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Review of Educating for advanced foreign language capacities

posted May 11th, 2010

Educating for advanced foreign language capacities: Constructs, curriculum, instruction, assessment. Ed. by Heidi Byrnes, Heather D. Weger-Guntharp, and Katherine Sprang. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2006. Pp. 208. ISBN 158901118X. $45.

Reviewed by Dustin De Felice, University of South Florida

The editors of this volume have compiled selected papers on advancedness in foreign language competence, taken from the 2005 Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics (GURT). The book is divided into three themes: cognitive approaches, descriptive and instructional considerations, and the role of assessment. In the introductory chapter, ‘Locating the advanced learner in theory, research, and educational practice: An introduction’ (Ch. 1, 1–16), Heidi Byrnes outlines the notion of advancedness and the current state of the field in the US.

Chs. 2–6 cover the theme of cognitive approaches. In Ch. 2, ‘The conceptual basis of grammatical structure’ (17–39), Ronald Langacker focuses on language as meaning, while Christiane von Stutterheim and Mary Carroll focus on language features in selecting, organizing, and expressing relevant information during the process of creating coherent text in Ch. 3, ‘The impact of grammatical temporal categories on ultimate attainment in L2 learning’ (40–53). In Ch. 4, ‘Reorganizing principles of information structure in advanced L2s: French and German learners of English’ (54–73), Mary Carroll and Monique Lambert explore the set of grammaticized and structural features that organize and structure the languages studied. Bergljot Behrens examines ‘marked’ phenomena to pinpoint the nature and location of knowledge conceptualization in Ch. 5, ‘Language-based processing in advanced L2 production and translation: An exploratory study’ (74–86). Susan Strauss, in ‘Learning and teaching grammar through patterns of conceptualization: The case of (advanced) Korean’ (Ch. 6, 87–104), focuses on meaning-making and the process learners use to make meaning-driven choices. Aneta Pavlenko explores narrative structure through two areas—degree and type of evaluation/elaboration and type of forms of cohesion—in Ch. 7, ‘Narrative competence in a second language’ (105–17).

The second theme, descriptive and instructional considerations, is covered in Chs. 8–10. In ‘Lexical inferencing in L1 and L2: Implications for vocabulary instruction and learning at advanced levels’ (Ch. 8, 118–35), T. Sima Paribakht and Marjorie Wesche examine what makes a learner successful at lexical inferencing in specialized content areas. Susanne Rinner and Astrid Weigert, in ‘From sports to the EU economy: Integrating curricula through genre-based content courses’ (Ch. 9, 136–51), offer an example of overcoming the division between content and language using literacy and genre. Rebekha Abbuhl focuses on the ability of a learner to function in a professional setting in Ch. 10, ‘Hedging and boosting in advanced-level L2 legal writing: The effect of instruction and feedback’.

In the final chapters, assessment and its role complete this treatment of advancedness. In Ch. 11, ‘Assessing advanced foreign language learning and learners: From measurement constructs to educational uses’ (167–87), John Norris focuses on two areas of assessment: its role in research and in language programs. Elana Shohamy offers a list of characteristics for advancedness that leads to advanced abilities that can be assessed in ‘Rethinking assessment for advanced language proficiency’ (Ch. 12, 188–208).

This book succeeds in promoting the cause of the study of advanced learning here in the US. and furthers the current impetus on the focus in advancedness.