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  • Second language acquisition processes in the classroom: Learning Japanese by Amy Snyder Ohta
  • Junko Hondo
Second language acquisition processes in the classroom: Learning Japanese. By Amy Snyder Ohta. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2001. Pp. 298. ISBN: 0805838007. $79.95.

It has been more than a half-century since the concept of the ‘zone of proximal development’ (ZPD) was first introduced by Lev Vygotsky. In keeping with current movements in the field of second language acquisition (SLA), Amy Snyder Ohta situates classroom interaction within a sociocultural frame-work. Modifying the ZPD slightly from Vygotsky’s original model, she includes peer interlocutors as providers of cognitive apprenticeship. Consistent with other qualitative research in the field of SLA, she regards these peer interlocutors as not necessarily needing to be ‘more advanced’ than their fellow students in order to respond to the needs of second language (L2) learners in the classrooms. ‘Even true peers have different’ capabilities, and it is the nature of diverse interactive roles that enables peers to provide assistance.

Applying sociocognitive perspectives, O also sheds light on the role of private speech in the course of the language acquisition for L2 learners. She discusses the function of private speech both from analytical perspectives and from an empirical view in the frame of foreign language (FL) classrooms.

The author provides abundant evidence from classroom data to develop these theoretical viewpoints. The data regarding benefits from peer interactive tasks is classified into such categories as general development, grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, and interactional style. Her evidence indicates the presence of private speech in various forms in the FL classrooms, illustrated in a manner accessible to even a non-Japanese-speaking audience.

One of the traditional focal points in SLA, feedback, is also examined. The author provides a tangible classification to categorize the rather broad umbrella term ‘corrective feedback’. According to her study, different types of feedback provide different opportunities for learners.

Well-defined, sequential stages of listener response are provided although the number of subjects in the study is rather small (a total of four). The study indicates the existence of the acknowledgment of back-channeling in the beginning stages of learning FL and the individuality of output in such utterances.

The book addresses a wide range of topics from the use of the first language (L1) and L2 in peer interaction to related pedagogical matters. The data on the use of L1 in the interaction is naturally connected to the topic of instructional design. The analysis of this data leads to a discussion regarding task design and task implementation. In this section, O puts the focus on the teacher as the agent with the potential to orchestrate the learning experience through task design and task allocations.

The book presents a thorough analysis of classroom interaction data and provides resources for L2 researchers, FL field practitioners, and, in particular, teachers of Japanese.

Junko Hondo
Lancaster University


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