Doing Second Language Research

Title: Doing Second Language Research
Author: James Dean Brown & Theodore S. Rodgers
Publisher: Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers
Consists of: A single volume
Reviewed by: Kaithe Greene
Review date: June 2004

This book provides an extremely interesting introduction to language learning research, and would be a very useful addition to the bookshelf of anyone doing, or considering doing, a course which involves conducting a research project; particularly if it's a first venture into research.

What is different about this book is that despite being one of Oxford's "series designed to provide a source of reference" it can actually be used as a self-study manual as well as a reference book. Thus it is invaluable as a tool for learning to do research as well as learning about research. At first glance it looks rather dry - no photos or pictures, just lots of words, tables, charts, diagrams and numbers. However, if you want to know about the Why, Who, When, Where and How of research, this book is for you. Despite its fairly formal appearance and style this book is very well written, and makes a difficult subject both accessible and fascinating. Once you start to read this book you will be chomping at the bit and pawing at the ground to get stuck into a serious investigative project! But even better, once you are hopelessly bogged down with your project, overwhelmed by mountains of figures, and totally unable to see a way forward Brown and Rodgers will bail you ou! t with practical advice, and help you to find your own way forward.

In the preface the authors point out that "most researchers do teach and most teachers can, and we maintain should, also be researchers." Whether or not you agree with this sentiment, this book definitely meets its stated aim, which is "to provide the means by which they can achieve this as well as to answer the question of why it is important that they should."

The book is arranged in four parts, each addressing a particular aspect and complete in itself whilst contributing to the overall content. Each chapter is also complete in itself, addressing one topic fully whilst also forming an integrated unit of a larger whole. The material in each chapter is arranged in a fairly uniform manner, which makes it very easy to pick out any one strand of information and compare it to any other strand of information from another part of the book. For example, if I am struggling with the concepts involved in interpreting data, I can read about interpreting case study research from the chapter on case study research and compare or relate it to interpreting introspective research, classroom research or experimental studies from the chapters about introspective, classroom and experimental studies. The same is true for all other topics, including compiling data, and designing and experiencing research. Even the closing chapter, entitled "Course evaluation: combining research types" is structured in the same way, allowing the reader to continue considering the way we can alter our research skills to suit different situations whilst using the book itself as the material for the exercise in course evaluation.

Throughout the book, key terms are highlighted and can be looked up in the glossary at the back. I found this extremely useful as I was a complete novice in the field of research. Although designed for use in a formal teaching situation this book works well as a self-study book because it has exercises throughout, most of which can be done individually or in a group. Thus it would be a very useful accessory for anyone studying an MA or similar course by distance learning, or wanting to do their own action research in a credible manner.

Although detailed and thorough, the writers have managed to reduce a huge and complex subject to manageable, bite-sized chunks. They have made second language research a meaningful possibility for all of us however small a scale we may be operating on. They have made it possible for us to better understand the pitfalls and complexities behind the end results of research projects - no mean feat!

A small touch, which I particularly liked, was that each chapter is preceeded by one or more quotations from a wide variety of well-known individuals, which offer considerable food for thought, for example:

"If you steal from one author it's plagiarism; if you steal from many, it's research." (Wilson Mizner 1876-1933 American dramatist and wit)

"Statistics have shown that mortality increases perceptibly in the military during wartime." (Alphonse Bierce 1842-1905 French writer and humorist)

In conclusion, the only fault I can find with this book is that it wasn't brought to my attention earlier - before I had developed a distrust and fear of research and researchers!

TEFL.net ESL Reviews & ArticlesKaithe Greene is currently teaching in a small private language school in Spain. She also teaches on-site business courses from time to time, and yearly participates in summerschool courses in the UK.