Sociocultural Theory in Second Language Education An Introduction through Narratives Author: Merrill Swain, Penny Kinnear, Linda Steinman

16 Dec 2010
Multilingual Matters

Key features

- Draws on narratives to help readers understand sociocultural theory

- Uses accessible prose

- Fills the gap for an introduction to sociocultural theory in the field of second language education


In this accessible introduction to Vygotskyian sociocultural theory, narratives illuminate key concepts of the theory. These key concepts, addressed across seven chapters, include mediation; Zone of Proximal Development; collaborative dialogue; private speech; everyday and scientific concepts; the interrelatedness of cognition and emotion, activity theory and assessment. An eighth chapter provides readers with an opportunity to consider two additional narratives and apply the SCT concepts that they have become familiar with. These narratives come from individuals in a variety of languages, contexts, ages and proficiencies. We hear from learners, teachers and researchers. Intended for graduate and undergraduate audiences, this textbook includes controversies in the field, questions for collaborative discussion and provides references to important work in the literature of second language teaching, learning and research.


This book presents a unique introduction to Sociocultural Theory. Through the telling of fascinating stories the authors familiarize the reader with the concepts that are central to the theory and in particular to how the theory relates to the teaching and learning of languages beyond the first. It is an exceptional piece of scholarship that I think Vygotsky would have wholeheartedly endorsed.

- James P. Lantolf, Greer Professor in Language Acquisition & Applied Linguistics, The Pennsylvania State University, USA

This book is a most welcome addition to the growing literature on sociocultural theory. It is refreshing to come across such a reader-friendly book dealing with complex constructs. The book provides an overview of key concepts in sociocultural theory, and then, using a set of narratives, illustrates how these concepts can be used to explain phenomena in second language learning and teaching. As such, the authors have succeeded in producing an accessible and highly engaging introduction to sociocultural theory.

- Neomy Storch, The University of Melbourne, Australia

Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Education is a highly recommended and worthwhile book for all those who seek to understand how sociocultural theory is entailed in teaching practice. Using narratives of teaching recounted in the voices of language learners and teachers, Swain and her co-authors bring the major concepts of Vygotsky to life in clear and accessible ways. Contributing to the conceptual analysis of each story is information on allied concepts, key studies, controversies, and discussion topics. This book is certain to be a mainstay in language teacher education programs and in courses on sociocultural theory and second language acquisition.

- Richard Donato, University of Pittsburgh, USA

The authors draw upon their considerable collective knowledge of SCT as well as a wealth of experience in language teaching and teacher education. The result is a book that offers a nuanced, in-depth presentation of SCT concepts and simultaneously enacts key principles from the theory by ‘mediating’ these concepts to readers...For an introductory text, it is also noteworthy that the authors do not shy away from the more complex intricacies of the theory, including those that have stirred controversy among Vygotskian researchers...To the best of my knowledge, there is no other text, either in L2 or general education research literatures, that offers an introduction to SCT of this quality. Readers new to SCT will have a detailed and accessible resource that will allow them to engage with the theory and appreciate its contributions to L2 education while those already familiar with the theory will find a sophisticated and up-to-date reference text.

- Matthew E. Poehner, The Pennsylvania State University in 2012 The Canadian Modern Language Review/La Revue canadienne des langues vivantes, 68, 1 (February / février), 102–108

Swain, Kinnear, and Steinman have created a user-friendly text that not only scaffolds readers gently into the essential concepts of SCT, but does so in the entertaining and captivating mode of narratives. I have been recommending it to my colleagues at universities and to all my previous graduate students as well. My only complaint is why didn’t we have such a book sooner?

- Tim Murphey, Kanda University of International Studies, Japan in JALT Journal, 34.1, May 2012

Author Biography:

The authors, each from a different background, share a passion for sociocultural theory. Each author brings stories, data and experiences from her area of expertise: second language pedagogy and teacher development (Linda); elementary classroom teaching with second language and bilingual students (Penny) and teaching and research in bilingual education and second language learning (Merrill). Merrill Swain is Professor in the Curriculum, Teaching and Learning department at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto.

Penny Kinnear is Lecturer and Communication Coordinator for English Language Learning at the University of Toronto.

Linda C Steinman is Associate Professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics at York University in Toronto.

Readership Level:

Postgraduate, Research / Professional, Undergraduate, Text

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