit Award, especially as it commemorates a scholar whose books on communicative methodology were a tremendous source of guidance and inspiration to me when I first trained as an English teacher. I thank the panel of referees, the editor and editorial board of Language Teaching, and Cambridge University Press for this special recognition of my research and the opportunity to share it with a wider audience.
The focus of my thesis was a web-based, instructional resource called VVT (Virtual Vocabulary Trainer), which I developed to teach integrated vocabulary depth of knowledge and dictionary referencing skills to university-level learners of English as a Second Language (ESL). In addition to evaluating the potential of online resources to address long-standing challenges in the field of second language (L2) strategy instruction, my project also targeted research objectives in other related areas. I described these in four separate articles that were aimed at peer-reviewed journals in the fields of computer-assisted language learning (CALL), applied linguistics, and English language teaching.
The first paper discussed the theoretical underpinnings of the VVT course, the procedures I followed in developing it, and the materials themselves, while also suggesting general design principles for L2 strategy instruction based on frameworks derived from information-processing theory. The second paper represented the evaluation component of the project and reported how I investigated the feasibility of online strategy instruction by studying the resource’s effectiveness, both actual and perceived, in a randomized controlled trial involving 64 ESL composition students. In the third paper, the VVT course served as the platform for another study critiquing a structural model of L2 vocabulary learning proposed in a 2008 paper by Wen-Ta Tseng and Norbert Schmitt, while at the same time adding to the literature on the acquisition of L2 vocabulary depth-of-knowledge features. In the final paper, which was based in a self-regulated learning framework, I used discrepant cases from the evaluation study – that is, individual participants whose performances diverged significantly from group norms – to investigate the metacognitive process of task definition, a stage of learning in which students develop internal, and potentially idiosyncratic, representations of tasks.
I believe my findings provide clear evidence of the feasibility of automated, online forms of strategy instruction for complementing teacher-led forms, while at the same time shedding light on the challenges many L2 learners face in self-directed learning of vocabulary depth of knowledge. They also demonstrate the potential of process-oriented models of self-regulated learning for researching and theorizing about L2 acquisition and strategy use. Two of the papers have been published so far and I am currently collecting more data to improve the final two papers for publication. If you’re interested in the references or in finding out more about my research, please visit www.jimranalli.net.
Discover more about the Christopher Brumfit Award and how you can enter for 2013 here.
Written by John Edwards
Based on an article in the July 2013 issue of Language Teaching.
In the popular mind, constructing a language has always been seen as an odd activity, one that seems to fly in the face of ‘natural’ language dynamics. After all, languages evolve; they do not emerge from some sacred forehead, much less from a mortal brain. And yet interest in a divine – and therefore immediately fully-formed – language was once important (and, even today, remains significant in some rather curious religious quarters). Attention to this, and to later and more mundane projects aimed at improving upon natural languages in some way, is a neglected but important aspect of linguistic history – and, indeed, of modern scientific development.
The first stage here involved attempts (highly speculative, of course) to recapture the original lingua humana, as spoken in the Garden of Eden. Adam, we are told, named all the birds and beasts of the earth in this original language, a variety that – unlike all languages since – encapsulated a perfect correspondence between spoken words and the things they represented. As Milton wrote in Paradise Lost, Adam named the animals ‘as they pass’d, and understood their nature.’ Could this first language have been Hebrew – or perhaps Aramaic, or Arabic? If so, then speakers of those languages (or even of their post-Adamic descendants) might surely claim some higher moral ground than others.
By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, these early speculations were set aside as essentially pointless. But the notion of a language more perfect than existing natural varieties still appealed, and, in a second part of our story, we find scholars trying to create entire languages ab ovo, motivated by the desire for a more logical and regular variety that would better reflect and channel scientific classification. It eventually became clear, however, that attempts to make a language that owed nothing to existing varieties were as fruitless as efforts to discover the language of Eden. So, in a third and still-existing stage, ‘artificial’ languages have been assembled from pre-existing rules and components; the most well-known example is Esperanto. This work has been underpinned by hopes for a more practical medium, but there have also been expectations that a language that was both regular and widely shared would contribute to international harmony and understanding.
You can read the entire article here without charge until 30th September 2013.
Post written by David Little and Lid King, based on an article in Language Teaching
John Trim was born in 1924 and died in January 2013. His father was a docker and his mother the daughter of a printer; both were active in the local Workers’ Educational Association. John described the atmosphere of his home as ‘intellectual, internationalist and socialist’. He won a scholarship from his primary school to Leyton High School, where he learned French and German. For the first term – which John missed because he had pneumonia – his French teacher taught the language entirely in phonetic transcription in order to lay the foundations of accurate pronunciation. In his second year John had to choose between Latin and German. He chose German because he was not yet thinking in terms of university, and here too he encountered a teaching approach that was strongly oral. From these beginnings John went on to study German and phonetics at University College London before becoming a leading phonetician, a founding father of applied linguistics, head of the Department of Linguistics at Cambridge, director of the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research, adviser to the Council of Europe’s modern languages projects for three decades, and a powerful advocate of communicative approaches to language teaching and learning.
In the summer of 2011 we recorded an extended conversation with John in which we ranged widely over his family background and education, his academic career, his extensive experience of language education policy development and implementation, and his three decades of work for the Council of Europe. In the first of two extracts from the recorded conversation, we draw on all the topics we discussed apart from the Council of Europe work, which will be covered in a second extract, to be published in a later issue. The present instalment abounds in nuggets of information not available elsewhere: the extraordinary circumstances of John’s appointment to a lectureship in Phonetics at UCL; J. R. Firth’s aversion to the word ‘cheerio’; John’s part in a television panel game in which experts listened to recorded voices and fantasised about the kind of people they belonged to; his involvement in the development of the BBC’s language courses for television; how the University of Cambridge came to establish a Department of Linguistics; what motivated John’s move from Cambridge to CILT; the Graded Objectives Movement and its impact; the challenge of implementing educational change; the replacement of grammar schools by comprehensives; the difficulty of matching policy to available resources; and much more. Readers of the interview who knew John Trim personally will catch many echoes of his conversational style.
You can read the entire article from Language Teaching here.
There are ever-increasing demands on authors/researchers from both local and national authorities not only to publish widely but to do so in “reputable” journals. Indeed, in many countries this is even a requirement before a PhD is awarded. This obligation is often glossed by the need for journals to be indexed in such internationally recognized lists as the ISI.
Editors of journals are only too aware of this “pressure to publish” and it is for this scenario that I offer some personal advice based on my experience of dealing with submissions. Today I want to concentrate on adequate targeting of your work for publication. Specifically, I focus on two aspects which increase your chances of getting published: selecting your topic and target journal, and writing your paper in line with that journal’s needs.
Do your journal research as assiduously as your academic research. It is not good practice to blanket submit your carefully prepared, executed, and written-up study to all the applied linguistics (AL)/second language acquisition (SLA) journals out there. Firstly, set aside some time to think about where your paper might achieve the greatest impact as regards readers, both academically (in terms of the typical reader profile of that journal) and geographically (the countries and academic institutions where the journal has subscriptions). If this information is not readily available on the web site, contact the Editor and ask. Secondly, a journal usually expects you to be submitting the work to them alone and will assume they have the first option for rejection or acceptance. AL/SLA journal editors have a community forum where they regularly interact and are able to check on possible multiple submissions. Editors expect you to have targeted their journal for a reason. Therefore….
Do read typical content in that journal as well as the section in the submission guidelines indicating the kind of paper they are looking for. Failure to direct your research to a journal which might reasonably be interested in it will usually mean a rejection as a result. It will also involve you in needless delay during which time you could have found better outlets for your work.
Do learn about which topics are of interest to the readership. Reading a number of recent issues of the journal will soon reveal the hot topics as well as the questions being asked in the field. Ask yourself if your proposed research or completed study is likely to fit in with that agenda. Unlike many years ago, there are more and more “niche” or special interest journals in our field and if your interest or research corresponds to one of these, you would be better advised to submit to these first, rather than to those with a more general purview.
Finally, don’t expect to receive instant recognition and acceptance of your work in terms of an offer to publish. Unconditional acceptance of a paper is statistically rare, and most journals will require your paper to go through an arduous refereeing process of several months and revisions in which a number of experts will feed back a number of times on your work. Most referees do this in their own time and voluntarily. As a consequence, the process of submission through to revision and on to final acceptance of a paper can take many months, with a resultant accumulation of papers to be reviewed and published. Most journals in our field would then also need to assume a period of around a year to a year and a half from the date of submission to publication in print. If you are interested in getting your paper out there as fast as possible, you might want to consider whether the target journal provides an advanced publication online before the printed copy comes out.
Written by Dr Graeme Porte, Editor of Cambridge Journal Language Teaching and Cambridge book Replication Research in Applied Linguistics
Cambridge Journals Online launched in 1997, and one and a half decades later continues to evolve. At Cambridge Journals, we’re extremely proud of what we’ve achieved over the past fifteen years. CJO is arguably as close to a tailor-made resource as you’ll find in academic publishing. Developed, built and maintained by a crack team of software developers based in Manila. Nurtured and specified by in-house editors, marketers and production staff. Informed by consultation with journal editors, societies, academics and librarians. CJO is loaded with fresh new features three times a year, available on all platforms (including mobile), twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
For the next fifteen days (until the 3rd October) we’ve decided to make a birthday gift. Go to any journal homepage, and you’ll find a new, golden tab. There, the fifteen most-downloaded papers from that journal are available to read for free. We’ve done this for every single journal we publish. Make your way there by browsing our full list of Language and Linguistics journals. As well as being able to download papers to your desktop, or read them on your phone or tablet, you’ll be able to send papers to your Kindle to read at your leisure. Just look for the Send to Kindle links in the left hand article menu and in the headers.
We’re sure you’ll find something amongst all that free content to illuminate and inspire. By all means, spread the word. We’ve introduced some handy links on most pages to tweet, like, +1 or otherwise share articles or this post.
So feel free to explore CJO and let us know what you think. We’re extremely keen to make CJO the best resource that we can, and your input is absolutely invaluable. Post a comment below, tweet us at @CambridgeJnls or drop by our Facebook page.
Here’s to the next fifteen years!
2011 Brumfit Award prize runner up Rebecca Sachs provides an overview of her thesis, which was praised for the high quality of its content and presentation
Individual differences and the effectiveness of visual feedback on reflexive binding in L2 Japanese
In the field of second language acquisition, one of the ultimate goals of research into aptitude-treatment interactions is for language educators (and software developers) to be better able to tailor instruction to the needs and abilities of language learners. This thesis attempted to take a step in that direction.
In a computer-mediated experiment, 80 English-speaking university students learning Japanese were randomly assigned into three conditions which provided different types of information about a complicated area of grammar: the interpretation of reflexive pronouns. At least three facts make Japanese reflexives a difficult learning target for native speakers of English: (1) Reflexives can be ambiguous in both languages; (2) certain interpretations which are available in English are not possible in Japanese, and vice versa; and (3) the rules underlying their use are abstract and are not taught explicitly in language classes.
Fortunately, linguists have developed tools for representing abstract linguistic phenomena via visual diagrams; however, not everyone finds such analyses intuitive. Thus, in this experiment, a variety of individual characteristics were measured in order to explore which abilities might be relevant to learning from metalinguistic visual diagrams versus from more meaning-oriented approaches.
In the end, the group of learners who were shown grammatical diagrams demonstrated more reliable learning than the others overall, but there were patterns of individual ‘successes’ and ‘failures’ in each group which appeared to reflect the affordances of each condition. For instance, grammatical sensitivity and visual short-term memory were positively related to performance among learners in the diagrams group, whereas rote memory for language and years of Japanese study predicted performance among learners who were simply told whether their interpretations were right or wrong.
Clearly, ‘aptitudes’ are aptitudes for something, and they can be found in the interactions between learner profiles and instructional conditions. The more we learn about how individual differences shape performance under different circumstances, the more successfully we will be able to harness the potentials of various techniques for more efficient language learning.
It is difficult to find fault with this exceptional thesis, which clearly involved an immense amount of work in its conceptualization, implementation and analysis. The literature review is comprehensive and used expertly to craft the research questions and methodology. The research design ambitiously attempted to investigate the effects of different feedback conditions as well as aptitude-treatment interactions, and to begin to tease apart the complex interplay between individual differences and language learning.
View related posts on the prize winning work of Dr Catherine van Beuningen and Dr Guanfang Zhao
The effectiveness of comprehensive corrective feedback in second language writing
Dr Catherine van Beuningen.
Corrective feedback (CF) or error correction is a widely used method of targeting linguistic problems in L2 learners’ writing. The role of CF in the process of acquiring an L2, however, is an issue of considerable controversy in the SLA field. Questions such as if, how, and when CF works, what type of CF is most effective, and which errors are (most) correctable, are still to be answered by empirical research. With her thesis, Catherine van Beuningen intended to contribute to the settlement of these issues.
In two quantitative quasi-experiments and one qualitative study, she investigated the effects of direct and indirect comprehensive CF on L2 learners’ writing. The studies set out to explore both the value of CF as an editing tool, as well as its ability to constitute long-term accuracy improvement. In addition, they tested if CF comes with any negative side-effects that harm accuracy development, and looked into the influence of factors that potentially mediate CF efficacy, such as the nature of the targeted error and learners’ educational level.
In providing robust evidence on the effectiveness of comprehensive written error correction, the results presented in Catherine van Beuningen’s thesis suggest that comprehensive CF is a valuable pedagogical tool. The findings also advance the theoretical understanding of the language learning potential of written CF.
This is an excellent thesis and it represents an original, important and substantive contribution to research on the effects of comprehensive corrective feedback in L2 writing. What makes this thesis particularly impressive is that it consists of a series of separate studies, each one building on the other empirically and theoretically in a logical systematic manner. The first is a small-scale study to investigate the effects of direct and indirect comprehensive CF on revision and L2 accuracy development. This serves as a useful pilot study for the instructional treatments and task development. This is followed by the main study, a large-scale empirical investigation of the same central question as well as other related and relevant questions that emerge from the initial study and the existing research literature on CF in L2 writing.
Friday 10th August – 2011 Runner up Dr Rebecca Sachs discusses her thesis ‘Individual differences and the effectiveness of visual feedback on reflexive binding in L2 Japanese’
The Editor and Board of Language Teaching are pleased to announce that there were two tied winners of the 2011 Christopher Brumfit thesis award: Dr. Cecilia Guanfang Zhao and Dr Catherine van Beuningen. Both theses were selected by an external panel of judges based on their significance to the field of second language acquisition, second or foreign language learning and teaching, originality and creativity and quality of presentation. This year’s runner-up was Dr Rebecca Sachs, whose work was singled out for praise as ‘an exceptional thesis, which clearly involved an immense amount of work in its conceptualization, implementation and analysis.’
The annual Christopher Brumfit Thesis Award commemorates the work of one of the world’s most renowned applied linguists and one of Language Teaching’s most active contributors. Since 2008, the award has recognized doctoral thesis research that makes a significant and original contribution to the field of Second Language Acquisition and/or foreign/second language teaching and learning. Previous winners of the prize include Irina Elgort, Andrea Borbély Hellman, Okim Kang and Susan Mary Macqueen.
Applications for the award are open from November each year, and examiners pay particular attention in any submission to a number of categories including significance to the field, originality and creativity, presentation, use of the background literature, methods of enquiry, analysis of data and the discussion of the outcomes.
Click here to read further information about the 2012 Christopher Brumfit thesis award
In subsequent posts we will be profiling the work of all three prize winners and providing an insight into what made them prize-winning pieces of work.
Friday 27th July - Dr Cecilia Guanfang Zhao ‘The Role of Voice in High-Stakes Second Language Writing Assessment’
Friday 3rd August - Dr Catherine van Beuningen ‘The effectiveness of comprehensive corrective feedback in second language writing’
Friday 10th August - Dr Rebecca Sachs ‘Individual differences and the effectiveness of visual feedback on reflexive binding in L2 Japanese’