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Reviewed by:
  • Understanding Second Language Acquisition
  • Ahlem Ammar
Ortega, Lourdes. (2009). Understanding Second Language Acquisition. London: Hodder Education. Pp. 304, £19.99 (paper).

This book of 10 chapters explores the phenomenon of learning second and subsequent languages. It does so by drawing on linguistic, cognitive psychology, language processing, and social views.

In chapter 1, Ortega presents the three fields that investigate human language and its acquisition, namely first language acquisition, second language acquisition (SLA), and bilingualism. Chapter 2 explains the critical period for the acquisition of first (L1) and second languages (L2). By exposing the results of the multitude of research questions addressed in both the twentieth and the twenty-first century (e.g., rate, ultimate attainment, morphosyntax, and phonology), the chapter clearly illustrates the controversial nature of the subject matter. It also presents the various causes and implications, both pedagogical and political, of age effects. Chapter 3 addresses the causes and manifestations of cross-linguistic influences. Ortega departs from the habit of limiting these influences to the L1 and raises the newly acknowledged potential effects that other learned languages may exercise.

Chapters 4 and 5 provide the theoretical backbone to the issues discussed in chapter 6. By revisiting Wes’s story (Schmidt, 1983) and other key case studies, Ortega highlights, in chapter 4, the environmental ingredients of L2 learning: acculturated attitudes, comprehensible input, interaction, output, and attention to form. In doing so, she [End Page 467] draws on a range of SLA models and hypotheses (e.g., the Monitor Model and the Interaction Hypothesis). Chapter 5 follows suit by presenting cognitive SLA theories. After outlining the key assumptions of information processing and explaining skill acquisition theory, she presents major memory concepts such as long-term memory and working memory. In the second part of the chapter, Ortega discusses the second essential component of cognition, namely attention (memory being the first component). Chapter 6 touches on the multitude of theoretical points exposed in the previous two chapters by providing cognitivist explanations of how L2 development works. After describing the process by which interlanguage develops (e.g., simplification, overgeneralization, and restructuring), Ortega succinctly portrays the systematicity of interlanguage development through a review of seminal studies.

Chapters 7, 8, and 9 examine individual differences in SLA. Chapter 7 explains the difference between constructs such as intelligence and first language ability, on the one hand, and aptitude, on the other, and outlines the components of the latter. It also discusses Robinson’s (2002) and Skehan’s (2002) models of L2 aptitude. Chapter 8 details the models of motivation, including the socio-educational model, Deci and Ryan’s self-determination model (p. 175), the process model, and Dornyei’s (2005) motivational self system. Chapter 9 explores the relationships between personality traits (e.g., introversion, extroversion, and anxiety) and cognitive styles (e.g., field dependence and field independence), on the one hand, and varying L2 abilities (e.g., fluency, accuracy, and complexity) on the other.

In chapter 10, Ortega unveils the ‘social turn in SLA.’ She first discusses the Vygotskian sociocultural theory of mind and the construct of zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978) and then details their applications in SLA research. She also touches on an array of other research areas within the social realm (e.g., conversation analysis and identity).

This volume offers a wealth of valuable information. It covers an impressive variety of topics in the field of SLA and summarizes a gigantic pool of L1 and L2 studies, and its strengths cannot be overstated. However, for a volume as comprehensive and well referenced as this, it is surprising not to find any clarification of the differences between models, hypotheses, and theories of L2 acquisition, notions that are repeatedly used in the book.

In the preface, Ortega talks about the ‘schizophrenia in writing for an imagined audience,’ in this case composed of graduate students and cultivated researchers. With her impressive knowledge of the miscellaneous SLA topics covered in the book, expertise in research [End Page 468] and teaching (having taught in four different universities), good story-telling strategies, and impeccable writing style, Ortega has managed to reach her imagined audience and provided an invaluable source of information and reference for novice and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1131
Print ISSN
0008-4506
Pages
pp. 467-469
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-18
Open Access
No
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