Review ~ Introducing Second Language Acquisition

A brief but comprehensive introduction to the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA).
Reviewed for Teflnet by David Truxal
Introducing Second Language Acquisition

Introducing Second Language Acquisition

Having written textbooks and scholarly articles for more than 40 years, Muriel Saville-Troike is an icon in the field of SLA. Coming primarily from a background in bilingual/multilingual education, she has examined an immense variety of SLA topics including contrasts in patterns of communication, achieving coherence in multilingual interaction, development of English language imagined communities and cross cultural communication in the classroom. In the second edition of Introducing Second Language Acquisition Saville-Troike shows again why she has been such an influential figure in SLA.

Aimed more at undergraduate students but practical as well for graduate students with little or no knowledge of linguistics, the second edition of this highly accessible book, like the previous edition, offers a clear and practical introduction to second language acquisition (SLA). Saville-Troike uses non-technical language to answer three key questions that the book investigates: how a second language is acquired, what the second language learner comes to know and why some learners are more successful than others. The book takes a step-by-step approach to introducing a broad range of aspects of SLA that are involved in learning for both adults and children, both instructed (formal) and natural (informal) contexts of learning, and diverse socio-cultural settings. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, the book emphasizes the importance of integrating linguistic, psychological and social perspectives on SLA. I thought the activities at the end of every chapter were very useful, particularly for university students studying this topic. These activities are greater in scope than those of some other introductory SLA textbooks (e.g. How Languages Were Learned by Lightbown and Spada or Understanding Second Language Acquisition by Ortega). The activities encourage readers to actively engage with the material in each chapter, be it through checking your own understanding or class discussion.

While the same scope, perspective and design have been retained in this second edition, as with most books the major change has been updating its content and references since 2005. Saville-Troike’s focus was to add information on one new perspective within each discipline (linguistic, psychological and social). Therefore, added to this edition were updated theories on Chomskyan interfaces, complexity theory, and computer mediated communication. Saville-Troike believes these aspects of SLA to be most likely to contribute to SLA scholarship and practice in the early twenty-first century.

Another update is the additional resources available for download at the book’s website. Included on the website are teaching aids such as a new section providing thoughtful questions designed to encourage critical thinking. Also included are professional resources such as listings of professional organizations, journals, and institutes for research and development. To help supplement the textbook for advanced students, there is also an annotated list of suggestions for further reading. Lastly, there are new sections on simultaneous bilingualism in early childhood, the role of computers in SLA, electronic communication and nonverbal aspects of language.

Considering the past success of this book combined with the additional improvements to this edition, Introducing Second Language Acquisition will continue to be one of the bestselling introductions to the field of SLA for students of linguistics, psychology and education, as well as for trainee language teachers. Saville-Troike states that she had three goals in writing this textbook: (1) to provide a basic level of knowledge about SLA phenomena; (2) to stimulate interest in SLA learning and provide guidance for further reading and study; and (3) to offer practical help to second language learners and future teachers. After examining Introducing Second Language Acquisition, it could be safely said that all three of these goals have been achieved most satisfactorily.

Reviewed by David Truxal for Teflnet July 2013
David Truxal is an English language teacher based in Tokyo. He has been teaching for over eight years in a variety of contexts from international kindergarten to university. He holds an MSc in TESOL from Temple University Japan and teaches at two universities in Tokyo.

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