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Review of  Studying Speaking to Inform Second Language Learning

Reviewer: John M. Levis
Book Title: Studying Speaking to Inform Second Language Learning
Book Author: Diana Boxer Andrew D Cohen
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 15.2428

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

Bygate, M. 1987. Speaking. Oxford: Oxford University
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.
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.

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