Susan M. Braidi, Assistant Professor in the Department of Foreign Languages at West Virginia University, agreed to a telephone interview about her recent book, The Acquisition of Second Language Syntax, published by
Edward Arnold Publishers, London and co-published by Oxford University Press, New York.
Below is her conversation with Linda Yoder of WV TESOL Newsletter.
Y: This book looks like the result of a lot of long hard work. How long
have you been working on this?
B: A long time--at least 4 years
Y: What kind of audiences did you envision for this book?
B: Second language acquisition researchers and graduate students. In an area such as second language acquisition, a researcher may do research on one small sub-area, but the difficulty is being able to keep up with all of second language acquisition theory, so I envisioned the book for researchers and L2 acquisition students whose sub-area may be different from syntax.
Y: What was the Genesis of the book?
B: Actually, I was asked to submit a proposal concerning the acquisition of second language syntax. When you look at the acquisition of second language syntax, there are
different theories that look at different aspects of L2 syntax. I tried to come up with a framework that would include all different approaches to the acquisition of second language syntax.
The other issue is that there are so many research articles available to
read, and after you read an article, you may have one little piece of
information, and you don't know where the information fits in the larger
picture, so that by focusing on different theoretical paradigms I could
explore how those different pieces fit together.
L: You have your chapters broken down into questions for investigation. Could you mention one or more of these questions that has special interest for you? And why?
B: The more interesting thing for me is not one particular question, but how each paradigm approaches one question differently. For example, one of the ideas that came out of constrastive analysis is the notion of transfer, or how the first language influences the second language. And the interesting thing is that each theoretical paradigm deals with the issue in a different way.
So for example, a Universal Grammar approach asks how the first language parameter setting affects the resetting of those parameters for the second language. A processing approach would ask how learners use their the first language processing strategies while learning the L2, and they ask, can L2 processing strategies be acquired? So you see that the same question gets explored in very different ways.
L: Besides getting your hands on the first printed and bound copy, what aspect of this process was most fun for you?
B: Learning more about some of the approaches that I hadn't worked with extensively before. In the conclusion I try to pull some of the similar threads together, and that was very difficult, but I learned a lot, so I think that was the fun part.
Y: One of the concepts of your concluding chapter is that of teachers as decision makers. Would you explain a little more?
B: I try to focus on this aspect in my ESL Methods class. This is the whole reason why I think novice teachers need to know theory. In the classroom, teachers make decisions all the time, and one of the things they make decisions about is what to teach and how to teach it most effectively.
And by understanding the theories behind the learning process, teachers have that knowledge base to draw on. But I want to emphasize that that's not the only thing that teachers consider.
It is of course an issue whether or not theory has implications for the classroom because research studies are done in research environments, not in the classroom.
I still think, even though research is done in a research setting, the information we get may give us ideas of how to proceed in the classroom, things to try in the classroom, a greater understanding of why things may or may not work, and so on.
If you teach students the theories behind how learners learn, they can
make better decisions about how to be effective teachers.
You can read a review of Braidi's book in Three Rivers TESOL Newsletter, Summer 1999, page 4.