- Second Language Research: Methodology and Design
Alison Mackey and Susan Gass have produced a useful book for master's and doctoral students seeking an introduction to key issues in research design and methods in L2 education. The book will serve as a solid foundation for preparing proposals for thesis research as well as a guide to basic terms, expectations, and concepts for reading published empirical research, particularly as appearing in such journals as The Canadian Modern Language Review,Language Learning,The Modern Language Journal, or Studies in Second Language Acquisition. An exceptional feature of the book is the extent to which the authors draw on a wide range of published studies about L2 learning to exemplify specific aspects of research design and practices. This feature is one of many that distinguish Second Language Research: Methodology and Design from other books recently published on research methods in L2 education (e.g., as described in Cumming, 2003). For this reason, I expect that many [End Page 631] university programs in North America will adopt this as a core textbook for students in graduate programs. I will do so.
A second unique feature of the book is the wealth of practical advice that the authors offer to novice researchers. While describing various approaches to designing research, collecting and analyzing data, and reporting results, Mackey and Gass consistently offer practical tips on logistics, analytic reasoning, and ethical conduct that a person preparing to do a research study should bear in mind. The quality and detail of this information evidently derive from the authors' own extensive experience in conducting, reviewing, editing, and teaching about research. We get an insider, expert perspective on what to plan and look out for in doing research on language learning and teaching. The whole book, in fact, functions something like a massive checklist of issues to attend to in preparing a research study. Graduate students of L2 studies should find that the book tells them about, or at least suggests how to pursue further, pretty much everything they could reasonably consider in preparing an empirical thesis study.
This thoroughness, however, concentrates on studies of L2 learning. On the positive side, language educators will find this focus relevant to their interests. Moreover, the range of concepts that Mackey and Gass describe in brief excerpts throughout the book is so extensive that the breadth almost constitutes a working definition of fundamental issues in research on language learning. For example, theories of Universal Grammar, the Competition Model, or Discourse Interactions are shown to lead to unique designs and units of analyses, such as grammatical acceptability judgements, reaction time experiments, or analyses of spoken discourse functions, respectively. The authors describe and distinguish most approaches common to inquiry on language learning - ranging from studies of learning strategies, pragmatics, or teacher action research to methods of data collection that involve introspection, transcription of spoken discourse, questionnaires, or computer-based corpora. Examples involving diverse languages and learning situations abound. As I was reading the book, I often thought of an approach or a practical aspect of research that had not (yet) been mentioned; then I turned to the (extensive) subject index or glossary and found that the point was addressed satisfactorily somewhere later in the book.
A limitation to this focused orientation, however, is that novice researchers may need to be familiar already with the fundamental, specialized topics unique to studies of L2 learning in order to make sense of certain concepts. Mackey and Gass do offer definitions of key terms, but these serve as only the briefest of introductions to particular issues in research on language learning. Someone who has not already [End Page 632] read several of the published studies on 'recasts,' for instance, may find the examples on pages 13, 14, 46, and 47 bewildering. (But perhaps these examples will prompt people to read the studies cited, and thus develop their knowledge about this topic.) Likewise, for complex issues of statistics and research design, Mackey and Gass acknowledge that they can only introduce readers to basic ideas and...