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Research Methods in Applied Linguistics

Zoltán Dörnyei has published extensively on learner issues such as motivation, individual differences and in his most recent work he considers the exceptionally broad topic of ‘The Psychology of Second Language Acquisition’ (also available from OUP, published 2008). In the book I am reviewing here, however, he presents an accessible overview of research methods in applied linguistics.
Reviewed for TEFL.net by Dave Allen

Research Methods in Applied LinguisticsThe book is divided into four main parts: key issues in researching language learning/teaching, data collection, data analysis and writing up research. Both qualitative and quantitative methodologies are discussed, alongside popular mixed-methods approaches, such as triangulated studies, thus covering many of the methods commonly employed in the field. As such, this text may be particularly useful as pre-reading material for teachers beginning an MA in applied linguistics, providing a thorough introduction to the wide variety of research methodologies, which may help in deciding what type of research to conduct for a dissertation and for getting through the often compulsory ‘research methods’ module.

However, once decided upon a particular type of methodology, it will then almost certainly be necessary to go and find more specific resources to help really get to grips with the chosen method, be it qualitative, quantitative or mixed. Also, for people who have already completed courses in applied linguistics, or have studied for a degree in the social sciences, such as psychology, much of the general content may not be new. Yet, for reviewing general aspects this book is refreshingly easy to read.

The examples from teaching contexts and classroom settings are instrumental in contextualizing the methods. Often one problem with more specialized research methods texts is that they use examples of studies where the subject is completely unknown to many readers. This creates an added burden when trying to learn the basics of new research methodologies. Furthermore, the book includes many helpful suggestions which are clearly products of the author’s own experience of research. Such advice is invaluable and usually only available by attending courses and speaking with tutors face-to-face. The selected citations from sources such as the American Psychological Association on writing up the results are also timely and well-selected.

The most praiseworthy feature of the text, however, is the writing style. Faced with the task of writing about what may be considered a dusty wasteland of arid subject matter (at least that is my lasting impression of research methods), Dörnyei manages to bring to life content such as descriptive and inferential statistics, helping to sow seeds of creativity in the budding researcher. The reference to probably the most widely used statistics package in the social sciences, SPSS, and the addition of step-by-step instructions are very welcome indeed.

Thanks to the accessible writing style and the broad range of content, I have picked out this book numerous times for reference. However, due to the wide range of content described, much of it is necessarily thin and insufficient as a stand-alone reference text for methodology. For experimental studies in psycholinguistics, formal linguistics or cognitive linguistics for example, more specialized texts are necessary. The author acknowledges this weakness and provides a (somewhat limited) list of further reading in specific areas in the introduction section.

As a final note, readers should be aware that the content is aimed at giving an overview of academic language learning research. For “classroom research”, such as the type of research required for ELT diploma courses, this book may be of limited use – referencing too much of this is likely to put you in the ‘too academic’ category, for which you may even be penalised (!)

On the other hand, for professionals who wish to make their research valid and acceptable within the wider research community, this book provides a readable, thorough and stimulating introduction to research methods in applied linguistics.

Reviewed for TEFL.net by Dave Allen
June 2009 | Filed under Linguistics

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