26.2027, Review: Applied Ling; Lang Acq; Ling Theories: Timpe (2014)

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Subject: 26.2027, Review: Applied Ling; Lang Acq; Ling Theories: Timpe (2014)

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Date: Thu, 16 Apr 2015 16:44:28
From: Jose Aguilar Río [jose.aguilarrio at univ-paris3.fr]
Subject: Assessing Intercultural Language Learning

Discuss this message:

Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/25/25-2084.html

AUTHOR: Veronika  Timpe
TITLE: Assessing Intercultural Language Learning
SUBTITLE: The Dependence of Receptive Sociopragmatic Competence and Discourse Competence on Learning Opportunities and Input
SERIES TITLE: Language Testing and Evaluation - Volume 31
YEAR: 2014

REVIEWER: Jose Ignacio Aguilar Río, Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris III

Review's Editors: Malgorzata Cavar and Sara Couture


Timpe's work is a genuine piece of research. The focus is on intercultural
language learning, which depends on the development of intercultural
communicative competence. The author tries to measure the link between
intercultural language learning and classroom-based foreign language teaching.
The book consists of seven chapters of unequal length. It is completed by
lists of tables and figures, appendixes and references.

The book opens with an introductory chapter in which basic notions used
throughout the study are presented – intercultural communicative competence
(ICC), pragmatics and (teacher-fronted, classroom-based) language learning.
The author intends to surpass the classroom context in order to “account for
what types of input support the development of cross-cultural pragmatic
competences” (Timpe, 2013: 3). She also aims at “providing new means of
assessing and/or diagnosing receptive and productive intercultural pragmatic
abilities in L2 learners” (ibid.).

Chapter 2 introduces the first set of underpinning theories, namely concerning
the field of intercultural communicative competence. The interconnectedness
between language and culture is first discussed by reviewing the literature on
the subject. The author draws on anthropological and communication studies
models, to define notions such as “adaptation,” “community,” and “identity.”
Models originating within second and foreign language studies are also
commented on , namely that of Byram's (1997), which the author draws on
throughout the book.

Chapter 3 is the longest. It presents another set of theories concerning
pragmatic competence. Timpe first reviews classic literature to distinguish
cross-cultural and interlanguage pragmatics. The first, lengthy part of the
chapter introduces pragmatics-based constructs such as “communicative
competence,” “pragmatic competence,” “transfer,” “speech acts,” “routine
formulae,” “politeness,” and “discourse,” as discussed by classical scholars
of the field. The author focuses on how these may influence the learners'
language comprehension and production. The second part of chapter 3 introduces
an acquisitional perspective, as the author discusses the link between
“input,” “learning contexts” and the development of “interlanguage
pragmatics.” Both the “study abroad” and the “foreign language” contexts are
put forward as those that seem to be more favourable for learners
acquisitionally. Chapter 3 concludes with a review of studies about pragmatics

Chapter 4 presents the research design and methodology. The author provides
details about the aims and the objectives of her original study, the research
questions, the participants, the measuring instruments, and the conditions in
which the data were produced, collected and processed. The author's three
research questions concerned: a) the “relationships between general language
proficiency, receptive socio-pragmatic competence, and discourse competence,
as developed by German university-level learners of English” (Timpe, 2013:
109); b) the participants' variation “in receptive sociopragmatic competence
and discourse competence depending on different types and amounts of English
learning opportunities and contexts” (ibid.); c) the “types of target language
input [that] contributed to higher levels of receptive sociopragmatic
competence and discourse competence” (ibid.). As for the participants, they
were 105 male and female university-level students at a German university, to
whom four assessment procedures were administered, namely: a self-assessment
questionnaire, an English language proficiency test, a sociopragmatic
comprehension test, and, finally, four Skype role-play tasks to accomplish.

In chapter 5, the author presents the main results of the data analyses. The
chapter is divided in two parts. Part one features the results originating
from the four assessment tools; it accounts “for the quality of the test
scores obtained” (Timpe, 2013: 145). The second part of the chapter “presents
the findings that illustrate distinct answers to the research questions”
(ibid.). Chapter 5 contains a wealth of charts, graphics and tables, which
allow the author to quantitatively illustrate the results of the study. It is
a technical chapter that requires the reader to have specific knowledge on
statistics and quantitative research.

Chapter 6 features a discussion of the findings presented in the preceding
chapter. The author recalls each of the three research questions, one at a
time, in order to elaborate answers. Concerning question one, Timpe confirms
the interconnectedness between receptive and discursive pragmatic abilities
insofar as “higher levels of language proficiency in English were associated
somewhat with higher levels of (socio)pragmatic ability in English” (Timpe,
2013: 193). As for question two, “it would seem that exposure to L2 input
played a major role in the development of pragmatic competence – maybe even
more than abroad experience” (Timpe, 2013: 195). “Target language input” and
“study abroad experience” appear as “factors that may support instructive and
diagnostic processes in intercultural EFL/ESL education” (Timpe, 2013: 200).
Finally, as regards question three, the author observes that “audiovisual
media was the only type of input that was found to contribute statistically
significantly to higher levels of sociopragmatic awareness” (Timpe, 2013:
205). Timpe underscores the “unique qualities” of this type of input (ibid.),
which allow it “to provide unique learning experiences that offer valuable
opportunities for pragmatic learning” (ibid.). Stemming from Timpe's answers,
chapter 6 concludes with some pedagogical implications, namely concerning
discourse competence development within the EFL/ESL classroom.

Chapter 7 is the last one of the book. It states the limitations of the study,
presents some concluding remarks, and suggests directions for future research.
As regards the limitations, Timpe first acknowledges the lack of homogeneity
of the sample chosen. “The tests' reliance on a native speaker norm” is
another drawback put forward by the author. Timpe gives some indications to
test developers in order to attain greater authenticity – namely by using
spoken input, as well as audiovisual if possible, rather than written input,
since this type of input offers “a richer contextualization of the
sociopragmatic phenomena” (Timpe, 2013: 213). One last aspect that could be
improved concerns the practical conditions of the Skype role-play tasks,
namely the need for a correspondence between the number of tasks – 4 in this
study – and the number of interlocutors deployed – only two, which lead to
undesired, unexpected discursive productions. Finally, Timpe underscores some
achievements of her study, which “provides empirical evidence for
relationships between three partial components of ICC as outlined by Byram's
model: linguistic, sociolinguistic, and discourse competence” (Timpe, 2013:
215), and “contributes to new assessment tools to the still very limited pool
of instruments available to measure pragmatic competence” (Timpe, 2013: 216).


Notions such as “knowledge,” “competence,” and “performance” are central to
the book. However, without explicit indicators as to what constitutes
pragmatically appropriate discursive behaviour, the nature of the
acquisitional processes binding together these three constructs seems unclear.
As regards the limited scope of the native speaker norm, the author insists on
the relationship between context, input and the presence of pragmatically
adequate discourse indicators. However, a didactic intervention is missing.
The reviewer expected more concrete pedagogical implications concerning the
assessment of the discourse-based pragmatic-knowledge elements at the heart of
the study. Thus, the book's subtitle – “The Dependence of Receptive
Sociopragmatic Competence and Discourse Competence on Learning Opportunities
and Input” – seems more appropriate, yet somewhat less promising, than its
main title – “Assessing Intercultural Language Learning” – which comes across
as more general, yet not quite fulfilling the concrete pedagogical
expectations it generates. The reviewer expected a deconstruction of American
Standard English discourse and pragmatics, which would somewhat resemble the
language(s) deconstruction task achieved by the scholars authoring the
European Common Framework. All in all this does not seem within Timpe's
current aims.

“Authenticity” is another construct evoked by the author. Again, the
authenticity suggested by Timpe seems to align with the notion of a native
speaker's (pragmatic) norm – or competence. The reviewer agrees with the
author, who finds this model insufficient. If pragmatic authenticity is to be
modelled and made into a learning (and knowledge) object,
ethnomethodology-based approaches for studying discourse seem appropriate. In
effect, it is the task of ethnomethodology, namely of conversation analysis,
to describe “culture(s)” as a situated phenomenon, which comes to flesh and
bone around specific discursive practices. Some references to ethnomethodology
and conversation analysis literature are found within Timpe's book, which may
have been completed by studies at the crossroads of conversation analysis and
foreign/second language learning and teaching, such as Schegloff et al.
(2002), Seedhouse (2005), or the articles within the special issue of “The
Modern Language Journal” edited by Markee and Kasper (2004).

Finally, the way the author seems to address the language acquisition
process(es), as she formulates her second research question – concerning the
relationship between the participants' variation “in receptive sociopragmatic
competence and discourse competence” and the “different types and amounts of
English learning opportunities and contexts” (Timpe, 2013: 109) – left this
reviewer under the impression that the author regarded language acquisition as
a linear, accumulative, phenomenon, not explicitly taking into account
non-linear, systemic, language acquisition theories (cf. Aguilar and
Brudermann, 2014; N. Ellis, 2008; Miras and Narcy-Combes, 2014).

Timper's book presents a thoroughly empirical attempt to measure
discourse-related constructs, the  very nature of which make them more
difficult to manipulate than, for example, form-related ones, such as those of
a grammatical, morphological or phonological nature. These discourse-related
constructs concern a group of learners' observed or supposed production and
comprehension, as regards pragmatic adequacy. This is a thought-provoking
book, which addresses profound questions concerning the relationship between
knowledge, identity, learning and membership. Some chapters may prove to be
difficult reading for undergraduates – or even postgraduates, for that matter.
Doctoral candidates and scholars will find it a wealth of information.
Ultimately, Timpe's work has the merit to pinpoint zones where more
discourse-based research --both qualitative and quantitative -- is needed in
order to attain a more complete picture of what knowing, learning and teaching
a foreign or second language mean.


Aguilar Río, J. I. and Brudermann, C. (2014) “Language Learner”. In Manual of
Language Acquisition. C. Fäcke, (ed). pp. 291–307. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter

Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative
Competence. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Ellis, N. C. (2008). “The Dynamics of Second Language Emergence: Cycles of
Language Use, Language Change, and Language Acquisition”. The Modern Language
Journal 92(2). pp 232–249.

Markee, N. and Kasper, G. (2004). “Classroom Talks: An Introduction”. The
Modern Language Journal 88(4). pp. 491–500.

Miras, G. and Narcy-Combes, J.-P. (2014). “Conséquences sur les pratiques
d'une prise en compte intégrée des théories socio-constructivistes et
émergentiste”. Travaux et documents 46, pp. 15-26.

Schegloff, E., Koshki, I., Jacoby, S. and Olsher, D. (2002). “Conversation
Analysis and Applied Linguistics”. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 22.
pp. 3–31.

Seedhouse, P. (2005). “Conversation Analysis and Language Learning”. Language
Teaching 38. pp. 165–187.

Timpe, V. (2013) Assessing Intercultural Language Learning: The Dependence of
Receptive Sociopragmatic Competence and Discourse Competence on Learning
Opportunities and Input. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.


Jose Ignacio Aguilar Río is a Senior Lecturer at Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3
University in France. He teaches undergraduate and post-graduate courses in
education and applied linguistics. His research interests are in classroom
interaction, foreign language teacher education and research methodology. He
has presented papers at international conferences in Europe. His works have
been published in international reviews.

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