Analyzing Learner Language

Rod Ellis and Gary Barkhuizen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Pp. x + 404.

Reviewed by Nguyen Thi Thuy Minh
National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University

Analyzing Learner Language explores the field of second language acquisition (SLA) in a novel way. By drawing on samples of learner language as the primary source of evidence of how learners learn a second language (L2) and guiding readers through the different methods of analyzing these samples, the book helpfully uncovers the fundamental issues of a multidisciplinary, a complex field of enquiry. Representing an eclectic and pluralistic approach to examining SLA (p. 195), the book s 15 chapters prove themselves to be a valuable reference for novice researchers who wish to familiarize themselves with methods of empirical studies in SLA and build their knowledge of the field through first-hand experience with learner data.

Chapter 1 introduces the authors’ purposes and explains their motivation in writing the book. It also defines relevant key terms and examines the research paradigms, within which SLA research has been developed and undertaken. Chapter 2 presents and discusses the variety of methods that SLA researchers typically employ to gather samples of language use and verbal reports from L2 learners.

Chapters 3 through 13 illustrate the various methods of analysis of learner language that are associated with the research paradigms considered in chapter 1 and follow a similar format. Each chapter begins with a historical and theoretical overview of the method in focus, followed by an explanation of how to conduct the analysis, and is exemplified with a relevant study. Each chapter then concludes with a reader s hands-on task and the authors final comment.

Chapter 3 deals with error analysis, a research tool for investigating learners’ linguistic errors that is closely associated with the nativist view of language learning and the theory of interlanguage. Chapter 4 discusses obligatory occasion analysis, a method often employed in L2 morpheme studies for establishing the natural order in which learners universally acquire L2 forms. Chapter 5 examines the developmental routes of L2 learning via what is referred to as frequent analysis or interlanguage analysis. Unlike the previous chapters which focus on the formal aspect of language learning, chapter 6 examines the functional characteristics of learner language via two types of analysis, namely form-function and function-form analyses, which show how learners make use of their linguistic knowledge to meet their communicative needs.

Chapter 7, drawing on an information-processing framework, addresses the various methods for measuring accuracy, complexity and fluency of learner language with a view to accounting for the effects of task types on learners performance. Chapters 8 and 9 both analyze learning as it takes place in interaction. However, while chapter 8 draws on the theory and methods of discourse analysis, chapter 9 employs conversational analysis. Chapter 10 investigates learner language in terms of assisted performance, drawing on the socio-cultural theory, particularly Vygotsky s perspective on the Zone of Proximal Development.
Chapter 11 deals with the qualitative method of analyzing learners verbal reports on their L2 learning experience. Chapter 12 adds a critical perspective, addressing the issues of identity and power relations in language learning as uncovered by looking at what learners say about their learning. Chapter 13, making use of learners self-report data, explores metaphor analysis, a method for understanding learners conceptualizations of their language learning experiences.

Chapter 14, borrowing the techniques of corpus linguistics and contrastive analysis, introduces the use of corpus analysis software for investigating learner corpora in order to understand the nature of L2 learning. Finally, chapter 15 concludes the book by summarizing the discussions of what it means to acquire a L2 with reference to the variety of methods of analysis considered previously. In so doing, the chapter brings together the key areas in SLA research and recaps the close links between research problems and research tools.

In short, Analyzing Learner Language makes an outstanding addition to SLA literature. The authors successfully present challenging subject matter in a reader-friendly manner without unnecessarily sacrificing its breadth and depth. Readers who are interested in the field of SLA will definitely find this scholarly work an essential and intellectually stimulating read. The only criticism, if any, is the absence of answer keys to the reader s tasks and a glossary of terms at the end of the book.