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Investigating Linguistic Knowledge of a Second Language


Runhan Zhang

This book investigates several important issues revolving around the psycholinguistic modelling of language proficiency in terms of L2 linguistic knowledge, which is a topic of considerable interest and importance in SLA theories and language testing practice. Four tests including the Elicited Imitation Test, Timed Grammaticality Judgment Test, Untimed Grammaticality Judgment Test and Metalinguistic Knowledge Test are employed to examine the extent to which they provide separate measures of Chinese third-year university students’ L2 lingusitic knowledge. The role of four psychological factors – language analytic ability, language learning motivation, language anxiety and learner beliefs – in learners’ L2 linguistic knowledge is also explored.
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5. Psychololinguistic perspectives of general language proficiency in SLA


5. Psychololinguistic perspectives of general language proficiency in SLA

In practice, language proficiency can be determined in various ways including: self-ratings (Oxford & Nyikos, 1989), language achievement tests (Lett & O’Mara, 1990; Phillips, 1991), entrance and placement examinations (Mullins,1992) and language course grades (Mullins, 1992). However, it is difficult to define language proficiency theoretically since there is no agreement among researchers and practitioners. Oller and Damico (1991) claimed that the nature and specification of the elements of language proficiency have not been determined and there continues to be debate among academicians and practitioners about the definition. Understanding language proficiency in terms of linguistic knowledge (i.e., psycholinguistic modeling of language proficiency in terms of implicit and explicit knowledge) would provide an insight and be helpful to bridge SLA theories and language testing practice. R. Ellis pointed out “there is an obvious need in both SLA and language testing to construct convincing models of L2 proficiency and, taking these models as a starting point, to develop instruments capable of providing reliable and valid measurements of L2 knowledge” (2005: 168). The perspective of conceptualizing general language proficiency in terms of the two types of linguistic knowledge (i.e., implicit and explicit knowledge) garnered considerable attention and discussion in Ellis et al.’s (2004, 2005, 2006, 2009) work, which can also be traced to Cummins’s (1981, 1984, 2008) hypothesis of language proficiency based on the distinction between “basic interpersonal and communicative skills” (BICS) and “cognitive / academic language ability” (CALP). Although the focus...

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