Investigating the empirical link between task-based interaction and acquisition

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There are three main parts of this essay. The first part explains the basic idea or summary of the chapter, titled as “Investigating the empirical link between task based interaction and acquisition” (chapter 3 from the edited volume of Norris and Ortega 2006). The second part of the chapter relates to, the analysis of some primary studies, used in the above chapter or experimental studies analyzed and discussed in the chapter. The third part of this essay explains task-based interaction (theory discussed in the chapter) and the practical implication of Task based interaction for non-native language learners.

Summary of the Chapter

While some investigations illustrate that, task based interactions can facilitate acquisition of some linguistic characteristics, other ones support no such relationship. This chapter explains the primary collection of work on investigating the link between task-based interaction and second language acquisition.

Long (1980), for the first time introduced, interaction hypothesis, by explaining the view that interaction between N S (Native speaker) and N N S (Non Native speaker) can be useful from various aspects. Early research indicated three aspects in which interaction can he helpful. Firstly, interaction provides opportunities to negotiate for comprehension, which enhances learners input, (Doughty & Pica 1986; Gass & Varonis 1985; Long 1983; Pica 1988; Pica and Doughty 1985).

Secondly, it helps learner to estimate the gap between their native language and target language (Schmidt 1990).

As mentioned above that, interaction helps in making input comprehensible. This argument was further supported by two major Studies by (Gas and Veronis 1994; Picca, young and Doughty 1987), they concluded that interactionally modified input (input in which learner are allowed to negotiate for comprehension) facilitate learners in comparison with pre modified input (input given in simplified way). Long (1983) suggested that there could be at least “indirect casual relationship” between interaction and acquisition. Investigation from Pica (1993) concluded that, two types of Tasks were highly effective, jigsaw and information gap, because it involves all the learners to interact.

Studies conducted by (Ellis, Tanaka and Yamazaki 1995), (Mackey 1995), (Pica 1992), (Gas and Veronis 1994), (Young and Doughty 1987) thoroughly analyzed the relationship between interaction and second language acquisition. The results of their studies were quite satisfactory in assuming the existence of empirical link between task-based interaction and second language.

This chapter thoroughly observed 14 relevant experimental studies based on input interaction. All the studies were selected from almost 100 identified studies during literature search.The basic factors considered for the selection of these studies were time of studies (1980-2003), age of participant in studies (15-44), studies containing effective

Communication task and studies which contained tasks that foster acquisition of specific grammatical and lexical features. Total number of studies analyzed were, (n =14), out of which, (n =7) studies were of English language, (n =4) studies were of Spanish language and (n =3) studies were of Japanese language. Majority of learning, (71%) took place in university context. After analysing the above studies thoroughly, It was concluded that empirical link do exist between task based interaction and acquisition, further research in this field was also recommended at the end of the chapter.

This is a good chapter, because it adds a lot to knowledge in applied linguistics. The contents in this chapter are the basic answers to empirical questions about second language learning and teaching while pinpointing question for future research (Brown, 2002).

“Overall, the authors have managed to collocate a very well structures chapter on a topic important to further discipline of applied linguistics” Ute Knoch, University of Auckland, New Zealand, on Linguist List 17.3578, 2006.


Interactionist theorist considers language learning as a prominent aspect of discourse or language is learned through discourse. The study of conversational interaction and its relation to second language acquisition has been central to researchers. Since 1980, a lot of research has been carried out in order to

explore the existence of phenomenal bond between task based interaction and second language acquisition (Gass; Mackey and Pica: 1998). Interaction hypothesis is derived from (Hatch: 1978), on the importance of conversation for the development of grammar. Long in 1980 revealed the importance of interaction in his famous hypothesis called “interaction hypothesis”. Since then many researchers have tried to explore the connection between interaction and second language acquisition.Interaction hypothesis in based on two major claims,

  1. Comprehensible input is necessary for second language acquisition.
  2. Negotiation in communication brought modification in the structure of interaction, which helps in making input comprehensible.

Rod Ellis (1999:3) explained interaction as, “the impersonal activity that arises during face to face communication”. Interaction plays an important role in language acquisition. It facilitates learner, to comprehend linguistic features of a language and provides learners to take the considerable amount of input according to their need (Long 1996). In terms of input, as argued by (Kreshan: 1985) that, comprehensible input plays an important role in second language acquisition. However (Gass: Meckey and Picca 1998) reported that (Long 1985) himself pointed out that comprehensible input, in itself, was necessary but not sufficient to promote the acquisition process.

Similarly, (Swain 1985), claims that, through the resulting interaction, learners have opportunities to understand and use the language that was not understandable (comprehensible output). Additionally, they may receive more or different input and have more opportunities for output.

Since in early 1980 and later on in 1996 Long`s explanation of “interaction hypothesis”, claimed that, common connection between acquisition and interaction is widely accepted (Gass, Mackey and Picca 1998). Similarly, (Gass 1997) examines the relationship of mechanism between communication and acquisition. As was proposed by (Long 1996:414),

“It is proposed that environmental contributions to acquisition are meditated byselective attention and the learners developing L2 processing capacity, and that these resources are brought together most usefully, although not exclusively, during negotiation for meaning”.

It indicates that Long`s mainly emphasis is on interactional input (input that is derived and comprehend through interaction). Long clarified that conversation between more competent learner (native speakers) and less competent learner (non native speakers). The interaction which takes place between less competent and more competent involves clarification for meaning, confirmation of message meaning and comprehension checks.

Pica (1994) strengthened the importance of interaction hypothesis, by elaborating the importance of “negotiated input” in three principle ways. First importance of negotiated input is that, it helps learner to receive comprehensible input, which takes place through modification of speech. Learner's process

input easilywhen breakdown in negotiation takes place. Secondly Pica suggested that, during negotiation between less competent speaker (N N Ss) and more competent speaker (N Ss), direct feedback to less competent speaker is provided. Lastly Pica argued that negotiation help learners to modify their own output, in case of any break down during negotiation process.

On the contrary, experiment conducted by (Gass & Varonis; 1994) with the help of 16 learners derived the results that sometimes negotiation for meaning does not help N Ss to comprehend N N Ss. Task based interaction has an everlasting implication on language learning. It provides learner with input according to their need. Learners interact and simplify meaning for them with the help of negotiation for better comprehension. Comprehension depends upon the strategy adopted by N N Ss in order to accomplish the target of negotiation.

Since, in Task based interaction, mainly the interaction takes place through a “life like” task, so task seems to be central here. Similarly Bygate ; Skehan and Swain (2001) explains task as

“A task is an activity which requires learners to use language,

with emphasis on meaning, to attain an objective”.

Researchers have explored two major questions in order to identify the effectiveness of tasks.

  1. The affect of task on language comprehension.
  2. The effect of task on language acquisition.

Starting with the study conducted by, (Mackey 1999), which is based on the investigation of two questions. The first question considered, in this study

was; whether interaction is directly related to acquisition? The second question was about the nature of conversation and level of involvement in conversation. There exists a direct relation between learning and active participation of learners in various tasks, the claim made by (Mackey 1999). Learners' passive participation in interaction makes them unable to achieve proficiency in second language as compare to learner who participated actively. These two questions were analyzed deeply in this study. Tasks used in this analysis were based on a specific criterion, that is

  1. Task required major and active participation were used.
  2. Task provides contexts for the targeted structures to occur.

The interactional task were mainly, “story completion”, “picture sequencing”, “picture drawing” and “spotting out picture differences”. These tasks were designed with the help of six, native speakers. Native speakers were trained in the use of “pre test” and “post test” material. The results clearly confirmed the prediction that; active participation did facilitate development of second language. The reason was that of the validity of the above tasks used in interaction, which confirmed considerable development in language learning. The task based interaction seemed to have high influence in second language acquisition.

Similarly, the study of (Garcia and Asencion: 2001) analyzed two groups of students, comprised of 39 participants. This study reports, the relationship between group interactions and inter language development. Specifically, its relation to listening comprehension and the grammar forms

production in target language. First the learners took notes on a mini lecture and then completed a text reconstruction and listening comprehension test. The two experimental groups were made as 18 and 21. The first group, (experimental group n=18) interactively shared notes for five minutes in small groups while the second one, (control group n= 21), did not interact, although students were allowed to study their notes for five minutes. While analyzing the result, experimental group scored clearly higher than control group on the listening comprehension task. There was significant difference between two groups in terms of interaction, amount and types of L2 words used in joint construction of knowledge. This study shows that interaction may have an effect on listening comprehension.

Input was considered to be of two types; pre modified input and interactionally modified input as is considered in following two studies.

Study by (Mackey & Plilp 1998) examines the effect of negotiated input on the production and development of question forms in English as a second language. The study was based on (Long 1996), claim in updated version of Interaction hypothesis regarding negative feedback. Long suggested that explicit negative feedback, which occurs through interaction, may be one way through which interaction can have positive effect. The study explored the link between short term language development and recast in language conversation. The total number of participants in this study were (n=35), along with (n=5) native speakers. The participants were from beginner and intermediate level selected

from intensive English language classes. The native speakers were trained to carry out “role play” and were provided with reading, writing instruction in terms of different tasks. The study was successful in terms of its assumption. It was derived that recast really help in production of developmentally advance structures.

Comprehension seems, to be one of the important factors in interaction. Learners without comprehension cannot proceeds with the interaction. Two different kinds of linguistics environment are suggested by (Pica; young and Doughty: 1987). Firstly, the input that has been modified or simplified, simplification may involve, repetition, restriction of common vocabulary or vocabulary with common or familiar items and so on. Secondly, making conducive environment, or environment in which ample of opportunities for interaction between N Ss and N N Ss are appreciated. In such type of interaction both N Ss and N N Ss modify and restructure their interaction and derive meaning based on mutual understanding.

The study reported by (Pica; Young and Doughty: 1987), included a type of task (listen to do task) in which learners performed various actions on the basis of comprehension. This task provided students with close understanding, and new linguistic features can be easily adjusted with this task. The N N Ss were supposed, to listen to native speakers and perform the action accordingly. The native speakers gave description of everything and N N Ss performed the action as directed by N Ss. The main action was the placement of specific items on a small board. This task measured the level of comprehension,

by number of items, which non native speakers selected and placed correctly. Two groups were made and first group was provided with pre modified input (the NS was giving them directions and interaction or communication was not allowed in this task). The second group were placed under condition two. They performed the same task but were allowed to interact or communicate in case of any discrepancy in comprehension. Through interaction, they seek verbal assistance from the N Ss, whenever they felt any difficulty during the placement of items on the board. Results of this study provided empirical evidence for the fact that, interaction for negotiation of message between N S and N N S plays an important role in comprehension. The results clearly indicated that interactionally adjusted input surpassed pre modified input (88% vs 69%). The reason is that, it involves interaction in form of communication in accordance to mutual understanding between N S and N N S.

Listen to do tasks are very helpful in providing opportunities for comprehension and learning, Ellis (2003). Similarly the experimental analysis of Ellis, Tanaka, and Yamazaki (1994) has employed the same technique and supported that, interaction facilitates acquisition of certain grammatical and lexical features. The major investigation in this study was that of, the differential effects of “pre modified input”, “interactionally modified input” and “baseline input” on task performance. In this study multi factorial design and two dependent variables, that is, (listening comprehension and vocabulary acquisition) and two independent variables, that is, (pre modified input and negotiated input) were employed.Results derived from this study clearly

indicated that task based interaction facilitates acquisition of specific grammatical features.

“The only published study to test the effect of negotiated interaction on comprehension is by Pica et al 1987)”. A listening task was assigned to two groups of non native speakers: in one group the non-native speakers negotiated interaction with their native-speakers interlocutors; in the other group, non-native speakers could only listen.

Non-native speakers in the interaction condition scored significantly higher on the listening task, thus supporting the claim that adjustments, in the form of negotiated interaction facilitate comprehension. However the study of (Pica et al 1987) seems to provide mixed support between interaction and acquisition. An advantage seems to dominate pre- modified input on negotiated interaction (Loschky 1994).

The study done by (Loschky 1994) is based on, Longs suggestion, about the need of “clear and direct test” of the adjustment to interaction hypothesis. This study based on, or is the amalgamated version of two major hypothesis, the first one is the famous input hypothesis ( i + 1) by (Kreshan 1985) and second one is related to Longs' interaction hypothesis. Three important questions were observed, with the help of (n=41) beginning level learners of Japanese as a foreign Language. The important points analyzed in this study were; what does exactly facilitate second language comprehension?

  1. Negotiated interaction or non interaction (pre modified input)?
  2. Pre modified input or unmodified input/ interaction?
  3. If the number of comprehension (comprehensible input) is greater, does it indicate that the number of acquisition will be greater?

Grammatical features were analysed through the help of a thorough study. Acquisition target was made of Japanese vocabulary items and some sentence structure, that is, (double noun locative sentence structures with post positional particles). With the help of pre test the existent level of the learners were concluded, in the same way post test derived the degree of change in there learning. After a number of experimental studies results were derived. The experimental results derived from this experiment strengthened the research results derived by (Pica et al 1987) and (Gass and Varonis 1994). Results indicated that, the level of comprehension in “negotiated interaction group” was highest in comparison with the other two groups (“Baseline input group” and “Pre modified input group”). The results also suggested that; “there is no correlation between differences in moment to moment comprehension and gains in vocabulary recognition & acquisition of structures”. On the basis of this experimental study Loschky (1994), suggested

that task based interaction does not facilitate grammatical features in language.

Output hypothesis claims that "sometimes, under some conditions, output facilitates second language learning in ways that are different form, or enhance, those of input" (Swain and Lapkin, 1995, p. 371). During the interaction between native and non native speaker, “speakers made their inter

language utterances comprehensible when the native speaker indicated difficulty in understanding them” (Pica 1988). Apart from the importance of comprehensible input it is presumed that “comprehensible input” is not sufficient for second language acquisition, but that opportunities for the N N Sto achieve more target like output is also necessary (Swain, 1985). During interaction native speakers ask for confirmation, clarification and repetition of non comprehensible linguistic features. These practices during interaction compel non native speakers to modify their output, in order to make it comprehensible for native speaker. Swain called such kind of output as “pushed output”.

The experimental analysis of (Pica 1988)investigated, Swains` claim, labelled as “comprehensible output”. Interaction between a native speaker and ten non native speakers of English were examined, in order to derive, that how the non native speakers made their language or utterances understandable, when the native speaker express his or her inability to comprehend non native speaker message. The basic concern of this investigation is: whether non native speakers would simply repeat or modify the produced utterances on request of Native speakers. In this investigation, there was less of evidence to confirm the possibility of Swain` claim. Out of 87 potential instances of comprehensible output in which native speakers requested confirmation, clarification, or repetition of the non native speakers utterance only 44 cases were found in which the non-native speaker modified his or her output and only 13,

grammatical modification were involved. Pica 1988 expressed that non native speakers are not that much rich in conversational context of target language to apply native like modification in their speech. On other hand it was derived that native speakers modify the produced output in order to clarify the meaning for non native speakers.

Similarly, (Pica, Holliday, Lewis, and Morgenhaller 1989), in another study, observed the same phenomenon of comprehensible output. Activities designed in this study highly required interaction, that is, native and non native speaker interaction. The results derived by this study were same as of previous one. Non native speaker produced “comprehensible output” only in response to six percent of the native speaker utterances.

It can be concluded from the above discussion that there is a direct relation between task based interaction and second language acquisition. Researchers such as Pica (1994) etc, have investigated interaction and acquisition link quite thoroughly. They concluded this phenomenon by studying and investing learners of different educational background. They successfully derive the result that there exist a link between interaction and second language acquisition.

Presents implications for non native English language teaching methodology.

As mentioned earlier in the above part, that “Interaction hypothesis is based on two important assumptions. Firstly, (Kreshan 1980) “input hypothesis” which

states that, subconscious process of acquisition is possible, when learners are focused on meaning and they obtain “comprehensible input”. Secondly, Hatch (1977) approach of “Discourse analysis”, which is about naturalistic discourse, or interaction between native child and adult learner. The importance of interaction in language learning can be exempted from the claim made by Allwright (1984). He stated that, face to face interaction in class room is the “fundamental fact of pedagogy”, and further strengthened his claim by adding, that, “Everything that happens in the class room happens through face to face interaction”. Tasks are the primary instructional tools used in classroom room for interaction (Dave and Jane Wiilis 2007). Task as defined by Ellis (2003), involves any four skills of the language activities. Altogether, Receptive (listening and reading) and Productive (speaking and writing) activities should be involved in tasks.

Interaction in language classroom is very important and challenging from various perspectives. It indirectly and somehow directly involves teacher in most of the activities. In order to maintain conversation in class students, teacher should put a lot of efforts in arousing the interest of students (Dave and Jane Wiilis 2007). Linguistic resources are the basic thing which learners lack at the initial stages while learning language, in such situation maintaining conversation is very effortful on the part of teacher (Ellis 2003).

Teachers` role in task based language teaching is the same as of a director. The two types of approach, that is, “focus on meaning” and “focus on

form” are equally important in language teaching. One is related to the correct structure in language, while the other one is related with the meaning of the uttered sentences. Since task based interaction is basically linked communication, it major focus should be on meaning. Interrupting communication disturbs the natural flow of learners.

Various tasks are recommended by many researchers in order to make learning affective in classroom. Dave and Jane (2007) argued that Prediction tasks (predicting future situation in story or picture) are important in order to help learners anticipate about an event with the help of previously learned vocabulary.

Pica (1994) emphasized on all those tasks for language learners, which are highly effective in terms of participation, that is, Jigsaw and information gap. Similarly Pica and Doughty (1986) favored the idea of information gap.

Negotiation of meaning plays an important role; student should be encouraged to negotiate for meaning where they feel any difficulty in comprehension. This phenomenon was observed by the study of (Mackey & Plilp 1998). Negotiation of meaning occurs where most particular information is required for comprehension, or the learners feel the need of understanding the situation correctly. Rost and Ross (1991) suggested three types of strategies for classroom interaction, that is, “Global questioning”, “Local questioning” and “Inferential strategies”, for clarification of meaning.

Communicative competence is based on Yule (1996) which deals with the learner`s performance. It stated that Learners perform well, when they

understand the task. It should me mainly the responsibility of teacher to assist student understanding task about their performance. Wright (1987) emphasized on two basic things which should be included in task, “Instructional questions” and “input data”. Communicative language teaching is a teaching methodology which basically aimed for the purpose of communication. Howatt (1984: 279) emphasis on the implication of communicative approach by arguing that

“language is acquired through communication. Freeman (1986: 123) explains that “when we communicate, we use the language to accomplish some functions, such as arguing, persuading, or promising. Moreover we carry out these functions within a social context. Freeman (1986; 125) explains the experience of students within the context of communicative approach. Task like storytelling, songs, dramatization, role play, picture description, story narrating, games etc, were included in classroom in order to indulge learners in communication. As was suggested by Long (1994) “Life like” activities are prominently the part of communicative language teaching.