Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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EDITORS: Sanz, Cristina & Leow, Ronald P. TITLE: Implicit and Explicit Language Learning SUBTITLE: Conditions, Processes, and Knowledge in SLA and Bilingualism SERIES TITLE: Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics PUBLISHER: Georgetown University Press YEAR: 2011
Cylcia Bolibaugh, School of Culture, Communication and Creative Arts, St. Mary's University College, Twickenham.
''Implicit and Explicit Language Learning: Conditions, Processes and Knowledge in SLA and Bilingualism'' is a collection of 17 refereed studies connected to the theme of the ''implicit/explicit dichotomy in language development and use'' (p. 1) . All were originally presented at the 2009 Georgetown University Round Table on Language and Linguistics (GURT 2009), which was held from March 13 to March 15, 2009. The articles are divided into four sections: (1) theory; (2) methodological issues and empirical research; (3) L2 phonology; and (4) bilingualism.
Part I: Theory
The Theory section consists of four articles contributed by plenary speakers at the event. The first of these, ''Stubborn Syntax: How It Resists Explicit Teaching and Learning'' by Bill VanPatten, challenges the reader to be clearer with their definition of language when considering explicit and implicit learning in SLA. VanPatten limits his discussion to syntax, which he defines as the abstract and formal properties of a UG governed grammar. It is these properties which are resistant to external manipulation and instead unfold as a result of the interaction of language input and UG. He illustrates this process of the implicit derivation of syntax with a case study of null and overt subjects in Spanish, and concludes with an exhortation that the explicit/implicit SLA research agenda should be refocused on which ''aspects of language can be affected by explicit learning and which cannot'' (p. 17, in italics in original).
Arthur Reber's contribution, ''An Epitaph for Grammar: An Abridged History'', argues that the 50 year dominance of a nativist, Chomskyan research agenda has actively hindered the pursuit of an empirically based understanding of the psychology of language. His central premise is that the fundamental error of the generative project has been the rationalist reification, and consequent isolation, of language. Instead he argues for a field of study in which language is integrated with its cognitive and communicative functions, and posits a general system of learning, implicit learning, as the replacement for the LAD.
In ''Implicit and Explicit SLA and their Interface'', Nick Ellis examines the contributions of applied linguistics, language pedagogy, psychology, and cognitive neurology to our understanding of explicit and implicit knowledge and learning. After a historical review which establishes the distinct bases of implicit and explicit knowledge, and their dynamic interplay in language processing, Ellis highlights the role of consciousness in general learning before specifying the mechanisms by which it facilitates Second Language Acquisition (SLA).
In the last of the Theory articles, ''How Analysis and Control Lead to Advantages and Disadvantages in Bilingual Processing'', Bialystok first describes the development of the two dimensions of her cognitive model: the analysis of representations and the control of attentional processes. She then highlights how two now well-known effects of bilingualism, decreases in speed and quality of lexical retrieval, and increases in general attentional control, can be explained by the model. In the last part of the paper, the explanatory mechanism of the model is illustrated by a summary of empirical research which relates task demands to each dimension of the framework. Performance by monolinguals and bilinguals with high/low vocabulary scores, on two tasks, category and letter fluency, is shown to differ both in number of words produced (analysis/representation), and rate of production (control).
Part II: Methodological Issues and Empirical Research on Awareness, Pedagogical Contexts, and Individual differences in SLA
Leow, Johnson and Zarate-Sandez conclude their methodological review of the construct of awareness, ''Getting a Grip on the Slippery Construct of Awareness: Toward a Finer-Grained Methodological Perspective'', with the statement that it is a ''scientist's nightmare'' (p. 71). The preceding pages establish a diversity of investigatory techniques in a review of studies in the fields of cognitive psychology and SLA. These are summarised according to the object of learning (what), point of measurement (where), and experimental task (how). The authors suggest that any discussion of the role of awareness in learning must minimally consider these aspects of the measurement of the construct, while further variables such as levels of awareness, levels of processing and possible raising of awareness outside the learning or testing phases need also be considered in any investigations.
The next contribution, ''Aging, Pedagogical Conditions, and Differential Success in SLA: An Empirical Study'' by Lenet, Sanz, Lado, Howard Jr., and Howard, reports the results of a study investigating the interaction of age, and provision of more or less explicit feedback in lab-based learning of Latin. Older participants, mean age 72.3, and 20 younger participants, mean age 18.7, were randomly assigned to one of two conditions, where feedback in a learning task either simply reported the accuracy of the participant's response (less explicit), or additionally provided a grammatical explanation (explicit). Results support a position that less explicit feedback is more effective for older language learners as well as demonstrating that older adults have the same capacity as younger adults to acquire morphosyntactic rules after limited exposure to input.
In ''Effects of Feedback Timing in SLA: A Computer-Assisted Study on the Spanish Subjunctive'', Henshaw questions the widely accepted view that immediate feedback best allows learners to confirm or refute interlanguage hypotheses, pointing out that previous research has focused more on the degree of explicitness of feedback than its timing. In the study reported here, fourth semester university learners of Spanish undertook computer assisted training in one aspect of the Spanish subjunctive, having been randomly assigned to one of four groups: (i) item-by-item immediate feedback; (ii) end-of-task feedback; (iii) delayed end-of-task feedback; and (iv) no feedback. Results showed a clear advantage for all feedback groups in comparison with the no-feedback group, but did not differentiate between them, thus showing no advantage for immediate feedback.
Linck and Weiss' article, ''Working Memory Predicts the Acquisition of Explicit L2 Knowledge'', describes a longitudinal investigation of the effects of Working Memory capacity over a semester of language instruction at university. Participants completed a multiple choice grammar and vocabulary pretest, motivation questionnaire, as well as measures of working memory and inhibitory control at the beginning of the semester and repeated the language proficiency measures at the end of the semester. The authors conducted a multiple regression analysis with two criterion measures, language proficiency, and test to retest improvement in proficiency. Results revealed that only working memory predicted improvement over the course of the semester. Working memory also accounted for variance in addition to Grade Point Average and motivation at time of initial testing. The authors point to their findings as support for the claim that working memory is a predictor of L2 learning.
In ''The Effects of Formal instruction and Study Abroad on Foreign Language Development: The SALA Project'', Perez-Vidal, Juan-Garau and Mora report selected results from the large and long-running investigation of the effects of the study abroad context. Discussed here are analyses of oral accuracy, written proficiency and pronunciation as measured four times: (1) at the beginning of the degree course; (2) after 80 hours of formal instruction (FI); (3) after a 3 month Study Abroad (SA) period; and (4) 15 months after return from SA. Results showed clear improvement in oral accuracy and in written accuracy, complexity and fluency after the SA period. Interestingly phonological development benefited most from the initial period of FI but showed no improvement after the three month SA period.
''Input Processing Principles: A Contribution from First-Exposure Data'' by Rebekah Kast reports an investigation of ab-initio learners' processing of a novel language. The research is framed by two principles drawn from VanPatten's Processing Instruction (PI), namely The Primacy of Content Words, and The Sentence Location Principle. Performance on sentence repetition and sentence translation task is found to be mediated by features of the input such as the stress, syllable-length and sentence position of a word. Kast concludes that these results do not contradict either of VanPatten's principles, but adds that the categories of investigation designated by these principles may not be relevant for the investigation of first-exposure learners' parsing of input.
In ''What Is Implicit and What Is Explicit in L2 Speech? Findings from an Oral Corpus'', Hilton examines the hesitation behaviour of native speakers, and low and high fluency learners in the PAROLE corpus created at the Universite de Savoie. She first qualifies language disfluency as evidence of effortful, non-automatic processing. A comparison of the three groups by location of hesitation, rate of retracing, and distribution of syntactic unit leads her to conclude that learners and native speakers differ not in the processes of speech production but in the knowledge base to which they have access. She concludes with speculation that it is a formulaicly structured knowledge base which enables native speakers' fluent production.
Part III: Empirical Research on L2 Phonology
The first article of the L2 phonology section, ''Explicit Training and Implicit Learning of L2 Phonemic Contrasts'', by Eckman, Iverson, Fox, Jacewicz and Lee investigates whether learners' perception and production of two different types of phonemic contrasts (where the native language has sounds corresponding to one of two target language phonemes, and where the native language contains both target language phonemes but in an allophonic distribution) follow predictions generated by two phonological principles. Positive findings lead them to conclude that these principles can be the basis of effective intervention strategies.
In ''English Speakers' Perception of Spanish Vowels: Evidence for Multiple-Category Assimilation'', Gordon reports findings from a study investigating whether native speakers of a language (English) with a larger phonemic inventory than their L2 (Spanish) equate L2 vowel sounds with a variety of L1 categories (Multiple-Category Assimilation). This question was investigated in learners with differing levels of L2 proficiency. Results support previous findings of Multiple-Category Assimilation and additionally evidenced no improvement in perception with higher levels of proficiency.
Part IV: Empirical Studies on Key Issues in Bilingualism: Aging, Third Language Acquisition, and Language Separation
Ingram, Dubasik, Liceras and Fernandez Fuertes' contribution ''Early Phonological Acquisition in a Set of English-Spanish Bilingual Twins'' fills the gap between studies of first language acquisition in twins and studies of early bilingualism. The authors examine language samples taken at eighteen, nineteen and twenty months of age from a set of bilingual twins for a range of phonological features, operationalised in nine different measures. Differences between twins, as well as between languages, are interpreted as support for early language separation and non-identical phonological development in twins.
Hui-Ju Lin's contribution is entitled ''Language Learning Strategies in Adult L3 Acquisition: Relationship between L3 Development, Strategy Use, L2 Levels, and Gender''. Here the performance of bilingual Mandarin-English speakers on various measures of laboratory based L3 learning is scrutinized in relation to individual difference variables such as gender, level of L2 proficiency, and response to a self-report questionnaire of general strategy use (''Strategy Inventory for Language Learning''). A complex set of results points to differences in strategy use between genders, as well as among proficiency groups. While strategy use is associated with greater L3 learning in low L2 proficiency users, the reverse holds for high proficiency L2 users.
The last contribution, ''Effects of Bilingualism on Inhibitory Control in Elderly Brazilian Bilinguals'' by Finger, Dagort Billig and Scholl extends previous research on the protective effects of bilingualism in elderly populations to a bilingual community (Portuguese/Hunsruckisch) both previously unstudied and socioeconomically distinct. Results on tasks indexing inhibitory control and working memory point to a slight cognitive advantage for elderly bilinguals over monolinguals not only in inhibitory control but also in general processing, although the latter effect was small and not significant.
As attested by Susan Gass's back cover recommendation, one of the volume's most significant attributes is the breadth of its contributions. Although the number of studies investigating implicit and explicit learning has been steadily growing since the 1990s, these have largely been concerned with explicitness of instruction or feedback, often as indexed by the construct of noticing. Those studies which have adopted a finer grained approach to the investigation of implicit and explicit learning have tended to investigate acquisition of morphosyntax (Leow, Johnson & Zarate-Sandez, this volume, p. 67). Against this background, the present collection of studies stands apart for the variety of topics and approaches included.
Part I: Theory contains a variety of perspectives on the mechanisms by which second language learning occurs, and the roles of explicit and implicit knowledge and learning therein. The broad scope of the contributions means a novice reader would need a fair amount of guidance to understand how the authors' theoretical perspectives relate to one another, what commonalities they share and where they might be incompatible. The editors' commendable aim of presenting a ''deep and broad view'' (Sanz & Leow, this volume, p. 6) means the volume is likely most suitable for the reader at graduate level or above.
As illustrated above, the book's shortcomings are largely a consequence of the diversity of topics addressed. The tension between selecting manuscripts representative of the conference's output and devising an organisational scheme for the volume is evident in the slightly hodgepodge nature of Parts II and IV. This impression is magnified by the discrepancies between the table of contents and the editors' introduction as to which study falls in a particular part. These very superficial drawbacks, however, do not detract from the high quality of the individual contributions.
Several reviews over the past decade have argued for greater precision in the use of constructs of implicit and explicit learning (e.g. DeKeyser, 2003; Hulstijn, 2005; Williams, 2009) This volume's subtitle, (''Conditions, Processes and Knowledge'') is evidence that the editors have heeded these calls, but the coherence of the book as a whole would have benefitted from ensuring that all contributors did so. Although all the studies can broadly be said to address issues of implicit & explicit learning, a number do not systematically relate their research to either, nor indeed discuss them at all. This is perhaps the most significant weakness in an otherwise excellent volume.
''Implicit and Explicit Learning: Conditions, Processes and Knowledge in SLA and Bilingualism'' is an extremely informative collection of articles, remarkable for the wide range of topic specific expertise underlying the studies. The great majority of the papers present innovative and carefully designed research which significantly advances our understanding of the dynamic interplay between implicit and explicit processes in language learning and bilingualism. The collection also affirms the importance and explanatory potential of these constructs across the broader language research enterprise. The volume is an essential addition to the researcher's library, as well as being of considerable interest to those concerned with language instruction.
DeKeyser, R. M. (2003). Implicit and explicit learning. In C. J. Doughty, & M. H. Long (Eds.), The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition (pp. 313-348). Oxford: Blackwell.
Hulstijn, J. (2005). Theoretical and empirical issues in the study of implicit and explicit second-language learning. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 27 (2), 129-140.
Williams, J. N. (2009). Implicit Learning in Second Language Acquisition. In W. C. Ritchie, & T. K. Bhatia (Eds.), The New Handbook of Second Language Acquisition (pp. 319-353). Emerald Group Publishing Ltd.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Cylcia Bolibaugh is a lecturer and PhD candidate at St Mary's University
College whose interests include second language acquisition and second
language instruction. Her latest study investigates the role of individual
differences, including phonological short term memory and implicit
phonological learning ability, in the development of L2 native-like
selection ability in long term immigrants.