Date: Fri, 21 Oct 2005 10:09:22 -0700 (PDT) From: Yasemin Kirkgoz Subject: Analysing Learner Language
AUTHORS: Ellis, Rod; Barkhuizen, Gary TITLE: Analysing Learner Language SERIES: Oxford Applied Linguistics PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2005
Yasemin Kirkgoz, Department of ELT, Lecturer in English Language Teaching at the University of Çukurova
This comprehensive book written by well-known academician Rod Ellis and researcher Gary Barkhuizen "Analyzing Learner Language" makes a significant contribution to the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) by exploring the multidimensional nature of SLA. The book is introduced by a preface, which lays out the background and the aim of the book, and consists of fifteen chapters. Chapter One is an introduction. Chapter Two provides a general description of different methods employed for collecting data from L2 learners. Chapters three through thirteen, focus on one particular method of data collection and analysis organized neatly into four sections, following the same format. While the first section of each chapter introduces the historical and theoretical background of the method, the second section illustrates application of the method to actual data. This is followed by an example of a study that has employed the method. The last section sets up a task to give readers hands-on experience in analysing a sample of learner language. Each chapter concludes with a final comment highlighting the main points discussed. Chapter fourteen, written by Michael Barlow, examines computer-based analyses of learner language, a relatively new development in SLA, and finally chapter fifteen summarizes the entire book.
In the introductory chapter, "Introduction" Rod Ellis and Gary Barkhuizen start with providing an overview of published works on SLA and research methodology. Given an abundance of literature on this field of enquiry, they explain the motivation for writing this book as to offer a new dimension to analyzing learner language, reiterating the main aim of the book, already stated in the preface, as to overview theoretical and research contexts for the different methods of data collection and analysis, introduce a variety of methods for analyzing learner language, and to provide the readers with opportunities of data-based tasks so that they can experience of applying different methods of analysis, themselves. Learner data employed throughout the book is the empirical data based on the authors' experiences of teaching SLA to postgraduate students in different teaching contexts. Then, the chapter gives an explanation of two key terms, extensively used throughout the book: 'SLA' and 'learner language', distinguishing two senses of SLA. 'SLA' is used here to refer to the study of how people learn a second language while 'L2 acquisition' refers to the learning of another language after acquisition of one's mother tongue is complete (p.3). Learner language comprises the oral or written language produced by learners serving as the primary data for the study of L2 acquisition (p4). The chapter concludes by outlining the main differences in the research paradigms widely recognized in the social sciences as 'normative' and 'interpretative' chosen from Cohen and Manion (1994) and the 'critical researcher' from Norman (1994), pointing out that much of the SLA research is of the mixed form, for example a researcher adopting a normative design but employing a qualitative method of data collection. Reference is made to subsequent chapters illustrating these three research paradigms and employing the type of data analysis method, qualitative or quantitative.
Chapter Two "Collecting Samples of Learner Language" focuses on different methods of data collection from L2 learners. The three sets of data identified include non-linguistic performance data, such as non-verbal measures of learners' comprehension of linguistic input so that inferences can be made about learners' linguistic knowledge, samples of learner language (oral and written), which the authors contend as constituting the primary data for investigating L2 acquisition, and reports from learners about their own learning. Three principal methods of data collection are distinguished: obtaining samples of 'naturally occurring' language use, i.e., language produced in a real-life situation (a conversation around the dinner table), eliciting data, either clinically or experimentally elicited data, which can be obtained through the use of specially designed instruments, and verbal reports for example 'self-report' and 'self- observation'. 'Construct validity' is the key theme emphasized throughout the chapter. The authors encourage us to employ multiple types of data to attain construct validity given that no single method will provide a completely valid picture of what a learner knows. The chapter ends by stressing the necessity of obtaining the permission of the participants while collecting the data.
Chapter Three, "Error Analysis" deals with procedures used for identifying and describing learners' errors. The authors begin with highlighting the significance of learner errors, and move on to surveying the history of Error analysis (EA) from the prescriptive grammarians of the 18th century to Contrastive analysis of 1960's. The behaviorism view of considering language learning as a process of habit formation is contrasted with nativist theories, emphasising the mental processes of the mind during the process of learning a language. The reader is introduced to the term 'interlanguage' coined by Selinker (1972), referring to mental grammar constructed by a learner at a specific stage in the learning process (p.54). The central premises of this theory are explained, admitting that though these premises continue to be disputed, many of the arguments receive support by the findings of EA. In the next section, the authors outline a five-step procedure of conducting an error analysis, noting that errors can be explained either as 'interlingual' errors, resulting from mother tongue influences or 'intralingual' errors, resulting from the operation of learning strategies. At the end of the chapter, the reader is given an error analysis task based on a letter written by a Japanese student. In the final comment, while the authors acknowledge that studying learner error has practical significance to language pedagogy, they remind us of the limitations of EA as not offering complete information on learner language.
Chapter Four "Obligatory Occasion Analysis" deals with analyzing samples of learner language in order to examine the order of acquisition, and determine how accurately learners use specific linguistic forms. The chapter starts with an overview of the development of this analysis, which is initially used to investigate first language (L1) acquisition in longitudinal studies, and cross-sectional studies with reference to some research studies. This procedure was then adopted by SLA researchers in both longitudinal and cross-sectional "morpheme studies" to see whether there was a universal 'order of acquisition'. This is followed by introducing the procedure for conducting an Obligatory Occasion Analysis, together with how this procedure can be applied in cross-sectional studies to determine the order of acquisition. Having given an example of a study using this procedure, the reader is assigned a task based on transcriptions of oral narratives produced by five learners. As in the previous chapter, authors point out the benefits of using this analysis at the same time indicating its limitation: by explaining whether or not learners have acquired L2 forms, it does not contribute much to the actual processes involved in L2 acquisition.
Chapter Five "Frequency Analysis" begins with a definition of frequency analysis, discussing its advantages: 1) it avoids 'comparative fallacy' by examining learner language in its own not in terms of whether they correspond to target language forms; 2) it captures the gradual and dynamic nature of interlanguage development (p.93). In the historical and theoretical background of frequency analysis, also referred to as interlanguage analysis, an overview of the need for frequency analysis is given, mainly due to investigating variability in learner language since the nature of learner errors varies from occasion to occasion, and for describing the sequence of language acquisition. The authors then mention problems associated with it, such as being a longitudinal study, it is time-consuming and the necessity to know how to operationalise 'stage of acquisition'. Having offered a detailed description of how to conduct a frequency analysis, an example of a study using this methodological tool is given. The chapter ends with a task to the reader, based on negative utterances produced by a Portuguese learner of English as L2. A final comment by the authors rightly shows the need that frequency analysis be seen not as an alternative to but rather as complementary to obligatory occasion analysis.
Unlike chapters three to five which dealt mainly with the grammatical aspects of learner language, Chapter Six entitled "Functional Analysis" examines functional analyses of learner language to investigate how learners meet their communicative needs by using their linguistic knowledge. The authors first distinguish two types of functional analysis as a 'form-function analysis' in which the starting point of analysis is a specific linguistic form such as plural -s or verb -ing, from which follows investigating the specific meanings, and 'function-form analysis' where the starting point is a language function, i.e., referring to future events then identifying the linguistic form in a sample of learner language, both types of analyses being complementary. The history of the study of learner language is considered as a progression from formal analysis (as investigated in Chapters three through five) to form-function analyses, and then to function-form analysis. In the account of form- function analysis, the authors, referring to earlier morpheme and longitudinal studies, show why these approaches failed to take into account the functional properties, and introduce studies that viewed learners' language 'as dynamic' consisting of a system of form-function mappings showing learners' interlanguage development, and that who provided evidence of form-function mapping in learner language. In the second half of this section, function-form analysis is examined drawing on the work in pragmatics. This section concludes with an evaluation of functional approach pointing out some of its limitations. Steps to be followed in a form-function and function-form analysis are given, followed by an example of a study using a functional analysis. The chapter concludes with a task, based on a role-play task between an American native-speaker of English and a Taiwanese non-speaker speaker.
Chapter Seven "Analysing Accuracy, Complexity and Fluency" deals with measuring these three aspects of language based on studies of tasks. The chapter starts with defining these concepts explaining briefly the methods developed to measure them. Then, a review of the studies based on the analysis of learner language in terms of these three constructs within an information-processing model is given, with a focus on investigating how learners' performance is affected by the nature of the tasks. The next section examines the various measures used to study accuracy, complexity and fluency by conducting analyses of two oral texts based on a study of the effects of pre-task and on-line planning of oral narratives produced by Chinese university students. Having illustrated an example of a study involving these aspects of language, the reader is given a task based on two samples of oral learner language to compare in terms of these measures. The authors make final comment by pointing out two problems involved; reliability and multiplicity of the measures used, offering useful suggestions as to how to address them.
Chapter Eight "Interactional Analysis" starts with defining discourse and interactional analysis. In a brief review of the history of the interactional analysis in SLA, 3 aspects of interaction are discussed: the negotiation of meaning, communication strategies and error treatment. Then, an outline of conducting an interactional analysis is given, offering a general guideline for analysing problem-solving interactions of interlocutors when confronted with a particular problem using the data from a communicative task performed by two Korean undergraduate students. An example of a study of interactional analysis is followed by an interactional analysis task based on several short interactions taking place in various communicative tasks. In the final comment, the authors try to demonstrate the value of interactional analysis as providing 'internal view of language pedagogy' (194).
Chapter Nine "Conversation Analysis" is concerned with analyzing all forms of spoken interaction, such as in classroom or courtroom, in order to provide a turn-by-turn description of what participants do in these conversations (p. 197). The section on historical and theoretical background gives an excellent review of conversation analysis, illustrating the three types of organization comprising 'turn- taking', 'sequence organization' and 'repair' based on short extracts. In the next section, five criteria proposed by Markee (2000) illustrating a conversation analyst oriented methodology for a social interactionist approach to SLA studies is given reflecting the main theoretical and methodological principles of conversation analysts. A set of guidelines of conducting a conversation analysis is followed by a more analytic tool for conducting conversation analysis, which is illustrated with extracts from published sources. An appendix given at the end of the chapter illustrates all symbols used in the extracts in the chapter.
Chapter Ten "Sociocultural Methods of Analysis" addresses sociocultural theory in the study of L2 learning, that is, with particular emphasis on collaborative learning in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Then, some of the key constructs in sociocultural theory, particularly as they relate to L2 development, many of which are associated with Russian developmental psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, with a focus on his research, are outlined. A set of guidelines is provided for undertaking a sociocultural analysis of learner language data, offering assisted performance and the ZDP, from the perspective of Vygotsky. Then, the procedure of conducting a qualitative microgenetic analysis of mediated learning within ZPD is illustrated in three sections: selecting relevant episodes for analysis, determining patterns of interaction, and determining microgenetic growth. A task is set up involving an analysis of scaffolded interactions based on episodes of a transcript of classroom interactions, and the chapter ends with the authors' final comments.
Chapter Eleven "Coding Data Qualitatively" examines how to code qualitative data within the paradigm of interpretative qualitative research. The chapter begins with a definition of 'qualitative data' as comprising the data collected through methods such as observation, open- ended interviews, field notes, etc., and 'coding' as the technique used to organize data into themes. In the theoretical overview, the authors first introduce various labels being assigned to different qualitative research traditions such as 'ethnographic', 'naturalistic' or 'case study', with reference to studies undertaken in this research paradigm, giving advice to researchers to choose the methods to analyse and interpret data that will most appropriately answer the research question. Additionally, a distinction is made between deductive and inductive orientations to qualitative research. While in the former the researcher begins with a set of hypotheses or research questions trying to prove them, in the latter the researcher begins with the data, and through analysing it searches for salient themes to arrive at an understanding of the phenomenon. Then, the process used in coding qualitative data is illustrated, followed by an example of an ethnographic academic listening to illustrate qualitative data collection and analysis methods. Finally, a task is set up illustrating open coding practices.
Chapter Twelve "Critical Approaches to Analyzing Learner Language" is concerned with language, identity and power relations, introducing a *critical* perspective to analysing learner language. Starting with a discussion of the question "what makes a perspective critical?" (p. 278), to which the authors admit that no easy answer is given due to the varying and sometimes conflicting views offered by critical theory. An overview of critical approaches in SLA first starts with highlighting the role critical analysis plays in SLA by making the notion of power central, raising questions such as who has or who does not have the power?, how do power relations affect language learning?. The section continues with a discussion on classroom interaction analysis, social identity theory and identity and discourse, and ends by noting some of the criticisms raised against critical approaches to text analysis. Useful suggestions are offered to a critical analyst engaged in conducting an analysis of learner language text. A longitudinal, ethnographic study of the English learning of four Chinese-speaking immigrant students in California is given to illustrate the interrelationship between discourse and power in the social environment of each language learner. Based on an interview extract, the reader is asked to consider questions of identity, textual features and discourse in the analysis. In the final comment made by the authors, we are reminded that critical analyses require a very demanding interpretative and explanatory work, involving a lot of difficult interpretation requiring a high level of responsibility.
Chapter Thirteen "Metaphor Analysis" explores the identification and interpretation of the metaphors in learner self-report data to understand learners' conceptualization of the language and the process of learning. Starting with the traditional view to metaphor, the chapter draws on several studies to illustrate how metaphor analysis has become an acceptable tool in the applied linguistic enquiry and how it has gained popularity in SLA, giving examples from the popular SLA metaphors i.e., 'mind-as-computer', 'learner as problem solver'. In the next section, a detailed analysis of conducting a metaphor is given, distinguishing between a 'linguistic metaphor', and the 'conceptual metaphor', and two types of data for performing a metaphor analysis is introduced: experimentally elicited metaphors and clinically elicited samples of learner language, detailing the strengths and weaknesses of metaphor analysis. Later, the six-step procedure for analyzing the metaphors in learner self-report is given, of which the first three steps are illustrated. An important part of this chapter is an example of metaphor analysis based on a study by Ellis (2002) reporting an analysis of the diaries kept by an ab initio learner of L2 German. The reader's task involves applying metaphor analysis to data from a Japanese learner's autobiographical accounts of her English language learning experience, in order to identify how this learner conceptualizes the problems she experienced in learning L2 and the solutions to those problems. The chapter concludes with a summary.
Chapter Fourteen: "Computer-based Analyses of Learner Language". This chapter by Michael Barlow, looks at SLA from a different perspective, from the analysis of learner corpora, "digital representations of the performance or output, typically written language of learners" (p. 335). Barlow states the underlying reason in compiling learner corpora as to identify, describe and explain errors, making a link to error analysis described in chapter 3. The chapter first examines the design criteria and compilation of learner corpora, noting that all corpora must be well designed and the data concerning learner variables need to be well documented. Data collection for learner corpus involves the sampling of language production, both spoken and written, and storing the data for each learner in database with an ID number. An alternative way to encode variables is suggested as tags or annotations within the corpus itself. Then, Barlow gives examples of best-known collection of learner corpora, illustrating error-tagging of a learner corpus, that is, an annotation added to the corpus to explicitly mark an error, and then he discusses the difficulty of this process. Barlow notes that research on learner corpora to some extent follows some of the general aims associated with contrastive analysis, such as, making NS/NNS comparison. He then distinguishes two methodologies related to learner corpus investigation: 1) to use learner corpus data for hypotheses-testing (hypothesis-driven approach) about the nature of interlanguage generated through SLA theories or experimental data; 2) to investigate learner corpora data in a more exploratory manner and initiate analyses that yield patterns of data, which can then be investigated for unusual features (hypothesis-finding approach).
In the third section, a detailed illustration of the application of corpus analysis software through a learner corpus is given, including the word frequency list and searching for a particular word through concordance analysis. Many variations on word counts are illustrated, such as identifying the most common sentence-initial words in different learner corpora. The reader's task based on analyzing a learner corpus is followed by a final comment in which Barlow rightly contends that learner corpora provides a rich source of data which may be used to eliminate the problems experienced in errors analysis.
Chapter Fifteen "Conclusion" is the final chapter that discusses different conceptions of what it means to acquire an L2 and how they are related to the variety of methods of analysis, based on the major distinction made throughout the book, which is: learner language is seen as evidence of L2 acquisition and learner language is seen as a source of information about the factors influencing L2 learning. The chapter begins with the issue of learner language as evidence of L2 acquisition. Ellis & Barkhuizen argue that learner language constitutes the primary data for the study of L2 acquisition, referring to Chapter 2. They then identify two kinds of norms: external and internal norms underlying the different methods of analysis. In the case of conceptions based on external norms 'native- speaker norms' serve as the point of comparison with learner language, acquisition being measured in terms of the extent to which learners employ target language forms. They discuss the problems associated with this norm and point out that there is clearly a need to examine learners' interlanguages in terms of their internal norms to properly understand the dynamic aspects of interlanguage development. They offer clarification to some of the terms discussed by SLA researchers, such as differences between 'L2 competence' and 'L2 proficiency', 'L2 use' and 'L2 acquisition', highlighting the role of 'construct validity', 'learner language' with reference to previous chapters. Final comment raises the issue of demonstrating 'reliability' or 'dependability' no matter what the matter of analysis is employed.
"Analysing Learner Language" is a notable book offering an up-to-date introduction to the major key issues in SLA research and bringing together a significant amount of research studies conducted in this field of enquiry. Each chapter is clearly laid-out and well written, with excellent end-of-chapter summaries. Perhaps, the most positive quality of this book is that the authors first introduce the historical and theoretical discussion of the methods investigated, second present the method illustrating each method's application to actual empirical data, and finally give readers a practical experience to try out each method for themselves.
Another welcome contribution of this book is that throughout the text, the authors present sample of data of each method from different teaching contexts based on their teaching experiences, giving the reader a much wider perspective on L2 learners' acquisition. Since authors do not preach one particular method, but attempt to provide an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches, they encourage researchers to critically choose the method(s) that would best suit the situation they find themselves in and of research questions addressed.
Each chapter deals with a different method thus most chapters are well worth the time it takes to read. The content is certainly not easy to read, since it is presented in a very dense and factual manner. This is certainly not criticism, as it is entirely appropriate for a book of this quality.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book to those involved in SLA research as well as postgraduate students. Teachers could certainly benefit greatly from the data analysis section of different methods and carry out the tasks given. The wealth of examples, the detail of discussion makes this book an extremely useful reference for those involved in SLA studies.
Cohen, L. & L. Manion. 1994. Research Methods in Education; Fourth Edition. London: Routledge.
Ellis, R. 2002. 'A metaphorical analysis of learner beliefs' in P. Burmeister, T. Piske and A. Rohde (eds.): An Integrated View of Langauge Development: Papers in honor of Henning Wode. Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag.
Markee, N. 2000. Conversation Analysis. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Selinker, L. 1972. 'Interlanguage.' International Review of Applied Linguistics 10:209-31.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Yasemin Kirkgoz is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English Language Teaching at the University of Çukurova, Turkey. Her research interests include second language acquisition, corpus analysis of learner language and classroom-based research.