Tuesday, September 13, 2011

J.P. Lantolf (2011) The Sociocultural Approach to Second Language Acquisition

[This is one of the articles compiled for a class for my graduate students in the autumn/winter semester in 2011/2012.]

J.P. Lantolf (2011) "The Sociocultural Approach to Second Language Acquisition" in Dwight Atkinson (ed) Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition (Routledge) [Paperback, Kindle Edition ] (pp. 24 -47)

p. 24


Take a look at the explanation of "cultural mediation" in Wikipedia.

Vygotsky investigated child development and how this was guided by the role of culture and interpersonal communication. Vygotsky observed how higher mental functions developed through social interactions with significant people in a child's life, particularly parents, but also other adults. Through these interactions, a child came to learn the habits of mind of her/his culture, including speech patterns, written language, and other symbolic knowledge through which the child derives meaning and affects a child's construction of his or her knowledge. This key premise of Vygotskian psychology is often referred to as "cultural mediation". The specific knowledge gained by a child through these interactions also represented the shared knowledge of a culture. This process is known as internalization.


Q: Can you explain the meaning of "focus on if and how learners develop the ability to use the new language to mediate (i.e., regulate or control) their mental and communicative activity." (p. 24)

Theoretical Principle(s)

Q: What are the functions of "psychological tools such as language, signs, and symbols" (pp. 24-25)

p. 25

Q: Why is children's early appropriation of language implicit?

Q: What is the effect of schooling?

p. 26

Research Methods

Q: What is the genetic method of Vygotsky?

p. 27

Q: What was the experiment that "suggests that children gradually develop the ability, first, to use external mediation and, later, to internalize it."? (p. 27)

Supporting Findings

Mediation as Self-Regulation

Q: What can you conclude from the observation of the intermediate speakers who often use the progressive aspect and of the other speakers who use the past past tense to create a coherent narrative on the same picture?

p. 28

Q: What is the finding of Centeno-Cortes and Jimenez-Jimenez (2004). Have you experienced a similar phenomenon?

p. 29

Zone of Proximal Development

Q: What is the significance of 'play' for children? Explain in terms of the concept of one of Proximal Development (ZPD).

p. 30

Dynamic Assessment

Q: What is dynamic assessment (DA)? How is it different from the conventioal assessment? Why does it have to be so different?

Read the explanation of DA in Wikipedia.

Vygotsky's term Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) relates to the gap between what the child can learn unaided, and what he or she can learn with the help of an adult or a more capable peer. According to Vygotsky, it is impossible to understand a child's potential intellectual development using a one-way assessment.

Dynamic assessment is an interactive approach to psychological or psychoeducational assessment that embeds intervention within the assessment procedure. Most typically, there is a pretest then an intervention and then a posttest. This allows the assessor to determine the response of the client or student to the intervention. There are a number of different dynamic assessment procedures that have a wide variety of content domains.

One purpose of dynamic assessment is to determine if a student has the potential to learn a new skill.


Here is another explanation of dynamic assessment.

Dynamic assessment is an interactive approach to conducting assessments within the domains of psychology, speech/language, or education, that focuses on the ability of the learner to respond to intervention. Dynamic assessment is not a single package or procedure, but is both a model and philosophy of conducting assessments. Although there are variations on several dimensions of the model, the most consistent characteristics are as follows:
・The assessor actively intervenes during the course of the assessment with the learner with the goal of intentionally inducing changes in the learner's current level of independent functioning. ・The assessment focuses on the learner's processes of problem solving, including those that promote as well as obstruct successful learning.
・The most unique information from the assessment is information about the learner's responsiveness to intervention.
・The assessment also provides information about what interventions successfully promote change in the learner (connecting assessment with intervention).
・The assessment is most often administered in a pretest-intervention-posttest format.
・The assessment is most useful when used for individual diagnosis, but can also be used for screening of classroom size groups. The model is viewed as an addition to the current, more traditional, approaches, and is not a substitute for existing procedures. Each procedure provides different information, and assessors need to determine what information they need.The underlying assumption of dynamic assessment is that all learners are capable of some degree of learning (change; modifiability). This contrasts with the underlying assumption of standardized psychometric testing that the learning ability of most individuals is inherently stable. Research with dynamic assessment has demonstrated that determination of the current levels of independent functioning of learners is far from a perfect predictor of their ability to respond to intervention.

p. 32

Concept-based Mediation

Q: Mediation through concept is the second form of mediation central to SCT after mediation as self-regulation. What are the spontaneous (i.e., every day) concepts and scientific concepts? Can you pick up some examples of everyday concepts and scientific concepts concerning language and language education?

p. 33

Thinking for Speaking (TFS)

Q: What are the contentions of McNeill (2005)? Read the description of the book Gesture and Thought available on Amazon as well.

Gesturing is such an integral yet unconscious part of communication that we are mostly oblivious to it. But if you observe anyone in conversation, you are likely to see his or her fingers, hands, and arms in some form of spontaneous motion. Why? David McNeill, a pioneer in the ongoing study of the relationship between gesture and language, set about answering this question over twenty-five years ago. In Gesture and Thought he brings together years of this research, arguing that gesturing, an act which has been popularly understood as an accessory to speech, is actually a dialectical and integral component of language.

Gesture and Thought expands on McNeill’s acclaimed classic Hand and Mind. While that earlier work demonstrated what gestures reveal about thought, here gestures are shown to be active participants in both speaking and thinking. Expanding on an approach introduced by Lev Vygotsky in the 1930s, McNeill posits that gestures are key ingredients in an “imagery-language dialectic” that fuels both speech and thought. Gestures are both the “imagery” and components of “language.” The smallest element of this dialectic is the “growth point,” an “idea unit” of an utterance at its beginning psychological stage. Utilizing several innovative experiments he created and administered with subjects spanning several different age, gender, language, and neurological groups, McNeill shows how growth points organize themselves into utterances and extend to discourse at the moment of speaking.

An ambitious project in the ongoing study of the relationship of human communication and thought, Gesture and Thought is a work of such consequence that it will influence all subsequent theory on the subject.

Amazon page

Michael Corballis, the author of The Recursive Mind: The Origins of Human Language, Thought, and Civilization wrote From Hand to Mouth: The Origins of Language in which he argued that language evolved from a gestrual system to the spoken word.

It is often said that speech is what distinguishes us from other animals. But are we all talk? What if language was bequeathed to us not by word of mouth, but as a hand-me-down?

The notion that language evolved not from animal cries but from manual and facial gestures--that, for most of human history, actions have spoken louder than words--has been around since Condillac. But never before has anyone developed a full-fledged theory of how, why, and with what effects language evolved from a gestural system to the spoken word. Marshaling far-flung evidence from anthropology, animal behavior, neurology, molecular biology, anatomy, linguistics, and evolutionary psychology, Michael Corballis makes the case that language developed, with the emergence of Homo sapiens, from primate gestures to a true signed language, complete with grammar and syntax and at best punctuated with grunts and other vocalizations. While vocal utterance played an increasingly important complementary role, autonomous speech did not appear until about 50,000 years ago--much later than generally believed.

Bringing in significant new evidence to bolster what has been a minority view, Corballis goes beyond earlier supporters of a gestural theory by suggesting why speech eventually (but not completely!) supplanted gesture. He then uses this milestone to account for the artistic explosion and demographic triumph of the particular group of Homo sapiens from whom we are descended. And he asserts that speech, like written language, was a cultural invention and not a biological fait accompli.

Writing with wit and eloquence, Corballis makes nimble reference to literature, mythology, natural history, sports, and contemporary politics as he explains in fascinating detail what we now know about such varied subjects as early hominid evolution, modern signed languages, and the causes of left-handedness. From Hand to Mouth will have scholars and laymen alike talking--and sometimes gesturing--for years to come.

Amazon page

Whether ghe gestural theory is true or not, it is worthwhile to give a serious thought to gestures in language use.

Q: Is Japanese closer to English or Spanish? According to Talmy, English "highlight manner of motion encoded in verbs (e.g., skip, trudge, sidle, scamper, creep), with path of motion marked in a satellite phrase (e.g., though the swamp, up the ladder, down the stairs)(p. 33), while Spanish "highlight path of motion encoded in verbs (e.g., salir "to exit", entrar "to enter," subir "to get into" as with a car), with manner encoded (if at all) in an adverb or participle." (p. 34)

p. 34

Q: What is the observation in McNeill (2005) of English speakers and speakers of Spanish-like languages in terms of gesture?

Q: On what findings did Negueruela et al. (2004) contend that L2 speakers continue to rely on their L1 to mediate TFS activity?

p. 35

Q: What is the point of Vygotsky's quotation?

Q: What is praxis? How is it different from practice as in the phrase 'theory to practice'?


Scientific versus Everyday Knowledge

Q: What is scientific knowledge? What is its power?

Scientific concepts and spontaneous (everyday) concepts

Scientific concepts are different from everyday concepts in that 1) they are placed in the system of concepts and related to each other; and 2) they develop "downward", not "upward" as everyday concepts do.
See more: http://languageavenue.com/psycholinguistics/language-and-thought/scientific-vs-spontaneous-concepts-vygotskian-perspective/all-pages#ixzz2FMfQWsNf

p. 37

Q: What is the claim of The Universal Acquisition Hypothesis (UAH)?

Q: What does Pradis (2009) say in Declarative and Procedural Determinants of Second Languages? Relate her contentio to Vygotsky's argument.

p. 38

Concept-based Instruction (CBI)

Q: Can you exemplify Piotr Gal'perin's Systemic-Theoretical Instruction: explanation -> materialization (a Schema for the orienting basis of action (SCOBA) -> communication -> verbalization -> internalization? [Personally, I find this process exactly the same as my style of learning by teaching.]

p. 39

Q: What do you think about the comments by students (the first two in particular)?

p. 41

Figure 1.1 is highly intriguing. But because I have no knowledge of Chinese, I have to skip this section.

Future Directions

Q: Which of the four future directions are you the most attracted by, and why?

p. 42


Q: How is SCT-L2 different from VanPattern (2010) who claims that SLA research cannot speak to the day-to-day issues that confront teachers but can help them understand acquisition and thus inform instruction by offering insight into what the learning problems are?

p. 43

Q: What is your opinion about the last paragraph?

By this time, you may be interested in reading Latolf's books.

Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Learning

Sociocultural Theory and the Genesis of Second Language Development
(Review by Peter I. De Costa that appeared in Applied Linguistics)

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