An Introduction to Second Language Acquisition Research
Publication Date 1 Jan 1991
OverviewThe authors primary aim in writing this book to introduce readers to research on second language acquisition (SLA). The field is a broad one, and this is reflected in our focus on naturalistic and instructed learning by children and adults, as individuals or groups, in foreign and second language settings. They have not assumed any prior knowledge of SLA or of SLA research methodology, although some background in language analysis would be helpful. In chapter 1 they explain why they think SLA is worth investigating. The methodologies which researchers employ to carry out their work are the subject of chapter 2. They hope that discussions of the strengths and weakness of each methodology will help demystify the research process for readers who have never conducted research themselves. In chapter 3 they trace the historical development of the field, noting how different data analysis procedures evolved, with each successive type of analysis reflecting a new stage of awareness of what SLA entails. Substantive findings from research to date are detailed in chapter 4. After describing SLA and how researchers study it in chapters 1 through 4, the rest of the book deals explicitly or implicitly with current explanations of the learning process and the search for better ones. This leads us to consider environmental factors, learner differences, the nature of language and the role of instruction. It also means we need to think about forms and functions of theories in social science in general and about some theories of SLA in particular. Given that learning is an internal process which cannot be observed directly researchers must make inferences as to the nature of the process to part from an analysis of the product, learner language. In order to improve the quality of these inferences, it is useful to examine the nature of the second language input, something they do in chapter 5. Since learners vary widely on how successful they are - one of the more obvious differences between first and second language acquisition - they deal in chapter 6 with learner variables and differential achievement. In chapter 7 they examine the value of theory in general, and then evaluate some representative SLA theories. Finally, in chapter 8 they give particular attention to the differences between naturalistic and instructed SLA, and attempt to identify contributions made by language teaching.
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