Corrective feedback and second language learning

Corrective feedback, individual differences and second language learning. By Younghee Sheen. (Educational linguistics 13.) Dordrecht: Springer, 2011. Pp. xvi, 199. ISBN 9789400705470. $139 (Hb).

Reviewed by Nadia Mifka-Profozic, University of Auckland

Corrective or negative feedback is, undoubtedly, a persisting concern of language teaching practitioners. The question of whether learner errors should be corrected or not has never been an easy one to answer. From a theoretical perspective, negative feedback has been discussed in relation to the ‘logical problem’ of language acquisition and the issue of positive and negative evidence in the process of acquiring language. In this book, the author explores the various aspects of corrective feedback (CF) in a classroom setting, aiming to reveal the complex relationships between individual learner characteristics and the interaction taking place in the classroom. The book draws on the author’s Ph.D. thesis but has outgrown the limits of its primary purpose with the addition of new chapters and with extended discussion. Particular attention is paid to two types of CF: recasts as implicit CF versus explicit correction in oral form, and direct correction versus metalinguistic explanation in written form.

The book consists of eight chapters, including discussion of both oral and written CF and a comparison between the two. The first chapter introduces the topic and explains the key terms and issues related to CF. Ch. 2, ‘Theoretical perspectives on CF’, provides an overview of theoretical accounts from which CF has been approached and discussed. The central part of the chapter introduces cognitive theories of oral CF, involving the interaction hypothesis and the noticing hypothesis, which explain some of the key constructs in language acquisition. Ch. 3, ‘Pedagogical perspectives on CF’, explores a range of pedagogical and methodological questions related to oral and written error correction. Some of the controversial issues concerning written grammar correction are discussed in this chapter. Pointing to the problem of overcorrection, the author aims at providing guidelines for teachers, drawing on a range of different sources, including methodologists’ recommendations and observed practices as well as teachers’ and students’ beliefs regarding error correction.

Ch. 4, ‘Oral corrective feedback research’, and Ch. 5, ‘Written corrective feedback research’ both deal with the author’s experimental work carried out in English as a second language (ESL) classrooms. This involves a brief review of most influential studies to date that have investigated the effectiveness of CF, including a detailed description of the author’s methodology and the results obtained in oral and written experimental studies. Ch. 6, ‘Comparing oral and written corrective feedback’, compares the effectiveness of CF in two different modes so that direct correction in writing and recasts are compared to metalinguistic explanation and explicit oral correction. Ch. 7, ‘Individual differences and corrective feedback’, investigates the role of individual factors in mediating the effects of CF. The author focuses on analytic ability as a component of language aptitude, on learner attitudes towards correction, and on language learning anxiety. In the concluding chapter, the significance of the book is emphasized and pedagogical recommendations are provided, so that research on CF can be made relevant for language teachers.