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Review of Studying Speaking to Inform Second Language Learning
Date: Thu, 26 Aug 2004 15:47:22 -0500 (CDT) From: John Levis Subject: Studying speaking to inform second language learning
EDITORS: Boxer, Diana; Cohen, Andrew TITLE: Studying Speaking to Inform Second Language Learning SERIES: Second Language Acquisition PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters YEAR: 2004
John M. Levis, Iowa State University
INTRODUCTION Applied linguistics books about speaking, from any perspective, have been rare. Until the past few years, such books as did exist were either so highly technical that they were pedagogically unusable (such as Levelt 1989), or they were pedagogically useful but theoretically dated (e.g. Bygate 1987). Several books on spoken discourse analysis with a focus on intonation have recently appeared (Chun 2002; Wennerstrom 2001; Wichmann 2000), but for those of us who teach language teachers, speaking has been a catch-as-catch-can type of skill, taught by cobbling together a mixture of teaching exercises and articles that can only suggest a coherent framework for understanding and teaching spoken language. The volume reviewed here attempts to provide such a framework and to describe general pedagogical implications for the study of spoken language.
The purpose of this collection of papers is to offer various methodological perspectives on how spoken language can be studied and to suggest how these perspectives can be used to inform second language studies. Many of the papers also try to apply their findings to second language pedagogy.
SYNOPSIS The book is divided into four parts. The first provides a conceptual framework for how the study of spoken language can be understood. It connects studying spoken language to general theoretical frameworks, describes common methodologies for studying spoken language, and gives a rationale for addressing context in research on spoken language.
The second and third parts report on various studies, most of which look at the spoken language of second language (L2) learners. Those that examine first language (L1) speech do so with the goal of teaching speaking to L2 learners. The key difference between parts 2 and 3 is the nature of the data. Part 2 includes studies which examine spontaneous speech, while Part 3 examines elicited speech (such as interviews and discourse completion tasks).
The final section of the book focuses on issues of assessment, examining how studies of spoken discourse can be applied to the assessment of speaking knowledge and performance. Three main topics are addressed: interviewer effect in oral interviews, assessment of pragmatic competence, and assessment of speech act performance. Part I consists of two papers. The first is ''studying speaking to inform second language learning: A conceptual overview,'' by Diana Boxer, one of the editors of the book. The chapter includes three major sections: Background, Theoretical Frameworks, and Methodological Perspectives. Three theoretical frameworks (Language Identity, Language Socialization, and Sociocultural Theory) and various approaches to studying spoken data are discussed.
The second paper is ''Discourse domains: The cognitive context of speaking,'' by Dan Douglas. Douglas elaborates on his established notion of discourse domains, which are internal constructs created by language learners (similar to schemata) which allow the learners to successfully use language in external contexts. Douglas addresses recent critiques of discourse domains and show how the concept can be adjusted to address the findings and critiques of other researchers
Part II, which focuses on the study of spontaneous spoken discourse, includes four papers. The first, by Anne Lazaraton, is called ''Conversation analysis and the nonnative English speaking ESL teacher: A case study.'' This paper analyzes one fragment of nonnative teacher discourse, and starts with an open-minded view as to results, but ends with results that do not address any research question very clearly. This is presented as a virtue of Conversation Analysis, which ''rejects the use of investigator-stipulated theoretical and conceptual definitions of research questions'' (p. 53). Unfortunately, it also meant that the paper was far less enlightening than I had hoped.
The second paper, ''Practicing speaking in Spanish,'' by Joan Kelly Hall, is a study of how classroom discourse socializes beginning L2 learners into both a set of communicative skills and into an identity as a learner. In Hall's words, ''what the students learn here [in a foreign language classroom], both in terms of what counts as language and as the process of learning, sets the foundation upon which subsequent development is based'' (p. 85). Future development, if this classroom is typical, is likely to be stunted, since the classroom studied provided ''cognitively, linguistically, and socially limited resources ... [which do] not provide much groundwork upon which subsequent learning experiences in speaking Spanish can build'' (p. 85).
The third paper in this section is ''Repair of teenagers' spoken German in a summer immersion program,'' by Heidi Hamilton. The study examines the use of other-initiated (i.e. teacher) and self-initiated repairs for learners of German at Waldsee, an immersion language camp in Minnesota (USA). The study examined whether relative proportions of other- and self-initiated repairs differed in four contexts: A beginning class, an intermediate/advanced class, a cultural class, and non-classroom interaction. It also examined whether the types of errors triggering repair differed in the four contexts. The findings showed that teacher-repaired utterances varied with context, with relatively little correction in the non-classroom context, and that learners monitored form in all contexts.
The fourth paper, by Helena Halmari, is ''Codeswitching patterns and developing discourse competence in L2.'' This longitudinal study of codeswitching follows in the diary tradition of child language acquisition and looks at how strategies for codeswitching changed over 12 years for the author's two children, both Finnish-English bilinguals. Early codeswitching was seen as a strategy to practice and acquire the L2, while the girls' later codeswitching (toward the end of the 12 years) was used for pragmatic communicative goals, or as the author says, ''to send intricate pragmatic messages [which] had to do with alignment and bonding, disalignment, persuasion, and overall organization of discourse'' (p. 141).
Part III, which focuses on elicited discourse, also includes four papers. The first, ''Giving directions as a speech behavior: A cross-cultural comparison of L1 and L2 strategies,'' by Carrie Taylor-Hamilton, looks at a common functional use of language in language teaching textbooks. Using data elicited from role-plays, the author examines L1 English, L1 Arabic, and L2 English strategies for giving directions. She found that all three groups had different patterns of using three direction-giving strategies, and that the L2 English speakers behaved differently from both the L1 English and L1 Arabic speakers (with whom they shared an L1) in giving directions.
The second paper, by Koji Konishi and Elaine Tarone, is ''English constructions used in compensating strategies: Baseline data for communicative EFL instruction.'' The paper uses data elicited from 30 L1 speakers of English in explaining the meaning of words to a Japanese interlocutor. The goal of the paper is to show how instruction in communication strategies can fit within the kinds of structural syllabi favored in many EFL contexts. The authors try to identify linguistic structures that co-occur with certain communicative strategies in order to allow nonnative teacher feel confident that the strategies they want to teach also serve to teach the linguistic structures they must teach. The findings identify several sentence structures and categories of attributes that co-occur with the strategies used in the tasks used by the L1 English speakers.
The third paper in this section, ''The organization of turns in the disagreements of L2 learners: A longitudinal perspective,'' by Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig and Tom Salsbury, uses data from conversation groups in an intensive English program. ESL learners and native English-speaking graduate students in applied linguistics met regularly in semi- structured conversation groups over the course of a year. The interactions were tape-recorded, and the data was used to examine how L2 learners' ability to express disagreement developed. The data demonstrate a clear pattern of development in ability to mitigate disagreements through dispreferred response strategies.
The last paper in this section, by Leslie Beebe and Hansun Zhang Waring, is ''The linguistic encoding of pragmatic tone: Adverbials as words that work.'' It attempts to connect grammatical and pragmatic abilities by examining how higher- and lower-proficiency L2 users of English use adverbials in a discourse completion task designed to elicit responses to rudeness. The results suggest that the use of adverbials to express differences in pragmatic tone is greater for higher proficiency speakers than for those of lower proficiency, who lack the same ability to create nuanced meanings.
The final section of the book focuses on spoken discourse and assessment. It includes three papers, the first of which reports on a research study, and the others which address issues in assessing spoken language. In ''Discourse analysis and the oral interview: Competence or performance?'' Annie Brown examines how different interviewers can affect both candidate performance and the subsequent ratings of performance. She finds that an engaging and chatty interviewer, who was more involved, actually helped decrease the ratings that a test-taker received because the test-taker did not have sufficient opportunity to elaborate. Conversely, the interviewer who did not take turns when silence occurred appeared to have a style that encouraged elaboration by the test-taker, leading to higher scores.
The second paper in this section, ''Difficulty and practicality in tests of interlanguage pragmatics,'' by Carsten Roever, reviews ways that L2 pragmatic competence has been assessed and discusses ways of making such assessment more practical. This paper does not report on a particular study but rather is a review of issues in testing pragmatic competence, especially focusing on issues related to implicature. There is also a discussion of test item types that can be used to test pragmatic competence and which item types are effective for different goals.
The final paper is ''Assessing speech acts in a second language,'' by Andrew Cohen, the second editor of the book. Cohen reviews how speech act ability has been measured, examines the effects of setting on speech acts, discusses the difficulty of getting authentic speech act data, and looks at the effects of task and respondent on performance. Like the previous paper, this paper does not report on a new study but rather summarizes research on speech acts and describes outstanding issues involved with assessing them. Interestingly, Cohen wonders whether adequate assessment of speech act behavior is yet possible, as he says: ''the question still arises as to whether we know enough about them at this point in time to be able to adequately assess their performance in an L2 classroom setting'' (p. 322). Since speech acts are among the most studied types of speaking behavior, it suggests that the assessment of spoken language is more fraught with difficulty than most teachers would guess it to be. Clearly, speech acts in spoken language are both well-known yet unknown, teachable yet difficult to assess.
CRITIQUE This book has many strengths. The quality of the papers, the variety of studies highlighting different ways of researching spoken language, the emphasis on L2 learner language, the interdisciplinary theoretical perspectives, and the focus on spoken language in discourse are important features of the book that will make it useful in a variety of applied linguistics classes. I especially found the focus on methodological perspectives useful. I knew of almost all the approaches to studying spoken discourse, but seeing them highlighted and illustrated next to one another helped create an overall picture of successful approaches to researching speaking. The book is most useful for courses focusing on discourse analysis, or perhaps research methodology. Even though it makes a strong effort to blend research and pedagogy, it struck me as too technical to be used in courses emphasizing methodology (my particular need in examining the book, but one that may not be shared by many readers of this review).
The inclusion of pedagogical implications for many of the studies was a nice touch. I felt that a final chapter summarizing and discussing these implications would have been a useful addition to the book. The beginning chapter summarized and discussed the theory, and a similar chapter on teaching implications would have made a nice bookend to the volume.
Although the chapters in the book were overall of high quality, I found some less useful than the others. For example, the chapter on Conversation Analysis seemed intended to demonstrate the technique rather than report on research based on a question. In another problem, the study on ''Giving directions'' was missing part of its data collection. Although it extensively discussed the results from the role play task, the promised results of an ethnographic interview of L1 Arabic speakers were not reported.
Another issue I found problematic was the lack of division between naturalistic and classroom second language acquisition (this should not be confused with the distinction between spontaneous and elicited speech, which the book does make). This acquisition/learning distinction, made popular by Stephen Krashen, is normally one that I do not find useful, and it is a distinction that the editors of the volume deliberately do not make. However, in many of the studies, it would have been useful, as the kind of language performance reported for classroom learning was very different from that reported for naturalistic use of the L2. Douglas' chapter on discourse domains emphasizes the importance of context of learning. He says that ''understanding the systemic effect of different contexts on the acquisition of language knowledge'' (p. 41) is a central issue in speaking research, a statement which finds strong support in the variable kinds of language performance reported on in the volume. Making a distinction between more formal contexts of leaning and more naturalistic ones helps make sense of the very different kinds of spoken performance in the research studies, and it is an important implication of the idea of discourse domains. Learners whose only input is the classroom clearly construct different discourse domains than those who have other input.
A final issue had to do with how I ended up reading the volume. I started as anyone would, at Chapter 1 and tried to move through the book in order. Chapter 1 (the Conceptual Overview), however, was the most challenging of the volume, and it was far more understandable after reading the rest of the book. Many of the concepts discussed in Chapter 1 were far easier to process after being exemplified by the studies reported in the rest of the book. This is an important issue when considering this book for a graduate level class on spoken discourse. As an experienced reader with a lot of background, I found the conceptual overview to be packed with ideas that I had never encountered or had only before encountered peripherally. Reading the studies helped to build a schema for the first chapter. The content of the first chapter (and indeed the book as a whole) is not for a novice, but it does meet an important need in the field, that of filling the empty middle between pedagogically and theoretically oriented texts.
REFERENCES Bygate, M. 1987. Speaking. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chun, Dorothy. 2002. Discourse intonation in L2: From theory and research to practice. New York: John Benjamins Publishing Co. Levelt, W. 1989. Speaking: From intention to articulation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Wennerstrom, Ann. 2001. The music of everyday speech: Prosody and discourse analysis. New York: Oxford University Press. Wichman, Anne. 2000. Intonation in text and discourse. London: Longman.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER John M. Levis is assistant professor of TESL/Applied Linguistics at Iowa State University (USA), where he teaches courses in ESL/EFL teaching methodology, oral communication teaching methods, linguistics, sociolinguistics, dialects. His research interests include pronunciation and the intelligibility of spoken language.