Magazine article European English Messenger

Marjolijn Verspoor, Kees De Bot and Wander Lowie (Eds.) A Dynamic Approach to Second Language Development: Methods and Techniques

Magazine article European English Messenger

Marjolijn Verspoor, Kees De Bot and Wander Lowie (Eds.) A Dynamic Approach to Second Language Development: Methods and Techniques

Article excerpt

Marjolijn Verspoor, Kees de Bot and Wander Lowie (eds.) A Dynamic Approach to Second Language Development: Methods and Techniques. Amsterdam and Philadephia: John Benjamins, 211 pp., ISBN 978-90-272-1998-5.

A Dynamic Approach to Second Language Development: Methods and Techniques edited by Verspoor, de Bot and Lowie focuses on second language development from a dynamic systems theory (DST) perspective, which the authors define as "a general theory that explains how [language as a] complex system, which consists of a set of interrelated variables that continually mutually affect each other, may change over time" (p.25). This means that language learning is influenced by internal variables (e.g. morphology, syntax, collocations, lexicon) and external factors (e.g. environment, age, first language). These variables are not separate; they mutually interact and influence one another, which ultimately impacts language. The theory argues that since language is a complex dynamic system, using traditional approaches to examine language learning will not provide reliable results. After a brief discussion of the shortcomings of traditional second language development (SLD) approaches, the book presents an overview of the dynamic systems theory (DST) approach to the study of first and second language development. This theory studies language as a set of interrelated variables that influence one another. By avoiding "linear causality" and "generalizable predictions," DST pursues "tendencies, patterns and contingencies" (23) instead. The authors include several guidelines and research examples in the form of case studies of real language learners, in addition to a 100-page how-to section to invite researchers and students in first and second language studies to conduct further studies and research in the field from a DST perspective.

The first section of the book consists of an introduction and two chapters that explain the dynamic systems theory approach to second language development. The authors explain in detail the idea that language is a complex system and show how language is made of overlapping subsystems; therefore, in order to study language development, the authors argue, one needs to "examine as many overlapping systems as possible, to see not only how each one of these emerges and develops over time, but also how the different subsystems may interact" (37). For example, subsystems of language like the lexical, phonological and syntactic are interrelated and interconnected. Change in one system affects the other systems, and so on. The dynamic systems of language are not static, linear or predictable; they are influenced by both internal re-organization and external environments and resources. Thus they constantly change and readjust. The authors give a simple analogy to explain this phenomenon: a sandcastle. When one first builds a sandcastle on the beach, due to the wetness of the sand, the castle looks stable and intact. However, internally all sorts of processes are taking place, which ultimately affect the levels of humidity and adhesiveness. There are also external factors like the shaking of the ground from the people walking on the beach, the wind, the water and the sand. All these processes and factors that start as the first part of the castle is built and continue until the castle crumbles down, are similar to the internal and external factors that influence the learning of language. …

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