June 2003 — Volume 7, Number 1
The Debate on Grammar in Second Language Acquisition: Past, Present, and Future
Carolyn Gascoigne (2002)
Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press
Pp. v + 82
ISBN 0-7734-7194-4 (hardcopy)
The Debate on Grammar in Second Language Acquisition: Past, Present, and Future is a well written summary of both implicit and explicit grammar instruction in second language acquisition from past to present and with future projections. The book aims to answer what type of grammar instruction might be useful for language learners, how grammar instruction philosophies and methodologies changed over time, and how all these changes shaped the current grammar instruction: focus-on-form. The book also addresses the topics that should be researched in the focus on form grammar instruction for the future studies.
The book has five chapters: Introduction, External Influences, Implicit and Explicit Traces in Second Language Methodology, Implicit versus Explicit Research Toward a Fusion of Extremes, and Focus-on-form with Focus-on-the Future.
The organization of the chapters is coherent; the chapters smoothly follow each other and each chapter offers a different window for grammar teaching in terms of methodologies, philosophies, studies underlying the implicit and explicit drives in them.
The first chapter deals with the pedagogical landscape, and the division between explicit/implicit grammar giving not only detailed information about both explicit/implicit grammar, but also explaining the current issue of their usage in second language classrooms.
Chapter two focuses on the influential movements from behaviorism to cognitive ones that affected both language educators and linguists’ views of the acquisition of second language grammar. According to these two main movements the learner’s position and the meaning and form of language learning are explained.
Chapter three deals with the evolution of popular L2 methods explaining the explicit and implicit drives in them. The swing is from deductive and explicit to inductive and implicit, through the behaviorist to the cognitive: Grammar Translation Method, Direct Method, Acquisition of Reading, Audio Lingual Method (ALM), cognitive methods including the Natural Approach, Total Physical Response (TPR), Suggestopedia, and Community Language Learning. For each of them, philosophies behind them, students’ positions, the activities and their focus are explained to show how the swing from explicit to implicit grammar teaching took place in the past, and how this swing and communicative competence notion has shaped today’s grammar teaching of focus on form in a meaningful context. [-1-]
Chapter four is the review of the effective grammar instruction studies from past to present. Gascoigne presents several studies with different focuses related to explicit, implicit, and both explicit and implicit ones. Related to effectiveness or ineffectiveness of implicit and explicit grammar instruction the author also gives some examples from language programs such as French Canadian Immersion program. Furthermore, this chapter includes the issue of error correction. The chapter ends with the new trends such as a raising consciousness on grammar form, updating natural approach emphasizing focus on grammar forms, and input processing underlying the difference between input and intake.
The last chapter is a synthesis of what is presented up to that point and the combination of both explicit and implicit forms under the name of “focus-on-form” approach. Also, some samples of studies supporting the success of this form are presented in this chapter. Researches focusing on the fusion on implicit and explicit grammar instruction differ in the target forms studied, the degree of explicitness of the focus on form, and the meaning-oriented activities in which the focus-on-form component is embedded. Effects of manipulating input on the acquisition of a visually-enhanced target feature such as bolding the grammar forms in a text, effectiveness of implicit types of focus-on-form techniques, questioning whether or not every form is amenable to focus-on-form instruction, the interaction of instructional treatment, form type, and learner profile appear to be important factors in effectiveness. The book ends with some suggestions for unanswered questions concerning focus-on-form in future research: “Timing of focus on form (When should focus on form occur in the overall curriculum?), forms to focus on (Which structures are most amenable to focus on form attention?), classroom context for focus on form (What factors are important to consider in deciding on the nature and degree of focus on form that would be most beneficial?), curricular design (Can tasks and techniques be designed during which problematic forms are likely to arise so that an opportunity to focus on form can be provided?).” (p. 61)
Through giving several examples the author not only supports her arguments that she presents, but she also makes it easier for readers to see the swing from one method to another. While presenting the data and researches which are in favor of either the implicit or the explicit method, the author keeps her neutral approach showing the weak points of them supporting her argument with other researchers’ studies.
In the book there are some points the author does not explain or give reference to support her claim. For instance, the author states that “still the essential belief is that adults, like children, learn best not by formally studying a second language, but by using it as a medium of communication,” (p. 7) but she does not give any reference to support it. Also, the author gives only the general view of implicit and explicit grammar teaching without considering whether the learners are adults or children. However, this difference is really important in grammar teaching. For example, in terms of learning styles while children might take more risks in language learning, adults might not take risks due to fear of being make fun of because of their mistakes among other adults. Moreover, the author does not give much detailed information about the studies. Therefore, it might be difficult for readers to compare and contrast the researches that are given to support either implicit or explicit or both grammar instructions.
In addition to the effectiveness of the method’s itself, the success of implicit or explicit methods might also depend on several factors such as individual differences, typology of language features and role of L1. However, these factors are not mentioned.
There is no visual table or chart which might help the comprehensibility of the content and context of the book for readers.
Despite these critiques, the book achieves its purpose. The book is good in that it reflects the swing from explicit or implicit to explicit and implicit grammar instruction movements from past to present with their reasons. It also reflects the continuing debate and new configurations of grammar teaching. [-2-]
The book can be a very useful resource for all people from undergraduate/graduate students to teachers, professors and researchers dealing with second language acquisition and who want to explore the changing focus through explicit to implicit or vice versa on grammar teaching, to understand the reasons behind these changes in focus and in methodologies, and to reconstruct their way of grammar teaching. As a teacher or future teacher, learning the types of L2 methods and applying them appropriate to the situation and our learners’ needs might help us in grammar instruction and in giving feedback. As a researcher, one might have an idea of the history and type of studies done in that area, their weaknesses and strengths, which might give the researcher insight to design his/her own research. I liked the book in terms of its simplicity of language, and because of the fact that it covered such a wide area of the grammar instruction within easily readable 100 pages of five chapters.
University of Florida
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