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Review of  Intensive Exposure Experiences in Second Language Learning

Reviewer: Jonathan Clenton
Book Title: Intensive Exposure Experiences in Second Language Learning
Book Author: Carmen Munoz
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Book Announcement: 24.584

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This book investigates second language (L2) learning in different contexts with intensive target language (TL) exposure: longer and shorter immersion; intensive exposure; and intensive immersion in foreign language settings. It brings together eleven studies that investigate a variety of different L2 learning intensive exposure contexts and represents a survey of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each.

The book is organized into four parts according to intensive exposure context. The first part (Chapter 1) investigates the extent to which concentrated periods of intensive L2 study might be negative for learning and retention, and addresses the complexities inherent in such an investigation. The second part (Chapters 2-6) investigates a range of intensive programmes in Quebec and discusses their relative benefits and weaknesses. Part Three (Chapters 7-8) examines learner perceptions in relation to intensive TL exposure experiences. Finally, Part Four (Chapters 9-11) investigates L2 speech gains as a result of immersion in TL settings.

The first part examines whether intensive learning is effective. This first chapter (‘Theoretical Underpinnings of Intensive Learning’, by Raquel Serrano) introduces a variety of studies examining the question of whether or not intensive learning is indeed effective. The studies presented raise the issue of whether repeated practice aids memorization and discuss the nature of such practices in terms of both cognitive psychology and second language acquisition (SLA). For cognitive psychology, these studies include the repeating of words within texts, cued computerized lists, spaced and massed item repetition, word learning and mathematical problem solving, face recognition, and the effects of advertising, and regarding SLA, the studies discuss different L2 program types (e.g. in Canada and Spain). The majority of the reported experiments suggest that for both cognitive psychology and SLA, intensive repetition is effective (i.e. aids memorization) when the same items are placed among intervening items or in widely spaced sessions. Successful memorization for both cognitive psychology and SLA differ, it turns out, in terms of time distribution for presentation. For cognitive psychology, learning is generally more effective when presented in distributed sequences as opposed to concentrated massed presentations. For SLA, the author suggests that the nature of distribution is less obvious and that research needs to determine the preferred number of hours necessary for a study to qualify as intensive. SLA also needs to determine the relative merits of concentrated and spaced instruction. The author concludes that SLA should follow cognitive psychology in order to more closely analyze the effect of time distribution.

The second part examines intensive programmes in Quebec and beyond, from different and complementary angles, over five different studies. The first study (Chapter 2: ‘Intensive L2 Instruction in Canada: Why not Immersion?’, by Patsy. M. Lightbrown) discusses the relative success of immersion in Quebec, where English immersion programmes are based on language teaching, whilst French immersion was based on content-based instruction. Based on the success of English immersion, the French approach was changed to language instruction. The discussion highlights the successful origins and strengths of English immersion programmes which were originally based on French immersion programmes from the 1970s. The second study (Chapter 3: ‘Closing the Gap: Intensity and Proficiency’, by Laura Collins and Joanna White) suggests that intensive instruction allows lower proficiency students to catch up to their peers and that there are fewer individual differences within groups of students after intensive instruction. The third study (Chapter 4: ‘When Comprehensible Input is not Comprehensive Input: A Multi-dimensional Analysis of Instructional Input in Intensive English as a Foreign Language’, by Laura Collins, Joanna White, Pavel Tromfimovich, Walcir Cardoso and Marlise Horst) examines the limitations of intensive instruction and suggests that even after ‘quality encounters with [specific] verb types’, output (of these specific verb types) is rare. The study recommends further studies to observe input-acquisition relationships. The fourth study (Chapter 5: ‘What Language is Promoted in Intensive Language Programs? Analyzing Language Generated from Oral Assessment Tasks’, by Joanna White and Carolyn E. Turner) examines language output following intensive instruction oral assessments when compared to ‘regular’ English as a Second Language (ESL) elementary school students. The results from the study indicate that intensive instruction students (with ten times more exposure to English) perform significantly better on oral proficiency measures when compared to elementary school counterparts, suggesting that extended practice over lengthy periods of time is a less efficient route to L2 proficiency compared to intensive exposure. The fifth and final study (Chapter 6: ‘Time and Amount of L2 Contact Inside and Outside the School – Insights from the European Schools’, by Alex Housen) in the section examines L2 teaching with European school curriculum and suggests that L2 contact is a significant contributing factor to L2 proficiency. The study indicates that European school education is comparable to other models of bilingual education and that variation in L2 proficiency appears to depend on factors including first language (L1) background, length of L2 education, and contact duration.

The third part of the book analyses learner perception in relation to intensive exposure experiences. The first of the two studies (Chapter 7: ‘The Significance of Intensive Exposure as a Turning Point in Learner’s Histories’, by Carmen Munoz) in this section reports on an experiment in which the majority of responses to describing turning points in L2 learning were ascribed to the intensive learning context. The second study (Chapter 8: ‘Change or Stability in Learners’ Perceptions as a result of Study Abroad’, by Elsa Tragant) addresses an experiment which showed that respondents’ attitudes towards the L2 improved with the length of intensive study abroad experience, suggesting that intensity of experience is an indicator of student L2 development.

The fourth and final part of the book presents three studies which compare L2 learner gains in study abroad intensive experiences with L2 learner gains in intensive experiences at home. The first of the studies (Chapter 9: ‘The Impact of Study Abroad and Age on Second Language Accuracy Development’, by Angels Llanes) examines the extent to which the two learning contexts, as well as age (i.e. child or adult), influence L2 error production in writing or speech. The results suggest that the study abroad experience is more effective, in terms of accuracy, than the home context. The study also reports that, overall, adults experience greater gains than children. In short, the study implies that study abroad experiences, as well as age, are deciding indicators of L2 improvement. The study also suggests that a more intensive experience leads to greater improvement in the L2. The second study (Chapter 10: ‘Oral and Written Development in Formal Instruction and Study Abroad: Differential Effects of Learning Context’, by Carmen Perez-Vidal, Maria Juan-Garau, Joan C. Mora and Margalida Valls-Ferrer) compares study abroad with foreign instruction contexts in terms of L2 progress in speech and writing. The longitudinal study follows L2 learners over a period of 14 months, beginning with foreign instruction, and ending with study abroad (the latter is considered to provide greater intensity). The results suggest that the study abroad experience has a greater influence on written and oral proficiency. Reportedly, the two study contexts appear to complement each other in the sense that oral lexical complexity improves at home and written lexical complexity improves in the study abroad context. The third and final study (Chapter 11: ‘Differences in L2 Segmental Perception: The Effects of Age and L2 Learning Experience’, by Romana Kopeckova) in this part evaluates the role of child, teenage, and adult perception of TL phonetics and suggests that three years of study abroad benefits all learners’ perceptual abilities and, specifically, that child and teenage L2 learners improve their L2 speech.


This book is intended for a broad audience, including teachers, language teacher educators, language education policymakers, applied linguists, L2 researchers, academics and postgraduate students (of L2 studies, psycholinguistics and bilingualism). The volume collates eleven different studies that deal with L2 learning in intensive contexts, all of which span the theoretical (i.e. asking whether intensive instruction is effective or not) and practical (i.e. considering the relative merits of language instruction in intensive programmes) applications, the perceptions (i.e. when and whether they change after intensive instruction), and the relative merits of intensive exposure in the study abroad context in terms of age, and L2 skill (e.g. written, oral, phonetic). Despite the number of different contributors, the book is clearly well-edited, accessible, and consistent in its presentation. The authors appear to have achieved their goals with the book.

Particularly, Part Two, which deals with the relative merits of different intensive instruction contexts, is particularly strong because it critiques different intensive instruction contexts which appear immediately replicable. In broad terms, the particular strengths of the volume lie in comparisons between different intensive programmes and discussions of their respective merits for individual learners in terms of, for instance, age, length, and L1 background, or skills, such as pronunciation, writing, or speech. For applied linguists, L2 researchers, academics and postgraduate students, the appeal of the book lies in the detailed arguments of the complex issues associated with intensive exposure experiences in L2 learning. In this latter respect, the book appears to provide a useful resource for future empirical experimentation (e.g. replications) with the potential to respond to the questions posed at the end of each chapter.

The book raises several questions for future empirical research and I will be interested to see whether future studies are able to narrow in on the focus of the papers presented here. The sections reporting the relationships between the quantity and quality of learner input and output are especially interesting since they appear to offer immediate insights relating to the relative success of intensive instruction.

The volume is very cohesive and, by and large, each chapter fits within the broad aims of the book and its relevant part or sub-section. However, I had some difficulty discerning the extent to which two chapters were specifically related to the central aims of the book. The first of these, Chapter 6, compares different learners’ experiences at European schools. The chapter considers SLA and content based education together and, while this still might be broadly relevant, I felt this consideration is at minor odds with other chapters (which only consider SLA). Second, Chapter 11 considers learner perception of L2 speech gains. Again, while this is still broadly relevant, I think this chapter is less pertinent to the central arguments dealing with intensive instruction. However, these are only minor weaknesses and should not detract from the comprehensive analysis that this volume represents.
Jon Clenton teaches English and language acquisition at Osaka University's Graduate School of Language and Culture, Japan. His current research focuses on developmental work on vocabulary testing and the extent to which bilingual models can tell us about the network metaphor and L2 proficiency.

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