A systematic review of informal language learning research: Sketching the contours of an emerging subfield

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Naturalistic, self-directed L2 contact—through primarily online activities such as social networking, video streaming, or gaming— increasingly forms part of the daily lives of many second language learners, particularly learners of English (Dressman & Sadler, 2020; Soyoof et al., 2021; Godwin-Jones, 2019). Informal Second Language Learning (ISLL) has therefore become a topic of growing research interest over the past two decades. In this paper, we draw on a systematic review of 218 scientific texts (e.g., journal articles, anthologies, monographs, dissertations) published between 2000 and 2020 to trace the major developments in ISLL research during this time. In particular, we discuss the variables, learner populations, and languages that have been studied; research designs, methodological and analytical approaches; and the theoretical frameworks which have been adapted to understand ISLL and situate it within the broader context second language acquisition (SLA). The systematic review findings illustrate that researchers in different parts of the world at first began to identify and research ISLL as a phenomenon in relative separation, but that there is now increasing dialogue and collaboration, suggesting the emergence of a new subfield within SLA. Whereas earlier ISLL research primarily focused on inventorying and describing informal L2 practices, the majority of subsequent studies have been concerned with relating informal usage to developments in various aspects of L2 proficiency (e.g., vocabulary, complexity, accuracy, pronunciation) and other language related variables such as engagement, motivation, and willingness to communicate, among others (Sundqvist, 2019; Kusyk, 2017; Arndt, 2019; Lee, 2019). We conclude by reflecting on research gaps and limitations in the existing ISLL literature while also considering areas for potential future development in this growing field.
Period2023 Mar 20
Event titleAAAL Annual Conference, 2023: American Association for Applied Linguistics
Event typeConference
LocationPortland, United States, OregonShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational