Practice in a Second Language: Perspectives from Applied Linguistics and Cognitive Psychology

Robert DeKeyser. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. ix + 321.

Reviewed by Jim Bame
Utah State University
Utah, USA

The multi-authored volume’s articles in Practice in a Second Language: Perspectives from Applied Linguistics and Cognitive Psychology critically consider student practice in second language (L2) learning from theoretical and research viewpoints and support what nearly all teachers accept intuitively for successful second language learning: Learner practice facilitates learner learning.
The book is of interest to many audiences – graduate students, practicing teachers, materials and course designers, and researchers. It is divided into an introduction, conclusion, and three major sections: Foundations, Institutional Contexts, and Individual Differences.
Robert DeKeyser’s introduction provides a definition of practice as specific activities in the second language, engaged in systematically, deliberately, with the goals of developing knowledge of and skills in the second language (p. 1). He then situates this definition in research from applied linguistics, educational psychology, and cognitive psychology. Finally, he gives a very comprehensive overview of the book’s contents.
The first two chapters of part 1 frame the theoretical foundations, research models and applications for input and output in the L2 classroom. Within this framework, in the first chapter, Input in the L2 classroom: An Attentional Perspective on Receptive Practice, Ronald Leow discusses six questions relevant to classroom teachers. Two examples are Does providing explicit grammatical information during receptive practice have an effect on L2 development? (p. 37) and “How much receptive practice is needed? (p. 42). Hitoshi Muranoi in “Output in the L2 Classroom” describes three models of output, reviews five empirical studies as to effects of output practice, and gives suggestions for enhancing output.
In “Interaction as Practice,” Alison Mackey describes the development of the Interaction Hypothesis and four interaction processes. She then discusses how interaction impacts L2 learning and indicates how this research can be applied to the classroom. Jennifer Leemen in Feedback in L2 Learning: Responding to Errors During Practice explains terminology related to feedback, overviews relevant theory, and describes empirical studies of negative error response and their implications for theory and classroom practice.
Part 2 consists of four chapters. In “A Cognitive Approach to Improving Immersion Students Oral Language Abilities: The Awareness-Practice-Feedback Sequence, Leila Ranta and Roy Lyster review immersion studies and propose a sequence of instruction as a pedagogical intervention for developing activities to offset the fluent, but non-native, speaking skills of French immersion students in Canada. Kris Van den Branden’s Practice in Perfect Learning Conditions? advocates a learning situation designed for various L2 classrooms focusing on form and meaningful interaction with repeating and elaborate tasks in a safe, positive environment.
In Meaningful L2 practice in foreign language classrooms: A Cognitive-interactionist SLA Perspective, Lourdes Ortega contends that practice for foreign language classes in the United States should be interactive, meaningful, and have a focus on language which is integral to the efficacy of that practice. She advocates mixed proficiency in the classroom, technology use, and teachers considering interaction in the task design phase of teaching. In the final chapter of this section, Study Abroad as Foreign Language Practice, DeKeyser argues that linguistic progress while in a study abroad program can be greatly enhanced if the program offers practice in the foundation stages leading to a pre-departure training, a during-experience observation and guidance, and follow-up courses for returning students.
The third part consists of two chapters. In Age-related Differences and Second Language Learning Practice, Carmen Mui±oz discusses differences caused by factors such as cognitive development, learning styles and strategies, language aptitude, personality, and social factors. The chapter’s tables clearly summarize how these factors influence outcomes of practice in L2 learning at different ages. In Aptitudes, Abilities, Contexts, and Practice, Peter Robinson looks in detail at the cognitive factors which contribute to aptitude and how they affect L2 learning and performance. DeKeyser’s conclusion, The Future of Practice, summarizes goals for practice, possible resolutions, questions raised in this volume, and future implications for research.
Despite being slow reading at times because of the lengthy reporting of research and theory, Practice in a Second Language: Perspectives from Applied Linguistics and Cognitive Psychology is a useful reference for graduate students to learn from leaders in the field, researchers to frame research questions, and second language educators to design curriculums.