Today, it is generally accepted that target grammatical form of L2 (second language) must be noticed to make acquisition happens and that SLA (second language acquisition) instruction must be integrated into language teaching by which the grammatical forms are presented to learners in meaningful context.
IE (Input Enhancement), coined by Sharwood Smith (1991), is a deliberate manipulation to make specific grammatical features of L2 more salient. First of foremost, this technique underscores the fundamental role of input in language teaching. Likewise, the purpose of IE is to draw learners’ attention to target linguistic form in L2 input.
According to Sharwood Smith (1991), learners could be led to noticing target form in two ways: Input Flood (IF) and Textual Enhancement (TE). Through IF, Sharwood Smith (1991) demonstrated the basic idea that the more frequent the exemplars of the target form appear in the input, the more likely the learners will notice the form. In other words, IF manipulates input by saturating L2 linguistic data with target form to draw learners’ attention.
On the other hand, TE is a technique of manipulating the typographical features of a written text to increase the perceptual salience of target grammatical form. The typographical cues such as changing the font style, enlarging the character size, underlining, bolding, capitalizing, and highlighting with colours could be used.
However, the question underpins the concept of IE is: Is it sufficient by exposing L2 manipulated input to learners? This question leads to further investigation as learners might not necessary parse the linguistic structure or make form-meaning connection. Therefore, a more specific question emerges: How effective is IE?
Based on above discussion, this essay will argue that IE plays facilitative role in L2 learning. The purpose of this essay is to depict what aspects of IE could be fruitfully applied to design a language teaching activity. Review on the key empirical studies of IE will be presented in this essay. Throughout, advantages and limitations of IE will be identified within theoretical frameworks which underpin the stance. Then, we will describe how to overcome the shortfalls of IE by integrating IE with other interventions into classroom language teaching. Finally, IE implications and limitation on language teaching will be reiterated as conclusion.
Before discussing the findings and implication of IE, we will first examine several
input and noticing issues in SLA field.
Input and Noticing Issues in SLA Research
Wong (2005) defines of input as “samples of language that learners are exposed to in a communicative context or setting” (Wong, 2005:119). At the same time, VanPatten (2003) describes input as “the language that a learner hears (or reads) that has some kind of communicative intent” (VanPatten, 2003: 25). It is clearly to note that both definitions emphasise the terms of “communicative”. As claimed by VanPatten (2003), learners play communicative role to extract the meaning encoded in the meaning-bearing utterance or sentence. Through these interpretations, we could come to a understanding that L2 learning process engages learners as active participants in a communicative language classroom when they are exposed to L2 input.
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Despite of communicative value of input, it is generally agreed that input is prerequisite for L2 acquisition. However, there is a need to explore whether manipulation is essential to mediate input into intake. Perceivably, the distinction between input and intake has been drawn in SLA literature. For example, Sharwood Smith (1993) defines input as “the potentially processable language data which are made available by chance or by design, to the language learner” whereas intake as “that part of input that has actually been processed …and turned to knowledge of some kind” (pp.167). This interpretation leads to ongoing debate about the role of consciousness and unconsciousness mechanism in learning process. Despite extensive research, it still remains controversial as to what type of cognitive mechanism is necessary for acquisition to occur (Svalberg, 2007: 289).
Firstly, Krashen (1982) draws a distinction between “learning” and “acquisition”. Learning is the result of conscious process whereas acquisition is the product of subconscious process. According to Krashen’s (1982) strong Input Hypothesis, acquisition takes place when learners are exposed to comprehensible input which is a step more advanced than their current proficiency level. This perception not only implies that input is prerequisite for acquisition process, subconscious process also plays superior role compared to conscious process. In such a case, grammar instruction plays no role in L2 acquisition (Krashen, 1982).
Comprehensible Input Hypothesis has thus provokes considerable debate in SLA domain. Among the researchers, Schmidt (1990), contrary to Krashen’s (1982) hypothesis, postulates that conscious awareness is crucial and necessary for L2 acquisition (p.27). According to Schmidt (1995: 20), only input noticed by learners will be mediated into intake. In contrast, disagree with Schmidt’s (1990) strong Noticing Hypothesis, Tomlin & Villa (1994) posit that unconscious detection is the key process whereas conscious awareness only play facilitative role in L2 learning.
Schmidt (1990) outlines six factors influencing noticing when learners process the input, including perceptual saliency of input, frequency of input, instruction, task demands, readiness of learner and processing capacity of learner. During the ongoing debates between the two positions, Sharwood Smith (1993) proposes IE techniques which are linked to Schmidt’s Noticing Hypothesis. IE techniques emphasise on the qualities of input, namely TE (related to input saliency) and IF (related to input frequency). Hereby, we could claim that the rationale for Sharwood Smith’s (1993) IE is driven by Schmidt’s (1990, 1995) Noticing Hypothesis. That is, Noticing Hypothesis is the theoretical basis for IE.
From this point, the debate has indubitably shifted away from general question of “Is noticing necessary?” to more specific questions of “How noticing influence the learning outcome?” and “How intervention facilitate constrained grammar acquisition process?” However, before we claim that IE is efficacy to facilitate L2 acquisition, we need to examine major empirical evidences in SLA research to justify our view on Sharwood Smith’s notion.
Empirical Evidence of IE
As mentioned before, the underpinning theoretical framework for IE is Schmidt’s (1990, 1995) Noticing Hypothesis. Although Noticing Hypothesis remains controversial, linguists’ (e.g. Alanen, 1995; Lee, 2002; Shook, 1994; White, 1998; Wong, 2001) has accumulated evidence over the last decade due to its important role in shedding light on how salient input can contribute to the acquisition of L2 target form.
In this section, we will discuss the advantages and limitations of IE by reviewing empirical SLA studies on IF and TE. Various perspective of effectiveness such as degree of noticing, intake of forms, accurate production of forms and content comprehension will be examined along the discussion.
Empirical Evidence: Input Flood has positive effects
Lee (2002) investigated the effects of input frequency on the incidental acquisition of Spanish future tense morphology. The subjects were 283 university students with different L1 backgrounds. The frequency of target form appeared in the input passages were 6, 10 and 16 exposures. In immediate post-test, he found frequency has positive effects on the comprehension and intake. In both immediate and delayed post-tests, 16F group outperformed 10F and 6F group significantly.
White (1998) investigated the comparison effects of IF and TE on the acquisition of English possessive determiners (PD). 86 French children were divided into 3 treatment groups: textual enhanced input flood (IF-TE group), textual enhanced input flood plus extensive reading and listening (IF-TE+ group) and input flood without enhancement (IF group). In oral picture description task, all subjects experienced improvement. For the frequency of grammatical use, IF-TE+ significantly outperformed the IF-TE and IF group. However, there is no significant difference between IF-TE group and IF group.
Empirical Evidence: Input flood has limited effects
Trahey & White (1993) investigated the effects of IF (positive evidence) on the acquisition of English adverb placement. Subjects were divided into 3 groups: IF group was given flooded positive evidence; IF-EI (A) group received flooded positive evidence and explicit instruction; IF-EI (Q) group received explicit instruction on question formation. They found IF group and IF-EI (A) group performed significantly better than IF-EI (Q) group on using correct word order. However, the results also revealed that IF group and IF-EI (Q) group used incorrect word order more than the IF-EI (A) group.
Williams & Evans (1998) examined the effects of IF (positive evidence) and explicit
instruction on two English target forms: participial adjectives and the passive construction. The university students were divided into 3 groups: IF group received IF with no explicit instruction; IF-EI group received IF and explicit instruction on the forms, rules instruction and corrective feedback; and control group. For the participial adjective, both IF and IF-EI groups showed improvement. However, IF-EI group had significant higher score than IF group. This suggested that explicit instruction had greater effects than IF on this form. For the passive construction, both IF-EI and IF groups made greater improvement than the control group. However, there was no significant difference between IF-EI and IF groups. This suggested that explicit instruction has no greater effect than IF on this target form.
Advantages of Input Flood
Firstly, Sharwood Smith (1993, 2006) claims that the main purpose of IE is to enforce noticing. Studies show that IF increases learners’ attention on target forms without any explicit guidance. This incidental-driven technique provides linguistic materials that are essential for learning problem solution (Doughty & William, 1998: 236). This statement is validated by Lee’s (2002) and White’s (1998) study. The findings supports the basic idea of IF that the more exemplars in a flood the better.
Secondly, IF enhances content comprehension. The major advantage of IF is that it provides a lot of meaning-bearing input (Wong 2005: 42). With the availability of meaning-bearing input, learners are provided opportunities to capture the meaning embedded in words, syntax or morphology. In both immediate and delayed post-test, Lee (2002) found that input frequency has significant positive effects on the comprehension. Thus it could be noticed that through the exemplar-based and implicit learning method, learners could perform form-meaning connection and manage to penetrate the meaning of the message.
Thirdly, IF fosters the intake of the target form. Lee’s (2002) study reported 16F group outperformed 10F and 6F group significantly in post-test. For recall task, 16F and 10F groups performed significantly better than 6F group. Results of oral picture description task in White’s (1998) study also revealed that all subjects experienced improvement in the use of English PD. However, there was no significant difference between IF-TE group and IF group, indicating that IF alone was sufficient to bring improvement whereas TE played no significant role on the correct use of the target form.
Limitation of Input Flood
First of all, studies reported that IF is a volatile technique. Findings from Williams & Evans (1998) study suggested that forms did not behaviour uniformly in IF technique. Different form types can weaken or strengthen the effect of IF through their mutual interaction, as well as the interaction with other variables such as task requirement, individual differences, content complexity, and pragmatic information in the context (Han, Park & Combs, 2008). Thus further investigation on how to eliminate or reduce the effect of the variables when using IF is worthwhile.
Secondly, IF does not provide negative evidence. Trahey & White’s (1993) study revealed the limitation of IF that the flood was not effective in helping learners to be aware of impossible positions or incorrect grammar (Wong, 2005) and explicit instruction such as negative evidence might be necessary.
This situation was also demonstrated in White (1998) study, as subjects’ frequency use of English PD was increased by TE, but both IF and TE did not have help learners to use the grammatical form correctly. That is, no significant difference was found for the accuracy ratio between IF group, IF-TE group and IF-TE plus extensive reading and listening group. However, when measuring the frequency of grammatical use, IF-TE plus extensive reading and listening group significantly outperformed the IF-TE and IF group. These findings suggest that comprehensible input might be more effective than IE in the acquisition of English PD agreement rules. Again, this issue still remains controversial and is worth further investigation as Krashen’s Comprehensible Input Hypothesis is refuted by mostly SLA researchers.
Nevertheless, this phenomenon might be explained by the statement that comprehension precedes production (Lightbown et al, 2002; Krashen, 1982). Wong (2005: 94) cautions that acquisition is slow and complex hence we could not expect learners to use target form correctly immediately after IE treatment.
Thirdly, Input Flood is an implicit technique where no effort is done to direct learners to the embedded forms in the input (Wong, 2005). White’s (1998) study reported that a third of learners were confused about the purpose of the textual enhancement. The textually enhanced input failed to help the learners to figure out the English PD agreement rule.
As seen from empirical evidence, IF is an easy-to-use technique. It could be modified and incorporated easily in the classrooms to emphasize specific target form (Cowan, 2008). However, IF imposes some limitations on language teaching pedagogy which is not as effective as other focus-on-form activities. The discussion of how to apply this technique in language teaching will be demonstrated in next section of this essay.
Like IF, SLA studies on TE also report mixed results. Researchers found that TE has positive effects, has partial effects, and has no effect on L2 acquisition of grammatical features. While Leow (2001) and Leow at al. (2003) have only manipulated the input by TE as an independent variable, the other studies investigated effects of TE in the combination with other intervention.
Empirical Evidence: Textual enhancement has positive effects
Studies conducted by Jourdenais et al. (1995), Shook (1994), Wong (2001) revealed that TE had not only helps learners to notice the target forms in input, but it is also very effective for enhancing learners’ intake new grammatical forms.
Shook (1994) investigated the effects of TE on Spanish present perfect tense and relative pronouns (quen/quein). The subjects were 125 university students. The results revealed that the two experimental groups who received the passages with TE performed significantly better than the control group in all tests. However, there was no significant difference between TE group and TE plus focus on form group, revealing that focus on form information played no role in L2 acquisition.
Jourdenais et al.’s (1995) investigated the effects of TE on the acquisition of Spanish preterite and imperfect past tense forms. Both enhanced and unenhanced versions came with pictures depicting the events of the story. Think-aloud protocols and a picture-based written narration task were used to collect data. Results indicated that TE increased noticing of target L2 form and had a significant positive effect on learners’ output.
Empirical Evidence: Textual enhancement has limited effects
Alanen (1995) examined the effects of TE and explicit information on the acquisition of semi-artificial Finnish locative suffixes and consonant changes. 36 English subjects were divided into 4 groups: unenhanced passages (UE group), unenhanced passages plus explicit information (UE-EI group), enhanced passages (TE group) and enhanced passages plus explicit information (TE-EI group). On the sentence completion test, TE group performed better than UE group. However, Alanen (1995) found that both EI groups performed significantly better than non-EI groups on both target forms. The result, contradict with Shook’s (1994) study, indicated that explicit grammar instruction had greater positive impact than TE.
Results from White’s (1998) study, discussed in the previous section of IF, revealed that TE increased the grammatical use of possessive determiners. However, its impact was not as significant as IF which brought greater improvement. White (1998) concluded that “benefits resulting from the experimental treatment conditions were due to increased exposure through IF of target forms and not to any other kinds of enhancement” (White, 1998: 103). This claim means IF is the only effective tool to enhance L2 acquisition in her study is.
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Izumi (2002) investigated the comparative effects of TE and output on the acquisition of English relative clause. Subjects were 61 adults with different L1 backgrounds. Explicit information was given to the subjects to attend to the highlighted form. The results found that output-input task brought measurable gains in target form acquisition. Those who received TE treatment failed to show significant gains in acquisition.
Wong (2001) examined the effects of TE, simplified input and exposure to reading on the acquisition of French gender agreement of past participles. 81 English university learners were respectively exposed to four conditions: enhanced and simplified passages (TE-S group), enhanced and unsimplified passages (TE-US group), unenhanced and simplified passages (UE-S group), and unenhanced and unsimplified passages (UE-US group). It is found that TE and simplification had no significant effects on the intake of the target forms. However, TE had significant positive effects on the content comprehension.
Empirical Evidence: Textual Enhancement has no (or negative) effects
In Leow’s (1997) study the effects of textual length and TE were examined. 84 college learners were divided into 4 groups and were accordingly given an unenhanced long passage, an unenhanced short passage, an enhanced long passage and an enhanced short passage. Results revealed that TE has no effects on either comprehension or intake of the targeted form. Shorter text length improved comprehension but not the intake.
Overstreet (1998) replicated Jourdenais et al.’s (1995) study and found negative effects of TE. He combined two factors, namely TE (bolded, underlined, increased font size, different font types and shadowed) and topic familiarity on the acquisition of Spanish preterite and imperfect past tense forms. 50 university learners were given one story each, either enhanced or unenhanced. Neither factor significantly affected learners’ intake. Moreover, Overstreet (1998) found that TE negatively affected comprehension, mainly due to numerous types of enhancements (Lee & Benati, 2007: 25).
Leow (2001), after a few years of his study in 1997, conducted another study to investigate effect of TE on the acquisition and comprehension of Spanish formal imperative. He did not apply other invention but only TE in this study. The results once again revealed TE has no effects on intake and comprehension.
Leow et al. (2003) examined the effects of TE on the acquisition of Spanish present perfect tense and present subjunctive mood. 72 university learners were divided into two groups. One group was given 2 enhanced passages and another group was given 2 unenhanced passages. Results showed that although subjects noticed the target forms when reading, TE did not enhance the intake of the target forms.
S.Lee (2007), similar to Overstreet’s (1998) study, examined the effects of TE (±TE) and topic familiarity (±F) on English passive construction. 259 Korean subjects were divided to 4 groups: +E/+F group, -E/-F group, -E/+F group and +E/âˆ’F group. The results revealed that TE was beneficial for the intake of target form, but interestingly, negatively affected the comprehension.
Advantages and Limitations of TE
Some of above studies demonstrated that TE has significant impact on SLA, either in positive or negative ways.
First of all, TE increases noticing. This technique offers more salient target form in written input that learners may easily miss (Wong, 2005: 49). Jourdenais et al. (1995) stated that “typographical modification can be used as an effective technique for enhancing salience of language features” (Jourdenais et al., 1995: 208). As evidence, both Leow et al. (2003) and Jourdenais et al. (1995) used think aloud protocols and reported that subjects noticed the typographically enhanced target forms when reading.
Second, TE is effective to enhance intake of forms. For example, Alanen (1995)’s study reported that TE group performed better than UE group in sentence completion test. This indicates the positive role of TE on the acquisition of L2 grammar. Jourdenais et al. (1995) also reported that TE had a significant effect on learners’ output.
By contrast, TE failed to demonstrate positive impact on learners’ comprehension and intake in Leow’s (1997, 2001) and Overstreet’s (1998) studies. These studies demonstrated that “implicit noticing” is not as effective as “explicit instruction” and that, “clearly, learners needed more help than the input provided” (White, 1998: 102).
Also, although subjects in both Leow et al.’s (2003) and Jourdenais et al.’s (1995) studies noticed the enhanced target forms, they performed differently in production. Jourdenais et al. (1995) found positive effect of TE on the intake of the target forms whereas Leow et al. (2003) reported that TE did not enhance the intake of the target forms.
In addition, Izumi (2002) found that subjects who received TE treatment failed to show significant gains in acquisition, despite the positive impact on the noticing of the target form. More interestingly, output played significant role in his study.
These findings are contradicted to Ellis (1997) claim that TE is effective to induce learners “to undertake a kind of form function analysis of the structure, as this is exemplified in input that has been specially contrived to illustrate it” (Ellis, 1997: 87). Therefore Polio (2007) states that Sharwood Smith’s focus was “what had been done to the input”, rather than “what happened in learner’s mind” (Polio, 2007, cited in Gass & Selinker, 2008: 388).
However, this notion is inaccurate that Sharwood Smith (1991, 1993) has alerted that we should not rely solely on TE to increase learners’ attention. Noticing triggered artificially by TE might not result in intake. “Although learners may notice the signals, the input may nevertheless be non-salient to their learning mechanism” (Sharwood Smith, 1991: 21). As Ellis (1997) describes the use of TE focuses learners’ attention on specific linguistic features and assists them to encode the meaning embedded in the features, it is suggested here that TE should be integrated with other interventions for better result.
Third, TE enhances comprehension. In Wong (2001)’s study, TE had significant positive effects on the content comprehension, namely it enhanced the recall of the idea units that corresponded to the target forms.
However, evidence from Overstreet’s (1998) and S.Lee’s (2007) studies suggested TE distracted learners’ attention from meaning. The results indicated that TE has negatively affected learners’ comprehension on the content of the passages. In spite of increasing evidence suggesting that TE can promote noticing of certain linguistic features, it remains a matter a debate whether or not it has simultaneously created a trade-off between intake and comprehension (Han, Park & Combs, 2008).
Also, Simard (2009) cautioned that selection and combination of different typographical cues lead to different impacts on the intakes. His study reported that the use of capital letters and a combination of 3 typographical cues promote the intake of the forms. Overstreet’s (1998) use of numerous types of typographical cues might lead to distraction and confusion thus did not enhance the acquisition. Therefore, in order to ensure the quality of instructional material, language teachers should select cues carefully.
Fourth, TE is a volatile and changeable technique. In other words, external variables may affect the effectiveness of TE. For example, with no prior knowledge about the target forms, the technique is not beneficial to learners (e.g. Leow, 1997, 2001; Leow et al. 2003). Alanen’s (1995) study also reported that TE had different effects on different target grammatical forms.
Age and puberty are other factors that might mitigate the effects of TE. In White’s (1998) study, the children who are still developing their L2 may have encountered a cognitive overload problem (Doughty & William, 1998) and therefore constrained the learning process.
Clearly, conflicting results on the impact of IE on acquisition, whether positive, limited or negative, are noticeable from previous studies. Several questions emerged subsequently from the review: are these mixed results attributed to different methodological designs that provide learners different degree of input quality and quantity? Or is it due to different grammatical forms targeted in different studies? If so, does this mean that different target forms are vulnerable variable that correspond to IE techniques in different ways? These insights are meaningful and important for the implication of IE in language pedagogy and will be discussed in following section.
Nowadays it is common for language teachers to use IE techniques to enhance specific features of L2 in order to draw learners’ attention to target linguistic aspects. Although IE does not provide full and consistent picture to SLA pedagogy, it offers valuable information on how to deliberately draw learners’ attention to target forms.
As shown, uncertainties still exist on the facilitative role of IF and TE in SLA research. The debate on Noticing Hypothesis still remains open while previous studies failed to show conclusive and consistent results on IE effectiveness. However, fortunately, the field has moved from the debate on the necessity of conscious noticing to the mixed results of IE efficacy. That is, the theoretical development has now provided a clearer window to take a glimpse and imply IE techniques more effectively to language pedagogy with underpinning SLA issues.
In contrast with UG, IE is a sub-field of cognitive models which emphasis on how learners process and decode the input. It should be borne in mind that noticing triggered artificially by IE might not result in intake. This implies that one cannot be assured if the enhanced input will become comprehensible and that the effects of IE vary from case to case.
In terms of Input Hypothesis (Krashen, 1982), we argues that input play roles in L2 acquisition with the aids of noticing. As stated by Wong (2005), once target form is noticed, learners need to make form-meaning connection to encode underlies linguistic rules correctly (p.90-91). This notion is in line with VanPatten’s (1996, 2003) input processing theory where “intake” is equalised to “form-meaning connection”. Thus IE and other focus on forms tasks such as processing instruction (VanPatten, 1996, 2003) and consciousness-raising tasks might be combined in language teaching for better results.
Also, it is reckoned that output tasks might be integrated into SLA instruction when applying IE concept. Long (1996) distinguishes two types of input: positive evidence and negative evidence. In coherence with Long’s notion, Sharwood Smith (1993) proposed both positive and negative IE techniques. IE and TE are positive IE whereas negative IE is basically feedback or negative evidence.
When there is a gap between learners’ perception of L2 grammar and evidence in the input, then positive evidence (input) may triggers to change the grammar (Sharwood Smith, 1991: 122-123). On the other hand, when learners are being confronted with their own production (output), negative IE signals that given forms are incorrect, thus warns learners that they have violated the grammatical rules (Sharwood Smith, 1993: 177). This notion implies that IE approach not only adopts Schmidt’s Noticing Hypothesis as major foundation, but has also implies Long’s Interaction Hypothesis as well as Swain’s (1995) Output Hypothesis. Apparently, Sharwood Smith proposal of negative evidence has been generally neglected by SLA researchers. Therefore, it would be beneficial if language teachers reckon that input (positive evidence) and output (negative evidence) are both important to promote acquisition with the aid of noticing.
Particularly, Ellis (1997: 109) asserts that comprehensible input is derived from both input and interactional (output) modifications makes specific linguistic features more salient and facilitates the development of L2. Negotiate for meaning is thus beneficial to promote acquisition. It directs learners’ attention to focus on the form that initially caused understanding problems and also helps learners to modify their interlanguage production whenever the gap is being identified (Long, 1983; Pica, 1992).
Likewise, Wong (2005) suggested that input should not be one-way instruction, namely simply giving input to L2 learners. Learners may be instructed to respond to the input through activities such as quiz, answering questions, story reconstructing, drawing based on oral directions and games. Hereby, “interaction” has been stressed in order to make the IF more meaningful to the learners.
As pointed out by Wong (2005: 46, 60-61), instructors must always keep meaning communication as primary goal of language in attempts of enhancing the input. Attending to both meaning and form is important to make form-meaning connections possible. By this way, respond to the input is a crucial compartment for language learning. This insight is compatible to Ellis’ (1997) claim that input-based interpretation grammar instruction mediates input into intake.
Accordingly, Lee & VanPatten’s (1995: 51) proposal to use learners and classroom setting for language teaching could be combined with IE in a communicative language classroom.
Instructors might integrate grammar teaching into authentic context. For example, input could be presented to learners through If visually and verbally in a natural classroom setting. It will be beneficial if simple scenarios could be constructed.
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