Research on second language learning: Some implications for

Nina Spada
University of Toronto
 Strong
version: Exclusive focus on
meaning; no attention to form
 Weak
version: Attention to form
and meaning
Howatt, 1984
CLT means an exclusive focus on meaning
CLT means no explicit feedback on error
CLT means learner-centred teaching
CLT means listening and speaking practice
CLT means avoidance of the learner’s L1
 Pedagogic
◦ Grammar translation useful for the study of
grammar and vocabulary but not speaking
and listening
◦ Fatigue and frustration on the part of
teachers and learners with the limitations of
dialogue memorization and pattern practice
drills of the audiolingual method.
develop grammatical knowledge
 not successful in “using” that knowledge
 develop reading comprehension ability
 struggle with listening comprehension
 not able to use language
 not able to use language accurately
Communicative competence (Hymes,
 Comprehensible input hypothesis
(Krashen, 1984)
 Interaction hypothesis (Long, 1983,
Knowledge of language consists of
more than a knowledge of the rules of
grammar but also knowledge of the
rules of language use
 Functional linguistics (Halliday,1973)
 Notional/functional syllabus design
Similarities between the process of
learning a first and second language
 Yet, major differences in outcomes
particularly with L2 classroom learners
 Create conditions for learning a
second language that are similar to
those of first language acquisition
Expose learners to meaningful and
motivating input that is
◦ just slightly beyond their current level of
linguistic competence but …
◦ comprehensible enough for the learners to
L2 learners should be able to;
◦ integrate the new input into their
developing language systems and create a
L2 learners do not need to learn
grammar in order to participate in
 L2 learners, like L1 learners, need to
participate in conversations to learn
grammar. (Hatch, 1978)
of CLT
Content-based programs
◦ e.g. French immersion programs in
Canada, bilingual programs in the US
 CLT programs with children and adults
 Task-based language teaching
 Comprehension-based programs with
children and adults
Learners develop comprehension skills,
vocabulary knowledge, communicative
ability and communicative confidence
They continue to experience difficulties
with grammatical accuracy in their oral
and written production
Theory of
of CLT
 Any
effort to draw learners’
attention to form within
communicative and meaningbased contexts (Spada, 1997)
 Explicit or implicit
 Direct instruction or corrective
◦ Many studies in CLT & content-based
◦ Instruction that is meaning-based
and includes attention to form is
more effective than instruction which:
 focuses exclusively on meaning
 focuses exclusively on form (Spada, 2010;
Lightbown & Spada, 2013)
Greater focus on one?
Equal focus on both?
Are there better ways to draw learners
attention to form?
Do learners develop different types of
L2 ability depending on the way in
which their attention is drawn to form?
TYPE of form-focused instruction
◦ Explicit versus Implicit
TIMING of form-focused instruction
◦ Integrated or Isolated
Explicit attention to form is more
effective than implicit attention to
form (Norris & Ortega, 2000; Spada &
Tomita, 2010)
BUT… that depends on what type of L2
knowledge is measured in the studies.
Are there better times in the
instructional sequence to draw
learners’ attention to form?
Before or after communicative practice?
During communicative practice?
Integrated: Attention to form always
embedded in communicative practice
Isolated: Attention to form always
separate from communicative practice
Spada & Lightbown, 2008
Traditional presentation, practice, pedagogy
Traditional presentation, practice, pedagogy
•A natural way to teach
Humans are limited capacity processors
•You can’t pay attention to everything at
•No interruption of communicative
Efficiency: Two for One
Students have an opportunity to communicate and
receive feedback at the same time
Immediate help is available precisely when it is
When we learn something, our memories
record not only the item learned but the
cognitive and perceptual processes that were
engaged while learning the item.
Subsequently, when we try to remember the
item learned, we also recall aspects of the
learning process
Blaxton, 1989; Morris et al, 1977
Therefore…. the greater the
similarity between how we learned
something and our later efforts to
retrieve that knowledge, the
greater chances of success
Isolated FFI
Integrated FFI
109 adult ESL learners in four classes
◦ 2 Isolated FFI; 2 integrated FFI
2 teachers
◦ 1 taught Isolated FFI and 1 taught the
Integrated FFI classes
Target feature: “be-passive”
Many cars were stolen last year.
The file was deleted from the computer.
Isolated FFI
Integrated FFI
12 hours
Same amount of time
on form and meaningbased practice
All activities:
◦ Attention to meaning first
then attention to form
woven into the meaningbased activities
12 hours
Same amount of time
on form and meaningbased practice
Form activities:
◦ Attention to form only
Meaning activities:
◦ Attention to meaning
Error Correction Task
Laws are making by the government.
Laws are making by the government.
Oral Production Task
The package was sent to the wrong address.
It was returned to the post office.
Both groups significantly improved
over time on the passive form:
◦ Error correction task
◦ Oral production task
Interpretation: As long as learners
receive a combination of form and
meaning-based practice, differences
in the timing of attention to form may
be less important
 Learners
in the Isolated FFI
classes performed better on the
 Learners in the Integrated FFI
classes performed better on the
Learners’ level of proficiency
e.g. difficult for low proficient learners to
focus on form and meaning at the same time.
Thus, Isolated FFI might be best for this
group of learners.
Type of language feature
e.g. some language forms are easier to elicit
in communicative activities than others. This
might be a good reason for selecting those
features for Integrated FFI.
L1 background of learners
e.g. L2 structures that learners experience
difficulty with because of L1 influence may be
more salient (i.e. noticeable) if they are
provided via Isolated FFI.
Learner preferences for instruction
e.g. Some learners may have a preference to
focus their attention on form either
separately from or embedded within
communicative practice.
L2 instruction that focuses primarily on
meaning but not to the exclusion of
attention to form is most effective for L2
◦ How attention to form is best provided?
◦ When attention to form is best provided?
◦ How do specific language features and
learner characteristics interact with how and
when attention to form is best provided?
Spada, N. (2011). Beyond form-focused instruction: Reflections on
past, present and future research. Language Teaching. 44, 225-236.
Spada, N. (2006). Communicative language teaching: Current status
and future prospects. In J. Cummins & C. Davis (Eds.), Kluwer
handbook of English language teaching. Amsterdam: Kluwer
Spada, N. (1997). Form-focussed instruction and second language
acquisition: A review of classroom and laboratory research. [State of
the Art Article] Language Teaching, 30(2)
Spada, N., & Tomita, Y. (2010). Interactions between type of
instruction and type of language feature: A meta-analysis. Language
Learning, 60(2), 1-46.
Spada, N. & Lightbown, P.M. (2008). Form-focused instruction:
Isolated or Integrated? TESOL Quarterly, 42, 181-207.
Spada, N., Jessop, L., Suzuki, W., Tomita, Y. & Valeo (in press).
Isolated and integrated form-focused instruction: Effects on
different types of L2 knowledge. To appear in Language Teaching

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