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The Study of Second Language Acquisition, 2nd edition

Book Review: ETAS Journal Volume 29 Number 1 Winter 2011

The Study of Second Language Acquisition, 2nd edition

Rod Ellis
Oxford University Press (2008)
ISBN 978-0-19-442257-4

Fifteen years after its first edition, Rod Ellis’s 2nd edition of The Study of Second Language Acquisition takes as its basis the question of where SLA stands as a field of study now. The preface begins by outlining some developmental trends in the field of SLA, such as the expansion of the study of pragmatic aspects of learner language, and the connection of cognitive and psychological enquiry methods.

The aim of the book is “to develop a framework for describing the field as it currently exists and to use this framework to provide an extensive account of what is currently known about L2 acquisition and L2 learners” (p. xxiii). With this goal in mind, the book is intended to be an encyclopedic reference for students and researchers in the field of SLA. Split in eight main parts, Ellis’s book gives a comprehensive overview of L2 acquisition, primary theories in SLA, and major findings of SLA research.

The first part of the book provides a brief overview of what L2 acquisition is, and a framework for exploring SLA. In part two, Ellis characterizes learner language, focusing in particular on learner errors, patterns in L2 development, variability in learner language, as well as pragmatics. Part three of the book is an investigation of external factors that impact L2 acquisition, specifically the social and linguistic environment of the L2 learner. The various chapters explain issues of input and interaction in L2 acquisition, and social aspects of language learning. Ellis argues that it is advisable to isolate specific social factors and investigate their impact on L2 acquisition. He further underlines that the primary issue in this area of SLA is still the question of whether there is a direct impact of the social context on L2 acquisition. In part four, Ellis summarizes in great detail internal factors of L2 acquisition. Ellis talks about language transfer, cognitive accounts of L2 acquisition and production, sociocultural theory, and linguistic universals. Part five focuses on individual differences (mainly psychological factors) in L2 acquisition. Ellis points out that language aptitude and motivation are the two major individual factors impacting L2 learning. He further commends the increasing research in this field, especially the expansion of employed methods. In the sixth part of Ellis’s book the reader is introduced to the brain and L2 acquisition. Because of the difficulties of connecting behavioral and neuroscientific evidence, Ellis questions the usefulness of neuropsychological SLA research.

Part seven is dedicated to classroom second language acquisition. Drawing on earlier chapters, this part illuminates the role of classroom interaction in L2 acquisition. Additionally, the reader gets acquainted with form-focused instruction of which Ellis requests a clearer definition and an agreed-upon framework. Part eight is a conclusion of sorts, in which Ellis discusses some epistemological issues important to SLA. Ellis concludes his final chapter by suggesting the improvement of SLA research through the replication of published studies, and commitment to more longitudinal studies of L2 learners.

At almost 1,000 pages, this book is an in-depth overview of SLA and a thorough work that can help any student, teacher, or researcher of SLA understand the main debates and approaches in this field. The 30-page glossary at the end of the book is especially useful as it succinctly explains major SLA terms and theories. The broad subject index makes it effortless to access specific topics of interests in the book quickly. The inclusiveness and objectivity of this book make it an ideal reference work for anyone interested in SLA.

Theresa Schenker