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Review of  Second Language Acquisition Abroad

Reviewer: Robert Arthur Cote
Book Title: Second Language Acquisition Abroad
Book Author: Lynne Hansen
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Book Announcement: 23.4579

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EDITOR: Lynne Hansen
TITLE: Second Language Acquisition Abroad
SUBTITLE: The LDS Missionary Experience
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Bilingualism Volume 45
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2012

Robert A. Cote, University of Arizona

The editor, Lynne Hansen, begins the book with a brief introductory chapter,
''Investigating mission languages'', describing the foreign language learning
experience of a typical missionary from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day
Saints (LDS). The majority of missionaries, native English speaking males
between the ages of 19 and 26, study a foreign language in order to spend the
next three years of their lives preaching the word of the LDS abroad. This is
accomplished by attending an eight-to-twelve week pre-departure immersion
program at one of sixteen centers around the globe called Missionary Training
Centers (MTC) in which the missionary receives six hours of language instruction
per day five days a week (p. 4). The focus at the MTC is on oral communication
for survival and sharing religious views. After completing the language course,
the missionaries are sent to their host country, where they are matched up with
a companion who is either a native speaker of the target language. The pair
remains together 24/7 for language study and more importantly, ''trying to meet
and teach people receptive to their message'' which is accomplished by going
''from door to door asking those at home if they would be interested in learning
more about the Church'' (p. 4). Although the subjects in the book were all
religion students, the author draws attention to the fact that the age of the
LDS missionaries and the time they spend in the target culture parallels the
experience of college-age study abroad students, making the book relevant to a
much wider audience of foreign language learners.

In Chapter 2, ''Language learning and teaching in the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-Day Saints,'' C. Ray Graham traces the history of language learning and
teaching in the Mormon church and explores the language attrition that occurs
after the missionaries return home. As far back as the mid 1840's, the leaders
of LDS believed that English literacy was essential for church members, so
special schools were created to educate adults and children using the Deseret
Alphabet, a phonetic-based English script, which never caught on due to ''the
lack of materials written in the alphabet and the fact that all communication
with the outside world traditional English characters'' (p. 17). The
chapter makes excellent use of reports by early missionaries, which bring the
text to life as they describe journeys to foreign lands and the many challenges
they faced due to insufficient language training. For the next 100 years,
''learning ones [sic] mission language was mostly an individual matter in which
there was little systematic institutional support'' (p. 21) forcing the
missionaries to spend endless hours self-teaching by reading target language
texts and grammar books before departure and then acquiring spoken skills
in-country ''through daily interaction with their companions and with native
speakers'' (p. 20), a far cry from today's highly structured and very successful
LDS foreign language program. Realizing the challenges, the LDS created MTCs,
basically target language boot camps which utilize a hybrid task-based and
focus-on-form approach (Doughty & Williams, 1998; Ellis, 2001) to assist
missionaries in both obtaining survival communication skills and acquiring the
ability to spread religious rhetoric.

Dan Dewey and Ray T. Clifford, in Chapter 3, ''The development of speaking
proficiency of LDS missionaries,'' focus on ''what levels of speaking proficiency
are attained abroad'' (p. 5) by administering the ACTFL's oral proficiency
interview (OPI) to nearly 400 recently returned missionaries (RMs) who spoke one
of seven languages (Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Mandarin or
Japanese) to determine their level of target language acquisition (superior,
advanced, intermediate or novice) based on ''can do'' statements. The roles of
various factors such as formal classroom instruction, practice, feedback and
negotiating meaning are explored. The author's primary questions were how much
target language the missionaries can learn naturally, how their language
abilities compare to more traditional students who only learn in the classroom
and what the RMs can do with their language skills upon returning to an
English-dominant environment.

Using ACTFL-certified testers to conduct phone interviews, it was found that
''ninety-three percent of the RM scores were at the Advanced or Superior levels''
(p. 36) compared to only 47% of undergraduate language majors tested in these
same seven languages (see Swender, 2003). The RMs were found to be most
proficient when discussing religion, personal experiences and hobbies, and most
deficient when using general vocabulary, discussing abstract ideas and stating
and defending opinions (pp. 43-44). Nevertheless, nearly all reached the minimal
levels of target language proficiency to teach in K-12 classrooms, work as
police or paramedics, social workers, customer service reps or office workers
(p. 47). The authors concluded that length of time immersed in a target language
is better than only learning language in a classroom, but factors such as
aptitude, motivation, amount and types of practice and nature of social
interactions also play important roles (p. 47) and for optimal outcomes,
''additional instruction and negative feedback may be necessary'' (p. 48).

Some issues with the population sample warrant mention. More than half were
Spanish speakers and nearly one quarter were Russian speakers, so findings on
those two languages are more reliable than for the other five, based on sample
size. Furthermore, 76% were male, which creates a gender bias. Much of the RMs
target language was centered on teaching about religion, and this was done by
memorizing chunks of language which were repeated over and over, creating a
positive bias towards the ability to discuss religion. In other words, many of
the RMs showed their highest levels of target language ability when discussing
religious matters, an ''ability pattern that OPI testers would describe as a
hothouse special'' (p. 42), a skill rarely found in traditional students.

In Chapter 4, ''An examination of the effects of input, aptitude, and motivation
on the language proficiency of missionaries learning Japanese as a second
language,'' Jenifer Larson-Hall and Dan Dewey explore the roles of aptitude and
motivation on the ''language learning success of missionaries using oral
proficiency interview (OPI) ratings and elicited imitation (EI) tasks'' (p. 5).
The duo utilized the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT) part 4, Words in
Sentences, to activate short-term working memory (WM) to determine what, if any,
role it plays in predicting second language success. They also created a
motivation questionnaire modeled after research by Dörnyei. The authors
conducted the Simulated Oral Proficiency Interview (SOPI) for learners of
Japanese and an elicited imitation (EI) task consisting of repeating 42 Japanese
sentences by 44 missionaries learning Japanese in Japan. As in the previous
chapter, there are some problems with the data collection. First, the
researchers only ran half the SOPI (25 minutes versus 45), and they were also
the raters. At the time of the study, though both had completed SOPI training,
neither was officially certified, nor were they native speakers of Japanese.

To test aptitude, the researchers used two tests developed by Paul Meara, the
Llama B, ''a test of paired-associates vocabulary-learning ability'' (p. 61) and
Llama F, ''a test where participants must analyze sentences that are paired with
pictures, thus working out grammar rules in a nonsense language'' (p. 61). A
third test, which measured ''phonological working memory, was recorded by a
highly proficient non-native university instructor of Arabic'' and was scored
''with penalties only for changing or deleting phonemes but not for accent'' (p.
62) (French, 2003). Having yet another non-native speaker serving as an
evaluator raises concerns.

Target language proficiency as a correlate of time spent in Japan, presented in
scatterplots, reveals one noteworthy finding: ''a discontinuity somewhere between
11-12 months, where participants are progressing in much more direct
relationship to their length of immersion before that point, but then show a
much slower and more varied pattern of progress after than point'' (p. 66). The
critical number of exposure hours appears to be 1640 -- up to that point, amount
of input is ''the major factor in how proficient they became in Japanese'' (p.
68). The chapter continues with ample statistical analysis regarding language
aptitude and working memory, and it can be challenging reading at times.

Chapter 5, ''In the beginning was the word: Vocabulary learning in six mission
languages,'' written collaboratively by Lynne Hansen, Karri Lam, Livia Orikasa,
Paul Rama, Geraldine Schwaller and Ronald Mellado Miller, finishes the section
with an exploration of vocabulary learning by 480 missionaries in Spanish,
Portuguese, German, Japanese, Mandarin or Korean, providing the audience with an
interesting and informative read as the authors explore the effects of several
factors on vocabulary acquisition: language input as measured by time exposed to
the target language, language distance, gender, motivation, attitudes towards
target language and culture and one rather unique aspect, the role of
spirituality/power of prayer.

Aside from the German learners, ''those with previous exposure to the target
language did not learn words more rapidly in their intensive course'' (p. 97)
than those with no prior target language experience. Participants increased
their target language vocabulary as time progressed and most quickly during the
initial two to three months in the MTC followed closely by further vocabulary
increases up to week 26 living in the target language culture. It was found that
''after 26 weeks, influenced by a ceiling effect in the learning of the words,
the correlations between time and vocabulary score are no longer significant''
(p. 98). Language distance showed the greatest effects during the first 26
weeks. Gender analysis revealed that the women learned significantly more words
in the MTC, but the men made up the difference and eventually surpassed the
women once in the target language environment (p. 100). The authors explain that
this reversal could be a result of the women being forced to spend more hours
working in the mission offices than preaching to the local population. It was
determined that overall, ''the strongest predictor of vocabulary attainment for
the learners...was time on the mission'' (p. 102) and of the affective variables
(motivation, attitude and faith), motivation was the strongest predictor (p. 103).

Although Chapter 6, ''The lost word: Vocabulary attrition in six mission
languages,'' starts the second half of the book with the new topic of language
loss, the editor made the wise decision of piggy-backing on the previous chapter
by presenting details on the attrition of the same six languages by the same
population. This chapter, another compilation of data written by Lynne Hansen,
Andrew Colver, Wonhye Chong, Helama Pereira, Jeremy Robinson, Akihiro Sawada and
Ronald Mellado Miller, examines vocabulary attrition as a result of several
variables including language distance, gender and motivation. The authors
decided to focus on the production of target words as opposed to the receptive
knowledge of words as has often been the case in past studies (Grendel 1993;
Webb 2008; Weltens 1989; Weltens & van Els, 1986) and they were specifically
interested to see if the past findings of a slight decline in lexicon over the
first few years after leaving the target language environment followed by a much
sharper drop in subsequent decades would be supported (pp. 112-113).

432 participants (306 males and 126 females) were tested using the same method
of eliciting the 100 words from Chapter 5. With respect to vocabulary attrition
over time, it was determined that there was a ''brief but steep decline in
productive vocabulary accessibility during the period immediately after return
to the L1 environment, followed by a period of gradual attrition which becomes
slightly more pronounced after three decades'' (p. 122). In terms of language
distance, it was found that vocabulary was retained at a significantly higher
rate for similar languages (Spanish, Portuguese and German) than for distant
ones (Japanese and Chinese) ''and that the learners of Korean retain
significantly fewer words than any of the other L2 cohorts'' (p. 123). The data
showed that men had a higher lexical maintenance than women, attributed to ''the
longer periods of L2 exposure experienced by the men'' (p. 130). It was
interesting to see the effects that motivation and attitude had on the two
languages at the extremes in terms of retention. Speakers of Spanish, which had
the highest retention rates, viewed the language and its cultures highly
positively and were highly motivated to maintain the language. In contrast,
speakers of Korean, which had the lowest retention rates, viewed both the
language and culture negatively and showed ''the lowest motivation for L2
maintenance among all of the returnee groups'' (p. 130). In general, the more
time that passed and the less exposure to the target languages in the homeland,
the more vocabulary that was lost.

One unexpected finding was the ''positive upturn in motivation, attitudes and
beliefs'' (p. 125) reported by returnees when reminiscing about their time abroad
despite the fact that these same missionaries had reported negatively when
serving overseas. The researchers believe the RMs were idealizing their time in
service and that data on affective variables collected after-the-fact may not be
very reliable.

C. Ray Graham in Chapter 7, ''Vocabulary attrition in adult speakers of Spanish
as a second language,'' uses Patricia Nation’s framework (2001) that examines
loss of word forms and their inflectional and derivational morphology, ''the
meanings of words, the grammatical constraints placed on them, and the use of
words in various collocations'' (p. 6) with respect to the production of spoken
language via story retelling with the aid of pictures and five simulated
narrative speech tasks. Graham recorded twelve randomly selected participants
for forty minutes each twelve years apart ''to look at how speakers lose facility
with various aspects of their vocabulary knowledge, including form, meaning,
grammatical constraints and collocations'' (p. 137). All of the recordings were
then transcribed and analyzed by native-Spanish speaking linguistics students
who identified ''irregularities in the Spanish that represented departures from
current usage'' (p. 142). The non-standard words were categorized based on
errors in form, meaning and use, and each category was broken down further into

The data revealed several general but not unexpected trends. The total number of
errors increased for everyone from initial test to final test twelve years later
even though the text length decreased. All subjects scored best (least
attrition) on the story-telling task, obviously helped by the pictures, whereas
most scored worst on the unfamiliar narration task as it was the most
cognitively demanding. Participants also lost the ability to use more
challenging aspects of the language, like the subjunctive, over time which in
turn affected the ability to use expressions that often collocate with this tense.

One interesting and informative aspect of this chapter is its in-depth analysis
of the speech of particular individuals, most notably those at the extremes and
middle of the attrition spectrum (p. 151). Some were no longer able to produce
much Spanish at all, while others were nearly as fluent as when they left the
host country twelve years earlier. Most tried to circumlocute when they did not
know the exact word, and many produced words that were phonetically similar or
synonyms of the target word, yet not appropriate to the context (p. 153). The
data is rich with examples of English substitutions, phonetic alterations,
morphological changes and various grammatical errors, especially article
omission, subject-verb agreement and clitic pronouns. The one area that really
stands out is mistakes related to grammatical gender, ''among the most numerous
of all the categories'' (p. 170). Two distinct patterns emerged: (1) ''many more
incorrect assignments of masculine gender than feminine'' and (2) ''in many cases
where a noun occurred repeatedly, the incorrect gender assignment was not
consistent'' (p. 171).
Graham concludes with several findings, including ''the general structure of
words appear to be consistent in memory even if the details are fuzzy'' (p. 178),
''the area in which the greatest evidence of attrition occurred ... [is] the
intersection of form and meaning on word collocations'' (p. 178) possibly due to
''the encroachment of English into the subjects' Spanish'' (p. 178) and there is a
great deal of variability in terms of the consistency with which a subject used
a particular word properly from one context to another. Graham also briefly
compares some of the findings in this study to work done earlier by
Bardovi-Harlig & Stringer (2010), and this reference would be well-worth reading
for more details on the similarities (interference/cross linguistic influence
hypothesis) and differences (regression hypothesis) between the two studies.
Chapter 8, ''Savings in the relearning of mission vocabulary: The effects of time
and proficiency,'' by Lynne Hansen, Melanie McKinney and Yukako Umeda, focuses on
the relearning of Japanese and Korean by English speakers. Specifically, the
authors were interested in determining if the knowledge that remains from
previously known material that can no longer be recalled or recognized can be
reactivated (p. 187). Subjects heard old words in the target language that they
would have memorized years earlier as missionaries to see if they could
translate them into English as well as new pseudo-words to test for a savings
advantage in relearning. As expected, ''those who remembered the most old words
benefited significantly more from savings in the relearning of previously known
vocabulary than those who remembered the fewest words'' (p. 194). Similarly, ''the
attriters with the highest vocabulary scores also learned significantly more new
words than those with the lowest scores'' (p. 195).
Other findings included an increase in the inability to relearn old words and
acquire new ones the more time that passed since leaving the target language
country as well as the younger participants out-performing the older ones. It
was also concluded that ''the larger the lexicon, the greater the apparent
savings benefit in relearning old words, and the better able one is to learn new
words'' (p. 199), a possible result of aptitude. Lastly, the rate of lexical loss
was ''greater for the L2 Korean attriters than for the Japanese'' (p. 198).

Lynne Hansen and Yung-Lin Chen, in Chapter 9, ''What counts in the retention of
numeral classifiers in Japanese and Chinese?'' begin by defining and explaining
the roles of numeral classifiers, also called counters, in Japanese and Chinese.
By examining the absence, presence and accuracy of numeral classifiers, they
attempt to show that ''the least marked distinction, human animate, to be the
earliest to appear and the longest to be retained, and the unmarked end of the
scale, function, to be the last to appear and the earliest to be lost after the
onset of attrition'' (p. 204-5). They also offer evidence of the regression
hypothesis, which states that when ''losing a language, attriters will trace
their steps back in an inverse order through the acquisition stages … with the
last learned being the first forgotten [and] the first learned being the longest
retained'' (p. 206).

There are two errors in the chapter. On page 207, we are referred to Appendix
II, items 1 to 24. Unfortunately, this appendix is not in the text. In addition,
the last paragraph in the results section 5.1 ''Acquisition and attrition stages''
on p. 211 is repeated in its entirety in section 5.2 ''Sequences of semantic
accessibility'' at the top of 212.

Chapter 10, ''Syntactic attrition in L2 Japanese missionary language,'' by Robert
A. Russell, concentrates on ''whether there is a long-term, positive effect of
post-return formal instruction upon the retention of oral production skills … in
terms of particle usage, syntactic complexity and syntactic variety'' (p. 222).
Russell accomplished this by testing Japanese attriters during their first two
years after serving overseas and then again ten years later. He looked at
whether overall error rates in particle usage increased over time, if syntactic
structure became less complex over time, and to what extent the use of
subordinate clauses decreased over time (pp. 225-226). These were determined by
an in-depth analysis of T-units and C-units (Foster, Tonkyn & Wigglesworth, 1998).

Participants formed two groups. Group 1 had no formal target language
instruction after service, while Group 2 did. All responded orally to three
prompts: self-introduction, future plans and describe the differences between
American and Japanese society and culture (p. 230). ''Subjects' responses were
recorded, transcribed and edited for accuracy and consistency. The edited files
were then analyzed to produce lists of words, their frequencies, type-token
ratios, and so forth. The subjects' utterances were then segmented into T-units
and analyzed for lexical errors'' (p. 230).

Over the first two years, there was a significant decrease in vocabulary size
and significant increases in lexical errors and the number of English tokens
relative to total tokens (p. 231). However, although there was ''a significant
decline in the number of different subordinate clause types for Group 1 … there
was a significant increase in the number of different subordinate clause types
for Group 2'' (p. 232), indicating ''that there was a positive effect from formal
instruction'' (p. 233) which ''may also have the effect of helping the learner to
restructure, reinforce, and retain for a longer period of time certain aspects
of grammatical competence previously acquired in a largely informal manner'' (pp.
235-236). Ten years later, the same test showed further declines in fluency with
the largest losses coming from Group 1. Unfortunately, out of 80 original
participants, all males, only eight made it to the end of the twelve-year study,
so sample size and gender are a problem.

In Chapter 11, ''The measurement of oral fluency in mission languages,'' Lynne
Hansen, James Gardner, James Pollard, Joshua Rowe and Junko Tsukayama examine
language loss using speech recognition technology to measure hesitation, also
known as pause behavior or pausology, in oral narratives. Specifically, they
were looking to see if ''the first sign of language attrition is not the loss of
certain items but rather an increase in the length of time needed for their
retrieval'' (p. 247). 40 learners and 82 attriters of Japanese received key
vocabulary, viewed an eight-photo picture story, listened to a description of
the story in English, and were then recorded as they retold the story in
Japanese. An analysis of the stories was used to measure the unfilled pauses
into one of seven categories: pre-particle, post-particle, sentence end,
pre-filler, post-filler, word internal and other (p. 250), and several important
variables were also calculated: total talking time, total unfilled pause time,
total unfilled pause frequency, total filler frequency, total Japanese filler
frequency, and total English filler frequency (p. 250). Both groups were
compared to native Japanese university students residing in the US.

The less time a learner was in Japan, the longer their pauses, and the more time
a learner spent in Japan, the faster they could retell the story. Those with the
least time in Japan as well as those who had been out of Japan the longest used
the most English fillers when retelling the story. One very interesting result
was that ''the L1 Japanese speakers actually used more English fillers in their
Japanese narratives than did the L1 English missionaries after two years in
Japan'' (p. 252) which may ''suggest that the use of L2 fillers in the narrative
speech of foreigners and immigrants may be an early indicator of L1 attrition''
(p. 253). The researchers determined that the pause variables have a stronger
relationship to second language attainment, and ''the silent pauses, both in
frequency and length, correlate most strongly with measures of language
proficiency'' (p. 255).

The book is divided logically into two sections. The first, chapters 2 through
5, addresses the acquisition of mission languages before and during service
abroad, while the second, 6 through 11, deals with the attrition of mission
languages after the missionaries return home. Hansen emphasizes the importance
of the homogeneity of the subjects and their language acquisition experience:
US-born native English speakers in their late teens to mid-twenties who attend
eight to twelve-week intensive target language programs that emphasize survival
skills and religious content who are then immersed in the language abroad with
the 24-hour companionship of a native speaker. This ''similarity of learner
characteristics and features of the L2 input and output help facilitate the
examination of the effects of other factors at play in second language
acquisition and maintenance'' (p. 1). However, a closer look at the participants
reveals that approximately 80% are male, undoubtedly resulting in gender bias.
There is also the fact that for the past twenty-five plus years, the male
participants have spent, on average, six more months than the females in the
target language countries, which would likely cause a time bias due to the extra
exposure to the target language by the males. In addition, one cannot ignore
that aside from survival language skills, the participants focused most of their
effort memorizing religious information in order to spread proselytize, a strong
motivating factor and not the typical purpose for learning a foreign language.

At times, there were important references made to personal communications as
opposed to published studies, which made the text feel somewhat non-academic.
There were also occasions when the text was written in a manner that indicated
personal relationships between some of the researchers, resulting in an air of
informality that comes across as odd in an academic publication such as this.

The book contains a great deal of statistical analysis which could be
overwhelming for some readers. It was good to offer a mini-lesson on research
statistics as well as refer the reader to online and book resources for more
in-depth explanations of statistical analysis as it pertains to language
research (Chapter 4, Appendix B). Many of the chapter appendices could be
helpful for future researchers as they offer various types of questionnaires.
Some (Hansen et al., Chapters 5 and 6) are suitable for the non-academic reader,
while others (Larson-Hall & Dewey, Chapter 4) require familiarity with various
statistical analysis for language studies. For example, I found myself
continuously rereading data interpretations and referring to Appendix B in
Chapter 4 to get the most out of the text. The in-depth statistics are helpful,
though some readers may have difficulty accessing them. There is so much
quantitative data in the book that when the reader finally encounters the
qualitative data in Chapter 7, it really brings the text to life, especially for
readers who know Spanish. One issue with Chapter 8 is the many references to
some very dated studies, and a great deal of research focused solely on Japanese
and Chinese. Lastly, one very positive aspect of the book is the comprehensive
bibliographies (one annotated, one not) of mission language references located
at the end which offer the reader an extensive list of material useful in the
study of both second language acquisition.

Bardovi-Harlig, K. & Stringer, D. 2010. 'Variables in second language attrition:
Advancing the state of the art'. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 32: 1-45.

Doughty, C. & Williams, K. 1998. 'Focus on form in classroom second language
acquisition'. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, R. 2001. 'Investigating form-focused instruction'. In R. Ellis (Ed.),
Form-focused instruction and second language learning. Malden, MA: Blackwell,
pp. 1-46.
Foster, P., Tonkyn, A., & Wigglesworth, G. 1998. 'Measuring spoken language: A
unit for all reasons'. Paper presented at PacSLRF '98 (3rd Pacific Second
Language Research Forum), Tokyo, Japan.

French, L. M. 2006. 'Phonological working memory and L2 acquisition: A
developmental study of Quebec francophone children learning English'. New York,
New York: Edward Mellen Press.
Nation, P. 2001. 'Learning Vocabulary in another Language'. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Swender, E. 2003. 'Oral proficiency testing in the real world: Answers to
frequently asked questions'. Foreign Language Annals 36: 520-526.on and attrition.

Robert Cote received his master's degree in TESOL from Florida International University and is writing his dissertation in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching at the University of Arizona. He has taught ESL in high schools, community colleges and universities and recently completed three years as Chair of English at the Higher Colleges of Technology in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. His interests include heritage language learning, Generation 1.5 students and their use of language to negotiate identity, peer collaboration, IEP writing, CALL and ESL/EFL Teacher Training.