Davut Nhem, M.A. (TESOL), Institute of Foreign Languages, Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Summary of Article
Munoz and Tragant (2004) reviewed literatures (secondary data) concerning the association between second language acquisition research and language teaching for the purpose of better understanding in this field. The paper presented the role of SLA on the two dominant teaching methods which are communicative language teaching and focus-on form, followed by recent research evidence: input processing, input enhancement, form focused, output and negative feedback. Finally, it investigated two related pedagogical issues: the choice of linguistic forms in focused instruction and its benefits depending on individual factors and the learning context.
II. CLT and SLA
CLT came about when teachers are not sure of the role grammar in language teaching and felt dissatisfied with audio lingua teaching methods. Later on there were dramatic changes about second language teaching; those changes were supported by linguistic theories of communication which viewed language teaching as a system of language in use. The shift to CLT was mainly based on SLA research, followed Krashen’s interpretation of SLA. Krashen believed that to acquire a second language, learners should have comprehensible input and motivation. He made the distinction between language learning and language acquisition which the ideas became popular to the point that Lightbown (2000) reported that every teacher believed in comprehensible input and benefits of group work. The influence of these ideas was successful and CLT was considered a strong version which activities are the essence of language teaching and the attention has been paid on meaning rather than rules or structures. However, Krashen’s theory had been criticized over some points such as some of this hypothesis had been said to be ambiguous. Though there were some limitations about CLT, it remains popular.
III. Focus on Forms
The new proposals of for language teaching, focus on forms, were based on SLA research, unlike CLT. In this approach, linguistic features were isolated from contexts or communicative meanings. The origin of focus on form was developed when there was a distinction between focus on form and focus on forms, and then was advocated by Long’s interaction hypothesis which the negotiation of meaning takes place between language learners and other speakers. When there is negotiation of meaning, negative feedback is also provided, which results in focus on form. Another support of focus on form is by Schmidt’s noticing hypothesis (1990). This hypothesis claims that paying attention to details and differences is important for facilitating learning process of a new language. Since the focus on form had been supported by research in SLA, researchers skeptical about language learning which learners have few contexts to product.
Ellis (1998) pinpoints four macro-options for enhancing of noticing and processing linguistic form, all of which are processing instruction, explicit instruction, production practice and negative feedback. These macro-options in form are based on cognitive psychology. However, there were controversies about these macro-options such as the amount of time paying attention, relationship between metalinguistic or explicit knowledge and L2 acquisition and performance.
IV. Focus on Form: Recent Evidence from SLA research
1. Input Processing: Most research studies have focused on processing instruction, which was compared with traditional instruction or no instruction. Basically, processing instruction has involved in activities of linguistic form or structure information and followed by information input strategy and structured activities to enhance the acquisition of the language. However, traditional instruction begins with explanation first and then mechanical and communicative activities. The findings shown that PI has gained more popularity than TI has, but the production stage remained similar. It could be noticed that PI could help learners to transfer what they have learnt to apply in different contexts.
2. Input Enhancement: A study has reported that input enhancement was likely to be insufficient for learners’ attention on the form, even the enhanced text was considerable. However, it could be noticeable that input enhancement by oral repetition is more likely to be effective to process form and meaning of the target language.
3. Form Focus Output: the text reconstruction, which is another type of collaborative task where learners have to insert appropriate function and linking words as well as inflectional morphemes, seemed to be a more effective procedure to get learners to focus more often on the targeted features.
4. Negative Feedback: it was observed that the feedback included recasts, clarification requests and comprehension checks and the dyads involved NNSs and NSs adults and children. A number of studies have shown that recasts contribute to the learners' interlanguage development, as measured by performance tests. One study also proved that that recasts were more beneficial than models on forms with relatively high communicative value.
V. From Research in SLA to Language Pedagogy
1. How and what to teach: Research in SLA could help language teachers to develop their teaching methods options. For instance, teachers may use implicit or explicit methodological techniques in order to draw attention to form on the basis of the target language feature to be focused on and the learners' characteristics. Another example is that teachers may decide to use a combination of both implicit and explicit techniques in order not to always disturb the flow of communication.
2. Learner and Learning Context: Learners’ characteristics, age and language proficiency should be taken into account when designing teaching instruction. For age, adult learners might be able to use their cognitive resources to involve in explicit learning while young learners might not be beneficial when teaching instruction is used focus on form method. Student’s ability and language proficiency are also important factors to be considered. Research studies have shown that beginning learners find it hard to focus on both meaning and form or structure. Another important issue is learning context. For example, implicit approach to grammar instruction may be less suitable in foreign language settings where learners are less expose to communicate input.
Munoz, C., & Tragant, E. (2004). Second Langauge Acquisition. International Journal of English Studies, 4(1), 197-219.
The Strength of the Article
The information in this article had been collected from various studies for many years in SLA. The authors critically compared, evaluated, critiqued and synergized all the information from theories and practices in a way that it could be easier teachers to understand how research in SLA is helpful for language teachers in designing their teaching instruction. This paper presents variety of aspects of studies in SLA, all of which have been advocated by a number of empirical studies. It also informs language teachers regarding what and how they should teach students in different levels, ages or ability. This simply put, it ties how research in SLA and language teaching are related.
The Weakness of the Article
Although this paper provide readers with a comprehensive explanation concerning research studies in SLA and how they are relevant to language teaching, this review is a bit out of date, in term of its long years of publication (2004). This could mean that data that the authors had collected for the study, may be reevaluated by recent studies. In other words, those findings were collected for decades, and there are a number of studies in SLA recently which the findings might be different from those in the article. Moreover, this article is quite difficult for novice researchers and learners in SLA to comprehend the concept of SLA. This means that the authors failed to elaborate more detail about the key terms and examples which could be helpful for readers to understand the text.
Although some weaknesses have been acknowledged in the section above, the article is still considered to be very valid as supported by those strengths identified. Personally, I find the article very useful in the following areas: understanding how research in SLA influences the two teaching pedagogies in language teaching; four macro-options of focus-on-form interventions and their theoretical motivations; and two related pedagogical issues: the choice of linguistic forms in focused instruction and its benefits depending on individual factors and the learning context. Studies have shown that communicative language teaching instruction is more favor for teaching beginning learners as they don’t cognitive resources to understand forms or structures of a new language. In the other hand, later on recent research studies in SLA have proved that the integration of focus-on form in meaning based instruction is successful in language teaching. In addition, the focus-on form intervention has been supported by research studies in the following areas: input processing, input enhancement, form-focused output and negative feedback, which provide me with comprehensive ideas concerning how to teach second language to students. Last but not least, this paper helps me to better understand how students’ attitude, ability and language proficiency influence their learning success, and also reminds me to think about the context of teaching.