An excellent overview of the field of second language acquisition and targeted at practising language teachers or trainee teachers. It is not a guide to SLA research methodology, nor is it an overall guide to language teaching methods, "only to those which connect with an SLA perspective."
Each chapter has some activity section, like a questionnaire to answer, or some provocative questions, so that the reader becomes more aware of their attitudes and beliefs about second language learning and teaching.
Each chapter is divided into a number of sections, and each major section begins with a short glossary of technical terms, which I found particularly helpful, as some of the sections are quite technical (e.g. the section on pronunciation). Each chapter ends with some discussion topics and suggestions for further reading.
The main topics are: grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, writing, memory (short-term, working, and longer-term), listening processes, codeswitching, motivation, individual factors that affect language acquisition, the different roles of second languages in societies and some of the different goals of language teaching around the world, models of L2 learning (Universal Grammar, input hypothesis, etc), learning and teaching styles (academic, audio-lingual, communicative, mainstream EFL).
Cook has been Reader at the Department of Language and Linguistics at Essex University, UK, but is taking up a new post at the University of Newcastle in October 2004. Cook is not afraid of sticking in his own opinions, although he of course remains objective, as behoves an academic author. For instance, after a good general summary of CLL (community language learning), Cook adds: "The aim is not....to be able to do anything with language in the world outside. It is to do something here and now in the classroom, so that the student, in Curran's words, 'arrives at a more positive view of himself, of his situation, of what he wishes to do and to become' (Curran, 1976). A logical extension is the therapeutic use of language teaching for psychotherapy in mental hostipals."
A strong point of this book is the frequent references (indexed) to various EFL and ESL course books (over 50) published in the last 20 years or so, and in the first chapter there is a section on "technique analysis" in which the reader is guided to an analysis of a published textbook to discover the background assumptions of the activities, the type of language input (written, spoken, discourse or fragments, etc) and what activities the students actually do.
This book provides a very useful link between SLA research and classroom teaching through published textbooks taken from a wide variety of countries. Most of the book focuses on EFL "mainly because this is the chief language that has been investigated in SLA research"; however there are frequent references to other languages, including Asian tongues, which often throw English (and other Romance languages) into relief. The layout, headings and indeces make it easily "random-accessed". Even if you have taken an MA course in Applied Linguistics or in TESOL, you are sure to find something you did not know either about language, language acquisition or about your own teaching style and beliefs, and feel stimulated and encouraged to return to your classroom with refreshed curiosity and enthusiasm. (This review refers to the paperback 3rd edition, 2001).