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108 The application of theory

Input in a classroom setting

The characteristics of input in a classroom setting depend on the type of
instruction. In instruction directed at teaching the linguistic code, features
aTe made artificially frequent in theiQQut
them. Thus, for instance; learners may be exposed to sudden dramatic
increases in the frequency of particular features. As we saw in Chapter 2,
Lightbown (1983) found precisely this occurring in her study of the input in
Grade 5 and 6 classes in Canadian ESL classrooms. The verb + ing form, for
instance, was largely missing from the initial input, but suddenly became very
frequent once it was introduced in the textbook towards the end of Grade 5,
resulting in apparent overuse of the form some time later in Grade 6. Later, its
frequency declined. It is reasonable to suppose that frequent and salient forms
are more noticed and, therefore, potentially more learnable than infreqllent
and non-salient forms (Hatch and Wagner-Gough 1975). Furthermore, other
aspects of formal instruction, such as the teacher's treatment of learner error,
may increase the salience of selected features, thus enhancing their
noticeability and karnability (Lightbown and Spada 1990).
Code-oriented may also provide the learner with a different kind
of input-explicit information about the nature of linguistic features in the
form of rules. Sharwood Smith (1981) suggests that deductive language
teaching (which he calls-consciousness-raising) varies according to the degree
of explicitness and elaboration. Explictness refers to the extent to which the
teacher makes use of linguistic metalanguage. The teacher can simply hint with
the help of an example or can provide a complete statem"ent of the rule.
Elaboration concerns the amount of time taken up in the presentation of a rule.
Other variables relating to explicit grammar teaching include the source of the
explanation (the teacher, the students, a textbook) and the manner of
presentation (oral, written) (see Eisenstein 1980).
Instruction aimed at providing learners with opportunities to communicate
naturally (e.g. information-gap and role-play activities) typically makes no
attempt to manipulate the input or output in order to focus on specific items.
The frequency of different items, therefore, is not predetermined but rather is
the product of the language the participants in the task choose to use" to
. complete it. However, as Loschky and Bley-Vroman (1993) have illustrated, it
I ma also be ossible to ise tasks which will elicit the useoTspec111Cfeatures,
'Ii devising focused tas s IC t e use or-Specific
y features is both natural and essential (see Chapter
Irrespective of whether the tasI<Sare unfocused communicative orim:used
there will be some One way in
this occurs is. thumgh. __ occur an
with only __ learners. Parker and
Chaudron (1987) nave prod-uced a useful the kinds of
modifications that take place in teacher talk. They distinguish first between
modifications of input and modifications of interaction. The former involve

A theory of instructed SLA 109
changes in linguistic form (in relation to the forms that would be used in
interaction wIth a native speaker). They can involve simplification
(e.g. shorter utterances and the use of less complex syntax ancrre-xis),
elaboration, and (e.g. through paraphrase or use of synonyms)
and alterations to thematic structure (e.g. through the use of cleft
constructions as in 'Where Mary and John live is in Chicago'). Interactional
modifications involve discourse function. Teachers make efforts to manage the
discourse so 1
topics) problem when it (e.g. by
means of requests for clarIficatIOn or confirmation). '
It liypothesiiciLthiuhe-cGmp-r--Mllsi-ble.inQut that fro!!l_ \
input: modifications and, in particular, from
(1983b), for
Instance,hasclIgued that allOWtn:gteamers to negotIate for meamng
problem arises promotes acquisition. One way in which this
might happen is if the learner's attention comes to be focused on those forms
which initially caused the problem in understanding. Negotiation may also
help the learner to identify constituent boundaries in utterances-in other
I, words, it may provide a basis for syntactic parsing-or it may push the learner
into modifying his or her own interlanguage production (Pica 1992). It is
important to recognize, however, that, although there are now a few studies
which suggest that meaning negotiation helps the acquisition of word
(e.g. Loschky Ellis 1994) is little evidence for all
lInk between meanIn ne otlatIOn an I/;
of language e.g. grammar)l.
'-it it is-accepted that theTnput and interactional modifications, that help to
make input comprehensible and specific linguistic features more noticeable,
are important for acquisition, then there are grounds for believing that the
classroom does not typically constitute an acquisition-rich setting. Teachers
typically dominate the talk by mea1li..of display questions designed to elicit
predete.rl11ined-Le.S.l2onses from the (Long and Sato -1983jarufilie talk
that results is sometimes viewed as i!!ll2-0s_erished-in-comparis9ILwith_thaf
which outside the (Gremmo, Holec, and Riley 1978). In
opportunities to negotiate meaning are rare (Pica and Long 1986).
This has led some researchers to argue for small-group work, as a number of
studies have shown that learners are likely to have more opportunity to
negotiate for meaning when they are working together in groups than in
teacher-directed activities (Pica and Doughty 1985, Porter 1986). These
studies have also shown, however, that the in12ut that learners get from other
learners is '"
The input -that learners derive in the classroom, whether from the teacher or
other learners, may not always be the best kind for acquisition. Nevertheless,
as in acquisition, it !!!!1s.t_be __ of

110 The application of theory
In a theory of instructed L2 acquisition, input is of special importance
because it is amenable to external manipulation. Teachers can do nothing
about the innate knowledge of language which learners bring to the task of
acquiring an L2. However, they can make adjustments to the kind of input that
.- --
' the learners experience. These adjustments can involve focused instrucJ:iQn
deterriiining-to--;hat extent the instruction will provide negative, as
. opposed to, positive evidence) and (e.g. determining the
extent and the nature of opportunities for th1i1King and communicating).
Types of L2 knowledge
The theory distinguishes two types of L2 knowledge-explicit knowledge and
implicit knowledge. As Bialystok (1981) has pointed out this distinction is
common in cognitive psychology. She lists a number of terms which have been
used by different psychologists to refer to it-objective vs personal knowledge_
(Polanyi 1958), knowledge vs belief (Scheffler 1965) and knowing what vs.
knowing how (Ryle 1949).
In the case of langu'!Ke Bialystok (1981) defines explicit knowledge as
knowledge that i an-alyse<;l in the sense that it exists independently of the
actual instances of its use a strac' nse that it takes the for of some-
UiiClerlying generalization 0 ac ua linguistic behaviour) and xplanator (in
that the logical basis of the knowledge is understood independent y of it
application). She argues that it need not be conscious. Later, however,
Bialystok (1994) distinguishes expficit knowledge in a learner's representation
of 'language', which includes- such basic categories as topic,
plJlralit tense and as ect and ex li"cit knowledge in a learner's representation
oJ 'language-specific details', which include the exicon and the
rules for realizing the basic categories of language (e.g. the use of -s to make a
noun plural). In the case- of the former, Bialystok suggests, explicit knowledge
or may not be conscious. However, in the case of the claims it is
The theory Qf instructed L2 in this
chapter is concerned with of sUrface-level rules. Where this
representation is explicit, therefore, learners will be conscious of what they
know. . .
Bialystok (1981) also points out that explicit knowledge is 1l2Lnecessarily
the same as articulated as it exists in the mind of the learoo
independently of its articulation. It is not dependent, therefore, on metalingual
knowledge. An issue of some interest is whether learners who are able to
articulate their explicit knowledge are advantaged. Alderson, Clapham, and
Steel (1995) report on a study of the relationship between measures of
metalingual knowledge and measures of L2 proficiency of first-year
undergraduate students of French at British universities. They found only a
weak, statistically non-significant relationship. This study, then, suggests that
knowledge of metalanguage is not a significant factor in L2 proficiency.

A theory of instructed SLA 111
However, it does not follow that explicit knowledge itself is not a component
of L2 proficiency.
Implicit knowledge is intuitive, in the sense that the learner is unlikely to be
aware of having ever learnt it and is probably unaware of its existence.
However, as Reber (1989) has pointed out, it is incorrect to assert that implicit
knowledge is completely unconscious. Matthews etal. (1989) have shown that
learners of artificial languages are able to demonstrate a degree of awareness
of knowledge that they have acquired under implicit learning conditions but
that their implicit knowledge is always greater than their awareness of it.
Reber (1989: 230) concludes 'a considerable portion of memorial content is
unconscious' .
A is that To
understand what is meant by this it is necessary to return to the distinction
between item e in l.and system introduced in Chapter 2.
Reber (1989) distinguis es memory system' and 'an
memory In the former, learning is on memory fbF
items, which are unrelated, or perhaps, ong loosely related to each
other. In the takes the form of an understanding of some system
that been induced from of items. In such cases,
learnerswil e a e to generalize-e knowledge they possess to items other
than those they-'a-v-e-'---e-e-n-e-x-p-o-s-e-t-"to (e.g. as when learners overgeneralize the
regular past tense -ed morpheme). Reber appears to view implicit knowledge
as necessarily abstract, but the position taken here is that learners may have a
tacit knowledge of both items and rules

The theory, then, distinguishes two kinds of implicit knowledge; knowledge
of discrete items and rule-based knowledge.
large numbers of words and formulas-fixed or semi-fixed expressions such
as 'How are you?' and 'Think twice before you ... ' . These may exist in the
lexicon as unanalysed units (Pawley and Syder 1983, Nattinger and DeCarrico
1992). Native speakers also know large numbers of rules which enable them
to produce sentences. If aSkedto- judge whether sentences are
grammaticaror ungrammatIcal they will be able to do so, often without
reflection, but they will often not be able to explain the basis of their
judgements. Implicit knowledge of L2 items and rules com rises the learner's
interlanguage system. It is largely hidden and, as a result, we know very ittle
about how it is represented in the mind of the learner. Implicit knowledge only
becomes manifest in actual performance and, in this sense, is procedural. It is
possible, of course, for someone to reflect on his or her actual use of language
in order to try to make the underlying rules explicit. In this way, implicit
knowledge can become explicit.
Another distinction of considerable importance to a theory of instructed L2
acquisition is Qntrolled and automatic 12!Qcessing. McLaughlin, Rossman,
and McLeod (i983) use this distinction, which comes from Shiffrin and
Schneider (1977), to account for acquisition as a progression from a more
112 The application of theory
<;ognitively demanding to a more autonomous stage of

.. utomatic processing occurs when a partICular response been built up-
'through successive the same input to the same
actiVc:ltion over many trials' (ibid.: 139). In contrast, controlled is a
temporary activation of memory nodes through attentional control.
Controlled processes are easy to set up, alter, and
are also inefficient because they require time for activation and use up
available processmg capacity. --------.----
. These two distinctions-explicitlimplicit and controlled/automatic-
intersect, as shown in Figure 4.1. Thus it is possible to talk about four types of
L2 knowledge, as described in the four cells of the diagram. (A) can be found
when learners, who have begun to learn an explicit grammatical rule, attempt
to use it consciously and intentionally in a grammar exercise. (B) occurs when
these learners come to make regular use of the explicit rule in a variety of tasks;
the rule is still used consciously and intentionally but can now be accessed and
applied with considerable facility. (C) rna)' be found when learners have
noticed some new grammatical feature In
\ It--{sIikely, though,--rnafthls
feature will be accessed less easily than some other earlier acquired L2 feature,
which it may be replacing. This is the kind of
itself when learners by feel. (D) resembles the kind of intuitive,
readily accessible linguistic knowledge that native speakers utilize in everyday
language use.
Type of
Controlled processing Automatic processing
A new explicit rule is used An old explicit rul e is used
consciously and with deliberate effort. consciously but with relative speed.
A new implicit rule is used without
awareness but is accessed slowly
and inconsistently.
A fully learnt implicit rule is used
without awareness and without
Figure 4.1: Types of L2 knowledge
It is assumed, along with McLaughlin, Rossman, and McLeod, that both
and automatic processes can occur with or
the former obviously allow for greater awareness than theTatter.
Thus, whether or not awareness is present is seen as a product of whether the
knowledge is explicit or implicit. Similarly, it is assumed that both explicit and
implicit knowledge can be represented in the mind of the learner as either
controlled or automatic processes.
These distinctions are not uncontroversial, but are widely acknowledged in
the literature. Nor is the proposed pattern of intersection problematic; both
A theory of instructed SLA 113
McLaughlinet al. (1983) and Bialystok (1982) offer similar diagrams to that
shown in Figure 4.1. It is also uncontroversial to claim that the acquisition of
a new rule is characterized initially by controlled processing and subsequently
by automatic processing-in other words, acguisition inyolves the process of
ayJ:Qg!atizing new knowledge (see Bialystok and Sharwood Smith 1985).
What is QLore controverial is the relationship between explicit and implicit
to the non-interface position of Krashen (1981), explicit and
implicit knowledge (which he refers to as 'learnt' and 'acquired' respectively)
are stored separately and are quite unrelated. Explicit knowledge cannot
become implicit, no matter how much it is practised. Explicit knowledge of a
rule does not help the acquisition of implicit knowledge of The
non-interface position has been attacked by a number of applied linguists (e.g.
Stevick 1980, Sharwood Smith 1981, Gregg 1984), who argue in favour of an
interface position, according to which explicit knowledge can convert into
implicit knowledge and vice versa.
One of the problems with a number of discussions of the interface position
is that they conflate the explicitlimplicit and the controlled/automatic
distinctions. For example, O'Malley, Chamot, and Walker (1987) describe a
process tEat with k!10wledge
IS then gradually Ize wen" the learners have opportumty to
Sorace (1985) argues that formal language learners will
initially tend to have mental representations of the L2 system which they will
not be able to use in actual production, but that gradually their linguistic
abilities will catch up with their metalinguistic abilities, as procedural control
over explicit knowledge develops. What appears to be happening in both these
accounts is the equating of controlled processing with explicit knowledge and
automatic processing with implicit knowledge. Such an equation, however, is
inexact to say the least, as Figure 4.1 shows.
As an exclusive view of how L2 knowledge develops, it is also mistaken for
another reason. It assumes that all knowledge starts out as explicit and
controlled (A) and does not appear to allow for the possibility that new
knowledge can be acquired directly in its implicit form (e.g. B). Yet this is surely
what must take place in much of language learning, even that which takes
place inside the classroom. Ihe process of learninK-a would become
impossible if every rule out of the thousands that
had to be first learnt as explicit knowledge. It is much more
reasona e to assume that rules can be acquired as implicit knowledge in tIie
first Instance. Indeed, Reber (1989) learnin"g as the 'default
mode of cqgnition' in tre=;nse that it constitutes the mode human
il?turally fall back_9P. ImplIcit knowledge, then, is ontologically primary.
:R:eber (1992) also argues that implicit knowledge is also primary in the
historical evolution of human cognitive abilities.
The study of learner variability testifies to the proceduralization of implicit
knoWlecIge. One source of vanablhty,well-documented in the literature is the
114 The application of theory
attention that learners pay to form (Tarone 1983). in tasks that
permit the learner to explicit knowledge (e.g. grammaticality
judgement tasks) is likefy to vary from that in that require the use of
implicit knowledge (e.g. free conversation). In@!)(1987), for instance, I
found that low intermediate learners of L2 English were able to mark regular
verbs for past tense in narratives when they had plenty of time to access their
. formal knowledge of the rule, but were less able to do so in tasks that required
Immeruate unplanned production. ThIs KmdofvariaDility can be explained
WJ:tnreference to the exphclt/imphcit distinction. However, learners have also
been found to vary within a single style. In Ellis (1988b), I found clear evidence
of variability in the use of copula be in the communicative speech of two pre-
adolescent learners who almost certainly possessed no explicit knowledge of
the form. In this case, the learners used contracted copula -5 (as in 'He's old.')
variably with zero copula (e.g. 'He old.'). This behaviour can best be explained
by crediting them with implicit knowledge of copula -5 which they did not yet
fully control. To explain variability, then, it is necessary to consider both the
explicit/implicit and, the controlled/automatic dimensions of L2 knowledge.
While both a a
weak interface position is tenable.. If it IS assumoothat most communication
cillsfurthe use of implicit knowledge, a test of whether explicit knowledge can
become implicit is whether instJ;uction directed at a specific
linguistic feature results in the use of that feature in spontaneous
communication. In Chapter 2, I reviewed evidence that suggests this may not
happen where developmental rules are involved see a e 62 . However, form-
focuse mstruction may prove successful if the learners are developmenta y
ready. Also, it may work with features that are not developmentally
constrained (e.g. copula be).
explicit knowledge
implicit knoJedge
(IL system)
Figure 4.2: The weak interface position
A theory of instructed SLA 115
The weak interface model which this research supports is shown in Figure I
4.2. E)SQlicit knowledge derived from formal instruction may convert into I
that enables them to linguistic material. such cases
learners' existing implicit knowledge of that
e:cplicit knowledge and lets through only that are ready to
iQcorporate into the However, in other cases-when the
focus of the instruction is a grammatical property that is subject to
qeyelopmental constraints-the filter does not operate, permitting learners to
integrate the feature directly into implicit knowledge.
A weak interface position also acknowledges the value of formal instruction
as a way of helping learners develop greater control over the L2 knowledge
(explicit or implicit) that they already possess. Figure 4.2 refers to the
acquisition of new L2 knowledge. However, many formal language lessons are
not directed at teaching new properties but in enabling the learners to use
features they have already partly acquired with greater accuracy (see
Chapter 2).
To sum up, a weak interface position proposes the following:
1 Explicit knowledge can be converted into implicit knowledge in the case of
non-developmental grammatical rules.
2 Explicit knowledge can be converted into implicit knowledge in the case of
developmental rules, providing the learner has reached the stage of
acquisition that allows for integration of the new rule into the interlanguage
3 Explicit knowledge cannot be converted into implicit knowledge in the case
of developmental rules if the learner has not reached the requisite stage of
4 Not all knowledge originates in an explicit form-more often than not L2
knowledge begins as implicit knowledge.
5 Formal instruction can help to automatize both explicit and implicit
grammatical knowledge.
From input to knowledge
It seems reasonable to assume that as explicit and implicit knowledge are
represented differently in the mind of the learner they result from different
learning processes. discussion of consciousness in language learning
provided by Schmidt (see Schmidt 1990 and 1994 is im ortant in hel in to
iaentl ow these learnin roc s differ.
_c midt suggests that language learning involves cqnsciousness in four
different senses. First, it can be conscious in the sense of 'intention.1ll'. In this
respect, it contrasts with incidental learning. Learners call knowingly focus
their attention on trying to understand and memorize features of the L2 or they
can concentrate on message conveyance but in the process acquire new L2
. !
116 The application of theory
knowledge as a by-product. Schmidt makes the important point that we
should not assume that incidental acquisition is unaccompanied by awareness
or that it results only in implicit knowledge. '
Second, Schmidt discusses consciousness as attention. Attention is
characterised as noticing properties of the inputY Schmidt argues that
attention is necessary for any learning to take place. His own position is that
attention involves a degree of consciousness on the part of the learner but he
acknowledges other points of view. In Schmidt (1994), for example, he refers
to the model proposed by Tomlin and Villa (1994), according to which
detection of input signals can occur without consciousness, a position
analogous to that of Krashen (1985). There is general agreement,
that detection is necessary for both expliCit and implicit learning.
Third, Schmidt considers consciousness as awareness. This refers to the idea
of le'a;-;ers being co'gnizant of the knowledge_they have learnt in the of
being aware orarure or generalization. Schmidt points out thatrtls-riecessary
to distinguish different levels or types of awareness. A_t a low level there is
awareness in noticing. At a higher'level, however, there is awareness of the
system that underlies phenomena that have been noticed. It is this kind of
awareness, I would argue, that is found In explicit knowledge.
The fuurth sense of Schmidt examines is that of control.
He notes that learning'-a: language has 'a skill aspect as well as a knowledge
(Schmidt 1994: 20). Initially, learners need to focus their cOIisdous
attention on the choice of lingUISticform but as theyprogress,"iliese cOntto1led
responses become automatIzed enabling learners to give more conscious
attention to other aspects of construction. In this then,
to the extent to which knowledge has become
as discussed in the previous section. --, .. _.....--
r. _____ , -------- -- . - .... --- ----. -- .. _ ... --_. --,, __ ..
Learning explicit knowledge
It is now possible to attempt a characterization of implicit
language learning. EEQlicit lea' is necessaril ntentionaL It requires
learners tl.onsciously attend to the formal t e InQ.Ut,
the expense of attending to meaning. Alternatively, it requires learners to
ident[[y ,elements iri- the-ir implicit 'knowledge and renect, on them (what
BIalystok (1991) refers to as 'analysis'). Irrespective hether ex licit
'I i k.nOWled e is derived from input or from ear ier acquired implicit knowledge,
It Involves an attem t to construct ru es or genera IzatlOns 0 w lEn-rhe
b.AYf a high1evel of awareness. As Bia ysto : puts-it,
'exPlicit knowledge is knowledge that includes precise boundaries and is
o'rganise in nown systems' .
I assume that involves non-specialized cognitive mechanisms
and processes-that is, it proceeds in much the same way as the learning of any
other type of declarative knowledge. Two basic processes would seem to be
A theory of instructed SLA 117
involved, memorization and problem-solving. The former occurs when the
learner attempts to consciously consign grammatical information to memory,
as when an attempt is made to memorize verb conjugations or the gender of
nouns in L2 French. The process is presumably the same as that involved in
memorizing mathematical formulae or history dates. It can be aided by the use
of various strategies such as mnemonic techniques and other memory-
enhancing techniques (Thompson 1987, Cohen 1990).
Problem-solving is evident when learners attempt to induce explicit
information about the L2 from the input data they are exposed to or from their
implicit knowledge. It can occur during the course of communication, as when
the learner pays conscious attention to some formal feature in the input and
tries to understand it. In such cases the learner's attention may switch
backwards and forwards from meaning to form in the manner Lennon (1989)
found in the advanced learners of L2 English he studied. Problem-solving is
catered for more directly in certain kinds of formal instruction. Rutherford
(1988) and Fotos and Ellis (1991) have given examples of consciousness-
raising activities, which require learners to analyse specially structured data in
order to discover a grammatical rule. Even language drills can be viewed as a
kind of problem-solving activity. Although the pedagogic aim of such activities
is implicit rather than explicit knowledge (see Chapter 3), learners often seem
to treat the drill as a problem requiring the application of various strategies for
reaching a solution (Hosenfeld 1976).
In fact, there have been few empirical studies of how L2 learners develop
explicit knowledge (but see Aljaafreh and Lantolf 1994). One issue that has
received some attention is the relative effectiveness of directly presenting an
explicit rule as opposed to providing data from which learners are required to
induce the rule. These studies, which were examined in Chapter 3, indicate
that presenting learners with rules supported by examples works best.
Even less is known about how learners organize their mental
representations of explicit knowledge. Is explicit knowledge of grammatical
rules, for example, learnt in some kind of natural sequence? This would seem
unlikely. Are certain linguistic facts intrinsically easier to understand and
remember than others? Green and Hecht's (1992) study of German learners of
L2 English revealed that some rules were consistently easier to learn as explicit
knowledge than others. The rules that were easy to learn were those that
referred to easily recognized categories, could be applied mechanically, and
were not dependent on large contexts. Examples were morphological
distinctions such as 'a/an', 'who/'which', straightforward cases of 'some/any'
and simple word order. Difficult rules were those that did not permit 'simple
exhaustive descriptions' or were not always governed by features of the
immediate context (e.g. rules involving aspect). One of the assumptions that
underlies the traditional grading of items in a structural syllabus is that some
items are easier to learn than others. However, the criteria that have been used
to grade items lack precision and there is no precise method for determining
the optimal teaching sequence.
118 The application of theory
Another issue is the extent to which learners are capable of learning explicit
rules. Krashen (1982) argues that most learners will only be able to learn rules
that are formally simple and functionally transparent. However, he may have
seriously underestimated the amount of explicit knowledge that learners are
capable of internalizing. Good language learners (see Naiman et al. 1978,
Pickett 1978) seem to pay conscious attention to grammar and to learn a large
number of rules. Although Green and Hecht (1992) found that the learners
they studied could produce a correct rule in less than half the cases (46 per
cent), they showed that the more cognitively sophisticated learners in their
study (i.e. pupils at a German Gymnasium and university students) achieved
higher levels (55 per cent and 85 per cent respectively). Bialystok (1994: 556)
argues that much of the information found in 'language-specific details' 'is
learnt as discrete, statable knowledge, especially by adult second language
learners'. Learners' explicit rules are not always very exact, however. Seliger
(1979) found that the learners he studied demonstrated vague and sometimes
plain inaccurate knowledge of the rule for using 'alan'. Sorace (1985),
however, showed that although learners began with anomalous explicit
knowledge they increasingly refined it over time. Green and Hecht (1992), in
contrast to Seliger, found that their learners were almost always able to correct
errors successfully if they had stated the rule correctly.
Learning implicit knowledge
In accordance with Schmidt's discussion of consciousness, implicit language
learning can be characterized as incidental, involving some degree of attention
to linguistic forms in the input (although the extent to which this attention is
conscious remains controversial) but not involving any depth of awareness
regarding the abstract system underlying the forms which have been attended
to and internalized.
Lexical items and formulaic expressions can be learnt explicitly-by
memorizing items from a phrase book, for example. In many cases, however,
words and formulas are learnt incidentally from exposure to input in which
they occur frequently and are salient. In classrooms, where the L2 is the
medium of instruction, fixed expressions associated with the routines of
classroom management appear to be readily internalized, perhaps because
they are not only frequent but also help the learners to perform communicative
functions that are important to them when they have little 'creative'
proficiency in the L2 (see Chapter 7).
There are conflicting views about how implicit knowledge of L2 rules is
developed. According to both the Input Hypothesis (Krashen 1985) and the
early version of Long's Interactional Hypothesis (see Long 1983b), new rules
are internalized subconsciously when learners comprehend input. However,
this view has been challenged. Frerch and Kasper (1986), Sharwood Smith
(1986), White (1987) and Gass (1988) all point out that comprehension can
take place without any linguistic processing. Top-down processing of input
draws on existing linguistic knowledge and contextual information, and so
A theory of instructed SLA 119
obviates the need to pay much attention to new linguistic items.
Comprehension that results from a semantic analysis of the input, where the
relationships between the elements that make up the text are inferenced using
contextual clues and world knowledge is unlikely to add anything to the
learner's implicit knowledge. For this to happen some kind of structural
analysis of the input is required. As Gass (1988: 205) comments:
What is comprehended can either feed into the intake component or,
alternatively, it may not be used by the learner for anything beyond
immediate communication.
As White (1987) has argued, input is more likely to become intake, if it is
initially incomprehensible learner has to pay careful attention to the
actual forms of language to make it comprehensible.
I would like to suggest that input can become implicit knowledge when the
learner carries out the following operations:
1 Noticing (i.e. paying attention to specific linguistic features in the input).
2 Comparing (i.e. comparing the noticed features with the features the learner
typically produces in output).
3 Integrating (i.e. constructing new hypotheses in order to incorporate the
noticed features into the interlanguage system).
In accordance with current theories of L2 acquisition (Chaudron 1985, Gass
1988, VanPatten 1987), the process by which input becomes implicit
knowledge is seen to involve two principal stages; one where input becomes
intake, which involves the operation of noticing, and one where intake
becomes part of the learner's interlanguage system. Intake occurs when
learners take features into their short- or medium-term memories, whereas
interlanguage change occurs only when they become part of long-term
memory (see Figure 4.3).
noticing comparing integrating
, ,
Long-term OUTPUT
medium-term memory:
Figure 4.3: The process of learning implicit knowledge
120 The application of theory
As we have already noted, Schmidt views the process of noticing as necessarily
a conscious one. Noticing is not the same as perceiving. A reader, for instance,
will generally be aware of the message content of the text (i.e. will notice it),
but may also perceive other aspects of the text such as unusual linguistic
features or the size of the print. Schmidt defines noticing operationally as
'availability for verbal report'. He claims that for a feature in the input to
become intake the learner must notice it, a view that is disputed.
A number of factors may induce a learner to notice something in the input:
1 Task demands (i.e. the instructional task causes the learner to heed specific
features because these are important for completion of the task). The most
obvious way in which this occurs is during code-oriented instruction, when
specific features are made intentionally prominent, but communicative
tasks can also result in the learner attending to specific features that are
significant for achieving a solution to a problem.
2 Frequency (i.e.linguistic features which occur repeatedly in the classroom
input). Features may become frequent either as a result of form-focused
instruction or through teacher talk.
3 Unusual features (i.e. features that surprise the learner because they do not
conform to expectations). An unusual feature works in much the same way
as a deviant feature in a literary text, the purpose of which is to draw
attention to the code (see Widdowson 1975). Not all unusual features are
noticed, however. The process of obliterative assumption (Ausubel1971)
induces learners to interpret input in terms of their existing knowledge, and
in such cases, unusual features will be screened out.
4 Salience (i.e. certain features may be more salient than others as a result of
their phonological form or their position in utterances). Wode (1981), for
instance, has argued that free morphemes are more salient than bound
morphemes, while many of the operating principles identified by Slobin
(1973 )-for example, 'Pay attention to the ends of words'-also account
for why some features are more salient than others.
5 Interactional modification during the negotiation of meaning (i.e. attempts
to deal with communication problems) may result in the learner notidng
particular features in the input that might otherwise be ignored-see earlier
section on input).
6 Existing linguistic knowledge (i.e. the learner's current stage of
development may make it easier to notice some features than others).
Although there are strong grounds for believing that these are some of the
major factors that cause learners to notice features in the input, we still know
very little about what induces a learner to heed specific information on a
particular occasion. The presence of one of more of the above conditions does
not guarantee noticing; it merely makes it more likely.
A theory of instructed SLA 121
Noticing also helps to explain how simplified input facilitates acquisition.
According to Krashen (1981, 1985) simplified input is facilitative because it
helps to make input comprehensible, but Gregg (1984) and White (1987) have
argued that it is of little use where acquisition is concerned because it results in
impoverished data. However, simplified input may be effective in drawing the
learner's attention to features that would otherwise be ignored-either by
temporarily increasing the frequency of specific forms or by constructing
messages in such a way that specific forms become prominent in the input. In
other words, the importance of simplified input may rest not in its contribution
to the comprehensibility of messages, but rather in its ability to induce learners
to pay attention to features which they are developmentally ready to acquire.
New items and rules only become part of the developing interlanguage system
if learners can establish how they differ from their existing interlanguage
representation. A diary study by Schmidt and Frota (1986) illuminates how
this process of comparison operates. They examined to what extent a learner's
reported understanding of the grammar of the L2 matched his production,
finding a close correlation between the two. Thus, features that the learner
noticed in the input and recorded in his diary tended to show up shortly
afterwards in his output. The processes of noticing-the-gap are neatly
illustrated in this extract from the learner's journal: .
I often say dois anos ante for 'two years ago'. I think it should be an os atras.
I have been hearing it that way in conversation, I think ... (later the same
day). I asked M which is correct and he says both are OK, but I am
suspicious. Check with S tomorrow. (ibid.: 312)
Schmidt and Frota argue that noticing-the-gap is a conscious process, but this
is controversial. Krashen's (1982) point that there are simply too many
linguistic facts for all them to be acquired consciously is a compelling
argument in this respect. Schmidt and Frota admit that there were some
features that were not mentioned in the diary but did appear in the learner's
production. It is possible, of course, that these features were still noticed.
In some cases, the comparison between the learner's output and the target
language input is conducted overtly as part of the ongoing interaction, as in
this example:
Learner: No go disco this Saturday.
Teacher: Oh, so you're not going to the disco this Saturday?
This may be one reason why interaction helps to facilitate language
acquisition; it helps the learner to undertake the necessary comparison
between output and input. However, for acquisition to take place, the learner
must make a mental comparison. A comparison made interactionallY as in the
122 The application of theory
above example mayor may not lead to an internal comparison. Also, the
comparison must be a focused one. It is unlikely that learners will be able to
attend to all the differences between their own and the teacher's utterances in
examples such as the one above.
Learners must also be able to use the information available to them from
noticing and comparing to modify their interlanguage systems. In the case of
item learning this may occur relatively easily, but where system learning is
concerned restructuring is more problematic. Gass (1988) proposes that the
modification of interlanguage rules can take two forms; either learners revise
hypotheses and, therefore, develop their implicit L2 grammar or they place
features in storage until some subsequent time when they can fully incorporate
them into their interlanguage systems. These stored features may become part
of the explicit L2 grammar.
The extent to which consciousness is present when learners incorporate
intake into the interlanguage system is uncertain. Studies in cognitive
psychology (e.g. Lewicki et al. 1988, Cleeremans 1993) indicate that some
learners are able to internalize quite complex information without
demonstrating any awareness of what they have learnt. Studies by Reber (see
Reber 1976) involving artificial grammars and Robinson's (1996) studyoftwo
grammatical rules in English also demonstrate that subjects may be able to
learn the rules underlying quite complex strings without consciously thinking
about them.
However, other researchers (e.g. Dulany et al. 1984) have argued
that rule-learning cannot take place implicitly and DeKeyser (1995), in a
review of the available research, concludes that there was 'very little evidence
for implicit learning of abstract patterns' (ibid.: 83). This remains a
controversial issue.
The L2 studies which show that the acquisition of rules follows a fairly well-
defined sequence suggest that hypothesis formation and revision are
constrained by the learner's existing knowledge of the L2 (see earlier
discussion of implicit knowledge). Thus intake does not automatically become
part of interlanguage; incorporation of rules occurs only when the learner is
ready. Integration of new material will be easier if it does not involve any
restructuring of the existing system (i.e. it can simply be added to the system).
Such is probably the case with individual items such as words and formulaic
chunks,? which, as we have seen, constitute an important part of implicit
knowledge, and perhaps also with simple rules like the copula. Knowledge
that cannot be accommodated in the interlanguage system may be lost or may
be shunted into an alternative store as explicit knowledge.
As we saw in Chapter 2, there are also arguments and some evidence to
show that hypothesis formation is not entirely dependent on input and intake;
learners seem to be able to go beyond the information available to them in the
A theory of instructed SLA 123
input. Zobl (1983) has argued that learners must be equipped with a
'projection device' that causes acquisition of one feature to trigger acquisition
of other features. Further evidence of learners' ability to go beyond the input
can be found in overgeneralization errors (e.g. 'eated').
The relationship between explicit and implicit knowledge
Of crucial importance for any theory of instructed second language
acquisition is the relationship between explicit and implicit knowledge
systems. In Krashen's (1981) non-interface model, the two types of knowledge
are seen as totally unrelated, and explicit knowledge is considered
unimportant for interlanguage development. In the weak interface model
being proposed here, however, explicit knowledge is seen as playing an
important role in developing implicit knowledge, as shown in Figure 4.4.
! . !
noticing ...... INTAKE----.. comparing--"IMPLICIT .. OUTPUT
t t
Figure 4.4: The role of explicit knowledge in L2 acquisition
First, explicit knowledge can help the learner to notice features in the input
that would otherwise be ignored. For example, if learners learn the formal rule
for third-person -s, they may be less likely to overlook the presence of this
feature in the input. This feature is communicatively redundant and so may be
missed when learners process input entirely for meaning. Access to explicit
knowledge may encourage the learner to notice it even though it is not
necessary for communication, as suggested by Fotos's (1994) research (see
Chapter 3). The argument is, therefore, twofold; learners will be more inclined
to engage in grammatical processing if they possess explicit knowledge and
will be better equipped to do so.
Second, explicit knowledge may facilitate the process of noticing-the-gap.
Thus learners are better able to compare what they have noticed in the input
with output derived from their current interlanguage grammars if they are
equipped with explicit knowledge. Explicit knowledge may sensitize the
124 The application of theory
language processor so that it takes account of data available in the input and
is more able to undertake an adequate analysis.
Explicit knowledge, then, can contribute indirectly to interlanguage
development. It can be viewed metaphorically as a kind of 'acquisition
facilitator' (Seliger 1979) or as providing hooks on which to hang subsequent
implicit knowledge (Lightbown 1985b). A corollary of this position is that
formal instruction directed at explicit knowledge may have a delayed rather
than an immediate impact on the learners' interlanguage. There is, of course,
no certainty that learners will use their explicit knowledge to facilitate noticing
and comparing (hence the dotted lines in Figure 4.4).
Explicit knowledge can also convert directly into implicit knowledge if the
itemlrule is not developmental or, if it is developmental, when the learner is
psycholinguistically ready to accommodate it-as has been discussed earlier.
Explicit knowledge may be especially important for the adult learner.
Schmidt (1990) advances the argument that whereas children may be able to
notice linguistic features in the input as a result of peripheral attention (i.e.
while focused on the message), adults may need to engage in more focal,
controlled noticing. If this is so, then explicit knowledge may be necessary to
help adults both observe and process certain linguistic properties. It is likely,
however, that implicit knowledge is utilized in the processes of noticing and
comparing (as shown in Figure 4.4), even with adults.
Explicit knowledge is no substitute for implicit knowledge. Ultimately,
success in L2learning depends on implicit knowledge. To support this claim
we might again turn to the study by Green and Hecht (1992) mentioned earlier.
Although, this study showed that learners who knew a rule explicitly were able
to correct errors successfully, it also showed that in more than 50 per cent of
the cases tested they were able to give the desired correction when they could
not state the rule.
An implication in the position being advanced here is that acquisition will
proceed more rapidly if learners have well-developed explicit knowledge and
access to communicative input. Studies by Spada (1986, 1987) and by
Montgomery and Eisenstein (1985) support such a claim. The synergistic
effect (DeKeyser 1995) created by implicit and explicit learning working
together outweighs the effect of either kind of learning working separately.
Automatizing L2 knowledge
The theory of second language acqUlsltlOn distinguishes between
explicit/implicit knowledge on the one hand and controlled/automatic
processes on the other. Having considered the former in some detail, we will
turn our attention briefly to the latter.
The principle means by which both explicit and implicit knowledge become
automatic is practice. However, the kind of practice needed to automatize the
two types of knowledge is different. In the case of implicit knowledge, practice
A theory of instructed SLA 125
that requires learners to make use of interlanguage knowledge under real
operating conditions is needed. Johnson (1988: 93) discusses the eradication
of mistakes (i.e. learners' failure to perform their competence) in terms of the
literature on skill acquisition and argues that 'learners need to see for
themselves what has gone wrong, in the operating conditions under which
they went wrong'. He suggests that the kind of practice that is most likely to
lead to increased accuracy will involve the stages of corrective action and
retrial. He argues that the former is best executed not by means of formal
explanation but by 'confronting the learner with the mismatch between flawed
and model performance' (ibid.: 93) and that the latter entails opportunities for
performing the skill in free practice (i.e. practice that corresponds to the type
of language use that the learner is trying to master). One way in which this
takes place is when learners receive requests to clarify utterances that contain
linguistic errors (Pica et al. 1989). In Chapter 8 we will examine a small-scale
study that has investigated the impact of pushing learners to reformulate their
utterances on interlanguage development. It is possible, however, that learners
will need continual access to free practice of this kind to ensure that
automaticity is maintained over time. As we saw in Chapter 2, long-term gains
in accuracy may require continued exposure and opportunity to use newly
acquired structures in classroom communication.
The automatization of explicit knowledge can be achieved through more
traditional controlled grammar practice activities. Many pedagogic accounts
of practice assume that it will r ~ m l t in implicit knowledge (see Dr 1988). It is
seen as a device that leads the learner from explicit to implicit knowledge. The
theory of instructed second language acquisition proposed here does not rule
out such a possibility if the learner is developmentally ready to acquire the
targeted feature. However, it suggests that practice will not always be
successful this way and, from a pedagogic stance, the difficulty in predicting
when it will be successful detracts from the utility of practice (Ellis 1988a).
Practice does have an important role, however-that of automatizing existing
explicit knowledge.
In this respect, the theory emphasizes the need to suit the type of practice to
the type of knowledge (explicit or implicit) that is the goal of the instruction.
Automatization is of crucial importance in L2 acquisition, not only because it
leads to improved L2 performance, but also because it enables the learner to
release attention and effort for the controlled processing of new L2 forms
(VanPatten 1987).
The role of other knowledge
It is hypothesized that other knowledge in the form of the learner's knowledge
of the world and the learner's L 1 contribute to instructed L2 acquisition in
much the same way as they contribute to naturalistic L2 acquisition.
126 The application of theory
World knowledge
One way of characterizing world knowledge is as a set of content schema, a
term derived from Bartlett (1932), who showed that people's interpretations
of a text tended to reflect their own, preformed interests and tendencies.
Ausubel (1971) advanced the theory that already-known ideas tend to
subsume or anchor new information, resulting in the process of obliterative
subsumption, to which we referred briefly earlier (see page 120). Rumelhart
(1980) and Schank and Abelson (1977) have further developed schema theory
to account for narrative memory and the reading process.
Learners use content schema to help them interpret messages; that is, they
use them to fill in gaps in linguistic processing of input by inferencing probable
meanings. This involves top-down processing. It is clear, therefore, that
content schema playa major role in language use, but it is less clear if or how
they contribute to the acquisition of new linguistic knowledge. They playa
potential role in the acquisition of new vocabulary and formulas by enabling
the learner to discover the meaning and contextual uses of these items through
inferencing. They may also help the learner discover the meaning of
grammatical features in the same way. Content schema, therefore, may
contribute substantially to the early stages of language acquisition, by helping
learners get a foothold on the mountainous task that faces them. Also, skilful
use of content schema in inferencing may help the learner develop effective
strategic competence, thus enabling them to become fluent communicators.
However, as was argued earlier, learners who continue to rely extensively on
top-down processing may be prevented from undertaking the noticing and
comparing that are necessary for acquisition. Such learners may become
effective communicators but fail to develop advanced levels of explicit or
implicit grammatical knowledge. One possible solution is to sensitize learners
to the need for structural as well as semantic processing by equipping them
with explicit knowledge through form-focused instruction.
The learner's L 1
The dismissal of a significant role for the learner's L1 in L2 learning, which
occurred when behaviourist models of language learning were rejected, has
more recently given way to acceptance of transfer as a major factor. This
acceptance has occurred as cognitive models of learning have gained
prominence. Schachter (1983), for instance, has located transfer clearly within
a hypothesis-testing model of L2 acquisition.
Explicit knowledge of L2 rules may serve to inhibit negative transfer in
implicit knowledge. Interestingly, however, there is disagreement over
whether negative transfer will be more evident in instructed learning (which
can be considered to favour explicit knowledge) or in naturalistic learning
(which favours implicit knowledge). Marton (1981) suggests that negative
transfer will be more evident in instructed than in naturalistic learning but
A theory of instructed SLA 127
Odlin (1989: 147) claims the reverse is more likely. Odlin proposes that
... in unfocused contexts (such as naturalistic settings), the constraints {)n
negative transfer will be weak, as there is generally less concern about
heeding target language norms.
On balance, the evidence seems to favour Odlin. In addition to the studies he
cites (Sey 1973 and Singler 1988), which indicate thatlearners with considerable
formal education manifest less cross-linguistic influence than those with little,
there is Pica's (1985) study of naturalistic, instructed, and mixed groups of
learners which shows that pidgin-like forms which mirror Ll forms are more
prevalent in the first than in the other two groups (see page 61). It seems
reasonable to assume that explicit knowledge enables instructed learners to
overcome at least some negative transfer effects, possibly by sensitizing them
to the differences between the target and native language forms.
The bulk of recent work on transfer has been concerned with identifying
when it occurs and when it does not. As Kellerman (1983: 129) comments:
... it is rapidly becoming an article of faith that transfer is not an all-or-
nothing affair but a process that needs to be constrained in various ways. It
is only by attempting to investigate the nature of these constraints that we
will be able to explain ... why 'now you see it, now you don't'.
The constraints that have been identified include the learner's stage of
development, the degree of similarity between the target and native language
rule, conformity to universal operating principles, language-specific tendencies
in the target language, the degree of markedness of the Ll rule and the target
language rule it is seeking to replace, and the perceived magnitude of the
distance between the two languages. There is every reason to suppose that
these constraints will operate in tutored as well as untutored learning contexts.
In line with current thinking on transfer, the learner's L 1 should be seen as
constituting a positive resource rather than as an inhibiting factor. Transfer is
not something that has to be overcome but part of the process of constructing
implicit knowledge.
L2 performance
The reception processes involved in comprehending input have already been
considered. Although there is general agreement that listening involves both
linguistic, bottom-up processing and semantic, top-down processing, there is,
in fact, no well-established model of how these interact-to quote Dunkel
(1991: 434): 'there seems to be very little genuine agreement about what
listening entails, and how it operates'. The model of most relevance to the
theory of instructed L2 acquisition advanced in this chapter is that of Frerch
and Kasper (1986). They view comprehension as the integration of three types
of information-verbal and non-verbal input, the listener's existing
knowledge (linguistic and world) and contextual information. Comprehension
128 The application of theory
involves a matching process that is both input-driven (i.e. bottom-up) and
knowledge driven (i.e. top-down), the extent to which it is one or the other
depending on the nature of the comprehension task. When gaps appear
between the input and the recipient's knowledge, inferencing procedures are
used in an attempt to bridge them and input is further sampled and processed.
Fxrch and Kasper (1986) emphasize that comprehension is typically partial
and that understanding involves arriving at a 'reasonable interpretation'.
What these models emphasize is the relative interdependence of
comprehension and learning. In other words, contrary to the claims of the
Input Hypothesis, comprehending input does not in itself contribute to
acquisition. As Fxrch and Kasper emphasize learning only occurs when there
is a gap in knowledge that leads to mis- or non-understanding. Learning
becomes possible when the learner admits responsibility for the problem and
so is forced to play close attention to the input. It follows then that it is not
comprehension per se that aids learning, but, as was suggested earlier, lack of
comprehension. Efficient decoding may obviate the need for close attention to
linguistic form; a learner may become proficient at reading or listening without
developing high levels of grammatical proficiency in the L2 (see Ellis 1993a).
L2 production may be dependent entirely on the learner's own linguistic and
non-linguistic resources or it may be interactionally accomplished. In the case
of the former, learners will have to balance the need for communicative
efficiency with the need to conform to target language norms (Clyne 1985).
Communicative efficiency can best be achieved by relying on automated
implicit knowledge (Type D in Figure 4.1). The use of formulas and what I have
called 'semantic simplification' (the omission of key constituents from an
utterance, which an interlocutor can infer from context-see Ellis 1994)
contribute to fluent and successful communication, particularly in the early
stages of L2 acquisition. The attempt to conform to target language norms is
evident when learners try to maximize their competence by means of
monitoring. Krashen (1977) proposes that output is initially generated by
means of acquired (i.e. implicit) knowledge and is then edited or monitored
under certain conditions. Krashen's view of monitoring is somewhat limited
(see Morrison and Low 1983, for a detailed account of different types of
monitoring). In particular, he sees it as restricted to learnt (i.e. explicit)
knowledge. However, learners can also monitor by means of controlled
implicit knowledge, a point that Krashen (1985) seems to acknowledge later
when he talks about monitoring by feel. Also, although monitoring constitutes
an additional processing operation, it need not interfere greatly with
communicative efficiency, as learners with access to well-automated explicit
knowledge may be able to edit their output without adversely affecting their
fluency. There is likely to be considerable individual variation in the extent to
which different learners emphasize communicative efficiency or target
language norms in their production (Meisel, Clahsen, and Pienemann 1981).
Learners also make use of the scaffolding provided by their interlocutors to
help them produce utterances (see Chapter 2). Interactionally-aided output
A theory of instructed SLA 129
appears to figure extensively in early L2 acquisition. In the classroom, there
may be limited opportunities for such output, but Fa:rch (1985) has shown
that they are not entirely missing.
Output may also contribute to acquisition. As suggested by Swain (1985),
pushed output (i.e. output that is precise and sociolinguistically acceptable)
may be necessary for learners to achieve higher levels of linguistic and
sociolinguistic competence. Swain (1995) suggests that pushed output aids
acquisition in three principal ways. First, it promotes noticing-the-gap.
Through trying to produce the target language, learners discover that there is
a gap between what they want to say and what they are able to say. Second,
output serves as means of hypothesis testing. Swain suggests that learners may
tryout rules and, if their output elicits feedback indicating the rules are
incorrect or inappropriate, they utilize this feedback to modify the rules.
Third, learners have been observed to reflect sometimes on their output and,
as a result develop a meta lingual understanding of how it is problematic. In
this way, output can also contribute to the development of explicit knowledge.
Swain argues that this process of reflection is stimulated when learners engage
in collaborative tasks that lead to talk about linguistic form in the context of
meaning-focused activity. In these three ways, pushed output can both help to
create new linguistic knowledge and also to increase the accuracy with which
existing knowledge is used. However, as we saw in Chapter 2 opportunities for
pushed output may be rare, even in classrooms that can be presumed to favour
real communication (i.e. immersion classrooms in Canada). It may be
necessary, therefore, to contrive opportunities for learner production that
encourages noticing-the-gap, hypothesis testing and reflection.
Output can also help in another way. The language learners produce
constitutes a kind of auto-input (Schmidt and Frota 1986). As Sharwood
Smith (1981) has pointed out this means that utterances that have been
constructed with the help of explicit knowledge can provide feedback into the
system responsible for processing implicit knowledge. It also means, however,
that learners are exposed to their own errors, a fact that may account for why
some errors are so persistent and why learners often feel that their errors are
not really errors. Auto-input, therefore, has the potential to both facilitate and
impede acquisition.
The theory described in the previous sections has been constructed to explain
how input derived from different types of instruction contributes to L2
acquisition in a classroom setting. The central premise of the model is that
knowledge can be distinguished according to whether it is explicit or implicit.
This summary takes the form a series of claims regarding these two types of
130 The application of theory
Explicit knowledge
1 Explicit knowledge consists of analysed L2 features, which the learner is
aware of and may be able to articulate.
2 Explicit knowledge is available for use in both controlled and automatic
3 Explicit knowledge can be developed as a result of memorizing descriptions
of L2 features or of engaging in problem-solving activities.
4 Learners may make use of explicit L1 knowledge when learning explicit L2
5 Learners may also develop explicit L2 knowledge as a result of reflecting on
their own output, in particular when they perceive this as problematic in
6 Explicit knowledge may convert directly into implicit knowledge if the
learner has reached a stage of development that permits this.
7 Explicit knowledge may also contribute to the acquisition of implicit
knowledge indirectly in two ways: by helping the learner to notice features
in the input and by helping learners to carry out a comparison between input
and their own current interlanguage and in so doing to notice the gap.
8 Explicit knowledge can be used to edit utterances (conscious monitoring).
Implicit knowledge
1 Implicit L2 knowledge consists of items (e.g. lexical items and formulaic
chunks) and rules or generalizations.
2 Implicit knowledge is available for use in both controlled and automatic
processing, but is particularly suited to the latter.
3 Implicit knowledge results from incidental learning when learners attend to
and detect forms in the input. Learners are not aware or have only a low
level of awareness of their implicit knowledge.
4 Implicit learning involves intake and interlanguage revision. Intake occurs
when the learner (a) notices a new feature in the input and places it in short-
term memory. Interlanguage revision occurs when the learner (b) notices a
gap between the feature and the current interlanguage and (c)
accommodates the L2 system to the new feature. The extent to which
consciousness is involved in (a) and (b) remains a matter of controversy. It
is likely that (c) is a largely subconscious process.
5 Integration is easier in item learning than in system (rule) learning.
6 Implicit knowledge of some grammatical rules is acquired gradually and
sequentially, reflecting psycholinguistic constraints that govern their
7 Learners are likely to notice and, therefore, intake features that are
communicatively significant, frequent, unusual, perceptively salient,
similar to their L1, or unmarked. Noticing and intake may also be promoted
by developmental readiness.
A theory of instructed SLA 131
8 Simplified or interactionally modified input can result in some features
becoming more frequent or salient in the input and therefore more
9 Learners may be able to go beyond the data provided by the input by
projecting their knowledge of marked features to associated unmarked
10 Learners utilize both world knowledge and L1 knowledge in acquiring
implicit knowledge.
11 The process of comprehending input is distinct from the process of
acquiring implicit knowledge; noticing and intake only occur when
learners are engaged in bottom-up processing and integration requires
them to recognize a gap in the interlanguage system.
12 Learners' output also contributes to the acquisition of implicit L2
knowledge when the learner is pushed to conform to target language
norms and (b) output becomes auto-input.
13 Opportunities for participating in language use under real operating
conditions may be needed to automatize implicit knowledge.
14 Learners can edit their output using implicit knowledge. This is known as
monitoring by feel.
As in all theories, these claims constitute hypotheses that require careful
The theory helps to explain two puzzles in L2 acquisition studies. The first is
the paradox of formal instruction; formal instruction results in faster and
more successful language learning (see Chapter 2) and yet learners often fail to
learn what they have been taught. This can be explained by positing that
formal instruction contributes primarily to explicit knowledge which can
facilitate later development of implicit knowledge. In other words, it will often
have a delayed rather than an immediate effect.
The second puzzle is the fluency-accuracy puzzle; learners appear able to
develop fluency in the use of the L2 while fossilizing linguistically. Learners
who concentrate on automatizing their existing knowledge may do so at the
expense of internalizing new knowledge. This is because the psycholinguistic
processes involved in using L2 knowledge are distinct from those involved in
acquiring new knowledge. To acquire, the learner must attend to the input,
and perhaps also, make efforts to monitor output, but doing so may interfere
with fluent reception and production. Learners may be faced with the choice
of processing to achieve communicative efficiency or to acquire. Individual
learners will respond differently to this choice.
The theory affords a number of pedagogic proposals. A number of these are
explored in Chapters 5 and 6.
132 The application of theory
1 A recent study by Mackey (1996) does provide some support for the claim
that interaction facilitates the acquisition of grammar. She found that a
group of learners who experienced interactionally modified input in
performing tasks that required them to ask various types of questions
manifested the ability to produce developmentally more advanced
questions in a delayed but not an immediate post test. This study also lends
support to a later claim, namely that form-focused instruction may
sometimes have a delayed rather than an immediate effect.
2 Evidence for implicit knowledge of items is to be found in the fact that
language users frequently use particular formulaic expressions to perform
particular language functions without any awareness of so doing
(Wolfson 1989).
3 It is customary to speak of linguistic knowledge (in particular
grammatical knowledge) in terms of rules. However, recently an
alternative explanation known as parallel distributed processing has been
developed (see Rumelhart et al. 1986, Gasser 1990). This views learning
as the establishment and strengthening of a network of connections in
response to exemplars encountered in the input. There are no rules;
knowledge exists as connection strengths spread throughout the system.
In this chapter the term 'rules' is used to describe that aspect of linguistic
knowledge that is not formulaic-in accordance with custom. The
manner in which implicit knowledge is represented in the learner's mind
is clearly of considerable importance. However, the main hypotheses of
the theory of instructed L2 acquisition discussed in this chapter are not
incompatible with a view of knowledge as associational strengths.
4 See also Robinson (1995) for a review of cognitive models of the role of
attention in information processing. Robinson discusses three uses of the
term 'attention'; to refer to (1) the processes involved in selecting the
information to be processed and stored in memory (2) our capacity for
information processing and (3) the mental effort involved.
5 In an earlier version of this theory (Ellis 1994), I characterized the function
of comparing as that of facilitating intake. That is, intake was the result of
noticing and comparing. On further thought, I now consider comparing
as facilitating the representation of the new knowledge in the learner's
interlanguage (IL) system. That is, it works on information that has been
taken in. However, comparing does not guarantee that the new
information will be integrated into the IL system; it merely makes it
6 One of the problems with studies such as those carried out by Reber and
Robinson is that we cannot be sure that the learners who were instructed
to just memorize target sentences did not, in fact, attempt to consciously
identify regularities in them.
A theory of instructed SLA 133
7 The argument here is that item learning poses less of an integration
problem than system learning. However, I do not wish to claim that the
learning of formulas and lexical items only involves item learning. Clearly,
lexical acquisition ultimately involves integrating items into a semantic
network. I would suggest, however, that items may be initially (and
incompletely) learnt in an unintegrated fashion.