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Problem Solving in a Foreign Language

Studies on Language Acquisition


Peter Jordens

De Gruyter Mouton
Problem Solving
in a Foreign Language

Lena Heine

De Gruyter Mouton
ISBN 978-3-11-022445-0
e-ISBN 978-3-11-022446-7
ISSN 1861-4248

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Heine, Lena.
Problem solving in a foreign language / by Lena Heine.
p. cm. (Studies on language acquisition ; 41)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-3-11-022445-0 (alk. paper)
1. Second language acquisition Study and teaching. 2. Lan-
guage and languages Study and teaching. 3. Language and cul-
ture. 4. Sociolinguistics. I. Title.
P118.2H45 2010

Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek

The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie;
detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at

2010 Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin/New York

Printing: Hubert & Co. GmbH & Co. KG, Gttingen
Printed on acid-free paper
Printed in Germany
For Doris and Werner Heine
who make things grow
and sail the sea

This book is based on my PhD thesis Kognitive Prozesse bilingualer Lerner

bei der fremdsprachlichen Verarbeitung von Fachinhalten (2007, Osnabrck
University), which was partly funded by the German Research Foundation
within the project Fachlernen und (Fremd-)Sprachlichkeit: aufgabenbasierte
Kognition, Kooperation, Kommunikation.
I would like to thank H. Johannes Vollmer for all his support and for
taking me on board, Debbie Coetzee-Lachmann for the many stimulating
discussions and the enjoyable working hours spent together, and Verena
Barbosa Duarte, Kristin Mller and Randi Troschke for their help with the
coding of the think-aloud data.
A special thanks goes to Alex Bergs for his support under the final stages
of the project.
Thanks also to the editor of the present series, Peter Jordens, especially
for his valuable comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.
My grateful thanks goes to the students of the Ratsgymnasium Os-
nabrck who allowed me intimate insights into their very thoughts. With-
out their help this book could never have been written.

Figures x
Tables xi

Chapter 1 Introduction 1
1. Bilingual education and CLIL 1
2. Objectives 4
3. Structure 5

Chapter 2 Language and thinking 8

1. Linguistic knowledge 8
2. Linguistic knowledge in multilingual speakers 10
3. Language and meaning 13
4. Language and the format of thought 15
5. Conclusions and summary 21

Chapter 3 Problem solving 23

1. Mental processes 23
2. Task solving as problem solving 27
3. The appropriate level of description 28
4. Processes vs. phases 30
5. Focus on meaning and focus on form 32
6. Summary 35

Chapter 4 Language-specific cognitive processes 36

1. Linguistic processing 36
2. Processes of text comprehension 37
3. Processes of language production 40
4. Models of writing tasks 42
5. Summary 56

Chapter 5 A model of conceptual-linguistic task solving 57

1. Task-solving as a complex problem solving activity 57
2. Phases of task solving 61
3. Summary 66
viii Contents

Chapter 6 Task design and task analysis 68

1. The importance of the research design 68
2. Subjects 68
3. Elicitation tasks 69
4. Cognitive task analysis 73
5. Linguistic task analysis 79
6. Summary 81

Chapter 7 Think-aloud data 82

1. Thinking aloud 82
2. Thinking aloud and language of thought 84
3. Individual differences in cognitive processing 89
4. Thinking aloud in L2 settings 90
5. Think-aloud data as protocols of problem solving activites 94
6. Summary 98

Chapter 8 A coding scheme 99

1. Coding the data 99
2. Change of focus between the problem spaces 107
3. Different phases different mental activities 114
4. Summary 118

Chapter 9 Problem solving in a foreign language 119

1. Language as a catalytic converter: depth of processing 119
2. L1-L2 processing differences in language production 128
3. Language reception 148
4. Filled and unfilled pauses 149
5. Mispronunciations 151
6. Differences in semantic processing of text information? 156
7. Critical thoughts on the process data 159
8. Summary 160

Chapter 10 Evaluation of the think-aloud method 162

1. Limitations of the think-aloud method 162
2. Subjective interview data 163
3. Reactivity 165
4. Mental language switches 170
5. Is thinking aloud a valid elicitation method? 173
6. Summary 176
Contents ix

Chapter 11 Results and discussion 177

1. Retrospective thoughts 177
2. Theoretical results 177
3. Methodological results 178
4. Empirical results 183
5. Implications for the design of learning contexts 185
6. What further research is needed? 187
7. Final remarks 189

Transcription conventions 191

References 192
Index 214

Fig. 1: Cognitive processes on a continuum of descriptive levels 26

Fig. 2: The model of text composition by Flower and Hayes (1981) 44

Fig. 3: Bereiter and Scardamalias (1987) model of knowledge telling 46

Fig. 4: Bereiter and Scardamalias (1987) model of knowledge 48


Fig. 5: Krings (1996) model of L2 writing 52

Fig. 6: The model of written language production by Chenoweth and 53

Hayes (2001)

Fig. 7: A model of conceptual-linguistic task solving 60

Fig. 8: Tasks 1 to 5 from the task set for the bilingual learners 71

Fig. 9: Task 6 from the task set for the bilingual learners 72

Fig. 10: Jennifers answer of task 6 133


Table 1: Framework for the description of complex problem solving 32

Table 2: Task solving phases of the conceptual task solution 61

Table 3: Task solving phases of the linguistic-rhetorical task solution 63

Table 4: Cognitive Task Analysis of Task 2 (knowledge structures and 78

cognitive processes)

Table 5: Problem solving phases in the conceptual and the linguistic- 102
rhetorical problem spaces

Table 6: Cases of deeper semantic processing, caused by activity in the 129

linguistic-rhetoric problem space

Table 7: Deeper semantic processing of the CLIL learners, caused by ac- 147
tivity in the linguistic problem space

Table 8: CLIL learners mispronunciations when reading 152

Table 9: Subject-specific scores in the answers of Task 6 156

Table 10: Contribution of individual data types to the study 182

Chapter 1

1. Bilingual education and CLIL

Language is the most elaborated semiotic system we use, and it is inextri-

cably linked with the meaning that it conveys. In all linguistic communica-
tion, conceptual content is either constructed on the basis of linguistic
structure namely when utterances are decoded, and a mental representa-
tion of the message is constructed , or it is merged into such a structure
in speech production or text composition.
This book is about the effects of foreign language use on the cognitive
processes of meaning-focused problem solving. It is an attempt to under-
stand more clearly what happens when humans deal with non-linguistic
tasks in a foreign language setting. Thus, I will try to find answers to the
following two main questions:

1. Which role does language play in problem solving activities that

have a focus on meaning, but not on form?
2. Does it make a difference if a task with a focus on meaning is
solved in an L2 dominated environment, compared to an L1 con-

The question whether the use of a foreign language has any effects on
problem solving, is particularly relevant for contexts in which an L2 is used
as a working language in educational settings, such as immersion programs
or Content and Language Integrated Learning classrooms. Indeed, the
main reason why I decided to undertake this research was that I wanted to
acquire a better understanding of the characteristics of Content and Lan-
guage Integrated Learning (CLIL). I will therefore provide some back-
ground information for this educational approach and the state of research
in the field.
2 Introduction

In CLIL classrooms, often also called Bilingual Education, a foreign

language is used as the medium of instruction and communication in a lim-
ited number of content subjects in an otherwise L1 dominated context. In
Europe, it has become a very popular form of teaching, and we find it in a
wide variety of formats. CLIL differs from immersion programmes, known
first and foremost from Canada (Genesee 1987; Harley, Allen et al. 1990;
Swain 1998; Swain and Lapkin 1995), in that the dominance of the L2 is
smaller and generally only covers one to three school subjects (often sci-
ence subjects such as geography, history, or biology). Still, differences in
individual programmes are large, even within the same country. This
makes general statements somewhat difficult, but certain aspects can be
generalized (see Dalton-Puffer and Smit 2007 for a summary of the histori-
cal development of the discipline, and Garcia 2009 for an overview with an
international perspective).
Historically, CLIL has in many European contexts emerged as an alter-
native to the traditional language classrooms, in which not the linguistic
structure is in the centre of the syllabus, but its communicative use in
authentic learning situations. Systematic comparisons between foreign lan-
guage proficiency have provided evidence that learners in CLIL classes
outperform learners who only participate in the traditional language class-
rooms (Bredenbrker 2000; DIPF 2006; Helbig 2001; for an overview, see
also Vollmer 2000; Wode 1995; Zydati 2005, but see Sylven 2004 and
Lim Falk 2008). As a rationale for this superior effect on language acquisi-
tion, the Comprehensible Input Hypothesis by Krashen (1984; 1985) or, as
an alternative approach, the Output Hypothesis (Swain 1985) have been
considered. However, only general foreign language proficiency has been
measured in the studies mentioned above, while the subject-specific as-
pects of language use was not in focus.
Therefore, it is not surprising that predominantly research on language
acquisition has dealt with CLIL, while its character as a subject classroom
setting has largely been neglected. This stands in contrast to the fact that in
CLIL curricula, linguistic structure and function is only seldom the explicit
topic of instruction, in spite of the comprehensive term Content and Lan-
guage Integrated Learning; language learning is assumed to take place
more or less automatically, and CLIL classrooms are generally regarded by
teachers and syllabus developers as subject classrooms with a focus on
meaning (Long 1991, Long and Robinson 1998), not language classrooms;
introducing and practising aspects of linguistic structure is generally re-
garded as a domain of the foreign language classrooms.
Bilingual education and CLIL 3

Mirrored in CLIL curricula and the scientific discussion is the following

understanding: It is assumed that language learning and content learning
are regarded as separate processes, and subject-specific content learning
occurs more or less independently from language. In contrast to this, we
find in any meaning-focused classroom that language plays an important
role, even if it is not the centre of attention: Language serves as the domi-
nant means of communication, and the medium in which the subject con-
tent is presented and addressed; through language conceptual relations are
discussed and negotiated in classroom interactions; subject-specific knowl-
edge is built up by reading textbook chapters, or through discussions with
fellow students in group work. Furthermore, language is the predominant
semiotic system used in testing learning outcome: In typical achievement
tests, students are required to demonstrate learning outcome by putting
their knowledge, skills and competences into words, either written or spo-
ken. Even in testing formats, where no oral or written texts have to be pro-
duced, language has to be dealt with at least in a receptive way, namely in
decoding the task prompts or test questions.
Until now only few studies have focused on the aspects of content
learning in CLIL settings and the role that language plays therein. So, al-
though several studies have revealed that L2 proficiency is improved in
CLIL settings even if it is not in focus, we still do not know what effects
the use of the L2 as a working language has on the processing of subject
content. One major reason for this is a methodological obstacle: It is much
more difficult to measure levels of subject-specific competence than lin-
guistic proficiency, because carefully validated tests for general linguistic
proficiency have long been in use, but reliable tests for subject-specific
competences are still lacking. Thus in the few studies we find about sub-
ject-specific knowledge and its use in typical problem solving situations
(Badertscher 2004; Gajo and Serra 2002; Golay 2005; Koch 2005; Koch
and Bnder 2006; Stohler 2006), no competence tests have been used up to
now; instead pre-post test designs that test only a selection of more or less
randomly chosen subject knowledge have been preferred. That is why they
cannot claim to give an overall measure of the central subject-specific
competences. Within the scope of these tests the studies show that CLIL
learners achieve a similar subject-specific proficiency as the control group
of learners taught in traditional monolingual environments.
First attempts to measure subject-specific competence have been made
by Bonnet (2004) for the field of chemistry and Vollmer (2006a; 2006b,
2007, see also Passon 2007) for geography. Vollmer uses a competence
4 Introduction

model developed by the German Geographical Society (Deutsche Ge-

sellschaft fr Geographie 2006). The results are difficult to compare, and
Vollmers study has not been finalized yet, but here too it seems obvious
that the CLIL learners are in their subject-specific competences on a com-
parable level to learners from traditional classes.
These results are particularly interesting with regard to what has been
addressed as the CLIL paradox (De Florio-Hansen 2003; Thrmann
2000; Zydati 2002). The puzzle addressed here is that CLIL learners have
to acquire a range of the categories and skills of the subject, but are at the
same time lacking the linguistic competence that would allow them to infer
these categories from context. So, subject learning and language learning
have to take place at the same time, despite the fact that one is the precon-
dition for the other. When we compare this paradox to the outcomes of the
studies mentioned above why are CLIL learners apparently not hindered
by the use of the L2 as a working language? How do they compensate for
the difficulties they should experience in the foreign language setting?
This interrelationship of the two sides of CLIL learning, subject side
and language side, needs to be clearly described, and the two sides put into
relation to each other to form a scientific basis for the development of cur-
ricula, teaching material and suggestions for their implementation.

2. Objectives

Although the focus of this book is the relationship between (foreign) lan-
guage and the construction of conceptual meaning relationships, its aim is
not to contribute to the discussion on linguistic relativity, e.g. how speakers
of different languages conceptualise the world differently through the par-
ticular linguistic microstructures they are using.
What I will focus on instead is whether it is possible to see an effect of
the use of a foreign language as a working language in processes of task
solving. The study thus approaches the intimate relationship between lan-
guage and thought from the macro-perspective of focus. It asks how phases
of problem solving in which a persons focus is on linguistic information
influence processes of meaning construction. So, not subconscious micro-
processes of grammatical or lexical processing are at the centre of this
study, but potentially conscious phases in a students attempt to find a solu-
tion to a problem.
Structure 5

It follows that the aims of this book are basically twofold, because in or-
der to understand which role a foreign language plays in content-focused set-
tings, two things are necessary: Firstly, we need a theoretically well-based
model of how language and problem solving are interrelated in cognitive
processing in general. I will suggest such a model, which integrates the so-
cio-cultural embedding of the cognitive processes.
Secondly, assumptions and statements about the effects of the foreign
language on the task solving processes should be based on empirical evi-
dence. I will therefore provide an analysis of empirical data that has been
elicited, transcribed and categorized especially for this purpose. The data
corpus consists of a set of three kinds of data: 1. think-aloud protocols pro-
duced by subjects solving meaning-focused tasks in a foreign language set-
ting, 2. the written texts they composed as an answer for the elicitation
tasks and 3. interview data collected after the task-solving sessions. While
the think-aloud corpus can be regarded as the main data set that has been
elicited in order to gain insight into the online-processing of language and
conceptual content, the written answers and the interview data serve as
complements that allow a methodological triangulation. The following sec-
tion gives a more detailed outline of the content of the book.

3. Structure

The book contains eleven main chapters. After this introductory chapter I
will account for the theoretical view underlying the empirical data elicita-
tion of the study.
Chapter 2 starts with a short overview over definitions of linguistic and
non-linguistic knowledge from different theoretical perspectives and the re-
lationship between language and thought.
Chapter 3 continues with a discussion on the processing of information in
the context of tasks that can be defined as problems (in other words, situations
in which a goal state cannot be reached automatically, but which require the
application of knowledge and cognitive activity of some sort). I will discuss
different degrees of abstractness in cognitive processes, and distinguish be-
tween problem solving processes with a focus on language on the one hand
and with a focus on content on the other.
In Chapter 4 I will give a short overview of psycholinguistic approaches
in order to account for the question of what happens when linguistic infor-
6 Introduction

mation is processed. Here, I briefly discuss processes of speech production

and reception, and elaborate on models of text composition and reading.
Chapter 5 integrates these basic theoretical assumptions into a model of
task-based content and language processing. This model accounts for the
assumption that different content-based and linguistic activities can be
identified during the macro-process of problem solving, and that the focus
can alternate between them. In addition to the process dimension, the
model also covers the aspect of learner characteristics and that of the con-
text and the task setting, which account for macro-theoretical assumptions
of the individual construction of a mental representation and the necessity
of embedding any analysis of cognitive processes into their social contexts.
In Chapter 6, the basic framework for the elicitation of the empirical
data is provided. The elicitation tasks are firstly described and a way for
analysis presented. On the one hand, the problem solving tasks show a
clear focus on content in that non-verbal sources of information such as
climate graphs and geographical maps had to be interpreted by the subjects.
On the other hand, even linguistic information had to be processed in order
to solve the tasks: Part of the information was provided in linguistic form
(task assignment and information texts) that had to be decoded. Further-
more, the subjects had to formulate a written answer in which they pre-
sented their findings. One group of subjects had to work with all linguistic
material in their L1 German, while another group had to process all linguis-
tic input in their L2 English, and had to write their answers in the L2 as
well. This kind of task design was chosen on the basis of the following rea-
soning: If interactional effects between content processing and linguistic
processing are to be investigated, both kinds of processes take place when
such a task is solved, and should thus be accessible in process data.
After depicting how the elicitation tasks are designed in order to trigger
the mental activities to be investigated, I will in Chapter 7 discuss possibili-
ties for making these mental processes observable. What is interesting here
is that most of the time language use is an automatic process that people
only seldom reflect on. Normally, we do not notice the words and gram-
matical constructions we use, but, as it were, we immediately decode their
underlying meaning structures. This point has methodological implications
for this study in that it has led to the decision to use think-aloud data as the
main data source. In the remainder of Chapter 7, the think-aloud method is
outlined and discussed in terms of both its advantages and restrictions, and
the suitability of think-aloud data as a source for investigating mental proc-
esses in problem solving activities is explained.
Structure 7

In Chapter 8, the process categories from the model introduced in Chap-

ter 5 are exemplified, using think-aloud data examples from the study.
With their help it is possible to separate the process data into content-
focused and form-focused processing activities. In order to give a reliable
interpretation, a cognitive task analysis is shown to be necessary in order to
identify different phases of the problem solving process. The focused in-
stances in the data analysis are thus instances where attention on any lin-
guistic form triggers a deeper processing of meaning relationships, espe-
cially when an L2 is used as a working language. Thus, no linguistic
construction is in particular focus, although it turns out that many problem
solving activities are caused by knowledge gaps on the lexical or phrasal
The results of the data analyses are presented in Chapter 9. Here, the
empirical findings are discussed and illustrated with examples from the
data. This results in the formulation of a number of hypotheses concerning
the role of language in problem solving activity, with a special focus on
foreign language use.
Owing to the fact that before and during the data elicitation, the think-
aloud method led to many questions that could not be answered by the exist-
ing literature, part of the data elicitation was conducted in order to address
these problems. Chapter 10 is dedicated to the presentation of these results
concerning the validity of the method. Here, evidence is provided for the in-
dividual and shifting character of mental processing and the need for psycho-
linguistic modelling to respond to this.
By presenting the hypotheses that have been generated, Chapter 11
summarizes the findings, gives an outline of recommendations for didactic
situations as well as perspectives for future research. The chapter concludes
with final remarks concerning qualitative and quantitative research designs
and hypothesis testing.
Chapter 2
Language and thinking

1. Linguistic knowledge

The interrelation between language and non-linguistic knowledge has been

of interest in a wide range of fields, ranging from logic and philosophy of
language over cognitive psychology to linguistic semantics, and is of cru-
cial interest if we want to find out about possible impacts of language on
meaning-focused problem solving activities.
In this chapter I will present the theoretical view underlying the design
for the empirical study. Because my aim is to study the impact of an L2 on
learners mental processes in problem solving situations, it is necessary to
specify the basic assumptions about linguistic and non-linguistic knowl-
It is not the space here for any detailed accounts of theoretical views;
thorough overviews can be found in specialized monographs, such as
Edmondson and Burquest (1998) or Herdina and Jessner (2002) for the
modelling of linguistic knowledge, or Lbner (2002) or Saeed (2003) for
linguistic semantic theories, to name just a few. Instead, I will give a rough
overview of how the variety of research strands conceptualise linguistic
knowledge, and the relationship between language and thought in general
and in problem solving situations in particular. This will form the basis for
the analysis for the empirical data, presented in Chapter 9.
Since the cognitive shift in the late 1950s the main task of linguistics has
been to model linguistic knowledge. In the modular linguistic theories in
the Chomskyan tradition that have developed to become the dominant view
since then, linguistic knowledge is assumed to be based on innate, specific
and independent cognitive mechanisms that differ from those of other con-
ceptual knowledge representations. Although embedded into the general
cognitive apparatus, and in principle dependent on a theory of cognition,
linguistic knowledge is modelled separately from general cognition, de-
scriptions are made module- internally. Therefore, results from psychologi-
cal studies on perception and cognition are generally not integrated into
linguistic model building.
Linguistic knowledge 9

The terminology used in the neurosciences or cognitive psychology, such

as perception, activation, or memory, is seldom used in traditional lin-
guistic approaches, and general cognitive structures and functions play
only a subordinate role, if any (but cf. Marantz 2005, who argues that gen-
erative linguistic theories are compatible with results from the neuro-
sciences). The same holds for sociopsychological concepts such as expec-
tations and assumptions, affects or context. Rather, linguistic
processing is described in its own terminology, such as mental lexicon
and rules for the generation of grammatically correct utterances, without
asking detailed questions about the cognitive-psychological reality of these
abstract concepts, nor the sociocultural embedding of language use.
Within these traditional theories, linguistic competence is regarded as a
composite of several autonomous subsystems in which different fields of
knowledge are stored, each subsystem controlling a specific level of lin-
guistic representation. In most models, we find a separation into
phonological, morphosyntactic, lexical and semantic information (for an
overview, see e.g., Aitchison 2003), with varying assumptions about which
entities are stored as a whole and what is generated on the basis of rule
knowledge (for an overview of different models of morphosyntactic proc-
essing, see Haspelmath 2002).
What is interesting for us here is the question which structures should
be regarded as linguistic knowledge, and which ones have to be thought of
as being part of non-linguistic modules. The answer is rather straightfor-
ward for knowledge of phonological or grammatical rules, which can
clearly be counted as linguistic knowledge. Yet, a distinction becomes
more difficult when it comes to the meaning part of language.
Generally, linguistic knowledge is assumed to contain a semantic part in
the mental lexicon, where the meaning of linguistic entities, such as words,
is stored. It contains information about what is permanent of a words core
meaning, or its sense (e.g., the general, isolated meaning of a word like
shoe laces, Evans and Green 2006: 208). Semantic knowledge is con-
trasted with encyclopaedic, or conceptual, knowledge, which is assumed to
be stored outside the linguistic module, and contains knowledge of the
world (e.g., where to buy shoe laces or how to tie them, Evans and Green
2006: 208). Encyclopaedic knowledge is by traditional linguists regarded
as belonging to the field of cognitive psychology, rather than linguistics,
and is not integrated into the modelling of linguistic core disciplines. This
traditional view has been challenged, however, as I will explain in the fol-
lowing section.
10 Language and thinking

2. Linguistic knowledge in multilingual speakers

After this short overview of general linguistic theories, the question re-
mains how foreign language acquisition research attempts to model the or-
ganization of linguistic knowledge.
Foreign language research has suggested different approaches (for
overviews, see e.g. Appel and Muysken 1987; Baker and Prys Jones 1998;
Bhatia and Ritchie 2008; Herdina and Jessner 2002; Kroll and de Groot
2005). Because at least two language systems are in focus here, a bigger
grain size is chosen for the theoretical view. This often leads to the unfa-
vourable situation that models are restricted to an internal theorizing of this
aspect, but fail to embed it into a larger framework. Compare for Herdina
and Jessner (2002), who criticise
that a large number of theories currently discussed in research on language
acquisition and multilingualism lack an overall theoretical foundation.
In the following, I will only present theories that do address the issue of
knowledge representation.
Older theories describe multilingual knowledge as subordinate com-
partments of the language module, and with that tie in with modular theo-
ries of grammar. Here, the models by Weinreich (1953) and Ervin and Os-
good (1954) used to have a highly influential status. A central concept in
their assumptions is the differentiation between compound and coordinate
bilingualism. A compound bilingual speaker has learned two languages in
the same cultural context, while a coordinate bilingual learner has formed
each language system in a different cultural surrounding. In the first case, it
is assumed that both languages form a common mental representation, so
that words from the different language systems relate to the same concep-
tual representation. In the second case, on the other hand, two separate rep-
resentations are formed, in which each languages lexicon is stored sepa-
rately and linked to separate conceptualizations.
If the proficiency for both languages is different in coordinate lan-
guages, which is the norm in foreign language acquisition, Weinreich sug-
gests that the concepts from the language with the higher proficiency can
influence the interpretation of word meaning of the other language (= in-
fluence from L1 to L2). Generally, it is assumed that is more probable that
more interferences occur between compound than between coordinate lan-
guage systems.
Linguistic knowledge in multilingual speakers 11

In order to test these theoretical assumptions, studies in error analysis

and contrastive research designs were conducted. Their goal was to inves-
tigate on a structural and behaviourist background which stages of lan-
guage development occur and which transfer and interference phenome be-
tween language systems can be found (see Edmondson and House 2000;
Herdina and Jessner 2002). The theoretical assumption behind this is that
the learner language develops successively from an incomplete to a native
speaker status. Furthermore, an influence of the L1 on the L2 is assumed in
the way that identical structures in the L2 should be easy to acquire, while
different structures should be difficult, and result in linguistic structures
that deviate from the target language structure. This contrastive hypothesis
has met harsh critique:
Learner language is typically instable and in many respects independent
from the L1, so that the individual and constructive character of language
learning with its embedding into learner motivations and other factors
needs to be integrated in explanations. Most learners do never reach an L2
proficiency comparable to their L1, but tend to reach a standstill on certain
stages (Corder 1971; Nemser 1971; Selinker 1972).
Besides that, the degree of difficulty cannot be defined by the degree of
difference between linguistic structures, because this value would remain
constant (Edmondson and House 2000). This means that English learners
of German would have the same difficulties as German learners of English,
but that is obviously not the case: Any second language teacher will attest
that the German verb position in subordinate clauses usually poses big
problems for native speakers of English, while the corresponding syntax of
English is only seldom problematic for German learners of English. Like-
wise, the contrastive hypothesis cannot explain why learners of the same
L1 do experience idiosyncratic difficulties when learning the same L2.
And finally, early research (Osgood 1949) already indicates that a lack
of contrast can cause errors in the L2 system as well. So, even when there
are only minor differences between L1 and L2, more problems can arise
than when the differences are very obvious.
Another highly influential early study for theories on L2 representations
is Peal and Lambert (1962). In a large-scale investigation, it could show
that bilingual Canadian children (English-French) were not only superior to
a French-speaking control group in verbal tests in both languages, but even
in nonverbal tests of cognitive ability. This study is highly important for
the following reasons: Before it, L1 influence on the L2 was only assumed
to lead to negative transfer phenomena. Now it could not only be shown
12 Language and thinking

that even the L2 had an effect back on the L1, but even on other cognitive
areas. These results could be confirmed in further studies (Baker and Prys
Jones 1998).
These results provide evidence against the modular hypothesis, because
a modular view cannot account for interactions between the linguistic
module and other cognitive modules.
Another theoretical model that explicitly addresses the representation of
different language systems in multilinguals is suggested by Cummins
(1979; 1984; 1991). In part, it can provide explanations for the Peal and
Lambert study.
According to Cummins, linguistic knowledge can be subdivided into
different types of knowledge: Basic interpersonal communication skills
(BICS) und Cognitive/Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). BICS
covers linguistic elements such as pronunciation, lexicon, and grammar,
which enable the speaker to communicate. CALP, on the other hand, refers
to the ability to use language as a cognitive tool in order to construct and
structure abtract thoughts and master metalinguistic requirements. For in-
stance, a general text decoding ability is assumed that transfers general de-
coding-related strategy knowledge to new L2 knowledge. This means that a
proficient L1 reader will also be a proficient L2 reader (of course this is de-
termined by general proficiency). Likewise, abilities that have been ac-
quired in L2 contexts are accessible for L1 usage as well.
Another model is linked to this interdependence hypothesis which chal-
lenges the traditional view of multilingualism as multiple monolingualism
(see Baker 1996). Within the framework of multiple monolingualism, lan-
guage acquisition is regarded as a reduplicated number of processes and
cognitive resources, so the abilities for each language are separate (Cum-
mins calls this SUP for Separate Underlying Proficiency). This assumption
underlies the old view that multilingualism is actually restricting cognitive
capacities: The more cognitive resources are bound by one language, the
less capacities are left over for the other languages. According to this logic,
the optimal case is monolingualism.
As a contrasting theoretical view, Cummins suggests a Common Under-
lying Proficiency (CUP). Multilinguals use a common pool that is underly-
ing all their languages systems. This is conformous with the fact that in-
crease of proficiency in one language can have even a positive effect on the
other language systems.
The studies by Peal and Lambert (1962), and concurrently the interde-
pendence hypothesis by Cummins (1979; 1984; 1991) have provided im-
Language and meaning 13

portant impulses for more recent models of multilingual language knowl-

edge. In particular, we can state that the potential for interaction between
cognitive and language-specific knowledge is a well-accepted concept by
now. Furthermore, the constructivist assumption that there are individual
differences in how the linguistic subsystems are build up and interact with
each other (cf. Riemer 1997). Language systems are highly dynamic, so
that a once reached proficiency stage can be lost again. Newer models
make use of system theory and chaos theory, and the basic assumptions of
Cognitive Linguistics have been adapted for foreign language research
(ibid., also Achad and Niemeier 2004). This has implications which lead to
a renaissance of topics from earlier research under new focus:
Still the question is unanswered whether multilingual speakers store
knowledge in one cumulative or several separate mental lexica. In this con-
text, the Subset model by Paradis (1987) takes an intermediate position,
and might have the biggest explanatory power. It starts out from a single
mental lexicon of all languages, while each linguistic code forms an inter-
nal subsystem within it, either because these elements are used in combina-
tion so often (Raupach 1994) or because of structural features such as the
phonological-prosodical system.
As this short overview shows, it seems not justified to assume separate
cognitive modules, in which the linguistic module is subdivided further
into different linguistic codes. Instead, the interlinking and interdepen-
dency of all knowledge ares has to be stressed, and conceptual meaning is
not bound to single linguistic systems.

3. Language and meaning

The relationship between linguistic structure and underlying conceptual

representations, that has been addressed already, is the traditional field of
linguistic semantics. I will therefore give a short summary over different
theories here that might be relevant for the theoretical basis of the present
Traditional linguistic semantics assumes formal, clear analytical catego-
ries. Within the formal approach of feature semantics (Katz 1972; Wierz-
bicka 1996), word meaning is modelled with the help of a finite number of
semantic primitives (the concept BACHELOR would show the features
+HUMAN, +MALE, +ADULT, -MARRIED). In order to identify these
primitives, a strictly structuralist analysis is used: The semantic fields
14 Language and thinking

within the mental lexicon are structured according to lexical relations, so

that the single elements of a field come to stand in semantic relationships
of homonymy, antonymy, hyponymy etc. to each other. Besides that, the
single element is internally structured in that it is distinguished from other
elements by its distinctive features. What follows from this is that word
meaning can be described as being built up of smaller entities. All other as-
sociations that are not triggered by the semantic primitives are assumed to
belong to encyclopaedic world knowledge.
The criticism of models of feature semantics starts out from the obser-
vation that humans do not distinguish phenomena in the world as strictly
distinguishable on the basis of a number of features. Feature semantics
cannot account for the fact that people often experience difficultiy in sort-
ing phenomena into clear categories; hedging expressions like this thing is
a kind of X or this thing resembles an X hint at this fact, as well as a
range of experiments, e.g. the cups and mugs experiment by Labov (1973)
and a range of experiments by Rosch (1975, 1977, 1999). This led to the
formulation of prototype semantics (Rosch 1975, 1977, 1999). Prototype
semantics investigates how humans construct meaning through category
building, and describes this system of categories. The experimental evi-
dence suggests that humans perceive the world as structured, which is mir-
rored in their cognitive categories, and not the number of necessary distinc-
tive features determines the meaning of a phenomenon, but the features
that make it to a more or less good representative of a category. Thus, a
German shepherd might be a good representative of the category DOG,
while a pug or a chihuahua are untypical representatives. This view inte-
grates concepts of gradience and fuzziness (Aarts 2007).
For linguistics these findings set the stage for the integration of neigh-
bouring disciplines, particularly cognitive psychology, because they made
it obvious that for linguistic structures the same basic mechanisms apply as
for other forms of cognition. It is crucial here that prototypes cannot be ex-
plained without the integration of world knowledge, because what is con-
sidered to be a good or a bad member of a category is often to a high de-
gree culture specific and grounded in personal experience; so the strict
distinction between linguistic knowledge and encyclopaedic knowledge is
A similar approach is taken in frame semantics (Fillmore 1975, 1977,
1982; Fillmore and Atkins 1992) and script theory (Schank and Abelson
1977), which introduce basic ideas from newer branches of Cognitive Lin-
guistics. Here, it could be shown that humans store prototypical and sche-
Language and the format of thought 15

matic situations (frames) or typical scenarios (scripts) on the basis of their

individual experiences, which guide processes of categorisation, expecta-
tions, and actions. The meaning of single words can only be understood in
the context of these frames and scripts, because the connected field of ex-
perience reveals different aspects of lexeme meaning. So, the question
which features of a concept become meaningful can only be answered by
embedding them into larger relational schemes; denotation and connotation
of a word fall into one.
Evans and Green (2006: 161) illustrate this fact with the following ex-

(a) The child is safe.

(b) The beach is safe.
(c) The shovel is safe.

In these examples, the word safe shows a range of different meanings,

which can only be inferred from context. Whether the subject of either
example sentence is perceived as being potentially endangered, or on the
contrary as a potential source of danger, depends on a language users
world knowledge about children, beaches and shovels:
[T]he conventional meaning associated with a particular word is just a
prompt for the process of meaning construction: the selection of an ap-
propriate interpretation against the context of the utterance. [ibid, bold face
in original|
So, single lexemes trigger processes of conceptual meaning construc-
tion, but do actually contain less fixed meaning than is traditionally as-
sumed. They are the key that opens up the path through the conceptual con-
tent that is attached to a particular concept, of which different features can
be foregrounded in different contexts.

4. Language and the format of thought

An important issue that needs to be taken up in the discussion of the rela-

tionship between language and conceptual processing is the actual format
of thoughts. If it should turn out that thoughts are dependent on a linguistic
format, then language would be insolubly interconnected with processes of
thinking, and thought would not be possible without language, so that lan-
16 Language and thinking

guage might in fact be the actual cause for our thinking abilities. If, on the
other hand, thought is possible without language, linguistic and conceptual
knowledge can be assumed to be separable on a cognitive level, and this
has consequences for the setup of the empirical study presented here. We
find a range of different theories about the format of thinking and the inter-
relation between language and conceptual content, which I summarize in
the following.

4.1. Thinking for speaking and linguistic relativity

The view that language and thought are insolubly interconnected has a long
tradition. Going back to von Humboldt (ca. 1919), it has been assumed that
the native language is the actual format we think in, so that the language
we speak is the format that codes our thoughts.
Following from this is that language contains a theory of how speakers
mentally represent the world, so that each natural language can be seen as a
system for the conceptualisation of reality. Because certain conceptual
structures are linguistically conventionalised in a given language, certain
ways of mental representation are conventionalised as well. Cultural con-
ventions are thus mirrored in linguistic structures and patterns, and their
repeated use reinforces the conventions in return.
As a result it has been hypothesised that speakers of different languages
must think differently, because languages with different grammatical struc-
tures and semantic word boundaries serve as different classificatory sys-
tems that control a persons perception of the world.
A closely related implication to this view is known as linguistic relativ-
ity, traditionally linked to the work of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee
Whorf (Sapir 1949; Whorf 1956). According to the strong version of this
view, which is often called linguistic determinism, language does not
only provide a framework for classification of thoughts, but actually im-
poses restrictions on possible ways of thinking and reasoning, so that we
are only able to see reality through our linguistic filter.
This view equates thought with language and has met strong criticism,
mainly for two reasons: On the one hand, there is evidence of thinking
without language (cf. the results obtained by Barsalou et al. 2003, see next
section), on the other hand there is the fact that linguistic structure never
fully comprises the semantic richness of a message (see section above).
Language and the format of thought 17

Linguistic determinism can today be said to be largely discredited, on

the grounds that it is seems unlikely that linguistic categories embody the
only kind of influence on our thought processes; we all share the experi-
ence that we can create both new words and new concepts. Nevertheless,
the basic idea that the linguistic structure we use has an impact on the way
we conceptualise has met renewed interest in Cognitive Linguistics, both
under the names linguistic relativity and thinking for speaking (Slobin
1987; 1996; 2000; Boroditsky 2001, Li and Gleitmann 2002).
Still, linguistic relativism has been criticised harshly (e.g., Pinker 1995).
One of the main flaws addressed is its methodological circularity Slobin
(1987; 1996; 2000) for instance only uses linguistic data to infer results
about non-linguistic thinking. What he can show is only that grammar and
thought correlate (which indeed does not come as a surprise when verbal
data are used as the source of information), but fails to prove that language
really has an impact on cognition. Pinker parodies this reasoning in the fol-
lowing circular argumentation:
[They] speak differently so they must think differently. How do we know
that they think differently? Just listen to the way they speak! (Pinker 2007:
Nevertheless, in studies that have taken regard to this methodological
issue and used non-linguistic data, it could be shown that different lan-
guages embody different conceptual classifications of the world, for in-
stance in that semantic contrasts expressed by grammar lead to differences
in perspective and foregrounding of certain aspects of concepts (Lucy
1992; see also overview in Pavlenko 2005), while here too, it has to be
concluded that linguistic structure is not the only factor that influences

4.2. Sociocultural theory

Because it also addresses the relationship between thinking and language,

and has become a widely used theoretical framework, I want to mention
Vygotskys socio-cultural theory of mind (Vygotsky 1978, 1986) in this
context. It has a strong developmental focus and tries to explain how chil-
dren develop their cognitive abilities. In that, it stresses the social aspect of
thinking and perception, and describes the role that language as a semiotic
tool plays in the internalisation of concepts and thus the conceptual and at
the same time social development of humans.
18 Language and thinking

Sociocultural theory can generally be seen in the tradition of the Sapir-

Whorf hypothesis (Vygotsky 1986: ch. 1) but puts the focus on some spe-
cial concepts. One central assumption of this theory is that
[e]very function in the childs cultural development appears twice: first on
the social level, and later, on the individual level: first, between people (in-
terpsychological), and then inside the child (intrapsychological) (Vygotsky
1978: 57)
According to this assumption, higher thinking processes are originally
derived from structures and functions of social interaction; these are even-
tually internalised in that they manifest themselves in internal mental struc-
Because of its origin in social and cultural structures, these mental
structures mirror the socioculture in which the individual is raised. Special
emphasis is laid upon the Zone of Proximal Development: This concept re-
fers to the internalisation of culture (which equals with the establishment of
consciousness and learning processes) by means of semiotic mediation, and
assumes that the process of internalisation optimally takes place when cog-
nitively more mature individuals interact with immature ones (e.g., in
teacher student relations). This relationship provides situations in which
the expert leads the novice to insights that he or she would not have been
able to reach alone. Language plays a central role in this mediation process:
It is the most elaborated semiotic system that humans use, and it is a vital
tool in social interaction. In that, it provides the interface that allows inter-
action between an individuals mind and the outside world, it is the cause
for higher order thinking, and stays indelibly interconnected with the men-
tal structures that it helped to create.
Vygotsky does not assume that language is necessary in order to think
in general (e.g., he assumes a prelinguistic phase in the development of
children, in which nevertheless thinking takes place), but that a close con-
nection emerges in the run of the ontogenetic development of an individ-
ual. In his considerations about word meaning Vygotsky characterises the
character of meaning as basically procedural and changing, a continual
movement back and forth from thought to word and from word to thought.
[] Thought is not merely expressed in words; it comes into existence
through them (Vygotsky 1978: 57).
In this context, Vygotsky uses the concept of inner speech which he de-
fines as a kind of condensed and abbreviated speech the speaker does not
utter but produces for himself in the interaction with the world. Inner
Language and the format of thought 19

speech and external speech are assumed to be two different types of lan-
guage because they have different functions: External language is believed
to be an externalisation of thoughts, while inner speech is a translation of
words into thoughts. So, Vygotsky assumes that thought and speech unite
into verbal thought (Vygotsky 1986: ch. 1), and that inner speech is closely
connected to it.
Sociocultural theory does not so much answer questions of how struc-
tures of thought and cognitive processes can be modelled, which I will fo-
cus on in more detail further on. Still, it can be combined with approaches
from cognitive science without any greater friction (Frawley 1997). I re-
gard this theory as a supplement to the cognitive models I will describe in
the next section, and particularly appreciate the stress it lays on the social
context in which the individual stands.
Even when the focus is not explicitly on linguistic structure, the fact
that according to this theory abstract thoughts in particular are dependent
on language might have an impact on the conceptualisation of the different
foci in teaching situations and shall be kept in mind here.

4.3. The format of thought

The issue of the format of thinking and the role language plays therein has
been the cause of a long debate in cognitive psychology, known as the im-
agery debate (overview in Kosslyn 1994; Tye 1991).
Generally, there have been two contradictory positions: One, domi-
nantly represented by Fodor (1995), states that thoughts are coded in a
language of thought, which he calls mentalese. Although mentalese is a
language-like structure that makes use of propositional entities, it is not the
same as the speakers mother tongue: It is an abstract format in which
propositions are combined on the basis of a mental syntax. So, verbatim
word order of a specific language is not encoded, but sense relationships.
The English and German sentences Bill ate 20 cookies and Bill a 20
Kekse are represented by the same single proposition with the following
Relation EAT
Agent BILL
20 Language and thinking

The same proposition is contained in the sentence 20 cookies were

eaten by Bill and its translation into German, French, or any other lan-
According to this theory, thoughts are represented in this abstract pro-
positional code, and have to be translated into the language actually spoken
by the thinking subject. This theory stresses the innateness of general cog-
nitive principles, assumes that human thinking is based on the linking of
conceptual entities and is not dependent on any natural language system in
Contrasting this, the dual coding theory by Paivio (1971; 1986) takes an
intermediate position between the two extremes thinking is possible with-
out language and thinking is only possible because of language. It as-
sumes that there are different cognitive codes for verbal and non-verbal in-
formation and gives equal weight to both kinds of processing. Paivio
assumes that both subsystems process information simultaneously but have
different functions: Verbal coding takes place when a person is confronted
with verbal information, e.g., when reading, or listening to speech. If the
input is visual, then the representation is coded in a visual-spatial represen-
tation. Contrary to the verbal coding system, the visual-spacial system is
not sequential but can process different dimensions of information, such as
size or colour, at the same time. Both subsystems can be activated inde-
pendently, but depending on the semantic content of the input, the other
system can be activated in a crosstalk-like process. So, for example, when a
person reads a description of a house, the linguistic subsystem is activated,
but simultaneously a mental image of a house is formed by the visual-
spacial subsystem. By this, dual coding of information can take place.
Evidence for visual-spacial coding stems furthermore from research on
mental models (Bucciarelli and Johnson-Laird 2005; Craik and Lockhart
1972; Garnham and Oakhill 1996; Gentner and Stevens 1983; Johnson-
Laird 1983; Oakhill and Garnham 1996) which proves that humans build
mental representations in an analogue, visual-spatial, mode. These repre-
sentations structurally resemble the structure of the perceived phenomenon.
Mental model theory can explain the fact that humans are able to predict
features and effects of complex entities: Because we experience phenom-
ena as systems, we can mentally simulate and modify them (e.g. by mental
rotation) which in turn enables us to make predictions and hypothetical as-
sumptions, e.g. about cause-effect relationships. Inferences and analogies
play an important role here. Representations of this kind are not assumed to
consist of discrete elements, as for example the language of thought hy-
Conclusions and summary 21

pothesis by Fodor would assume, but form a structural and functional en-
tity that is holistic in nature.
Recent models of enactive theories of thought activity (Barsalou 1999,
2003; Barsalou et al. 2003) follow up the basic assumptions of the mental
model approach in that they model thinking in an analogue format. Enac-
tive models move away from the theory that knowledge is stored in dis-
crete symbolic entities and stress the constructive and procedural character
of thinking. Here it is assumed that conceptual processing is based on mo-
dality-specific systems of auditory, tactile, olfactory and visual-spacial
processing, so not only is a dual coding assumed, but a multitude of sen-
sory formats. Information is not transferred into amodal symbols, but mo-
dality-specific states are stored in memory in their modal form (for empiri-
cal evidence see Barsalou et al. 2003). Although this theory is not
concerned with linguistic representations whatsoever but models concep-
tual formats from a cognitive perspective only, the evidence supports the
view that there is conceptual content that is not connected with language.

5. Conclusions and summary

As this overview indicates, the relationship between language and thought

has been modelled in various ways and with different purposes.
As Prototype Theory suggests, the modular-linguistic approach with its
distinction between objectively describable semantic knowledge and sub-
jective encyclopaedic knowledge cannot account for a range of experimen-
tal results. It seems to make more sense to explicitly integrate the construc-
tive character of any kind of knowledge into a model of linguistic
knowledge. A range of experimental results supports the assumption that
there is no general distinction between linguistic meaning and encyclopae-
dic meaning. It is thus not necessary to use specific criteria for describing
semantic knowledge, as is indeed assumed in newer linguistic theories that
integrate concepts from cognitive psychology into linguistic modelling,
such as Construction Grammar or Cognitive Linguistics (Goldberg 2006;
Evans and Green 2006; Geeraerts 2006). These branches do not describe
linguistic knowledge as being in need of a distinct language-specific for-
malism. Instead, they stress that conceptual structure and processes of
categorisation are sufficient to describe linguistic meaning.
Furthermore, research from cognitive psychology suggests different for-
mats for thought, but none of the dominant theories assumes natural lan-
22 Language and thinking

guage to play a nesessary role in the coding of thought. Empirical evidence

makes it likely that there are a range of modes of mental representations,
among them visual, auditory, and linguistic ones, the latter being connected
with the linguistic language systems of which the speaker possesses knowl-
edge (Barsalou et al. 2003; Ericsson and Simon 1993).
Although the actual format of thinking seems not to be bound to lan-
guage, language can be assumed to play an important role in building up ab-
stract knowledge categories, in the ontological development into a mature
social being, and although people using different languages are in principle
able to think any thought, the association of thoughts with specific lexical
and grammatical structures might lead to differences in conceptualisation
and perspective.
So, semantic concepts in the mental lexicon have their origin in individ-
ual and social experiences. Between encyclopaedic and linguistic informa-
tion stored in a speakers mind, a close interrelation can be assumed, because
linguistic concepts belong to our experience of reality and have a big impact
on the ontogenesis of each individuals system of cognitive concepts. The re-
sult is a closely intertwined relationship between cognitive and linguistic
concepts. Conceptual structure does not necessarily form a part of linguistic
structure; language, on the other hand, serves as a highly sophisticated semi-
otic tool for the encoding of meaning, thus for thinking.
An immediate consequence from this is highly interesting for the investi-
gation of how linguistic structure influences conceptual content: When we
use lexical items and syntactic constructions in order to express a thought,
we automatically feature the conceptual structure that the lexicon and gram-
mar of that particular language encodes; by this, certain aspects are put in the
background, while others are pushed into the focus of attention.
On this basis a distinctive definition of linguistic and conceptual knowl-
edge on pure functional grounds seems useful. I will therefore define linguis-
tic knowledge as knowledge underlying the semiotic system of language.
This is knowledge that enables humans to formulate thoughts in language
and to interact with others verbally. It refers to those elements of knowledge
that contain knowledge about speech sounds, lexemes and the possible ways
of connecting them to phrases and sentences, but even about stylistic and
rhetorical rules, about different discourse forms and metalinguistics knowl-
edge. Contrasting to this, the definition of conceptual knowledge I will use
here is the following: Conceptual knowledge refers to any kind of knowledge
structure that is necessary in order to construct meaning, and which is not
concerned with the semiotic system of language.
Chapter 3
Problem solving

1. Mental processes

As follows from the discussion in the previous chapter, I will regard lan-
guage as a tool for thinking, but not as the format we think in. What, then,
is thinking? How can we grasp what happens on a mental level when we
plan and focus our attention on different mental concepts?
When we try to describe processes of thinking in everyday language, we
can choose from an overwhelming list of vocabulary: We consider, re-
member, learn, plan, compare, know, recognise, imagine, calculate, trans-
late, analyse, evaluate, solve problems a list that can easily be continued
(cf. Fortescue 2001). But which mental processes are actually described by
these verbs? What is, cognitively speaking, the difference between them?
Is it possible to define them distinctively at all?
Some further thought reveals that not every expression seems suitable
for a cognitive distinction between processes of thought. Lets take a look
at the verb understand: On the one hand, it can refer to the result of the
mental act in which information already stored in memory is retrieved;
formulated in a more abstract way, it refers to processes of reconstruction
and activation. On the other hand, understand can refer to processes in
which new knowledge elements are added or new connections between
concepts are established. A paraphrase for this process would be learning.
This example suggests two notions: Firstly, that there are different lev-
els of description that can help define what we actually mean when we
speak of mental processes; secondly, when we analyse what verbs of men-
tal processes actually depict, we evoke a theoretical framework about what
cognition is and how it works.
All recent theories of cognition, including theories of language acquisi-
tion (Grotjahn 1997), regard human behaviour as complex, that means as
the result of a range of simpler processes (see e.g. Palmer and Kimchi 1986
and Massaro and Cowan 1993; for overviews in the area of language ac-
quisition, see Grotjahn 1997 and Robinson 1995). Mental events are de-
scribed functionally as events in which information is processed. Informa-
tion, according to Massaro and Cowan (1993: 386), is the mental
24 Problem solving

representation that a person constructs, either by individual interpretation

of external data, or by activating existent cognitive structures from mem-
ory. Information as this internal mental representation is to be understood
within a constructivist framework, which means that it is a result of a sub-
jective and individual interpretation process; it cannot directly be linked to
any objective reality, and can differ from person to person. Thus informa-
tion can be understood as a specific state of the cognitive apparatus.
Within this view, every process can be regarded as a three-step module
that consists of the following components (Palmer and Kimchi 1986: 40):

1. the information that forms the starting point

2. the operation that is performed on the initial information and which
modifies it
3. the resulting information as a result of the processing event.

Each of these three processes provides information that is necessary for

the next one. This, however, does not imply that mental processing can
only be modelled serially; parallel processing is also possible. Neverthe-
less, within each basic module, the order is logically obligatory.
Starting from here any processing event can in principle be described as
the sum of sub-processes which makes it possible to describe it on different
levels of abstraction.
In cognitive psychology, two different kinds of theoretical description
of cognitive processes are usual: One uses the physiognomy, the mental
hardware, as the reference point for the description; the other is con-
cerned with the software that runs on it, that is which functions the proc-
esses have in a computational system (Palmer and Kimchi 1986: 49f),
without taking the physiological basis into account.
On the level of a physical description with the highest degree of detail,
cognitive processes are described as neurological activities. The mental
state in question corresponds here to the interplay between different bio-
chemical processes which consist in their most basic elements of coordi-
nated activity or inactivity of neurons, or in Palmer and Kimchis (1986:
42) words:
Such descriptions are ultimately reducible, at least in theory, to quantal hap-
penings among countless quarks, or whatever the most microscopic level of
physical reality happens to be.
Mental processes 25

Theories at this end of the continuum use terminology such as percep-

tion, stimulus, activating, inhibiting, connecting, disconnecting
(cf. Bruner 1966, Drner 1999: 61; Rumelhart and Norman 1978). More
dominating in cognitive science are, however, theories about the cognitive
software program:
There is, in addition, a ... strategy for dealing with the conditions under
which to stop decomposing, and that is simply not to worry about it. Many
IP [information processing, L.H.] psychologists, perhaps even most of
them, are quite satisfied to work at a level that is well above any ultimate
primitives and leave theorizing at such a low level to other theorists.
(Palmer and Kimchi 1986: 49)
These theories use more complex and more functional descriptions and
employ terminology that coincides with everyday language use. Mostly,
terminology like thinking, problem solving, language comprehension,
judging, drawing conclusions, learning or memory activation is used
(e.g., Anderson 2000; Eysenck and Keane 2000; Solso 2005). Cognitive
processes here are defined independently of their physiological basis. Be-
cause of the functional description, there is often no reason for cognitive
psychologists to draw clear lines between them; therefore, terminology can
From this follows that a dichotomic view of process descriptions on the
material basis on the one side and functional descriptions on the other does
not seem useful; rather, the information processing paradigm that I will use
here suggests that both positions should be considered to be the end points
on a continuum in which complexity and abstractness increase cumula-
This view is illustrated in Figure 1. The processes indicated above the
axis illustrate exemplary taxonomies, with an increasing degree of com-
plexity from the left to the right. The processes indicated here range from
biochemical descriptions on an extreme micro level of detail (to the left) to
a more functional description that does not take the material basis of cogni-
tive processes into account at all (to the right).
Note that the processes to the left can be regarded as cumulative ele-
ments of the processes to their right. At the same time, even within the tax-
onomies there can be different degrees of cognitive complexity:
So, the process of comparing is not always cognitively the same, depend-
ing on the complexity of the objects of comparison, and how it is anchored
in the knowledge store of the subject.
26 Problem solving

Activating Comparing Perceive

Inhibiting Concatenating Learning
Neurons Linking Abridging Judging
firing Dissolving Transform Problem Solving

Basic cognitive Basic cognitive Functional

processes as neu- processes as process clusters
rological events functional that characterise
entities specific

Figure 1. Cognitive processes on a continuum of descriptive levels

As Figure 1 shows, functional and neurological standpoints can be

linked smoothly if we take the theoretical view that every cognitive activity
can ultimatively be described in terms of neurological microprocesses.
Both are compatible with each other.
Note that in such a decomposition of operations, the sub-components
are not only quantitatively simpler, but show a different quality (Palmer
and Kimchi 1986): In a decomposition of the process search in memory,
for instance, the following range could result: a. perception of external
stimulus, b. comparison of perceived information with content in mem-
ory, c. decision that congruence is the case and d. conditional control (if
congruence, give out result, otherwise go on searching). None of these
sub-components bears any resemblance with the overall process search in
memory it is a result of the combination of them. Speaking of a search
is therefore actually only reasonable if we take a higher level of abstract-
Thinking can be defined as situation-specific activation and construc-
tion of different semantic relationships between pieces of information in
memory. According to this, the solving of meaning-focused tasks can be
described as a sequence of cognitive processes, which lead to the estab-
lishment of meaningful relations between knowledge structures.
In order to develop the analytical tools for the present study, I now need
to decide at which level of abstractness mental processes can be analysed
Task solving as problem solving 27

with enough illustrative and explanatory power. In order to do this, I will

turn back to the actual processes to be investigated.

2. Task solving as problem solving

On the basis of the theoretical grounds established in the above paragraphs,

it is now possible to develop a clear understanding of how the mental activ-
ity can be captured. Because I want to investigate how learners mentally
deal with content-focused activities while using a foreign language, I will
use the concept of task to capture all activities that a learner can go through
in these situations. This concept is embedded into the approach of problem
solving, a well-established branch of applied cognitive psychology. Prob-
lem solving research investigates how humans solve complex tasks for
which they do not have any immediate solutions, and this provides a suit-
able framework for the kind of activities I will focus on here.
In order to classify a situation as a problem, three components are nec-
essary: a. a beginning state that is perceived as being in some way unsatis-
factory, b. a desired goal state and c. a lack of knowledge of how to imme-
diately change a. into b. From this follows that automatised activities are
not subsumed under problem solving activities, because for them, only the
feature of goal directedness would suffice.
On this basis, the process of problem solving can be subdivided into
two macro processes, namely a process in which the problem is identified,
and a search process.
Before the solving activity can be started, a mental representation of the
problem has to be created. This means that the starting point needs to be
perceived by the individual as being unsatisfactory, and a mental represen-
tation of goal state has to be constructed.
Processes of problem solving show central features that make them
compatible with the information processing approach I have presented in
the above: Problem solving is goal-directed, the problem is divided into
subordinate goals, and operations are used that transform the actual prob-
lem state in a step-by-step manner on the way to the desired final goal
state. So, in the process of being solved, a problem takes different shapes.
The total of these states is called problem space. It can be characterised by
the sum of all possible states and operations that can be applied in order to
reach the goal state. Thus the process of problem solving can be regarded
as a search in the problem space by which subordinate problems are identi-
28 Problem solving

fied, and it can be described as a sequence of processes that are carried out
in order to solve these subordinate problems.
In problem solving theory, there is consensus about which embedded
problem solving activities can be identified. Pretz et al. (2003: 3) para-
phrase them as follows:

1. Recognize or identify the problem.

2. Define and represent the problem mentally.
3. Develop a solution strategy.
4. Organize his or her knowledge about the problem.
5. Allocate mental and physical resources for solving the problem.
6. Monitor his or her progress towards the goal.
7. Evaluate the solution for accuracy.

In spite of the numbering in Pretz et al. (2003), no sequential order

should be assumed, nor the implication be made that every problem solving
must contain all of these subordinate processes. Rather, they comprise the
basic glossary for the description of any kind of mental activity that can
occur during the solving of a problem.
Nevertheless, problems of very different shape are possible (for a dis-
cussion of different problem types see Funke 2003). Crucial features in the
characterisation of a problem are the amount and degree of explicitness of
information provided by the context, but even characteristics of the subject
who constructs his or her individual representation of the problem and
makes use of individual knowledge. These two complexes, problem fea-
tures and subject features, can be subdivided ad libitum (see model in
Funke 2003: 34). They interact with each other and determine in turn at
which point the solving process is started, which subordinate processes oc-
cur in which order and when the solving process is ended.

3. The appropriate level of description

Because of its flexible macro-framework, problem solving can serve as a

suitable mesotheoretical approach for the question I want to investigate
here. On this basis I will now define the grain size with which I will try to
observe the cognitive processes that can reveal any possible interaction be-
tween meaning-focused task solving and L2 use.
The appropriate level of description 29

If we take a look back at Figure 1 and look at the left hand side of the
scale, a degree of highest resolution with a distinction between neurons
firing or not does not seem adequate for an investigation of my research
question: They would not provide us with any comprehensible format for
mental activities that a learner goes through while solving a task. On the
other hand, it should be made sure that linguistic and content-focused proc-
esses are not described too broadly, so that a distinction between the two
can be maintained. This suggests that a cognitive process description such
as planning, for instance, seems too coarse for my research question, al-
though it is implicated by the terminology of problem solving research: It
is possible that an interesting interaction between language and content-
focused cognition takes place as a subordinate process just underneath this
superordinate activity of planning. We need more detail that enables us to
distinguish between language-specific and content-specific planning, so I
will start out from the smallest common denominator above the level of
neuronal activity.
As already mentioned above, the result of mental activity can take dif-
ferent shapes:
On the one hand, knowledge structures can be reactivated without being
structurally changed, which could be paraphrased as memorizing. Common
verbs for these processes of reconstruction are, e.g. remembering, know-
ing something, or recognising.
This stands in contrast to a restructuring, or to the completely new crea-
tion of knowledge structures. These processes are commonly subsumed
under the term learning, and are often referred to in terms of assimilation
or accretion (integration of new information into already existing mental
structures). This can result in a more detailed field of knowledge and is
then called tuning (Bruner 1966, Norman and Rumelhart 1975, Piaget
2002, Vygotsky 1986). Furthermore, incoming information can lead to the
restructuring of knowledge. This happens when it cannot be integrated into
existing schemata, so that it is only interpretable when these schemata are
changed. Processes of this kind are often called accommodation or restruc-
turing (ibid). This equates with learning, because it results in knowledge
that was not manifest before the mental activity started. There is a wide va-
riety of terms to be found for these processes in everyday language: rec-
ognising or epiphany (= establishing new relations between already ex-
isting elements), extract information, sort new information to
categories, but even learning, to name just a few.
30 Problem solving

One possible way of grasping processes of thinking is to take up this

distinction and to subdivide thought activity into those processes that do
not reshape previous knowledge and those that do (for a similar subdivi-
sion, see von Aufschnaiter and von Aufschnaiter 2003: 619).
In the first case of the type memorizing, it should be stressed that even if
knowledge structures are already existent, these processes refer to a highly
active mental process. Therefore, we should not call it activation, which
might mirror a passive role of the individual, but the more active term
reconstruction of knowledge.
In the second case, concepts and schemata are used that are made avail-
able by reconstruction, and which are then reshaped, differentiated or ex-
tended. These processes I will call construction of new knowledge.

4. Processes vs. phases

Process models of problem (or task) solving do not provide analytical cate-
gories for cognitive activities that relate to memory structures, but rather
for functional macrophases. Subsequent to the theoretical considerations
above, I would like to suggest a differentiation of cognitive processes,
which to my knowledge has not been discussed in any taxonomy for task
solving processes so far.
I would suggest dividing cognitive activities into more elemental cogni-
tive processes, and different phases. As described above, the basic proc-
esses I will use here are a. reconstruction and b. construction of memory
structures. Phases, on the other hand, do not represent single mental opera-
tions, but clusters of operations that can be used for different functional de-
scriptions of problem solving. As indicated in Chapter 3 on problem solv-
ing, a basic set of functional phases can be identified with which any kind
of problem can be analysed.
Basic cognitive processes describe how humans operate their knowl-
edge base, and thus refer to general categories of human information proc-
essing. Describing problem solving phases, on the other hand, means iden-
tifying what humans do in different task situations.
In a description of phases, we can identify how succession and scope of
certain phases result in different degrees of success for the solutions of the
task (e.g., when planning or research for information is going on, when
phases of evaluation are carried out etc.). So a description of when a certain
kind of phase is entered, how it was triggered or interrupted by other
Processes vs. phases 31

phases or in which cases it is skipped can reveal strategic considerations of

the subject.
However, a close analysis of processes can shed light on why a certain
sequence of phases occurs the way it does. A phase might have to be re-
peated because the desired goal state could not be reached (= phase dimen-
sion), and this can have its cause in the fact that certain elements of knowl-
edge could not be retrieved from memory (= microprocess dimension).
An integration of both dimension seems thus to be useful for an analysis
of both task features and process data. The processing of a task with prob-
lem features can thus be pictured as in Table 1.
On the vertical level in Table 1, the functional macrophases of task
solving are indicated. The horizontal level, in contrast, refers to microproc-
esses in memory. Because memory structures can be integrated into the
task in different ways, different cognitive micro-processes can be involved.
Of course it would be possible to subdivide the process dimension even
further, if that was required by another research question. For example, the
process of knowledge construction could be subdivided into the Piagetian
categories assimilation and accommodation, or according to the different
sources of information, e.g., in which kind of medium information. So,
procedural skills in dealing with different materials could be analysed (e.g.,
construction of new information from text, from pictures, from tables, ).
This differentiation into processes and phases achieves two goals.
Firstly, it helps to clarify the interrelations within the different stages in the
process continuum. Secondly, it provides a cognitively salient contribution
to the mere strategic descriptions found in problem (and task) solving re-
search. Without the process dimension, we can only analyse what purpose
a certain phase has. With it, we can even indicate what kind of individual
construction activity the subject has to employ in order to reach the goal.
32 Problem solving

Table 1. Framework for the description of complex problem solving tasks

Process Dimension
Phases Reconstruction Construction
= activation of = creation of
previous knowledge new knowledge

Construction of a mental
representation of a task
(= understanding the task)

Setting of (subordinate) goals

Attempting (re-)construction of
conceptual relations in order to
specify goal concept

(Re-)constructing conceptual re-

(= finding information)

Comparison between result of

(re-)construction and mental rep-
resentation of goal concept
(= evaluating task solving proc-
esses and solution)

5. Focus on meaning and focus on form

Hitherto, I have discussed the cognitive basics for the analysis of task-
based mental processes and tried to provide a theoretically coherent defini-
tion for task-based cognitive processes. I will now elaborate on a central
aspect of language pedagogy: The task-based approach of focus on form.
My main concern will be to distinguish between focus on form and focus
on meaning, which obviously tie in very closely with my research interest.
These two concepts have been discussed as part of SLA classroom teaching
approaches, and can contribute to a theoretical understanding of Content
and Language Integrated Learning.
Focus on meaning and focus on form 33

The approach of focus on form is based on the tradition of communica-

tive language teaching approaches (e.g., Legutke and Thomas 1991), with a
strong base in Longs Interaction Hypothesis (Long 1983) and Schmidts
Noticing Hypothesis (Schmidt 1990, 2001). These hypotheses claim that
language acquisition takes place when a learner focuses on the production
of comprehensible and meaningful input for the addressee. The interactive
negotiation of meaning promotes modifications of the output and raises
awareness of the meaning-carrying potential of linguistic structure, because
requires learners to talk about the data together. This talk, like talk about
any other topic, involves the exchange of information and ideas and is,
therefore, meaning-centred (Ellis 2003: 17).
The focus on form approach thus combines a focus on meaning and a
focus on language, in that it guides the learners attention to structural
properties of the utterance. This leads to a reflection on linguistic form,
possibly followed by modifications, in order to make sure that the right
message reaches the addressee.
It contrasts with traditional structure-focused approaches (termed focus
on forms by Long 1991 and Long and Robinson 1998: 4445). In focus on
forms classroom settings, the curriculum and thus L2 learning classroom
activities are based on structural aspects of the target language (with lesson
topics such as present progressive or interrogative sentences). Here,
teaching materials and classroom activities have the purpose of presenting
more or less isolated linguistic features of the target language. It is ana-
lysed into single elements, such as words and collocations, grammar rules,
phonemes, intonation and stress patterns, structures, notions, or functions
(Long and Robinson 1998: 16). The learner then has to face the task of put-
ting these pieces together for use in communication. Thus, SLA is sup-
posed to happen in the process of accumulating entities (Long and
Robinson 1998: 16).
Focus on form, on the other hand, puts communicative activities in the
centre (typical lesson topic: How to book a hotel room, how to apply for a
job, etc.). In contrast to the focus on forms approach, the syllabus is not
based on the linguistic structures but on the communicative requirement.
The rationale behind this approach is based on empirical evidence for the
fact that
34 Problem solving

learners do not move from ignorance of a form to mastery of it in one step

[]. Typically, when a form first appears in a learners IL, it is used in a
non-target-like manner, and only gradually improves in accuracy of use.
[] Further, attempts to teach isolated items one at a time fail unless the
structure happens to be one the learner can process and so is psycholinguis-
tically ready to acquire. [] Finally, [] there is a great difference be-
tween structural knowledge of a language, when that is achieved, and abil-
ity to use that knowledge to communicative effect. (Long 1991: 4445)
The focus on communicatively meaningful interaction is assumed to
lead automatically to the situation in which structural features of the lan-
guage are registered as being capable of conveying meaning.
Noticing a particular linguistic structure is believed to be a necessary
precondition for the acquisition of this feature. This means that the learner
has to consciously focus attention on the grammatical form of the input in
order to acquire grammar. The concept of noticing (Schmidt 1995, 2001;
Schmidt and Frota 1986) has by now become a solid basic assumption in
SLA research (Ellis 1994; Fotos 1993; Fotos and Ellis 1991; Harley 1993;
Larsen-Freeman and Long 1991; Robinson 1995). So, in contrast to a focus
on forms approach, language acquisition is supposed to take place in mean-
ingful target language use. The communicative use of language for the ex-
pression of conceptual meaning is then assumed to support L2 learning
processes that lead to an improved structural correctness. Therefore, class-
room activities are initiated in order to trigger communicative and mean-
ingful communication. As initiating triggers, tasks are used which provide
the occasion for verbal interaction. How to design these tasks and how to
guide intended linguistic behaviour is the concern of task-based language
teaching research (Eckerth and Siekmann 2008; Ellis 2003, 2005a, b; Gila-
bert 2007; Kuiken and Vedder 2007; Robinson 2007; Robinson and Gila-
bert 2007). So, Robinsonss Cognition Hypothesis (e.g., Robinson 2001)
claims that cognitively more complex tasks trigger more complex linguistic
structures (but see the results in Robinson 2007).
Note that focus on form still means that the attention is on linguistic
structure. The content of the syllabus is linguistic, and classroom interac-
tion is motivated only with regard to language learning. This approach is
contrasted with focus on meaning (Doughty and Williams 1998; Long
1991; Long and Robinson 1998), in which attention to formal elements of
language is largely excluded.
Content-focused task solving can be regarded as a problem solving ac-
tivity: Specific information needs to be constructed which is not yet avail-
Summary 35

able at the beginning of the task-solving process. For instance, the content-
focused geography task Describe the climate in Kisangani in detail with
the help of the climate graph (which I have used as one of my elicitation
tasks, c.f. Chapter 6) can be considered a problem, because the learner
needs to find out what kind of information he or she needs for an appropri-
ate answer, plan how to obtain the information needed and then extract it
from the material given, namely the climate graph. A task of the kind State
which country Kisangani is located in, without any additional information
provided, is generally not considered a problem, because it can be solved
by simply retrieving information from memory: Either the student knows
the answer, or he does not, and is thus not able to solve the task.

6. Summary

In this chapter, I have accounted for the general cognitive basis of the proc-
esses that are to be investigated in the course of the empirical study, and
characterized cognitive processes as complex, constructivist, and em-
bedded into a social context. I have presented problem solving as a suitable
framework for the analysis of task-based cognitive processes. Because
cognitive processes can be analysed on different levels of abstraction, I
have chosen a suitable starting point for my research and suggested a basic
scheme for analysis that distinguishes between phases of task solving, and
the microprocesses of reconstruction and construction of memory con-
On this basis, I have addressed the task-based approach of focus on
form and focus on meaning, because it assumes that a distinction between
language and content focused activities is possible in task solving.
The conclusions I have drawn from the overview of research in Chapter
2 suggests that a clear focus on meaning is not really possible: If language
is considered to be a tool for thinking, this would mean that language is in-
volved in most cognitive activities in task-based settings in one way or the
other. Nevertheless, in the next section I will argue that it is possible to dis-
tinguish between cognitive processes with a focus on form vs. processes
with a focus on meaning, which means for a distinction between language-
specific and content-specific processes.
Chapter 4
Language-specific cognitive processes

1. Linguistic processing

My research questions requires that a distinction between processes with a

focus on meaning and processes with a linguistic focus can be made on
theoretically solid grounds; otherwise it will not be feasible to show
whether there is any impact of an L2 on cognitive processing of content in-
formation. This means that processes need to be defined that are run on
language-specific knowledge structures, and differentiated from non-
linguistic processes that I have discussed in the previous section. After that
it needs to be decided which language-specific processes are relevant for
this study. In order to do this I will give an overview of linguistic concep-
tualizations which reveals what language-specific cognitive processes have
been assumed in linguistic theories.
As already addressed in Chapter 2 above, linguistic theories make dif-
ferent assumptions about organisation and structure of the language proces-
sor (see, e.g., Schwarz 1996: 138ff). If a modular structure is assumed that
is subdivided into phonology, morphosyntax, lexicon and semantics, sepa-
rate processing of information in these sub-modules is assumed as well. So,
distinct representations of phonological, morphosyntactic or semantic lev-
els are assumed which are separate from nonlinguistic information. World
knowledge and general problem solving skills are assumed to have an im-
portant impact on language processing, but do not control the modular
components directly.
Inspired by the findings from cognitive psychology, there are, nonethe-
less, alternative theories from the field of Cognitive Linguistics. They do
not assume that linguistic processing is based on any special cognitive
mechanism, but work according to the same basic underlying principles as
other forms of cognition.
What this theoretical debate shows is that it is not at all clear whether
we should assume a clear structural distinction between linguistic and con-
ceptual knowledge. We do not need to take any strict decision for or
against one or the other view here; but the research from the cognitive
Processes of text comprehension 37

sciences shows that it is possible to establish a distinction between linguis-

tic and conceptual knowledge on a function level. In this light I have de-
fined linguistic cognitive processes as mental processes that serve the con-
struction and transfer of meaning with the help of the semiotic system of
These cognitive processes are generally called understanding and pro-
ducing language. They form the traditional areas of applied linguistics
such as psycholinguistics, discourse analysis, and text composition re-
search, which can look back onto a long tradition of empirical research
(z.B. Aitchison 1998; Dietrich 2002; Garman 1991; Pinker 1995). In the
following, I will present short overviews of those basic processes of under-
standing and production of speech and written texts which have been mod-
elled in these areas, and see whether they can be used here.

2. Processes of text comprehension

Firstly, I will take a closer look at processes of language comprehension,

which I will define as the human ability to extract information from the
semiotic system of language by constructing a conceptual representation
through linguistically coded symbols. The reception of language has been
investigated mainly on the basis of written texts and only marginally on
evidence from spoken language (but cf. Jusczyk 1997). In my empirical
study, I will only make use of written language and will thus focus on the
research literature on written texts.
Corresponding to the information processing view that I have adapted
for the processes of cognitive processing and task solving, text comprehen-
sion can generally be understood as a complex interaction of a vast range
of simpler processes:
From the decoding point of view, the reader is under the control of the text
and must mechanically identify every letter and word in front of the eyes.
But the meaningful perspective holds that what goes on behind the eyes is
the critical factor. Reading is seen as a creative and constructive activity
having four distinctive and fundamental characteristics it is purposeful,
selective, anticipatory, and based on comprehension, all matters where the
reader must clearly exercise control. (Smith 1994)
38 Language-specific cognitive processes

Text comprehension is much more than the mere mechanical act of

reading. Certainly, the intake of information starts with the act of transfer-
ring visual stimuli into linguistic symbols. But these symbols have to be
linked with meaning, and have to be connected with the linguistic context
to bigger entities of meaning, until a holistic understanding of the text is
Hitherto, no taxonomies have been suggested that comprise the totality
of processes that can be run in order to achieve a textual understanding; but
there are approaches that have achieved a classical status by now. One of
them is the functional approach by Halliday and Hasan (1976), who give a
detailed description of a set of superordinate principles by means of which
relations between linguistic structures are built:
- reference
- substitution
- ellipsis
- conjunction
- lexical ties
These features can be found in the linguistic surface structures of any
coherent text, and an analysis can show which textual structures underlie
the comprehension of text that exceeds the single-sentence level.
However, information that is coded in the linguistic information alone is
often not sufficient for comprehension. The linguistic surface structure
shows gaps that have to be closed by the reader through inference (Christ-
mann and Scheele 2001; Singer 1994). Text comprehension thus needs to
be understood both as a bottom-up process that starts out from the data in
the actual text, and a top-down process that is guided by the readers previ-
ous knowledge. This view results from the following empirical evidence:
Psycholinguistic studies investigating eye movement data were able to
show that readers visually focus text in so called saccades, and perceive
only small parts of a text at a time. In order to test when readers start mean-
ing construction, so called garden path experiments were conduced (Just
and Carpenter 1987). In these experiments readers were confronted with
texts that contain ambiguous lexemes or sentence constructions, like in the
following example sentence:
The horse raced past the barn fell.
It could be shown that up to the penultimate word, readers assume that
they are actually dealing with an intransitive active sentence. When they
reach the final word fell, however, this interpretation does not make any
Processes of text comprehension 39

sense. The real meaning is first revealed when the sentence is read as a re-
duced relative sentence with passive participle, in which fell is the main
verb. Experiments like this show that readers do not read a whole sentence
before they start to construct knowledge, but process language successively
and start their interpretation activity right away when they read the first
Further evidence for the importance of assumptions and inference comes
from reaction time experiments in recognising word pairs (esp. Meyer and
Schvaneveldt 1971; 1976). The results stress that the interpretation of written
information is not entirely data-driven, but guided by encyclopaedic knowl-
edge: In lexical decision tasks, measurements were taken of how fast sub-
jects could identify the second part of a word pair as either a real or a non-
existing word. The results show that subjects were able to identify a word
faster when the first word was anchored in the same semantic field (e.g.,
nurse doctor), and slower when there was no direct semantic connection
between the words (nurse butter).
Furthermore, several empirical investigations examined subjects ability
to understand linguistic utterances that contain gaps in the linguistic sur-
face. From these studies, case grammar (Fillmore 1982, 1985, Kintsch
1974, 1998) and the text comprehension model by van Dijk and Kintsch
(Kintsch and van Dijk 1978; van Dijk and Kintsch 1983) were developed.
Subjects were asked to retell a story they had read before. Typically, they
added information that was not present in the original text, but which can
be explained as logically necessary or at least plausible elements of famil-
iar schemata. So, world knowledge schemata underlie assumptions and in-
ference of information that is not named in the text. This revealed on the
one hand that readers store verbally transferred information independently
of the original wording, and on the other hand that retrieval of information
from memory is highly influenced by world knowledge.
So, empirical evidence suggests that our encyclopaedic world and con-
text knowledge influences to a high degree the way in which we interpret
linguistic input and which information we focus upon, and how we fill in-
formational gaps in the linguistic structures. In comprehending language,
not only the external linguistic data are an important source of information,
but recipient-specific internal features such as the subjects linguistic and
world knowledge in its individual structure, scope and complexity.
Processes of text comprehension are thus to be regarded as a highly ac-
tive, constructive and individual process of interpretation. In this process,
information is constructed bottom-up from the text base, while at the same
40 Language-specific cognitive processes

time a top-down interpretation emerges from linguistic and encyclopaedic

Disciplines that have their origin in linguistics but deal with the decod-
ing of language above the sentence level have recognized the need for con-
cepts from cognitive psychology, such as frames, scripts, mental models,
inferences and presuppositions. The need to integrate extralinguistic
knowledge structures has led to an approximation between text linguistic
models and models of cognitive psychology (de Beaugrande and Dressler
1981), so that no specific mental processes different from general cognitive
processes have been assumed for linguistic information decoding. Particu-
larly in the modelling of text comprehension processes, the positive effects
of an integration of linguistic and cognitive science models are obvious.

3. Processes of language production

While models of text comprehension try to map how linguistic structures are
decoded and a mental representation of the meaning is created, models of
speech production are concerned with the question of which processes are in-
volved when conceptual content is encoded in linguistic symbols.
Research on speech and text production comes from slightly different re-
search branches: While speech production models have been built mainly in
the field of psycholinguistics, text production has traditionally been dealt
with from an applied linguistics and didactics angle. Because in my study,
language production plays a role both in spoken and written form, I will pre-
sent models from both areas.
The best-known model for speech production, which is still authoritative
today, has been developed by Levelt (1995). It pictures processes in mono-
lingual speakers, and has been elaborated for speech production in multilin-
gual speakers by de Bot (1992). The model comprises several stages, in
which the mental lexicon takes a central role. The following stages are re-
garded as the basic processes involved in speech production:
1. Conceptualisation:
In this first stage, the speaker creates a pre-linguistic representation of
the conceptual proposition that he or she wants to express. Here, informa-
tion is picked from encyclopaedic and context knowledge. Multilingual
speakers choose the language for use at this stage.
Processes of language production 41

2. Micro-planning/formulation:
In the second stage, three subordinate processes occur: a. Lexical items
are chosen that are considered to be appropriate for transporting the con-
ceptual content. In that, knowledge about the linguistic system interacts
with context and world knowledge, e.g. a mental representation of the ad-
dressee; b. a syntactical structure is generated; and c. the utterance is coded
phonologically and/or graphemically. The assumption that these three proc-
esses should be separated is underpinned by research on slips of the tongue
(see for a review, Aitchison 1998, 2003), which suggests that there are dif-
ferent processing stages of conceptual, syntactic and phonological
3. Articulation:
Finally, the articulatory organs for speech or writing are activated,
which have the task to implement the phonological/graphemical represen-
tation in an actual motor performance. The result is audible (or visual)
speech or visual text production.
In his multilingual adaptation of Levelts model, de Bot (1992) assumes
that different linguistic systems need to stand in some kind of relation to
each other, which makes it possible for them to interact. On the other hand,
a control device needs to be integrated into the activation, otherwise the re-
sult would be uncontrolled code switching. de Bot adapts Greens (1986)
position, according to which the language systems can take different levels
of activation in the mental lexicon: They can be selective, active, and dor-
mant. So, the conceptual content to be expressed is only verbalised in the
selected language.
Other languages can be activated, however, although they do not reach
the articulation stage. From active languages, unintended language
switches can occur (e.g., Williams and Hammarberg 1998).
Although a serial processing is suggested, both Levelt and de Bot as-
sume that parallel or cascading processing is possible in which the sub-
process of articulation can be started before the process of conceptual plan-
ning is finalized.
Levelts model tries to grasp general processes of language production
and tries to cover both oral and written language production. But as indi-
cated above, there are models that deal in more detail with the specific fea-
tures of written text composition. I will present the most prominent ones in
more detail in the next section.
42 Language-specific cognitive processes

4. Models of writing tasks

Writing is a specific activity in which language production is involved, and

it is particularly important for school education. Like the term reading,
which on the one hand can refer to the transfer of written symbols into a
phonological code, but also to the mental construction of the meaning of
the text, writing, too, can take on two different meanings. Consider the
following sentences:

a. In a hurry he wrote down the telephone number before he could forget it.
b. She wrote a term paper on linguistic relativism.

In sentence a., what is referred to as writing is merely the physical act

of transferring phonological code into a written code in order to fixate it;
there is no need for conceptual content to be processed beside the phonol-
ogical representation from working memory. In b., on the other hand, writ-
ing describes a rather different activity: Here, it refers to text composition,
which involves a lot more conceptual involvement (unless the term paper
should happen to be plagiarized, of course!).
Text composition, in contrast to mere writing down, requires that
thoughts become activated in structured relations, and an adequate formu-
lation of thought is found; in this, the task to compose a text resembles a
complex and ill-defined problem. This is the reason why the most influen-
tial models on text composition (Bereiter and Scardamalia 1987; Flower
and Hayes 1981) and their adaptation for L2 text composition (Chenoweth
and Hayes 2001; 2003; Grabe 2001; Grabe and Kaplan 1996; Krings 1996;
Portmann-Tselikas 1991) make use of the basic assumptions of problem
solving research. Text composition is thus assumed to be a problem solving
activity, in which the composer is involved in generating, structuring and
verbalising of conceptual knowledge structures. Therefore, in models of
text composition, both processes of conceptual and linguistic construction
are integrated, as I will show in the following overviews of the most impor-
tant models.

4.1. The Model of Text Composition by Flower and Hayes

The model of text composition by Flower and Hayes (1981) can still be
seen as the most influential model in writing research today. Text composi-
Models of writing tasks 43

tion is modelled here as a goal-oriented complex activity with clear refer-

ence to problem solving theory. So, the process of text composing involves
the intersection of the activity into subordinate phases.
The activity of writing is, like problem solving, regarded as a set of dif-
ferent phases that do not occur in a fixed sequence, but can be combined
freely in a module-like fashion. These phases can be repeated as many
times as the composer considers necessary, and even be embedded into
each other. With this assumption, Flower and Hayes (1981) distance them-
selves from older writing models, which take a sequential order of phases
as their basis (Britton et al. 1977; Rohman 1965).
On the macro-level of Flower and Hayess model, text composition
consists of the phases of planning, formulating and editing, as indicated in
Figure 2. When, and in which order, each of them is initiated, is controlled
by a monitor. Each of these phases can in turn be broken down into subor-
dinate processes: Definition of goals, search for a suitable sequence of op-
erators in order to reach these goals, and analysis and evaluation of how the
solution was achieved, especially if difficulties have occurred.
The basis for this activity is a complex thinking process that is con-
trolled by a network of the writers goals. These goals can be set in two dif-
ferent ways: On the one hand by generating macro-goals that incorporate
subordinate goals (of which the writer assumes that they lead to the ulti-
mate goal state); on the other hand, by the fact that in the run of the writing
activity, new macro-goals can be generated, and old goals be abolished.
Therefore, planning and conceptualisation are not only initial activities that
subsequently are followed by a phase of writing down thoughts, as in a
printer that prints out a text after having received all the data; rather, proc-
esses of planning occur throughout the whole process of text composition
and monitor the writing activity.
44 Language-specific cognitive processes

Task Environment
The rhetorical problem Text
Topic so
Audience far

The writers
long-term Planning Translating Reviewing

memory Organizing Evaluating

of topic, Goal setting Revising
audience, and
writing plans


Figure 2. The model of text composition by Flower and Hayes (1981)

Still, Flowers and Hayes emphasize that the activities in the course of
the composition shift from the left hand side of the model to the right hand
side. So, in the beginning phase of a writing task, typically more generating
and goal setting activities occur, while towards the end phase activities of
revising become more principal.
Besides the processes that form the actual writing activity, the model
contains a monitor that controls when each phase is started and ended.
Here, strategic knowledge of the writer is stored. Besides that, two more
factors control which information is processed, and which goals are being

1. The context of the writing tasks, that is everything outside the

writers skin (Flower and Hayes 1981: 369). Aspects like time
constraints, the formulation of the task prompt, and the text that
has already been written, play a role here;
2. The writers long-term memory. It serves as a source for all sorts
of relevant information about the writing topic, as well as proce-
dural knowledge.
Models of writing tasks 45

To sum up, the different mental activities interact with each other and
with the writers knowledge in long-term memory, as well as with external
factors. Time limits, topic, addressee, and self-motivation of the writer in-
fluence which parts of knowledge are activated and how the writing proc-
ess itself is shaped, e.g. in what length of text it will result. Besides, the
text written so far plays a role, because it restricts the possibilities of con-
tinuing: Everything that is to be written has to be connected to what is al-
ready there; the greater the amount of text that has already been produced,
the more restricted are the possibilities how to proceed.
This model still has a dominant status in writing research, because it
characterises writing as a problem solving process and illustrates the activi-
ties involved as dynamic, non-linear and interacting. What I want to criti-
cise is the limited scope of writing processes that are covered by the model:
It assumes that all necessary information comes from the writers memory.
This might hold for creative writing, but gives other kinds of text composi-
tion a very weak status, especially academic writing, for which the interac-
tion with different kinds of resources is highly important. An integral part
of the writing tasks that I use in my empirical study is the extraction of in-
formation from climate graphs, tables, and maps, and should therefore be
made explicit in the model I use for analysis.
Furthermore, the model is strongly content-focused and does not make
explicit which role linguistic knowledge plays. So, the categories planning,
formulating and revising are not fine-grained enough to investigate the in-
fluence that an L2 has on content construction processes. I will therefore
take a look at another model, which focuses stronger on writing tasks that
resemble the ones I use in my study.

4.2. Bereiter and Scardamalias models

Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987) agree with Flower and Hayes in that they
also describe text composition as a complex problem solving activity with
an imprecisely defined goal. Still, they assume two very different writing
activities. The first possibility is depicted in their model of knowledge tell-
ing (Figure 3).
46 Language-specific cognitive processes










Figure 3. Bereiter and Scardamalias (1987) model of knowledge telling

Models of writing tasks 47

Knowledge telling starts with a mental representation of the writing task

and refers to activities in which content from the writers memory is writ-
ten down without any structural planning. Bereiter and Scardamalia sepa-
rate topic-specific content knowledge, which specifies the precision,
amount and complexity of the conceptual construct that is to be presented
in the text, and discourse knowledge, which controls in which structural
shape this conceptual construct is presented. In knowledge telling, no proc-
esses of controlling or planning are involved in text composition.
As a twelve-year-old from one of the studies referred to by Bereiter and
Scardamalia (1987: 9) expresses it:
I have a whole bunch of ideas and write down until my supply of ideas is
exhausted. Then I might try to think of more ideas up to the point when you
cant get any more ideas that are worth putting down on paper and then I
would end it.
Knowledge telling is thus rather similar to most kinds of spoken lan-
guage, and very typical of untrained writers.
Contrasting knowledge telling, Bereiter and Scardamalia account for a
very different kind of writing activity, which they call knowledge trans-
forming. Here, rather than just being written down, thoughts are reshaped
in the process of writing. Knowledge transforming writers do not only con-
sider whether the linguistic form is adequate for the expression of their
conceptual thoughts, but reconsider also which concepts they actually want
to express. Writing here serves as an opportunity for reflection: It actively
triggers processes of conceptual construction and generates new knowl-
As shown in Figure 4 on the following page, knowledge transforming is
modelled as a process of problem solving that simultaneously takes places
in two parallel problem spaces. On the left hand side, conceptual problem
solving activity is indicated: Here, too, the activity starts with the construc-
tion of a mental representation of the content. As indicated on the right
hand side, the writing task is not finished before a linguistic-rhetoric form
has been found that adequately expresses the content. Formulation concep-
tual content thus can be regarded as a subordinate problem in its own right,
in which the writer has to decide on a way of expressing the thought from a
vast range of potential formulations. The results of the subordinate problem
solving steps of one problem space serve as input for the other problem
48 Language-specific cognitive processes






Figure 4: Bereiter and Scardamalias (1987) model of knowledge transforming

Linguistic processing triggers conceptual processing and vice versa, so

that a constant interaction between the two is the result. Bereiter and Scar-
damalia (1987: 11) illustrate this interaction as follows:
For instance, a writer might be working in the rhetorical space on a problem
of clarity and might arrive at the decision that she needs to define the con-
cept of responsibility that she is building her argument around. This is a
content problem, however, and so one might imagine a message going from
the rhetorical problem space to the content problem space, saying What do
I really mean by responsibility? Work on this problem within the content
space might lead to determining that responsibility is not really the central
issue after all but that the issue is, let us say, competence to judge. This de-
Models of writing tasks 49

cision, transferred to the rhetorical space, might initiate work on problems

of modifying the text already written so as to accommodate the change in
central issue. This work might give rise to further content problems, which
might lead to further changes in the writers beliefs, and so on until a text is
finally created that successfully embodies the writers last thinking on the
subject. (italics in orig.)
At the end of both problem spaces, a process of knowledge telling is
embedded into the model of knowledge transforming as a subordinate ac-
tivity. Finally, the result is checked in a feedback loop and compared with
the original problem analysis and goals.
In this model, the conceptualisation of content is focused much stronger
than in the model of Flower and Hayes (1981). The reason is that in their
empirical studies, Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987) make use of elicitation
tasks that exceed the need for a mere structurizing of memory content, but
require the creation of new knowledge while information has to be ex-
tracted from subject-specific sources of information; for instance, subjects
had to extract typical geography-specific content from matrices (Bereiter
and Scardamalia 1987: 158).
For my research question the knowledge transforming model with its
theoretical division into two problem spaces provides a useful ground for a
model of task processing. Still, it gives very little detail if one tries to ana-
lyse problem solving activities in detail. Another shortcoming of the model
is its strong cognitivist focus, so that it does not integrate characteristics of
context or learner variables like motivations or individual goals.
In the following, I will describe alternative models of text composition
by Hayes, (1996), Grabe and Kaplan (1996), Brner (1996), Krings (1996),
and Chenoweth and Hayes (2001), which in part build strongly on the
models by Flower and Hayes (1981) and Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987).

4.3. Other models of text composition

In a later model by Hayes (1996), the Flower and Hayes model is expanded
by a range of components, such as the specific composition of the task, ad-
dressee, and goals and motivations of the writer. Hayes assumes that these
factors control the problem solving activity of the writing task, because they
influence the writers goal setting. They have an impact on the motivation,
planning and evaluation of the writing result, which in turn can trigger an ed-
iting process. Furthermore, the Flower and Hayes model component the
50 Language-specific cognitive processes

writers long-term memory is now specified: The concept of working mem-

ory is integrated, and the interaction between processes of writing and read-
ing are considered. The processes that are run in working memory show
similarities with Bereiter and Scardamalias (1987) knowledge transforming
model in that it is now made explicit that expansions in the writers knowl-
edge base can occur.
Another model of text composition, Grabe and Kaplan (1996), refers
stronger than the previous models to the tradition of text linguistics (Brown
and Yule 1983; de Beaugrande and Dressler 1981; Halliday and Hasan 1976;
Martin 1992). They oppose the models by Flowers and Hayes and Bereiter
and Scardamalia with a component model which does not so much aim at
describing cognitive processes, but tries to describe features of textuality.
The single components are syntax, semantics, lexicon, cohesion, coherence,
functional dimensions and non-linguistic resources. Writing activity starts,
here too, with a process of planning, which comprises attitudinal and motiva-
tional factors. The actual process of writing has its source in working mem-
ory, when processes of planning and goal setting activate relevant knowl-
edge, and generate content that can be written down. Before this, a control
instance is activated that evaluates the conceptual content in relation to the
original plans and goals. After that, the physical activity of writing takes
places, while the emerging text adds another component to the context vari-
In this approach, social aspects are highlighted, so that personality of the
learner and a broad context are integrated into the model. Furthermore,
Grabe and Kaplan (1996) open the view for L2-specific writing processes,
although they do not integrate this point in any detailed way into their model.
On the other hand, the model does not focus on actual processes of text com-
position and is thus not very explicit for an analysis, if one is interested in in-
vestigating processing activities.
Grabe (2001) attempts to develop a specific theory of L2 specific writing.
This approach and others that concentrate on writing in a foreign language I
will summarise in the following section. I will start with models that follow
the model of Flower and Hayes (1981) very closely.

4.4. L2-specific models of writing

In his model of L2 writing, Brner (1996) keeps very close to the Flower
and Hayes (1981) model and adapts it only slightly to L2 writing situations,
Models of writing tasks 51

where classroom contexts are strongly focused: He introduces a subdivi-

sion into L1, Lint (for interim language) and L2, and adds more detail to the
model with regard the use of writing tasks as a learning tool in L2 class-
room settings. Therefore, he gives a details description of L2 writing tasks:
A differentiation is made between texts that are part of the task prompt, ex-
ercises, and the writing task itself, and didactical aids such as teacher cor-
rections are integrated. The subordinate writing activities planning, formu-
lating and revision from the original model, however, stay unchanged.
Even if a more detailed description of the L2 writing tasks is helpful,
Brners adaptation of the model focuses only on form-focused production
tasks. For my research interest, I need a model that features content and
language dimensions equally, and which integrates both production and re-
ception of language.
Krings (1996), using in turn Brners model as a general framework
(and thus implicitly Flower and Hayes model), zooms in on the process of
formulation in the L2, where especially L2 specific planning processes play
an important role (Figure 5).
In his model, Krings embeds the following L2 specific mental processes
into the general activity of text production:
1. Identifying L2 problems
2. Activating L2 strategies
3. Evaluating results of L2 problem solving
4. Deciding about L2 problem solving results.
What is particularly interesting here is that as specific feature of L2
writing, translation processes are focused: Plans can be realised in the L1
and then transferred into the L2. This point will be taken up in the interpre-
tation of my empirical data. Apart from that the model contains the same
problems for my research interest as Brners, and the original model by
Flower and Hayes (1981).
52 Language-specific cognitive processes

Generating global

Generating more
specific plans
Realisation of
plans in L1

Realisation of
Identify L2 plans in L2

Evaluating plans
Activate L2

Evaluate L2 Deciding about

solutions plans

Decide about L2 Sequencing of

problem solving plans


Revise already written

text (= realisation of

Figure 5. Krings (1996) model of L2 writing, my translation

Models of writing tasks 53

Another model, which uses the model by Kaufer et al. (1986) and thus a
different starting point, is presented in Chenoweth and Hayes (2001). As is
depicted in Figure 6, it gives a comparatively detailed account of general
cognitive and linguistic processes involved in writing, and variables that in-
fluence the processing. Is consists of three levels:

1. the level of resources

2. the level of process
3. the level of control.

Task Control

Translator Reviser

Proposer Transcriber
External Task Diction- written
materials aries so far

Process of
Long Resource
Term Level

Figure 6. The model of written language production by Chenoweth and Hayes

54 Language-specific cognitive processes

The resource level comprises all sources of information, and the general
processes that are of relevance in producing written text. Long-term mem-
ory forms the basis for writing and contains all sorts of linguistic and non-
linguistic knowledge. Working memory is obviously important in many
kinds of ways, but especially when already formulated strings of language
have to be kept active right before they are written down. As a third cate-
gory, the authors propose Processes of reading and separate it from the
process level, because it is classified as a general purpose process (Che-
noweth and Hayes 2001: 83) with the goal of obtaining information, but
which does not form a core process of writing activity itself.
The process level is subdivided into internal processes and external envi-
ronment in which the single processes are embedded. The external situation
contains information about the intended reader, the text written so far, as
well as additional material like source texts, notes, comments, lexica, etc. As
internal processes of writing, the authors propose the following, which bear a
close resemblance to Levelts (1995) view on language production:
1. a proposer that creates pre-linguistic ideas
2. a translator that converts the proposed ideas into strings of lan-
3. a transcriber that converts the linguistic strings into written code
4. a reviser that evaluates and, if necessary, triggers the revision of
both the proposed and transcribed versions
At the beginning of each writing activity, the proposer contains a gen-
eral plan of available information. This contains communicative goals,
content, order of information, intended addressee and genre. Here, the
ideas are generated that are to be expressed.
The translator transfers the proposed ideas into strings of language by
choosing lexical elements, puts them in an order and adds morphosyntac-
tic information, such as inflections, in a way that expresses the ideas ap-
propriately. The thoughts that have been transferred into linguistic form
are handed on to the reviser, where they are checked for adequacy. If
adequacy is ratified, the information enters the transcriber, where the
string of words, which is held active in working memory, is coded into
written signs. Finally, the reviser can become active again for evaluation
of the written version. After that, the proposer produces a new idea and
the whole process starts anew.
All processes are assumed to interact with each other, resulting in a
close network of interrelated dependencies. For instance, the authors as-
sume that several slightly different ideas might be proposed in the pro-
Models of writing tasks 55

poser, and which one is picked might be influenced by the translator, be-
cause it would choose the one that is easiest to translate. So, no simple
linear processing is underlying, but a reciprocal interaction.
The external environment that interacts with the internal processes con-
sists of
the audience, the text that the writer has produced so far, and task materials
such as source texts, critics comments, or notes. The environment may also
include dictionaries, style guides, computer interfaces, spelling checkers,
and so on (Chenoweth and Hayes 2001: 84)
It remains somewhat unclear why the authors chose as the three central
categories Task materials, Dictionaries and Text written so far; it
seems to me that categories on different levels are mixed here, because dic-
tionaries are clearly taxonomic sisters with e.g., style guides or spelling
checkers, and not hyperonyms. I would instead suggest a subdivision of the
external environment like a. intended audience, b. sources of information,
and c. text written so far. What is noteworthy here, however, is that Che-
noweth and Hayes do not only stress the importance of the physical envi-
ronment here, but also the social setting in which the writer produces a text.
Located above the other levels the control level contains a task schema
and strategic knowledge that controls which processes are activated on the
process level, and which sources of information are used. The task schema
causes different behaviour for different forms of writing tasks, because
situations might require specific micro-processes (e.g., revision is not nec-
essary to the same extent in drafting than in the composition of an aca-
demic proposal).
This model provides a rather detailed insight into the single processes
and cognitive components that form part of writing activity, and integrates
insights from cognitive psychology into the description. Besides that, it
leaves space for the social environment in which the writing task is to be
solved. Although it has been developed for the analysis of L2 writing, it is
kept very general and does not include any explicit L2 processes. So, the
same processes are assumed to take place in L1 and L2 writing, with spe-
cial processes being subsumed under the category level depicted in the
The last contribution I want to address in the context of L2 writing is
Grabe (2001). He underlines the importance of sociocultural factors in
writing, such as culture-specific demands or goal-oriented objectives, and,
like Krings (1996), focuses on L2-specific features of writing. Instead of
56 Language-specific cognitive processes

developing a model, however, he provides a deficit analysis of previous

models and claims that specific steps need to be taken before valid L2 writ-
ing models can be developed:
[I]t is most likely the case that a distinct theory of L2 writing may need to
wait until models of writing move beyond a basic descriptive stage of de-
velopment. (Grabe 2001: 54)

5. Summary

In this chapter I have accounted for processes of language reception and

production, and presented an overview of different models. Typically,
processes involved in text composition are modelled as problem solving
activities, and integrate both linguistic and content focused processes, al-
beit to different degrees. So, although concerned with a language-specific
activity, writing models show very clearly that an interaction between con-
tent-focused and language-focused activities takes place in text composi-
Furthermore, the overview showed that models of L2 writing are adap-
tations of models of L1 text composition and do not really show any spe-
cific features. If L2-specific processes are depicted, it nevertheless is mani-
fest that they are located on a subordinate level, so that L2 processing is
embedded in general linguistic processing categories. The differences be-
tween L1 and L2 processing are thus being regarded as lying on a subordi-
nate level, and we can deduce that general processes that are assumed for
L1 processing do generally also hold for L2 processing. Specialized L2
processes, like translating, do take place, however, and will be addressed in
the analysis of the empirical data in Chapter 9.
In the following chapter I will integrate the theoretical basis I have pre-
sented so far in a model that provides the necessary analytical depth and
scope for the research question posed in this book. This model will be the
basis for the coding scheme with which the empirical data will be analysed.
Chapter 5
A model of conceptual-linguistic task solving

1. Task-solving as a complex problem solving activity

In search of theories that shed light on the relationship between content and
language processing, I have in the previous chapter addressed models that
theorize on problem solving phases in text composition. Models of writing
processes are particularly interesting for my research question, because the
transfer of conceptual thoughts in linguistic form is illustrated, and thus not
only linguistic knowledge, but even encyclopaedic world knowledge has to
be integrated into a description.
As I have already suggested, none of the models that are found in the
literature is immediately adaptable for my research interest, because none
of them integrates all aspects that are of importance for my study. Besides
that, I need a model that covers cognitive processes a long way before the
motor activity of writing actually starts. So, my model needs to include
processes of reading and other processes of interaction with task material in
enough detail, and it must leave open the question whether the subjects fo-
cus is on processing a content-focused sub-problem or a linguistic sub-
In this chapter, I will start out from the framework presented so far and
develop a model that can account for both content and language-specific,
task-based information processing. I will use models from writing research
as a basis, and link and expand them, where necessary.
The general framework of problem solving research, which has been
developed for the detailed description of conceptual information process-
ing, has already been adapted for text composition models (Flower and
Hayes 1981; Bereiter and Scardamalia 1987). What is interesting here is
that processes of language reception and production can be conceptualized
as complex and ill-defined subordinate problems as part of the task. There-
fore, they can be described in terms of problem solving as well, which is
coherent with theoretical assumptions from Cognitive Linguistics.
58 A model of conceptual-linguistic task solving

Thus, the information processing model of problem solving is suitable

both for conceptual and linguistic-rhetorical problem solving activities. As
demonstrated by Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987), a theoretical two-
partition into conceptual and linguistic-rhetorical problem space is useful,
because with its help, the generating of ideas can be illustrated without
having to link it with language. Such a division is necessary when the in-
fluence of the foreign working language on conceptual processing is to be
investigated. Therefore, it is useful to adapt the separation into two prob-
lem spaces. The rest of their model, as indicated already, is nevertheless
not detailed enough for a fine-grained observation of different task-solving
processes, and does not include context factors.
The task-solving model that I will present in the following is non-
reductionist, and comprises aspects that will not be systematically elicited
or analysed in the empirical part of the study, such as context and learner
features, which could potentially exert influence on the task solution (for
models of learner features, see, eg., Gardner and MacIntyre 1993; Gardner
and Tremblay 1994). Rather, the model illustrates the theoretical considera-
tions that form the basis for the empirical study. Because of its scope, the
study does not attempt to falsify the model; it would be hard to imagine a
practicable research design that could control and measure the interdepend-
ence of the total amount of the addressed factors. Still, since we know
about the intertwined nature of factors and the important role they play in
different activities, they have to form part of the theoretical considerations
that form the background for the design of an empirical investigation.
In order to answer the question if and how the foreign working language
influences the cognitive processing of content, cognitive activities must be
elicited that are typical for the content situations in question. I will come
back to this point in Chapter 6, where the design of the elicitation tasks is
described. These tasks show features of typical problems, because they
confront the subjects with a situation that they themselves perceive as un-
satisfactory (There is a task that needs to be solved). By stepping through
different stages in which this starting point is changed, they adapt the initial
situation to a goal state. In this process, different knowledge elements have
to be retrived from memory, and semantic relations established between
In all elicitation tasks used here, a typical content-focused problem is to
be solved. Therefore, it can be assumed that typical conceptual problem
solving activities take place in a learner who is trying to solve the tasks.
Besides that, linguistic information has to be decoded, and an answer has to
Task-solving as a complex problem solving activity 59

be written. These language-specific activities can also be described as a

subordinate problem solving activity, in which a language-specific knowl-
edge base is employed; Just like the content problem, the decoding and the
coding of linguistic structure are ill-defined problems, in which a goal state
has to be defined, knowledge accessed, and subordinate goals have to be
The model (Figure 7) on the following page depicts processes and fac-
tors of task solving activities and which require both conceptual and lin-
guistic-rhetorical problem solving operations.
The most dominant feature in this model is the separation of the task
solving activity into a range of subordinate problem solving activities,
which in turn can have an either encyclopaedic-conceptual or a linguistic-
rhetorical focus. This corresponds to the two-partition of the model into
two separate problem spaces. The solving of a subject task thus needs to be
theoretically subdivided, firstly into activities that lead to the solution of an
encyclopaedic-conceptual task (that is the construction of a mental repre-
sentation of the solution), and secondly into activities that underlie the
processing of language (e.g., formulating the solution in an answer).
The conceptual information processing is depicted in the left wing of
the model. Here, conceptual knowledge is either reconstructed from mem-
ory, or constructed, so that changed memory structures are the result. In the
linguistic-rhetoric solution processes in the right wing of the model, lan-
guage-specific knowledge is activated, or added.

Conceptual task Linguistic-rhetorical task

Task solving phases Task solving phases
Construction of a Reception of Language
Mental Representation
of the Task
Production of Language

Learner features Task and context Task and context Learner features
features features
LTM, Linguistic
conceptual knowledge Linguistic
Explicitness of knowledge
task features
World knowledge, know- goal in task Knowledge of dis-
ledge about topic prompt Wording of task course form
Knowledge of addressee
Task text, lexicon Knowledge of gram-
Task solving as complex problem solving activity

used, degree of co- mar, lexicon, syntax

Knowledge of non-verbal
sources of information Type and scope hesion
of sources of in- Kind of discourse
Knowledge of subject
formation to be
norms Variables
about personality
Verbosity, extrovertness,
Variables of personality Text written so far anxiety,
Motivation, interest in topic, Time constraints

Figure 7. A model of conceptual-linguistic task solving

Phases of task solving 61

2. Phases of task solving

Let us first take a look at the conceptual side of the task in the left side of
the model. The box at the top, Task solving phases, contains the problem
solving activity in which the subject is mentally pacing through the concep-
tual problem space. Here, the matrix for analysis from Table 1 (p. 33),
which takes up the differentiation between knowledge reconstruction and
construction, can be inserted in any degree of detail.

Table 2. Task solving phases of the conceptual task solution

Process dimension
Reconstruction Construction
Encyclopaedic-conceptual = activation of previous = creation of new
problem solving phases knowledge knowledge
Construction of a mental
representation of a task
(= understanding the task)

Setting of (subordinate)
conceptual goals

Attempting (re-)construction of
conceptual relations in order to
specify goal concept

(Re-)constructing conceptual
(= finding information)

Comparison between result of

(re-)construction and mental rep-
resentation of goal concept (=
evaluating task solving processes
and solution)
62 A model of conceptual-linguistic task solving

When a person starts solving a task the first step is to understand it,
which means that a mental representation of the task has to be created (e.g.
I am supposed to find out where Kisangani is on the map). After that, rep-
resentations of goals are generated, mental images of a desired goal stated
(I want to construct a mental image of Kisanganis position on the map).
This representation guides the mental construction activity that is sup-
posed to transform the starting point into the desired goal state. If a partial
goal is reached (Kisangani is in Africa), this can be evaluated according
to its adequacy. If not deemed adequate, new goal setting and new con-
struction activity can follow (Africa does not suffice, where exactly in Af-
rica is it?).
Table 2 indicates these problem solving steps with a focus on a task
with a conceptual focus.
In the left side of the model, all mental activities are addressed that can
occur theoretically without linguistic knowledge being involved. Certainly,
linguistic knowledge is frequently activated automatically as soon as the
focus is directed to a conceptual relation. Nevertheless, this more or less
automatic activation of linguistic knowledge is not to be regarded as prob-
lem solving steps in its own right: Although such steps do occur, they are
automatized and do not tie up cognitive capacities.
On the right hand side of the model, the linguistic problem space is in-
dicated, opposing the conceptual problem space diametrically. Here, the
problem solving phases consist of activities in which the focus of attention
is on linguistic form. As long as these do not occur automatically, these ac-
tivities are describable in problem solving terminology as well. We can
state the following macro phases:

1. Reception of language, as it occurs in any kind of receptive inter-

action with written or spoken linguistic material, such as reading
of task prompt, of written task material, or in understanding an
oral instruction by a teacher.

2. Production of language, as it occurs when conceptual thought is

to be transferred in a linguistic format. It is important to stress
once again that only non-automatic processes are addressed here.
Prototypically, these are processes in which an appropriate formu-
lation of a conceptual content is constructed.
Phases of task solving 63

Analogous to the conceptual problem space, the following range of

processes can be found here:

Table 3. Task solving phases of the linguistic-rhetorical task solution

Process dimension
Reconstruction Construction
Linguistic-rhetoric problem solv- = activation of previous = creation of new
ing phases: Reception knowledge knowledge
Construction of a mental
representation of a task
(= understanding the task)

Setting of linguistic-rhetorical
(subordinate) goals

Attempting (re-)construction of
conceptual relations from linguis-
tic structure

Allocation of linguistic form and

conceptual meaning
(= understanding a text)

Comparison between result of

(re-)construction and mental rep-
resentation of goal concept (=
evaluating task solving processes
and solution)

The construction of the linguistic-rhetorical subtask could for instance

be: Read and understand the following text, with the goal Now I want to
see what this text tells me. Attempts to construct meaning from a given
text are activities in which language is decoded. Processes and goals can be
subject to evaluations in a further process category.
In reception, the close relationship between linguistic and conceptual
meaning-making becomes very obvious (this is why text linguistic ap-
proaches are so strongly dependent on non-linguistic theories, as I have in-
dicated in the previous chapter). However, linguistic and conceptual mean-
ing making can be separated from each other on the basis that in linguistic
decoding, language-specific knowledge is activated.
64 A model of conceptual-linguistic task solving

Even in language production, a mental representation of the linguistic-

rhetorical sub-task needs to be constructed. This could be Write a text with
the features XY. When this goal is represented, the next step is to attempt
to find an adequate way to express the conceptual content in words. If this
is achieved, the result can be evaluated in its stylistic and grammatical ade-
quacy, and checked whether it is really suitable for the transport of the
conceptual content.

2.1. Learner variables

Because of its constructivist and socio-cognitivist basis, the model assumes

that a range of learner features exerts an influence on which problem solving
steps are performed, and when this takes place. An integral element of the
model is the level of the microprocesses of reconstruction and new construc-
tion of knowledge structures. Therefore, it seems natural to pinpoint which
factors determine the individual activity in the interaction with the tasks.
This means that we should take a closer look at how processes of reconstruc-
tion and construction of new knowledge take place.
Problem solving processes and their results are highly individual and can
seem very surprising and creative from the point of external observation. I
subdivide the factors that can determine how a subject proceeds e.g., which
information is individually associated, how long and how hard the person
works on a task or how long and detailed the answer is in two complex
elements: The first complex comprises learner features such as intelligence,
previous knowledge, strategy knowledge, personality traits such as extro-
vertness, and many more. These features have their basis in encyclopaedic
and metacognitive knowledge, and in the general disposition of the subject,
and are thus not language-specific, so I integrate them into the left wing of
the model.
In analogy to this, language-specific factors that influence the problem
solving phases are linguistic knowledge, which comprises for example the
extent of lexical knowledge, but also knowledge about the kind of discourse,
e.g. which linguistic form is adequate for a descriptive, which for an argu-
mentative text and so on. We can assume that certain variables of personality
exist that have an impact on the way a person chooses to verbalise. Here, fea-
tures such as verbosity, extrovertness, or anxiety to express oneself verbally
and to make errors can be named. This features importance is even enlarged
when a verbalisation in a foreign language is in focus.
Phases of task solving 65

2.1.1. Features of task and task context

Also, external factors of the task-solving situation play a role. Here it is

important to note that even if every task-solving situation is individual and
starts out from a highly subjective construct of the problem, it can never-
theless be defined to a certain degree.
External factors that can be assumed to have an impact on solving ac-
tivities in the conceptual problem space are presented down to the left in
the model. Here, we find non-linguistic task features and features of the
task context, such as how explicit the goal state is made already in the task
prompt, which and how many non-verbal sources of information are inte-
grated, or which time constrains the subject has to keep in mind.
These features interact dynamically with the learner features, because
whether a goal is perceived as explicit by the subject, or whether the proc-
essing time is perceived as being too short, is to a high degree dependent
on the individuals pre-knowledge and experience.
For the solution of language-specific problems, the linguistic elements
of the task are important. These are the task prompt, and further text, with
their length, coherence, choice of words etc. Besides that, the discourse
type is relevant: For example, subjects have to deal with different chal-
lenges when the task requires re-telling of a content that has already been
presented verbally, compared to when they have to verbalize their own
thoughts from scratch.
Besides that, the text written so far plays an important role. As soon as a
subject has written down a thought, everything that comes after that has to
be linked to it. So the more that is written down already, the more the pos-
sibilities for further formulation are restricted.
Having described the single components, some words about the devel-
opment of the model are in order. It is the result of a hermeneutical proc-
ess, in which the theoretical background on cognitive processing was inte-
grated with research results from applied and psycholinguistics.
At the same time the model components were checked against the em-
pirical data, the results of which I will describe in the next chapters. With
the application of the model to each new set of data, new insights were
gained and adjustments made until no new phenomena could be found that
could not be grasped with the categories of the model. Still, it had to be
made sure that any bottom-up adaptation stayed consistent with the theo-
retical view, and did not conceal relevant information. In particular, the in-
teraction with the empirical data had to show which grain size of analysis
66 A model of conceptual-linguistic task solving

was useful for the investigation. The character of phases changes, as I have
addressed in Chapter 3, depending on the size of the segment that is chosen
as an element for analysis.
The important role that has to be ascribed to the empirical data explains
another feature of the model: I have deliberately chosen to locate it in a de-
gree of abstractness above the level of L2 specifics, but designed it so that
the linguistic part of problem solving takes equal space with the conceptual
space. In this, the data produced by both bilingual learners and monolin-
gual learners can be analysed with the same instrument for analysis. Thus,
an important goal of the data analysis is to exploratively unravel patterns
that become visible through the model view. I will come back to this after
the specific features of the data elicitation have been presented in the fol-
lowing chapter.

3. Summary

In this chapter, a model of conceptual and linguistic task solving has been
presented. This model has emerged from a combination of theoretical con-
siderations with findings from the data analysis. It is based on the basic as-
sumptions of individual, dynamic and socially embedded information proc-
essing, and in particular on those of problem solving research.
Here, findings from writing research are expanded, so that the focus is
not only on the macroprocess of text production, but also integrates the in-
teraction with different kinds of material, and the solving of the conceptual
task. It builds on the assumption that the solving of subject-specific tasks
(as which the elicitation tasks used in this study can be classified) can be
regarded as the solving of complex problems. It thus consists of a range of
minor sub-problems, which in turn are solved by different processes of
meaning construction. The most important feature is the separation of the
superordinate problem into two problem spaces: One with a conceptual fo-
cus, the other one with a linguistic-rhetorical focus.
Because of its constructivist and sociocultural embedding, the model as-
sumes several bundles of factors that influence which problem solving
steps are taken in which situation, and which kind of knowledge and
sources of information are used.
The model is easily extendible for other research interests with specific
questions. One possible field of research would for instance be the question
of task difficulty, in that the interaction between task characteristics and
Summary 67

learner features is taken into focus, and which is realized in specific types
and patterns of task solution.
The model serves as the theoretical foundation for the analysis of the
empirical data and will be discussed in the actual analysis of the perform-
ance data presented in Chapter 9.
In the following chapter I will discuss ways in which an insight into
mental process can be gained in which an interaction between language and
conceptual thought manifests.
Chapter 6
Task design and task analysis

1. The importance of the research design

In the empirical study, methodology forms the link between the theoretical
construct of the conceptual-linguistic processing, which has been devel-
oped in the previous chapters, and the empirical investigation.
Each decision taken in the data elicitation has an impact on the kind,
and quality of the data, which in turn have an impact on the theory building
that is the result of the analysis. Therefore it is necessary to be very careful
in the decisions that have to be taken before the data are elicited, and to
link them well with the theoretical findings that I have accounted for so far.
We first have to ask ourselves how it is possible to gain insights into the
cognitive processing of subject-specific content, while an L2 is used as a
working language, in order to see whether there is any interaction. Which
instruments elicit the operations of thought that interest us here?
Before I describe the elicitation tasks, let us first turn briefly to the sub-

2. Subjects

The subjects who participated in the study came from two groups of Grade
10 (age 16) students from the same German grammar school. All students
volunteered, learner features were not controlled.
The first group consisting of 13 students came from a class that had re-
ceived all their geography education in their L2 English; for these students
interaction with English texts and material was the normal situation. This
group was introduced to the think-aloud method in English, and received
task material that was exclusively in English.
The second group, 7 students, came from a traditional class where only
the L1 German had been used as a working language in content-focused
Elicitation tasks 69

school subjects. This group solved the same tasks as group 1, with the only
difference that all linguistic material was in German.

3. Elicitation tasks

For my research interest, both subject-specific and L2-specific mental

processes need to be elicited, the subject in our case being geography.
At German grammar schools geography forms an interface between
economical, ecological, historical, social and political sciences, and ethics.
The central geographical concept is space (Brunotte et al. 2002; Leser
2005). Although it typically makes use of a broad range of material (maps,
diagrams, tables, photographies, caricatures, texts), that are used in other
disciplines as well, e.g. history, geography looks at problems from specific
angles: Where the central concept in history is historical awareness (Gies
2004; Pandel 2005), the space concept of geography leads to different
foci and interpretation of material.
Against this background the tasks in this study were designed so that a
map of the world showing the natural vegetation, and a climate graph were
main sources of information. This means that well-established semiotic
systems that are typical for geography had to be used.
To put it in simple terms we can say that persons go through subject-
specific thought processes when they deal with typical subject-specific
content and problems. If one wants to elicit subject-specific cognition it
seems suitable to bring subjects face to face with subject-specific, e.g. ge-
ography tasks. In order to solve them they have to interact with different
sorts of typical material, and have to employ a range of different mental ac-
tivities and knowledge.
A potential interaction between subject-specific cognitive processes and
the L2 can be achieved, if the interaction with the tasks includes the recep-
tive and productive processing of L2 information. This can be done though
the interaction with L2 text material, and the production of an answer in the
foreign language.
For my purposes, a set of six tasks was developed, which I present in
Figure 8 and 9 on the following pages. All tasks deal with the tropical rain
forest, which is a complex field that exemplifies a range of typical geogra-
phy issues, e.g. climate, topography, socioeconomy, ecology and ethics in
their global and systemic interactions.
The holistic requirements of each task are the following:
70 Task design and task analysis

Task 1: Localization of a zone of vegetation on a map of the world by

means of information from the map key

Task 2: Extraction of degree information from a complex set of informa-

tion in a climate graph, and localisation of the climate graphs loca-
tion on the graticule of a map of the world

Task 3: Description of a places climate by interpretation of a climate


Task 4: Construction of relations between geographical location and

climate by deducing the climate from the geographical location

Task 5: Orientation on a map of the world, recognizing and explaining the

role of mountain ranges in climate

Task 6: Construction of the concept of sustainability by extracting informa-

tion from an informative text, and evaluation of a suggested solu-
tion for the protection of the tropical rain forest, in which only eco-
logical goals are features and which thus does not correspond to all
the principles of sustainability

A second feature of the tasks is that they require the subjects to use sev-
eral sources of information (map, climate graph, text) (see for a discussion
regarding competences Coetzee-Lachmann 2007; Vollmer in progress). The
tasks exceed the format of simple fact questions. They can be characterized
as complex and knowledge-intense problems, which cannot be solved spon-
taneously by mere activation of memory content.
Besides that, they include L2-specific requirements. They were devel-
oped to include the requirement to extract information from linguistic
sources of information (tasks prompt, legend in map, information texts), so
that the subjects had to go through processes of language reception in order
to deal with the tasks. For the language production side, written answers
had to be composed, so that productive linguistic processes were elicited in
the generation of text.
Elicitation tasks 71


In this section, we would first like you to locate the tropical rain forests. Then, you
are going to look at specific areas in the tropical rain forest in more detail. Please
write down your answers on the separate answering sheets.

1. Have a look at the map of the world (Figure 1) showing the distribution of the
tropical rain forest. Describe as precisely as possible where exactly in the world
tropical rain forests can be found. Please, do not write on the map!

2. Study the climate graph for Kisangani (Figure 2). Describe the exact location of
the Kisangani weather station by also looking at the map (Figure 1).

3. What type of climate does Kisangani have? Describe Kisanganis climate in de-
tail with the help of the chart.

4. Medan is a place in Indonesia and has the following coordinates: 3 N/98 E. Is

the climate in Medan different from the climate in Kisangani? Motivate your an-

5. Take a look at South America on the map of the world. Why are there no tropi-
cal rain forests in the west of South America?

Fig. 2

Figure 8. Tasks 1 to 5 from the task set for the bilingual learners
72 Task design and task analysis



Since the world summit of Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (Agenda 21) the principle of
sustainability has been globally accepted. This principle means that in terms of
the use of natural resources, ecological, social and economic goals should be
treated as equally important. At the same time, the rights and needs of future
generations should be respected, so that they are not disadvantaged in any way
through the exploitation of the resources.

Against the background of the aims of Agenda 21, how do you evaluate the fol-
lowing suggestion for a solution? Support your answer.

One possible way of protecting the tropical rain forest

would be to turn the remaining forests into conserva-
tion areas or national parks. This would mean that na-
ture would be left to itself again, untouched by man-
kind. Only a limited number of people would then be
allowed to enter restricted areas in the parks along spe-
cial trails and accompanied by a ranger.


Figure 9. Task 6 from the task set for the bilingual learners
Cognitive task analysis 73

For each task, an English and a German version were developed. The
English task set introduces the subjects into the task in English, presents all
the material in English and requires an English answer. In the German set,
all corresponding linguistic information is in German, and the answer is to
be written in German. Contentwise, both sets are identical.
The tasks from both sets were discussed with geography experts from
teacher education and schools (for more information, see Coetzee-
Lachmann 2007), and tested at several stages of development in pilot
school classes with bilingual and traditional education in geography. This
resulted in several stages of improvement.

4. Cognitive task analysis

How can these tasks be used? Why are they suitable for the purpose of elic-
iting the cognitions that are in the centre here?
According to the model presented in Chapter 5, each task can be seg-
mented into a range of smaller sub-tasks. The structure of the model with
the integration of different bundles of factors suggests that each task can be
characterized in its cognitive demands. Notwithstanding the theoretical co-
herence of the model idea, we here are confronted with an epistemological
The tasks are designed in order to trigger certain mental processes in the
subjects; at the same time, we have to assume a highly subjective interpre-
tation, which is grounded in individual experience, and the constructivist
nature of perception and knowledge. The subject thus creates a situation-
specific and indiosynchratic mental representation of each task, influenced
by previous knowledge, personality traits, personal interest in topic, among
other variables.
The researcher cannot claim to be able to control these features; in a study
like this the previous knowledge of the subjects cannot be controlled in de-
tail, or constructs like motivation, anxiety, mood, and the interaction in be-
tween them investigated systematically. This means that without knowledge
of the relationship between learner and task features, I want to give a valid
picture of the task characteristics and anticipate the mental construction ac-
tivity it will trigger in the subject while an anticipation of this mental con-
struction activity is not possible!
74 Task design and task analysis

How can this paradox be solved? Can the cognitive requirements of a

task be identified without knowledge of the individual subjects intellectual
and emotional requisites?
A solution is provided by Cognitive Task Analysis (CTA), an approach
from cognitive psychology that has its roots in applied psychology, e.g. er-
gonomy. A CTA can provide valuable insights into expert behaviour in
complex problem setting, and has been used in order to create possibilities
for training and improvement in several professional settings. As in my
data elicitation, in a CTA it is attempted to collect information about
knowledge structures, mental processes and goals which underly observ-
able task solving behaviour.
The starting point here is the construction of an ideal case of the task
solving process, which is not interrupted or biased by time constraints,
tiredness or lack of motivation (overviews in Chipman, Schraagen, and
Shalin 2000).
The description of the task is achieved on the basis of a theory-driven
analysis, which, too, is based on the framework of problem solving. A
CTA is divided into the following phases:

1. Initial phase: Gaining of expertise, often achieved by collecting

expert opinions. Here the researcher becomes acquainted with the
task and the task context. Goal: To be able to make assumptions
about how the performance of an expert differs from that of a nov-

2. Identification of necessary knowledge. Here, in a top-down proce-

dure, the declarative and procedural knowledge structures are iden-
tified that are necessary for a sufficient solution of the task.

3. Elicitation of knowledge structures. On the basis of the problem

solving paradigm, a hierarchy of intermediate goals is identified.
From this it is possible to build cognitive models of the task on a
systematic basis.

The first two steps serve the identification of a competent performance

in specific situational context (cf. Roth and Woods 1989). This step of
analysis shows with what kind of subordinate problems subjects have to
deal with, what previous knowledge they need to have, which knowledge
structures they have to establish while solving the task and how they have
Cognitive task analysis 75

to make use of them in order to solve the task in question (Roth and Woods
1989: 246).
In a second phase a performance model is built which allows a mapping
of the subject performance. In this phase, real data are elicited.
Also in the task analysis for this study I want to reach an overview of
which cognitive achievements each task requires for an adequate solution,
on a purely structural level, without anticipating individual task solving be-
haviour. This theoretical analysis with a description of a tasks cognitive
requirements is possible with a high degree of objectivity, because it is re-
duced to a mere description of which information is presented in the task in
what form, and how it is to be extracted and linked with external informa-
tion, such as previous knowledge.
But why should one make such an analysis when it is still not possible
to predict individual subject performance? The answer is that a detailed
characterization of the tasks is necessary for the analysis of the data. The
deep understanding of the cognitive requirements a tasks imposes on a sub-
ject serves as a framework for the interpretation of the performance data.
Through CTA it thus becomes possible to investigate even complex mental
activities whose intermediate steps do not show any observable signs in the
behaviour and thus have to be inferred.
A second argument for a CTA is the following: Although it is not pos-
sible to determine exactly in advance what a subject will do while process-
ing a task, where problems will occur, where pre-knowledge will be em-
ployed and where new knowledge structures will be established, and thus
each subject will go about individually, the mental activities will not differ
from each other in all details. It can be predicted on logical grounds that
some processes will definitely be a part of the processing. So, we can as-
sume with a very high degree of probability that each learner will in some
way read the task prompt. Also, the range of the task solution phases can
be predicted to a certain degree on logical grounds: Thus, it is not possible
to find a solution of the task before a mental representation has been estab-
lished, no matter how incomplete it may be. Likewise, the answer cannot
be written down before processes of formulating take place.
76 Task design and task analysis

What we can determine in advance is

1. which knowledge structures have to be present before the task

processing in order to be able to find a successful solution. This is
the case if task prompt and material do not contain the necessary
information, so that the subject has to bridge a gap in the informa-
tion structure through activation of appropriate knowledge. The
more inferencing has to be done when only little information is
provided, the more knowledge-intense and cognitively challeng-
ing is the task. Task features like this indicate that processes of
knowledge retrieval are necessary within the task solving.

2. which knowledge structures do not have to be there in advance

and can be constructed on the basis of the provided information.
Task features like this indicate that processes of knowledge con-
struction have to take place in the task solving.

It is not possible before the analysis of the real process data to describe
individual ways of solving the task in detail. In the analysis, it has to be
verified whether the assumed task solving phases are suitable to describe
the empirical data, or if adjustments need to be made.
So, for the analysis of the tasks, necessary elements of an adequate an-
swer had to be identified. For this, geography experts and teachers were
consulted who validated the tasks in terms of appropriate answers for geog-
raphy learners of Grade 10 German grammar schools. On the basis of these
sample answers, an analysis of knowledge structures was made, namely
those that had to be reconstructed from memory, and those that needed to
be constructed as new structures by extracting information from the task
This means that the kinds of mental processes that a task triggers are
closely dependent on the wording of the task prompt, and characteristics of
the task material.
So, the cognitive task analysis of the elicitation tasks consists of the fol-
lowing steps:

1. Development of sample answers (including a validation by ex-

perts): Which content elements need to be part of an adequate solu-
Cognitive task analysis 77

2. Description of necessary task solving steps in terms of activation

of previous knowledge: Which subject-specific knowledge struc-
tures do the subjects need to retrieve from previous knowledge in
order to be able to solve the task?

3. Description of necessary task solving steps in terms of gain of new

knowledge: Which subject-specific knowledge structures do the
subjects need to construct? Which cognitive processes have to take
place for this, e.g. the extraction of information from different

4. Grading of possible answers according to subject-specific

achievement or adequacy as a basis for the interpretation of the
subjects texts (cf. Coetzee-Lachmann 2007, who concentrates on
this step in detail)

I will exemplify such an analysis on task 2 from the elicitation task set:

Task prompt:
2. Study the climate graph for Kisangani (Figure 2). Describe the exact loca-
tion of the Kisangani weather station by also looking at the map (Figure 1).

Figure 2 refers to the climate graph depicted in Figure 8, Figure 1 is

a traditional map of the world from a school atlas that indicates the vegeta-
tion zones of the earth. Here, the equator is indicated, as well as the grada-
tion in sections of 20 each. The key of the map marks the vegetational
zones in different hues end explains them in short texts.
One challenge of this task is to filter the relevant information from the
amount of given information. The relevant information is the coordinates
1N/25E, indicated as part of the information in the climate graph. These
coordinates then have to be transferred to the coordinate frame on the map,
and by this to localize the place.
Table 4 gives a systematic analysis of this task. On the left hand side the
cognitive construction processes are indicated that are necessary for a suc-
cessful solution. On the right hand side the concept structures are indicated
that are either reconstructed or newly built by these processes.
78 Task design and task analysis

Table 4. Cognitive Task Analysis of Task 2 (knowledge structures and cognitive


Cognitive construction activity Knowledge structures

Reconstruction to be reconstructed
- triggered by task prompt: - location
- suggested by material: - coordinates (number + + N + E)
- m (metre)
- equator
- tropical rain forest
- graticule of a map
- vegetation zones
- without help in the task: - Congo
- (Central) Africa

Construction to be built up
- triggered by task prompt:
- extract information from task prompt:
- There is a place called Kisangani
- suggested by material:
- extract information about location
from climate graph: - Kisangani is located at 1 N and 25 E
- extract information about height from
climate graph: - Kisangani is located at 460 m
- transfer coordinates to the map: - Kisangani is located at 1N und 25 E on
the map
- relate location to topographical fea-
tures: - Kisangani is close to the equator
- link location with information about
vegetational form in map key:
- Kisangani is in the tropical rain forest
- without help in the task:
- link location with the topographical
information about continent and
country: - Kisangani is in Central Africa
- Kisangani is in Congo
Linguistic task analysis 79

The processes of construction are subdivided into achievements of re-

construction, that means retrieval from memory, and building up of new
knowledge, which takes place predominantly by extracting information
from task prompt and material. In both reconstruction and construction,
three kinds of processes are distinguished: (Re-)Construction processes that
are triggered by the task prompt, (re-)construction processes that are sug-
gested by structure and content of the task material, and (re-)construction
processes that have to be achieved without any help in the task.
This subdivision is important for the analysis of the subjects perform-
ance that I will carry out later, because the data is only interpretable with
the help of the necessary procedures and knowledge content. In many
cases, the analysis reveals with which material the subject is interacting at a
given moment, or if he or she is retrieving information from memory.
The lower part of Table 4 depicts the building up of new knowledge
structures and makes explicit the procedural knowledge that is necessary
for each step. It becomes clear that the construction of new knowledge is
based on the reconstruction (indicated in the upper part of the table), so that
procedural knowledge (knowing how to do something) is based on declara-
tive knowledge (knowing that something is the case): Only if the subject
knows what coordinates are and what they indicate would he or she be able
to extract them from a climate graph and transfer them onto the graticule of
the map.

5. Linguistic task analysis

As described, besides the conceptual task solving, the tasks also require a
range of language-specific construction activities. This can roughly be sub-
divided into reception and production of language. The elicitation tasks can
be analysed according to the different requirements they pose on the sub-
jects, namely to what degree they trigger the production and reception of
language, and which relevance they assign texts as a source of information.
Besides the task prompt, tasks 1 to 5 contain linguistic information in
the texts of the map key, and in the labelling of the climate graph and the
map of the world. Most of the relevant information, however, is communi-
cated non-verbally, so that the main linguistic challenge is to transfer the
conceptual representations into language in the composition of an answer.
This forms a subordinate, but nevertheless complex problem. Besides that,
tasks 1 to 6 require a high amount of subject-specific language, because
80 Task design and task analysis

they make use of established non-verbal sources of information. Coetzee-

Lachmann (2007) can show that the subjects here experience more difficul-
ties and reach lower ratings than in other tasks that require less specific vo-
In Task 6, on the other hand, the main activity is on the processing of
information offered in verbal forms in texts. The concept SUSTAINABIL-
ITY is presented and explained in a text, equally so the suggestion for a so-
lution, which has to be evaluated by the subjects. So, on the basis of text
information, a mental representation has to be created that in turn has to be
related to the previous knowledge about the complex system TROPICAL
So, which language-specific cognitive construction activity is required
for an adequate solution of the tasks? All in all, a range of different linguis-
tic activities take place in the decoding and coding of linguistic texts,
which can be subdivided into reconstruction and construction of knowledge
structures as well. For example, lexical knowledge has to be reconstructed,
while construction of new knowledge can be assumed to take place in the
application of rule-based knowledge, that is when sentence structures are
put together that are not stored as entities in the mental lexicon.
How much of the linguistic processing is to be characterized as recon-
struction of memory content, and how much as construction of new infor-
mation is closely linked to the theoretical understanding of whether inflec-
tion and derivation are to be regarded as separate mental processes or not
(see for different models, e.g. Haspelmath 2002). Depending on whether a
lexicon on morpheme basis is assumed, in which all linguistic utterances
are produced on the basis of rules, or a word form lexicon, in which all
complex words have lexicon entries so that only little new construction ac-
tivity takes place, we have to assume different micro-processes.
No matter which theoretical view one might take an analysis reaches a
much higher degree of complexity than the conceptual task analysis, and it
is questionable how useful a detailed analysis would be for the research
question here. Besides that, a theoretical analysis of the linguistic require-
ments in terms of a CTA is much more difficult, because the linguistic
elements of a sample answer cannot be predicted in the same detail as the
conceptual elements. There are too many possible ways of formulating one
propositional content.
Instead of a detailed analysis of construction activity in the linguistic
field, I will stay on a more abstract level. This means that I will list phases
of solving activity that I have found for the linguistic part of the task solu-
Summary 81

tion model. I will not, however, make assumptions about the individual
forms of reconstruction or construction of new information. Because I do
not attempt to get to a linguistic-rhetoric sample answer, I will not deter-
mine in detail the linguistic features or requirements of each task.

6. Summary

In this chapter, I have described under which aspects the elicitation tasks
were developed:
Care was taken to ensure that in solving the tasks subjects had not only
to deal with conceptual construction activity, but also with the solving of
linguistic-rhetorical problems. This was achieved by including the need to
read information texts of different length and complexity, and to write an
answer in which the solution of the content problem had to be accounted
In the next chapter I will discuss ways of gaining access to process data
of the task-solving activities and describe the think-aloud methodology
used in this study.
Chapter 7
Think-aloud data

1. Thinking aloud

Up to this point I have discussed why we could assume that subject-

specific and language-specific mental activities occur in the solving of the
elicitation tasks. We now have to face the methodological problem to gain
insight into these mental activities, which only seldom manifest in observ-
able behaviour: In an observation of a subject who solves subject-specific
tasks, all that is there to follow might be eye movements that allow to de-
duce which material the subject focuses on in a given moment, or when a
page is turned, when the person writes or crosses out what she has written,
or when she scratches his head, or sighs. We might get a rich set of obser-
vational data but they will not give us any insight into the potential influ-
ence that the use of a foreign language plays in the processing of subject-
specific information; so, for instance, we cannot infer from eye move-
ments, writing activity, facial expression or body posture which linguistic
problem a person is solving in a given moment. What we need is thus an
appropriate methodology in order to map such mental task solving proc-
For purposes like this learning and teaching research uses introspective
elicitation method. The term introspection is used in different senses (for
a thorough discussion of the term, see Ericsson and Simon 1993; Heine
2005; Matsumoto 1994). I
I will here follow the dominant use in the research literature and will
thus define introspective data as a persons statement by means of which
insights can be gained into her own mental activities. So, in introspective
investigations, people are asked after how they have proceeded in a given
situation, and what went through their mind then. In cases where this ver-
balisation is mirroring range and content of thought activities, these state-
ments are called verbal protocols (for a discussion of the term, see Heine
Thinking aloud 83

This, however, poses a theoretical problem: When persons are asked

about which cognitive processes they went through in a given situation, it
soon becomes clear that subjects only have limited access to their own
processing. Therefore, they might speculate about what might have hap-
pened, rather than giving a reliable account.
Besides, this effect tends to rise the more time lies between the per-
formance and the account for it. On the other hand, if a person verbalises
mental activities and performs the task simultaneously, the verbalisation
might interfere with the performance and thus change the data (see for a
discussion in L2 contexts: Anderson and Vandergift 1996; Cohen 1984,
1987a, 1987b; Cohen and Hosenfeld 1981; Cohen and Scott 1996; for a
critical discussion on introspection: Deffner 1984, 1987, 1988; Dobrin
1994; Ericsson 1988; Ericsson and Simon 1980, 1987, 1993; Garner 1988;
Howe 1991; Leow and Morgan-Short 2004; Nisbett and Wilson 1977; Prit-
chard 1990; Seliger 1983; Verplanck 1962; Watson 1930). These kinds of
bias are tried to minimize by asking persons to verbalize the words that
automatically come to their minds, but not to verbalize sense relations or to
give explanations for their activity (Ericsson and Simon 1993). This
method is called thinking aloud.
I will use the think-aloud method as the main means of accessing
thought processing. In spite of its deficits, thinking aloud gives a detailed
account of thoughts. However a combination with other methods is highly
recommendable. In the present study, the think-aloud protocols are triangu-
lated with the written answers, and with an interview that was held with
each student after the think-aloud session.
The think-aloud method has become one of the standard tools in the re-
search on mental models, as well as problem solving research (Chi and
Glaser 1985; Chi 1997; Chi, Feltovich and Glaser 1981), activities that do
not focus on linguistic activity. The method is also often used in writing re-
search and foreign language acquisition research (e.g., Flower and Hayes
1981, Schramm 2001, Wrffel 2006). I have already given more detailed
accounts of the theoretical embedding and the criticism it has met in sepa-
rate articles (Heine 2005; Heine and Schramm 2007). I will thus only pre-
sent the most important basics here that are necessary for an understanding,
and elaborate only in areas that I have not presented in detail so far. Here,
theoretical and methodological problems in particular are to be discussed
because they are directly linked to the validity of the empirical investiga-
tion (cf. Grotjahn 1987; 1993; 1999; 2003; and the extensive methodologi-
cal discussion in Diskussion in Riemer 1997).
84 Think-aloud data

The theoretical considerations have a direct impact on the transcription

and interpretation of the data. Good theoretical overviews of introspective
methods and thinking aloud can be found in Gass and Mackey (2000);
Green (1998); van Someren et al. (1994) and the standard work by Ericsson
and Simon (1993). Heine and Schramm (2007) give an overview in Ger-
man with practical advice for application in empirical research.

2. Thinking aloud and language of thought

When verbal protocols are used in order to obtain information about the
mental activities an individual goes through, it is necessary to have a clear
understanding of the relationship between language and thought. In Chap-
ter 2 I have accounted for different theoretical views on this issue, and have
come to the conclusion that thought and language can be assumed to be
theoretically distinct phenomena; research assumes several modes of men-
tal representation, among them a linguistic one.
For the methodological discussion, the question of what is the original
format of thought seems, however, not too crucial; more important is the
empirical observation that, no matter what representation might be the ori-
gin, a crosstalk effect involving language is often taking place. This means
that if a mental representation is evoked, automatically and without any ef-
fort, its linguistic form is activated as well:
Natural language looms large in the cognitive lives of ordinary folk. Al-
though proportions vary, many people seem to spend a good deal of their
waking activity involved in inner speech, with imaged natural language
sentences occupying a significant proportion of the stream of their con-
scious mentality (Carruthers 2002).
Carruthers refers to a study by Hurlburt (1990), in which subjects wrote
down over the period of a whole day what they had in mind, each time they
heard a signal from a headset they were wearing. These notes were dis-
cussed in retrospective interviews. In spite of obvious interindividual dif-
ferences, all subjects accounted for the experience that their thoughts over
large stretches of time were accompanied by language, alongside with im-
ages and feelings (this holds for healthy subjects; the study involved scizo-
phrenic patients also, who did not think in language as much). Between 7
and up to 80% of the cases, language was involved, with a mean value of
over 50%.
Thinking aloud and language of thought 85

[M]ore than half of the total set of moments which go to make up some-
ones conscious waking life occupied with inner speech thats well-nigh
continuous! (Carruthers 2002).
It is this effect that is used in the think-aloud method. So in thinking
aloud, it is assumed that not all, but a lot of thought is accompanied by a
mental activation of its linguistic form. According to the paradigm of in-
formation processing that is taken up in problem solving research, thinking
can be regarded as a range of mental states. The current state is active in
working memory, and can thus be vocalized without activation of further
cognitive resources.
By making subjects vocalise this stream of words and phrases that goes
through their minds while they are solving a particular task, a protocol of
thought activity can be obtained. It makes it possible to follow the se-
quence of foci of attention a person goes through while pursuing a particu-
lar activity. This is the reason why a protocol of this kind cannot be ex-
pected to provide a full account of all the cognitive processes under a
certain task: A think-aloud protocol of somebody looking at a picture does
therefore usually not resemble a coherent story: The utterances are typi-
cally unsyntactical and telegram-like in that they reflect the way the per-
sons attention is taking, like enumerating the towns a route goes through
on a map; the route itself is not named.
The long empirical tradition of this methodology shows that not every
kind of activity is suitably depicted in this way: Mere motor activity seems
not to trigger verbal representations automatically, so if a person tying her
shoe laces or juggling a ball is asked to vocalize what she is thinking, this
prompt is likely to disturb the subject in performing the activity. The rea-
son for that is that the verbalization becomes a task in itself that claims
searching activity, which in turn alters and interrupts the thinking process
of the original activity.
A dominantly verbal activity, like writing, on the other hand, is (unsur-
prisingly) easy to vocalize, because the person has to solve a task that in-
volves looking for linguistic forms. The think-aloud method has been used
a lot in the investigation of linguistically focused tasks, such as text com-
position or translating (e.g., Smagorinsky 1994), and has provided valuable
insights into the nature of the processes involved in such complex activi-
Closely connected to this is the fact that most of the time, language use
is an automatic process that people do only seldom reflect on. Normally,
86 Think-aloud data

we do not notice the words and grammatical constructions we use, but, as it

were, look through them directly onto the meaning structures behind.
For the empirical elicitation situation, this means that it needs to be
made very clear for the subjects that these nonverbal thoughts are not to be
verbalized, and that the purpose of the vocalization of thoughts is not that
the researcher should be addressed, because that again would imply that the
subject has to communicate comprehensibly, which might be different
from silent thought. So, thinking aloud is a kind of unreflected self-talk, a
mere vocalisation.
The method has often been misunderstood (see the criticism mentioned
above), the critics suggesting that it biases the thought activity through the
metacognitive focus it provokes. The method itself is, however, very clear
about that metacognitive accounts of the subjects have to be avoided, be-
cause they are indeed not valid (Ericsson and Simon 1993; auch bereits
Smith and Miller 1978; White 1980). Instead, only unreflected vocalisation
can be used to form a verbal protocol, and the subjects must not be encour-
aged to explicate their mental processes. Rather, they have to be inferred
by the researcher. So, not the subject him- or herself observes and inter-
prets what he or she is doing; this is the researchers task.
The following example provides an illustration of a think-aloud proto-
col from my data basis. It illustrates well the incoherent character of the

Study the cli- (drops her pen) [(softly) ups] the climate graph . for . . Ki- .
-san- . -gani . . figure two. (1 s) Describe the eract . . exact location of . .
Kisan- . -gani . weath- . . weather station by also looking at the map. (1 s)
[(whispers, unclear, German) Au.] (2 s) Erm . . four hundred sixty metres (1
s) one degree North (paper rustles, 1 s) twenty five degree . . East.

Data Example 1. Henriette* 1023-1.b

*All student names in this study are anonymized.

Henriette here reads the task prompt of Task 2 and starts to extract in-
formation from the climate graph. She only vocalizes the thoughts that she
directs her attention to, but is not trying to make herself be understood by a
listener. Note that only because certain mental states are not indicated ver-
bally, this does not mean that they have not taken place. Now it becomes
clear that the detailed understanding of the task and its material is crucial
Thinking aloud and language of thought 87

for the researcher to be able to give an interpretation of the subjects per-

If we compare Henriettes Data Example 2 with another protocol exam-
ple, it can be illustrated that, if the method is misunderstood, a completely
different kind of data can be elicited:

Study . the climate graph ca- . from . for Kin- . -sagani. Figure two (1 s)
describe the exact location of the Kinsani weather station by also looking
at the map. Figure one. (1 s) Okay I now . . erm . . co- . . I am now concen-
trated on the map and I want to see what I can read about it.

Data Example 2. Mona 1005-1.b)

In the end of this extract, Mona lets us know what she is doing in the
given moment. Here, she interprets her own cognitions, which means that
they reach a level of consciousness: The metacognitive thought I am now
concentrated on the map [sic] is unlikely to have occurred in the situation
without the task to think aloud. Probably she would just have looked at the
map without evoking this action explicitly in working memory. This means
that the cognitive activity we see here is probably changed compared to a
silent task solving, because Mona has misunderstood the think-aloud task.
By means of these examples, I want to show that very different cogni-
tions can accompany the solving of a task. A clear conception of the differ-
ences is vital in order to elicit data that is as valid as possible. Think-aloud
protocols try to extract cognitive processes of the type Henriette produces
in Data Example 1. These can be described as cognitive processes that oc-
cur when a specific task is being solved. In Monas example (Data Exam-
ple 2), on the contrary, we find metacognitive data that are typical for pro-
tocols of an activity when the focus is turned on the verbalization of the
subjects thoughts. In Data Examples 1 and 2, we find qualitatively differ-
ent kinds of data.
This does not necessarily mean, however, that think-aloud protocols
must not contain any metacognitive content at all. Some learners make use
of metacognitive thoughts as a part of their repertoire of strategies, and
thereby reach a more reflected level of how they proceed in solving spe-
cific tasks. These cases can look rather similar to Monas example above,
as can be seen in the following extract from a protocol produced by subject
88 Think-aloud data

Soo. . Jetzt . . gucken wir uns den Niederschlag an . . der ist natrlich ziem-
lich hoch . . genau. Tausendachthundertvier

[Translation: Okay. . Now . . lets look at the precipitation . . it is of course

pretty high . . right. One thousand eight hundred and four]

Data Example 3. Joachim 1123-1.b)

The utterance Now we are going to look at the precipitation is a

strategical instruction from the subject to himself. It is typical in protocols
of Joachim, who claims that he would have thought in the same way even
when he had not thought aloud: In the introductory training phase he was
asked about his strategical thoughts that he revealed in the think-aloud task,
because I was afraid he had misunderstood the task. He, however, was
adamant in that this mirrored a typical way for him to deal with tasks,
which he was sure he made use of even in silent task solving. So, this data
hints at the kind of cognitive learner type (who is a comparably reflective
and structured task solver), and should not be taken as a sign of reactivity
of the method.
This data comparison should have made clear that in the elicitation
situation great care is vital. Firstly, it is crucial to explain the procedure
clearly to the subjects, train them to think aloud and provide feedback be-
fore the real elicitation is started (see Heine and Schramm 2006).
Secondly, these data examples show how interpretative the analysis
needs to be. I will get back to this point in Chapter 8.
Ericsson and Simon (1987; 1993) assume that the right use of the
method might slow down thought activity, but quality and sequence of
cognitions should remain the same as in a silent task processing. I do not
share this positive evaluation of the method in full; even when a thorough
instruction has taken place, it is possible, as Monas example shows, that
the method might have an impact on the individual cognitions. If data like
these occur, and cannot be evaluated on the basis of another data set, such
as interview, they should be excluded from analysis.
For a triangulation I questioned the subjects after the think-aloud ses-
sion after their own perception and evaluation. The results of these inter-
views are presented in Chapter 10. They hint at the fact that at least in
some places the vocalisation task has a reactionary effect which manifests
itself in interruptions and feedback loops in thought activity, which in turn
can lead to changes in intention. But not only difficulties in verbalization
Individual differences in cognitive processing 89

can have an impact on the quality of thought. Through articulation thought

content becomes audible for the subjects and thereby enters the articulatory
buffer in the working memory (see also Baddeley 1986; 1990; 1992; Bad-
deley and Hitch 1974). This can lead to an increase in reflection: The cog-
nitive steps are potentially perceived more conscious, which in turn can
lead to self-monitoring, an evaluation of ones own processing, and in-
creaded planning and structuring activities. Throught this, conceptual con-
nections are established and deepened. Experiments from cognitive psy-
chology can show that an intensified reflection about ones own processing
can lead to improved results of problem solving activities (e.g. Chi et al.
1994). This fact is a problem for the think-aloud method. Therefore, it is
necessary to estimate its advantages over its disadvantages: In spite of the
methods deficits, the richness of data, as well as the possibilities it offers
to gain a deep understanding of cognitive processes in general, still make
thinking aloud a highly valuable tool. Nevertheless, it should be stressed
once more that it should not be used naively.

3. Individual differences in cognitive processing

The question of the methods reactivity has lead to a range of investiga-

tions (see for an overview (berblicke in Ericsson and Simon 1993; Jour-
denais 2001; Knoblich and Rhenius 1995; Leow and Morgan-Short 2004;
Stratman and Hamp-Lyons 1994). These studies compared the task proc-
essing behaviour of loud thinkers with that of silent thinkers, or think-aloud
protocols with eye movement data or keyboard protocols. As mentioned
above, Ericsson and Simon (1993) do indications for a slower processing,
but none for a qualitatively changed thought activity. In the other articles,
however, both positive and negative effects of thinking aloud protocols are
reported, that sometimes lead to an improvement of the task solving, some-
times to an impairment. This heterogeneity of results can be explained by
the wide range of different think-aloud prompts, and by the fact that small
and unrepresentative subject groups were used. However, my main point of
criticism is this:
Although there is a general consensus that humans differ strongly, both
in the way they process cognitive content, and their ability to verbalize, this
assumption is not taken up in the reactivity studies mentioned above. If one
assumes that there are subjects who experience greater difficulty in trans-
forming a thought into a verbal form, it is vital to form groups of subject
90 Think-aloud data

types, before reactivity is measured. This, however, is not reflected on in

any study I know. I will take up this issue in the interviews (Chapter 10).

4. Thinking aloud in L2 settings

The goal of thinking aloud is to uncover the problem solving steps a person
goes through in solving a specific task. When a task is solved in a foreign
language context, however, another dimension comes into the picture:
When there are several language systems present in the learner, the ques-
tion is in which language the learner is supposed to think. Should only the
L1 be used, because it can be assumed that it is rooted more deeply in cog-
nition and automatized more easily? Or are the cognitive processes
changed compared to silent thinking, when a language is prescribed
maybe learners do think in an L2? What happens if the researcher leaves it
to the subject to choose a language? Do multilingual persons switch be-
tween the activated languages, even in silent thinking? Is a think-aloud pro-
tocol containing language switches valid?
Although think-aloud protocols have been used a lot in foreign language
research, this issue has not been discussed in detail so far. Only Ericsson
and Simon (1993: 249 ff.) give a very short comment in which they assume
that thinking aloud in a foreign language, depending on the individual pro-
ficiency, can merely slow the processes down. Aguado (2004) and Kormos
(1998) argue against this and assume that the use of an L2 should generally
be regarded as a high cognitive pressure which influences the mental proc-
esses. They recommend making subjects generally think in their L1, espe-
cially if the proficiency is not high. Similar argumentations can be found in
Kern (1994) and Matsumoto (1994).
Still, the verbalizations should mirror what goes on inside a learners
head, when he or she would have thought silently in the same situation. I
therefore assume that it is necessary to leave it entirely up to the learner
which language to use, and to allow the learner to switch languages if she
feels the need for it (see Beyer 2005; Cohen 1994; Heine and Schramm
This decision, however, is no trifling matter: The researcher is forced to
choose a linguistic code in order to communicate with the subject in the
elicitation situation, in which thinking aloud is explained and trained. By
this, a linguistic frame is created that can dominate the linguistic behaviour
of the subjects (Grosjean 1998). But the question remains: Does the lan-
Thinking aloud in L2 settings 91

guage that is used by the authoritative person have an impact on the learner
I have tried to find an answer in two earlier pilot studies, which I have
already addressed in Heine (2005). These studies were conducted before
the elicitation tasks had been developed, so that different tasks from an-
other field (high and low tides, time zones) were used with learners that did
not participate in the main study. The goal of the pilot study was in the first
place to test the think-aloud prompts and to gain experience of the elicita-
tion situation. Indeed, the piloting was highly important for the validity of
the main data, because it could be shown how even the smallest changes in
the formulation of the task prompt and the way the material was presented
had an impact on the quality of the data.
The experience that could be gathered in the pilot studies lead to a stan-
dardized procedure in the main elicitation, which is summarized in Heine
and Schramm (2007). The question for the verbalization language was
tested in the following way:
In the first case, six CLIL learners were introduced to the elicitation
situation in their L1 German. Only after that were they confronted with the
English task prompts and materials. The initial decision was that the initial
phase was not really part of the elicitation and served mainly the goal to
make the learners understand the task. However, it is important to note that
it was made explicit that the learners could choose the language in which
they wanted to verbalize. The think-aloud protocols of all six learners
showed, however, that they consistently used German as the think-aloud
language, and only switched into English when they were reading a text or
composing the written version of their answers.
In order to make a well-motivated decision for or against the use of
German or English, I conducted a second pilot study. Here, nine learners
were confronted with comparable tasks. Now, all communication between
researcher and learner was conducted in the L2, so that even the think-
aloud procedure was explained in English. Here, too, it was made explicit
that it was up to the learners themselves to choose the language. The results
obtained here were clearly different to the first pilot study: Only few
switches into the L1 occurred, and all nine learners used dominantly the L2
English for their verbalizations.
These results make it seem probable that the language used by the re-
searcher can have a strong impact on which language is chosen by the sub-
jects, even when it is made explicit that they can chose, and the option for
language switches is left open.
92 Think-aloud data

What then can be the reason for this? Do subjects think differently in L1
surroundings than in L2 surroundings? Or do we have to assume that we
are witnessing an observer effect that biases the data, because the subjects
try to adapt to a setting which they perceive as authoritative? These consid-
erations have important methodological consequences, because in the L2
think-aloud data, we find instances such as the following:

Its (2 s) this is only . . erm (1 s) an extr- erm (laughs, 1 s) erm (1 s) [(Ger-

man) ein Ausschnitt] [translation: an extract] . . out of . this . . big

Data Example 4. Pilot Brbel task ZZ 1

the sun moves . and . so it s- has always another dis- erm . position, and erm
. at twelve oclock, in the n- erm . . high n- (1 s) high noon . no. High (1 s)
hm. In midday, its ermm . . it stands . . erm it has . its (1 s) highest posi-
tion, and ermm (1 s) e- a- erm in the day before erm (4 s) eeermm (1 s) be-
fore it has his highest . erm position, it rises.

Data Example 5. Pilot Brbel task ZZ 2

theres (1 s) a difference I think . . sometimes about eleven hours or . .

seven hours, (1 s) because . of . the (1 s) [(German, softly) ja.] [(laughing)
Of the] (2 s) [(German) Wei die Wrter [(laughing) nicht.] [translation:
Dont know the words] (1 s) Ermm (3 s) ja. Wei ich nicht. Kann ich
[(laughing) nicht.] [translation: yes. Dont know. I cant (do this).]

Data Example 6. Pilot Ida task ZZ 1

What we see here is the learners tendency to try and stay within the L2
system and to express their thoughts in a single code. In this attempt formula-
tion problems interrupt the mental processes. In Data Example 4, the learner
cannot access any suitable form in order to express the concept EXTRACT, so
that she first goes through searching activity and ends up using the correspond-
ing form in the L1.
In Data Example 5, Brbel does find a formulation for the expression of the
concept she is thinking of, but she does not succeed in that without additional
search processes. In the data, we can see that this is not an automatized proc-
Thinking aloud in L2 settings 93

A third possibility manifests itself in Data Example 6, in that Ida does

not express the concept at all but interrupts her processes altogether. Idas
focus is on the search for an appropriate formulation, her attention swings
from the conceptual side of the problem to the linguistic form, and the
original stream of thoughts is interrupted. We cannot know for sure, but it
seems very unlikely that a similar process of searching for a linguistic form
would have occurred in a silent task processing why should a person look
for an adequate linguistic form in the same detail when she does not need it
for the communication of her thoughts?
The pilot data suggest that this does not happen in the same way when
learners think aloud in their L1, which is more automatized. And indeed,
comparable cases could not be found in the pilot data of the first genera-
If an L2 English setting is dictated, the danger of reactivity effects
arises. On the other hand, we have to face the problem that for advanced
learners of English who are immersed into an L2 setting the L2 forms and
not their native language forms might automatically become active in the
working memory as soon as a mental concept is focused on. If these learn-
ers are confronted with an L1 situation this immersion is not achieved at
all, and the L1 suppresses the L2 in its level of activation. If that happens,
the elicitation setting influences the task processing as well, and the results
are not valid.
For the elicitation I was forced to make a decision within this dilemma.
Because I was mostly interested in the cognitive activities in a foreign lan-
guage setting in which content-focused tasks are in the centre of attention, I
finally decided to use a pure L2 input for the bilingual subjects. So, not
only were task prompt and task material presented in English, but also the
think-aloud procedure explained. Through this, an English environment
was created, although it was made very clear that the learners could switch
to any language at any time, as soon as their thinking activity suggested
that (which also happened one of the learners who turned out to be Rus-
sian, solved the tasks thinking aloud in Russian. Because his profile devi-
ated so much from the other learners, his data were not integrated in the
study). The learners linguistic competence was clearly sufficient to follow
this preparatory discourse. In the think-aloud training, anything that had
remained unclear could be addressed and explained.
Because the methodology here could be shown to have such an impor-
tant impact on the data quality, I decided to tackle the question of how
much each subject dealt cognitively with the different language systems.
94 Think-aloud data

For this, interview questions were developed that address the language of
thought. The interview as a subordinate investigation will be addressed in
Chapter 10, so I want to wait with any concluding assessment of thinking
aloud in L2 contexts and come to a final conclusion after the interview data
has been integrated.

5. Think-aloud data as protocols of problem solving activites

Can we now conclude that think-aloud data are a suitable data format for
the investigation of problem solving processes? A preliminary glance at
protocols from my data corpus gives an answer to this question.
Indeed, it can be shown that we can follow the typical steps of problem
solving activities. In order to interpret the following data example, a coher-
ent embedding into cognitive theory, a deep understanding of the cognitive
demands of the task (see Chapter 6), and an integration of the written an-
swerings text are necessary. They make it possible to infer information that
I have accumulated in the right hand side column External activities,
which help to clarify interpretation further.

Transcript External activities

001 Study the climate graph . of . bla Reads task prompt
[(whispering) blubb blubb blubb] . de-
scribe the exact location of the . Ki- . -
sangani . weather station by also look-
ing on the mmap s- r-
002 dshsh (turns pages, 1 s) Looks at map and climate graph
003 hm? (3 s) How should I know where Looks at map and climate graph
[(knocks on table) (1 s) this (1 s)]
004 [(German) ach][translation: oh I see] . Looks at climate graph
. one North.
005 (1 s) [(unclear) One North is] [(whis- Looks at map
pering) dh dh dh] . xx
006 [(German) da ist fnfundzwanzig (3 s) Looks at map
so ungefhr find ich es [translation:
there is twenty-five I can find it ap-
Data Example 7. Snke 1004-1.b)
Think-aloud data as protocols of problem solving activites 95

007 okay. [(softly) So.] (1 s) (takes a deap

breath, 1 s) [(whispering) bh dh dh] .
008 [(writing) (2 s)] . . B Writes b)
008 (2 s)
010 [(writing) it . is] Writes It is
011 (2 s) Probably: looks at map
012 [(writing) (1 s) [(softly) in (1 s) the (1 Writes in the middle
s) middle (8 s)]]
013 Mh (1 s)
014 in the middle of Reads his own text
015 . . -stani (1 s) [(whispering, rapidly) Re-reads task prompt
exact location]
016 (1 s) [(German) ja super.] (1 s) [oh
great! (ironically)]
017 Study the climate graph Re-reads task prompt
018 . . (hits the table) [(German) was soll
ich m- jetzt machen?] [translation:
what am I supposed to do now?]
019 (1 s) [(whispering) dd] xxxx (1 s) Re-reads his own text
020 (writing, 0,5 s) Writes of
021 (1 s) [(whispering) d ddd] (4 s) Re-reads task prompt
kan- (whispers unclearly, 2 s)
022 [(writing) (3 s)] Writes Africa, Rain Forest
Data Example 7 cont.

Although task solving in this protocol is unrepresentatively short, it

shows the typical steps of the problem solving:
Firstly, Snke needs to create a mental representation of the task he
needs to understand what the task is about. In order to do that he reads the
task prompt (segment 001) and orientates himself in the additional task ma-
terial (002003). It becomes clear here that constructing the mental repre-
sentation of the problem covers several processing steps: Firstly, we see
that Snke has constructed the overall goal state (localize Kisangani on the
map), but no representations of any intermediate goals that would allow
him to reach the final goal state (003). In segment 004 then, he has con-
structed a partial goal and solves it by finding the coordinates in the climate
graph. With this step, he has information at his command that allows him
to take further problem solving steps. So, here we can see that subordinate
goals such as look for information in the climate graph that enables you to
96 Think-aloud data

localize Kisangani on the map are embedded into the macroproblem and
have to be constructed in the same way as the superordinate goal.
In 005006, we can observe the solving process of the next partial prob-
lem, which can be paraphrased as transfer the coordinates from the climate
graph onto the graticule of the map. After this has been achieved, Snke
goes on planning in 007, so we know that the mental representation of the
solution of the task is constructed, which is a representation of where on
the map Kisangani is. The task solving, however, is not finished yet, be-
cause it includes the composition of a written answer (which in itself is an-
other subordinate goal). So, in 007, the phase of formulating and writing
starts in which the conceptual representation is specified even further.
Here, further subordinate problems are identified, the mental representation
of the task is specified again (cf. difficulties in 018 and the re-reading of
the task prompt), until eventually a decision for the ultimate solution is
made and written down.
What we see is that the learner can start with the writing process even
before a full mental representation of the conceptual content is present (see
010 and following, also cf. Bereiter and Scardamalia 1987). This means
that conceptual problem solving and linguistic formulation processes often
occur in a parallel and intertwined manner in which they can trigger and
enhance each other.
This can be illustrated even more clearly in the following transcript ex-

Transcript External activities

021 Im Westen [translation: In the
022 [(writing) (5 s) Sdamerikas (4 s)] Writes Im Westen Sdamerikas
[translation: of South America]
023 (1 s) mmh . .
024 ja. Liegen Berge? [translation: yes.
There lie mountains?]
025 Kann man auch nicht sagen.
[translation: This is not possible to
say, either.]
026 (1 s) Ermm (2 s) gibt es (1 s) viele
Gebirge [translation: There are
many mountain ranges
Data Example 8. Jan 1120-1.e)
Think-aloud data as protocols of problem solving activites 97

027 [(writing) (9 s)] Writes gibt es viele Gebirge

028 (1 s) welche zusammen (1 s)
[translation: which together
029 [(schreibend) (1 s)] Writes welche
[translation: which]
030 mit der Kste (1 s) [translation:
with the coast]
031 aber ich kann doch nicht sagen mit
der Kste.
[translation: but I cant say with
the coast.]
032 Mit der (1 s) mmmh (2 s) mit der
(4 s)
[translation: With the with the]
033 Jaa. [translation: Yeess.]
034 (1 s)
035 Aber das ist eigentlich auch ein
[translation: But that is actually
another reason.]
036 (1 s) Tja. (3 s) [translation: Well.]
037 Egal. [translation: Doesnt mat-
038 M- . das . muss dann m- -chtich-
mit der (2 s) nahen Lage
[translation: That has to do then
with the close location]
039 [(writing) (4 s) an . der (3 s) Pazi- Writes mit der nahen Lage an der
fikkste (6 s) den Bewachs (5 s) Pazifikkste den Bewachs durch
durch . . Regenwald (3 s) e- Regenwald verhindern.
verhindern. (3 s)] [translation: prevent the vegetation
[translation: on the Pacific Coast of tropical rain forest, together
prevents a vegetation of tropical with the closeness to the Pacific
rain forest.] Coast.]
Data Example 8 cont.

In this example we can observe the interlacing of different phases. After

entering the macrophase of formulating and writing down his ideas, Jan
continues to reflect on the conceptual solution: In 035, while formulating,
he comes up with another conceptual aspect that he had not thought of be-
fore he began the writing down of his ideas.
98 Think-aloud data

So these examples show on the one hand that the problem solving
phases can clearly be identified in the think-aloud protocols. On the other
hand they demonstrate that the problem solving steps come in different
sizes, so that problem solving steps of different quality can be embedded
into each other.

6. Summary

In this chapter I have presented the think-aloud method as a means of gain-

ing insight into mental processes and discussed its advantages and limita-
tions. I illustrated its use for the study with the help of data examples from
the corpus, and demonstrated how problem solving activities can be in-
ferred from the data.
Furthermore, a preview was given on the evaluation of the interview
data in Chapter 10, in which the think-aloud method is validated.
In spite of its limitations the method was evaluated as a useful means of
obtaining process data in order to answer the research question, because in
the data both conceptual and linguistic-rhetorical problem solving activities
can be observed in great detail.
Chapter 8
A coding scheme

1. Coding the data

How can we now gain insight into content and language specific mental
processes from the think-aloud data?
Firstly, the verbal data have to be transcribed in order to be accessible
for analysis (cf. key for transcription in supplement). The transcripts make
it possible to follow in detail what the learners do while solving the tasks,
and by that add another level of detail to the observable reality. Transcrip-
tion, however, is not purely descriptive, but necessarily also the result of an
interpretative process: As I have discussed, the verbalizations in the proto-
cols are fragmentary utterances that reveal the cognitive processes only in-
directly. The learners themselves have no automatic access to their own
cognition and can thus not express them. In order to make statements about
the mental processes, they have to be inferred through an interpretation of
the utterances. For this a coding scheme is necessary that is the surrogate of
a theoretical framework. It guides the interpretation and features those
processes that take a central role for the research question. So, only when
there is a coherent model of cognitions, think-aloud data can be interpreted
at all (for a discussion see Chi 1997; Green 1998; Kasper 1998; Smagorin-
sky 1994).
If such a theoretical basis is present and clearly formulated, an interpre-
tation can be made with a high degree of objectivity because it is not ar-
gued on the basis of idiosyncratic assumptions, but on a reasonable con-
struct which can be shared between raters.
Each research question and data interpretation is in need of a tailor-made
coding scheme (cf. Smagorinsky 1994; Witte and Cherry 1994). Because
there has not been any study with the same research question and the same
methodological instrumentarium, I could not transfer any model or coding
scheme onto my data. Therefore, the theoretical framework presented in
Chapter 5 was developed. Smagorinsky (1994 10ff.) and Yang (2003)
100 A coding scheme

describe such a procedure as a hermeneutical process. In Yangs words

There is a loop involved in the process of coding the protocols, developing
the coding schemes and developing a descriptive model which suggests that
the process can be subject to several cycles of interpreting, defining, and re-
I began by describing the theoretical framework in its central elements
and developed from that a rough model which was then used in the seg-
mentation and coding of the transcript data. This deep interaction with the
data led to a fine-tuning of the coding scheme. In several repeating analy-
ses, the descriptive model of conceptual-linguistic task solving evolved in a
step-by-step manner. This, in turn, extended and specified the coding
scheme. After each adaptation a new run of analysis became necessary
which partly revealed new phenomena. Each analysis captured the data on
a deeper level (s. zu diesem Vorgehen auch Rehbein 1994; Rehbein and
Mazeland 1991). This process was ended when the categories were detailed
enough to capture even new data from the data corpus without further ad-
The theoretical decision is complicated by the use of the think-aloud
method: If all the main data we receive from the protocols is verbal, how
then can cases of conceptual problem solving be distinguished from cases
of linguistic-rhetorical problem solving if basically all the data are verbal
data, how can we then gain insight into interrelations? This means that the
analytical separation between conceptual and linguistic-rhetorical problem
solving processes cannot be made on the basis of the outer verbal form.
And how can genuine linguistic-rhetorical processes be differentiated
from searches for formulations of thought that are caused by the method it-
self? We need to distinguish between two different causes of verbal prob-
lem solving activities: Cases in which the (misunderstood) methodology
causes problem solving activities on the one hand, or cases in which con-
ceptual content is decoded or encoded. A separation of the two is of the
utmost importance for my research interest here, because only if cases of
linguistic problem solving activities can be identified that are not caused
artificially by the methodology used, can assumptions be made regarding
the interaction with conceptual thought activity, which can also be assumed
for real situations.
The protocol examples presented above reveal that different problem
solving activities are identifiable in the macroprocess of task solving. In
Coding the data 101

order to make interrelations visible, a separation of problem solving activi-

ties with a conceptual focus from those with a linguistic-rhetorical focus is
One way to solve this complex problem is to interpret the think-aloud
data according to which phase of task solution the learner is in at a given
moment. Different phases imply that the focus of attention is on different
elements. Here, the model of conceptual-linguistic task solving with its
two-part division into two different problem spaces makes it possible for us
to observe the interlaced sequence of conceptual and linguistic-rhetoric
problem solving activities separately. This allows us to identify the point at
which which process is taking place.
So, this view on two separated problem spaces needs to find its reflec-
tion in the coding of the data. This means that the continuous transcripts of
the think-aloud protocols need to be broken down into segments for analy-
sis. The size of each segment depends on the degree of detail in the analy-
sis, and a new segment starts each time there is a new activity in one of the
columns for analysis.
The indication of different activities that can be found in each segment
has evolved though different stages of development as well. In the further
develpment of the model, a bi-sected coding was made which showed in
detail which activities were taking place in the conceptual and which in the
linguistic-rhetoric problem space. This double coding has the advantage
that it can visualize the fact that there are often activities in both problem
spaces at the same time.
So, finally, the following decisions for analysis were made: In a sepa-
rate column External activity, all events are indicated that do take place
outside the learners head. Here, externally observable activities such as
reading, writing or handling of different material are indicated. This infor-
mation provides an important aid in tracking the learners activities.
In two other columns the inferred cognitive activities are subdivided
into those that belong to the conceptual problem space and those that are
part of linguistic-rhetoric problem solving activity.
Instead of a numerical coding that would have reduced the complexity
too strongly, I decided on a basic vocabulary which is anchored in the theo-
retical considerations of the model. The general terminology I used as a
guideline for the description of the task solving phases can be seen in Table
These textual building blocks (and their negations, e.g. when a sub-goal
was not reached) were used in order to characterize which events in each
102 A coding scheme

problem space were taking place in each segment. Through this, a match-
ing between coding and theoretical framework was accomplished.

Table 5. Problem solving phases in the conceptual and the linguistic-rhetorical

problem spaces

Solving phases in the conceptual Solving phases in the linguistic-

problem space rhetorical problem space

1.a) Construction of a mental repre- 1.b) Construction of a mental represen-

sentation of the conceptual task tation of the linguistic task

2.a) Goal-setting of conceptual 2.b) Goal-setting of linguistic-

(sub-)goals rhetorical (sub-)goals

3.a) Attempt to (re-)construct concep- Reception of lan- Production of lan-

tual relations that specify the goal guage guage
3.b) Attempt to 3.c) Attempt to
construct mean- (re-)construct an
ing from linguis- adequate linguistic
tic structure form for the ex-
pression of the
mental concept

4.a) Accomplished (re-)construction 4.b) Accom- 4.c) Accomplished

of specifying goal concept plished matching (re-) construction
between meaning of a linguistic
and linguistic form

5.a) Comparison between 5.b) Evaluation 5.c) Evaluation of

(re-)constructed concepts and the of adequacy of adequacy of
mental representation ot the represen- matching linguistic form
tation of the (sub-)goal

I illustrate the use of this coding scheme by applying it to Snkes prob-

lem solving protocol (previously presented in Data Example 7). Coded in
the two problem spaces, the data set looks as follows:
Coding the data 103

Transcript External Activity Activity in

activity in content prob- ling.-rhetor.
lem space problem space

001 Study the cli- Reads task Constructs mental Constructs

mate graph . of . prompt representation of mental repre-
bla [(whisper- task: Goal = con- sentation of lin-
ing) blubb blubb struction of con- guistic task:
blubb] . describe cept KISAN- Goal = compo-
the exact loca- GANIS sition of a text
tion of the . Ki- . LOCATION with the fea-
-sangani . tures of a de-
weather station scription
by also looking
on the mmap s-
002 dshsh (turns Turns pages in Attempts to con-
pages, 1 s) task booklet struct the concept
while interacting
with the task ma-
003 hm? (3 s) How Knocks on the (Re-)construction
should I know table is not successful
where [(knocks
on the table) (1
s) this (1 s)]
004 [(German) ach] . Looks at climate Constructs con-
. [translation: oh graph cept COORDI-
I see] one North. NATES OF
from information
in climate graph
005 (1 s) [(unclear) Looks at map Constructs mental
One North is] representation of
[(whispering) dh LOCATION ON
dh dh] . xx LATITUDE OF
Data Example 9. Snke 1004-1.b
104 A coding scheme

006 [(German) da ist Looks at the Constructs mental

fnfundzwanzig map representation of
(3 s) so ungefhr LOCATION OF
find ich es KISANGANI
[translation: ON THE MAP
there is twentyy-
five I can find
it approxi-
007 okay. [(softly) Keeps concept Attempts to
So.] (1 s) (takes KISANGANIS (re-)construct
a deep breath, 1 LOCATION ac- an adequate
s) [(whispering) tive in working form to express
bh dh dh] . erm memory the mental con-
008 [(writing) (2 s)] . Writes b) Keeps concept
tive in working
008 (2 s) Attempts to Attempts to
(re-)construct a (re-)construct
specifying con- an adequate
cept by means of form to express
the map informa- the mental con-
tion cept
010 [(writing) it . is] Writes It is Keeps concept (Re-)constructs
active, attempts to form
(re-)construct a
specifying con-
011 (2 s) Attempts to (re-)
construct a speci-
fying concept by
means of the map
012 [(writing) (1 s) Writes in the Reconstruct (Re-)constructs
[(softly) in (1 s) middle specifying con- form
the (1 s) middle cept CENTRAL
(8 s)]]
Data Example 9 cont.
Coding the data 105

013 mh (1 s) Attempts recon-

struction of con-
cept for continent
AFRICA, does
not succeed
014 in the middle Attempts to Reconstructs
of (re-)construct a mental repre-
specifying con- sentation of
cept formulation
015 . . -stani (1 s) Re-reads task Reconstructs Reconstructs
[(whispering, prompt mental represen- mental repre-
rapidly) exact tation of task sentation of
location] writing task
016 (1 s) [(German) Attempts to
ja super.] (1 s) (re-)construct a
[oh great! specifying con-
(ironically)] cept, does not
017 Study the cli- Re-reads task Reconstructs Reconstructs
mate graph prompt mental represen- mental repre-
tation of task sentation of
writing task
018 . . (hits the Attempts to (re-)
table) [(German) construct a speci-
was soll ich m- fying concept,
jetzt machen?] does not succeed
What am I sup-
posed to do
019 (1 s) [(whisper- Re-reads his Attempts to (re-) Probably: re-
ing) dd] xxxx own text construct a speci- constructs men-
(1 s) fying concept tal representa-
tion of
020 (writing, 0,5 s) Writes of Reactivates speci- (Re-)constructs
fying concept linguistic form
Data Example 9 cont.
106 A coding scheme

021 (1 s) [(whisper- Re-reads task Attempts to re- Probably: con-

ing) d ddd] prompt construct conti- structs mental
(4 s) kan- (whis- nent concept representation
pers unclearly, 2 of writing task
022 [(writing) (3 s)] Writes Africa, Reconstructs (Re-)constructs
Rain Forest concept AFRICA form for the
and TROPICAL expression of
RAIN FOREST the concepts
and links them AFRICA and
with each other TROPICAL
023 Evaluates task as Evaluates an-
solved as well as swer as ade-
possible quate
Data Example 9 cont.

A close-reading of the coded protocol reveals that I reached the inter-

pretation only seldom through the indicators that are found on the surface
of the protocol. Phenomena that look superficially similar can have their
origin in very different mental activities. So, a pause of one second can in-
dicate the reactivation of memory content, or the search for information in
the task material. The context in which the pause occurs is the only indica-
tor for the mental process.
Here, it becomes clear once again how important it is to have built up a
thorough theoretical conceptualization of the task and of possible steps in
the problem space, and how necessary it is to combine different data sets
for interpretation. There are many gaps in the protocols so only in few
cases is it possible to identify without the written answer which formula-
tion the subject produces at the end of the search in the linguistic problem
space. Likewise, without a close knowledge of the task material, it is not
possible to keep track of the problem solving steps in the conceptual prob-
lem space.
In order to improve the reliability of the analysis the same protocol was
segmented and analysed several times. Furthermore, in a two-day work-
shop, three fellow researchers, Debbie Coetzee, Vreni Barbosa-Duarte and
Kristin Mller, coded excerpts from the think-aloud data after having been
introduced to the theoretical framework and the research question. There
were hardly any discrepancies in rating, which means that we can assume
Change of focus between the problem spaces 107

that the framework led to an intersection into segments for analysis and an
interpretation of the task solving processes with a high intersubjective reli-

2. Change of focus between the problem spaces

Snkes think-aloud data example reveals several issues: In the column

External activity, activities are not indicated continuously. The mental ac-
tivities of the subjects are not always accompanied by externalized behav-
iour. Furthermore, activities can occur in both problem spaces simultane-
ously. I would like to focus a little more on this point and make it clearer
by means of the following example:

Transcript External Activity in Activity in the

activity the content ling.-rhetor.
problem space problem space

003 describe the Reads task as- Constructs men- Constructs men-
exact location signment tal representa- tal representa-
of the Kisan- tion of task as- tion of linguis-
gani . . weather signment: Goal tic task
station by also = construction assignment:
looking at the of a mental rep- Goal = formula-
mac fi- figure resentation of tion of an an-
one. KISANGANIS swer
Data Example 10. Lara 1006-1.b)

In reading the task prompt Lara here does two things simultaneously:
She builds up a mental representation of the task, namely the goal of con-
structing a mental representation of the concept KISANGANIS LOCA-
Secondly, she simultaneously constructs a linguistic-rhetorical goal,
namely to write an answer in which she demonstrates the conceptual con-
cept she has constructed.
As we see, in this case there is activity in both problem spaces simulta-
neously. In other cases, the focus can switch between the spaces, so that
108 A coding scheme

sometimes more, sometimes less attention is focused on activities each

problem space, as the following protocol excerpt demonstrates:

Transcript External Activity in Activity in the

activity the content ling.-rhetor.
problem space problem space

008 (2 s) three de- . . Looks at the Attempts to

-grees North (4 map construct a
s) [(whispering) mental repre-
twenty de-] (2 sentation of
s) ermmm . . sh- MEDANS
search (1 s) LOCATION
[(German) ON THE MAP,
zwanzig [trans- plans transfer of
lation: twen- COORDI-
ty](8 s) NATES
009 oh Gott das hab Reconstructs
ich ewig nicht concept DI-
mehr gemacht RECTIONS,
[translation: oh but does not
my God, I ha- succeed in the
vent done that spatial recon-
in such a long struction of the
time] subordinate
concepts EAST
and WEST
010 (quietly) ermm Constructs the
(2 s) ohne Seife spatial position
waschen] of NORTH and
[translation: EAST by means
(do not) wash of a mnemonic
without soap] (Nie Ohne
Seife Wa-
011 (4 s) Constructs spa-
tial position of
the direction
Data Example 11. Mona 1005-1.d)
Change of focus between the problem spaces 109

012 three degrees . Looks at the Attempts to

North map construct ME-
013 (1 s) Looks at the Constructs
014 ninety degree (5 Looks at the Attempts to
s) East map construct ME-
015 (4 s) Looks at the Constructs
016 o- . -kay. Evaluates par-
tial solution as
Data Example 11 cont.

Here we can observe how the subject extracts the coordinates from the
climate graph and attempts to transfer them onto the map of the world. In
this attempt, she is confronted with a gap in her knowledge, because she
cannot remember where North, East, South and West are on a map. The
points of the compass she then infers by means of a mnemonic sentence
(Nie Ohne Seife Waschen for North, East, South, West). After that, she
is able to locate the place on the map.
During the whole episode, her focus is on conceptual relations, not on
how to decode or express them. The forms of verbalisation we can see in
the transcript consist of automatised verbal forms, which do not trigger any
problem solving activity but pop up automatically in working memory. For
the analysis, this means that there is only activitiy in the conceptual prob-
lem space, but not in the linguistic-rhetorical problem space.
110 A coding scheme

Contrary to that, there are other cases in which the focus turns away
from solving activities in the conceptual problem space. In the following
example, Snke has just identified Kisanganis location on the map:

Transcript External Activity in Activity in the

activity the content ling.-rhetor.
problem space problem space

010 middle of . . Reconstructs

concept CEN-
011 Africa (1 s) Reconstructs
continent con-
012 [(writing) writes In Keeps concept (Re-)Constructs
[(German) Mit- DISTRIBU- formulation
tel]] [transla- TION OF THE
tion: middle] TROPICAL
active, turns fo-
cus on CEN-
013 .. Keeps concept Reconsiders
DISTRIBU- formulation:
TION OF THE Middle sounds
active, focus on
Data Example 12. Snke 1004-1.a)
Change of focus between the problem spaces 111

014 [(German, whis- Keeps concept Attempts to re-

pering) Mittel DISTRIBU- construct ade-
Mittel] . Mittel . TION OF THE quate term for
. Mittel] TROPICAL concept CEN-
[(whispering) s- RAIN FOREST TRAL AFRICA
. . [(German) active, focus on
Mittel wie heit CENTRAL
das denn]] AFRICA
middle middle
middle middle
middle what is
it called]
015 [(writing) 5 s) Crosses out Keeps concept Reconstruction
[(whispering) In, writes DISTRIBU- does not suc-
Africa] (2 s)] Middle of Af- TION OF THE ceed, chooses
rica TROPICAL term Middle of
active, focus on
Data Example 12 cont.

Snke here has constructed the solution for the conceptual problem al-
ready in 012: Here he knows that KISANGANI is in AFRICA, namely
right in the middle of it, so the concept CENTRAL AFRICA is con-
structed, but no mental representation of the term. After that, the focus
turns to the linguistic problem space in which a search for the adequate ex-
pression is run. All that happens in the conceptual problem space during
that time is that the concept CENTRAL AFRICA is being kept active.
A salient feature of the conceptual problem space is that activities are
indicated here with nearly no interruption, while the linguistic-rhetorical
problem space is only sometimes filled with activities. The reason for this
is the semiotic function of language: The form side is only of importance
when meaning is to be constructed from or to be expressed by it.
However, there are exceptions. In my database there are a few cases in
which subjects ponder orthographical problems:
112 A coding scheme

Transcript External Activity in Activity in the

activity the content ling.-rhetorical
problem space problem space

016 [(German) Mh . Reads tropical Interrupts Constructs repre-

jetzt seh ich rainforest in thought, turns sentation of spell-
gerade] the task assignment focus on lin- ing tropical rain-
tropical rain for- or material guistic form forest, notices
est [(German) discrepancy with
schreibt man her own spelling
klein [transla-
tion: Oh I see
now that the
tropical rain
forest is to be
spelled in lower
017 also schreiben Plans adaptation
wir das klein] of her answers an
[translation: so actualized repre-
we spell that in sentation of right
lower case] spelling
018 (writes, 1 s) Changes Keeps mental
Tropical Rain- representation of
forest to spelling active
tropical rain-
forest in an-
swer 3
019 (2 s) Attempts to iden-
tify more in-
stances of
Tropical rain-
forest in her
texts, identifies
one further case
020 (writes, 1 s) Changes Keeps mental
Tropical Rain- representation of
forest to spelling active
tropical rain-
forest in an-
swer 2

Data Example 13. Britt 1024-1.e)

Change of focus between the problem spaces 113

021 (1 s) Reads her own Attempts to iden-

text tify more in-
stances of
Tropical rain-
forest in her
022 (writes, 1 s) Changes Rain- Keeps mental
forest to rain- representation of
forest in an- spelling active
swer 2
023 (1 s) Actualizes lin-
guistic form
tropical rain for-
est by means of
extracting infro-
mation from task
prompt or other
text material
024 [(German) und Constructs ortho-
auseinander? graphic form
[translation: rain forest with
and in separate focus on spelling
words?] in two words
025 (1 s) Hm. . Identifies dis-
crepancy beween
her own spelling,
considers adapt-
ing her spelling
to her knew
knowledge state
026 Na egal. [trans- Decides not to do
lation: Well, this
doesnt matter.]
027 Ich htts jetzt Compares repre-
zusammen ge- sentation of the
schrieben. given spelling
[translation: I with her knowl-
would have edge of English
spelled it in one spelling, identi-
word.] fies discrepancy
Data Example 13 cont.
114 A coding scheme

028 (sighs, 2 s) (1 s) Turns back to

task solving:
mental repre-
sentation of
task 5
Data Example 13 cont.

The reason why there is no conceptual activity here is that in the prob-
lem that is in the focus here, all attention is on form. Orthographical issues
are semantically empty.

3. Different phases different mental activities

In this first look at the data we can see already that the task solving phases in
the conceptual and the linguistic problem space are not linked to any point in
a sequential order. Rather, they can occur at any rate and in any order during
the solving process. Of course, the variability is limited, and there are ten-
dencies in distribution: In the beginning, a mental representation of the prob-
lem has to be created, because without it, no problem would be there that
could be solved. It does not mean, however, that this phase needs to be fully
finalized, and a revision of the representation can take place any time during
the task solving.
A clear tendency is that the linguistic-rhetorical problem solving activities
can be found in the beginning of the task processing, namely when the learn-
ers read the task assignment in order to create a mental representation of the
task. After that the focus would typically turn more to conceptual and non-
verbal content. Only when the task solving comes to its end is the centre of
attention moved back to linguistic issues, namely when a formulation for the
solution has to be found (s.a. Flower and Hayes 1981).
So, the subjects first start to deal with formulating and writing when they
have dealt with the conceptual side of the problem, and in that switch the fo-
cus from content to form.
This assumption has consequences for the evaluation of validity of
think-aloud protocols (see discussion in Chapter 10): When a learner halts
in the verbalization of thoughts that have their focus in the conceptual
problem space, we can assume with greater probability that the interrup-
Different phases different mental activities 115

tions of the cognitive activities are a reactive effect of the think-aloud

method. The following example illustrates this case:

Transcript External Activity in Activity in the

activity the content ling.-rhetorical
problem space problem space

009 I . think . the Looks at climate Reconstructs Attempts to

temperature . . is graph concept TEM- (re-)construct a
. . veryyy PERATURE, linguistic form
links it to KI- for the expres-
SANGANI and sion of the con-
the feature cept STABLE,
STABLE ALL does not succeed
010 (takes a deep Looks at climate Constructs con- (Re-)constructs
breath, 1 s) d- graph cept DOES NOT alternative lin-
eerm . doesnt . VARY guistic form for
m- . var- . vari- the expression of
able (1 s) the
011 no. Focuses on Evaluates lin-
STABLE ALL guistic form as
YEAR not adequate
012 Erm (1 s) (sighs, Keeps focus on Attempts to
2 s) (2 s) STABLE ALL (re-)construct a
YEAR linguistic form
for the expres-
sion of the con-
cept STABLE,
does not succeed
013 [(researcher) Is interrupted in
Please keep talk- her stream of
ing.] thought by the
intervention of
the researcher
014 Mh. . I miss one Turns focus to Evaluates her
word in English. linguistic prob- ability to express
(1 s) lem her thoughts in
English as defi-
Data Example 14. Bianca 1008 -1 b)
116 A coding scheme

015 The temperature Turns focus back Attempts to

is not variable to concept (re-)construct a
its . . TEMPERA- linguistic form
TURE DOES for the expres-
NOT VARY and sion of the con-
016 very constant Keeps focus on (Re-)constructs
concept CON- term constant
Data Example 14 cont.

Bianca here is in the phase of the first contact with the information from
the climate graph, so we can assume that her intention is not on writing down
any thoughts here. We see her concentrating on the curves in the diagram
and construct a mental representation of their progress, and by that creating
an understanding of the climatic situation.
Why should she then, as in segment 010 ff, ponder over how to express
the run of the climate curves? She has just begun the conceptual construction
activity. If she had been thinking in silence, it seems unlikely that she would
have spent time thinking about the formulation of the concepts.
So it seems plausible that Bianca here has problems with the assignment
of the think-aloud method, and that the method triggers unnatural cognitive
activity. It is not a valid indication that bilingual learners think in any way
differently because they use the L2 in content-focus situations, but is created
by the think-aloud method. This is different when the learner has entered the
phase of formulating and writing down:
In the following example Svenja follows the goal of writing down her
answer. Here it is plausible that she invests energy in the formulation of her
thoughts, and that in a silent task processing, similar activities of evaluation
and editing would occur like the ones we see in the protocol.
From this is becomes clear that the conceptualization of qualitatively
separated phases within the solving of a problem provides a helpful tool for
the assessment of validity of think-aloud protocols. Once again it stresses
how important a close consideration of the theoretical base and a well-
grounded knowledge about the task is in order to arrive at a plausible
Different phases different mental activities 117

Transcript External Activity in Activity in the

activity the content ling.-rhetorical
problem space problem space

031 [(writing) over . . Writes over l Keeps focus on (Re-)Constructs

the year.] TEMPERA- linguistic form
032 (2 s) Keeps focus on Tries to
TEMPERA- (re-)construct
TURE CON- adequate linguis-
STANT ALL tic form to ex-
YEAR press the concept
033 no Keeps focus on Evaluates parts
TEMPERA- of the formula-
TURE CON- tion as inade-
034 . the whole year. Keeps focus on (Re-)Constructs
. Through. TEMPERA- alternative for-
TURE CON- mulation
035 [(writing) (1 s) Crosses out Keeps focus on
over l TEMPERA-
036 eerm aand (1 s) Writes the who- Keeps focus on
the whole year le year through. TEMPERA-
(1 s) through (2 TURE CON-
Data Example 15. Svenja 1020-1.b)

Another important issue is that for recognizing patterns, an overview of

the whole protocol of the interaction with the task is necessary. Extracts
alone are often not enough to infer what is going on. Therefore, it was nec-
essary to transcribe, segment and code complete protocols. A selective
analysis, as Chi (1997) suggests, would have only been possible after a lot
of experience with the coding scheme in question. Since the theoretical
118 A coding scheme

model emerged from the analysis itself, and hypotheses of bilingual

learners cognitive processing had first to be built, not tested, selective
analysis was not an option.

4. Summary

In this chapter I described how the theoretical-methodological decisions led

to the development of the coding scheme for the data. The segmentation of
the model into conceptual and linguistic-rhetorical task solving could be
demonstrated as a useful way of analysis. The data revealed that problem
solving activities can take place in each problem space simultaneously, but
even turn from side to side.
In the following chapter, I will present cognitive patterns that mani-
fested themselves in the think-aloud data. From this, I will try to find an
answer to the question of whether differences can be found in the cognitive
processing of problem solving in the L1 compared to the L2. By means of
illustrating examples, I will build hypotheses concerning the role of lan-
guage in general and of a foreign language in particular in content-focused
task processing.
Chapter 9
Problem solving in a foreign language

1. Language as a catalytic converter: depth of processing

The process data provide insight into the focus that the learners put on lin-
guistic and content information. Partly because of methodological reasons,
this study cannot produce any results about specific conceptualisations that
come with different language systems in the sense of linguistic relativity,
whereas it is possible to reveal interactions between linguistic and concep-
tual processing.
I will illustrate this with the help of an example produced by Heike, a
student from the L1 group. Before the sequence we see in her Data Exam-
ple 16, she has identified tropical rainforest North and South of the equator
by extracting information from the vegetation map of the world. In the fol-
lowing sequence, she tries to construct a summarizing statement about the
location of the tropical rainforest.

Transcript External Activities in the Activities in the

activities conceptual ling.-rhet. prob-
problem space lem space

055 [(writing) somit Writes Somit Reconstructs (Re-)constructs

(1 s) befindet (1 befindet er sich concept CLI- linguistic form
s) er . . sich (1 in MATE ZONE
s) in] and connects it
[translation: with DISTRI-
therefore it is BUTION OF
located in] THE TROPI-
Data Example 16. Heike 1115-1.a)
120 Problem solving in a foreign language

056 wie ist das mit Keeps Focus on Searches for

den Subtropen? CLIMATE term for concept
Gemischte Zone ZONE, Recon- CLIMATE
gemigte Zone structs con- ZONE
Tropen wie nected concepts
heit das denn VEGETA-
in den (1 s) in TIONAL
den (1 s) naa in- ZONE and sub-
d- ordinate con-
[translation: cepts SUB-
how was that TROPICS,
again about the MIXED ZONE;
subtropics? TROPICS
Mixed zone,
temperate zone,
tropics what
is it called in
the in the
ooh! in the ]
057 befindet er sich Reads her own Keeps concept Actualizes men-
in den Tropen text TROPICS ac- tal representa-
tive, links it tion of formula-
with DISTRI- tion,
BUTION OF (re-)constructs
THE TROPI- following for-
CAL RAIN- mulation
058 [(writing) (1 s)] Writes den Focuses on
[translation: DISTRIBU-
in the TROPICS
Data Example 16 cont.
Language as a catalytic converter: depth of processing 121

059 nee wie heit Turns focus on Tries to express

das (1 s) faaa- superordinate superordinate
(1 s) ermmm (1 concept CLI- concept CLI-
s) erm wie heit MATE ZONES, MATE ZONES
das denn? Tro- reconstructing
pen? Subtro- and linking the
pen? . . Ge- subordinate
mischte Zone . . concepts TRO-
kalte Zone . und PICS,
wie heit das SUBTROPICS,
insgesamt? MIXED ZONE,
noo what is it
called faaa-
er er what is
it called? Trop-
ics? Subtrop-
ics? Mixed zone
cold zone
and what is the
overall category
060 Vegetation- Fokussiert CLI- Reconstructs
szonen? MATE ZONE term Vegeta-
[translation: tionszone in at-
vegetation tempt to express
zones?] CLIMATE
Data Example 16 cont.

Heike tries here to find the correct term for the superordinate concept
CLIMATE ZONE. She cannot immediately access an adequate linguistic
form, so she goes through search processes in the surrounding semantic
field. Here, she reconstructs the subordinate concepts TROPICS and SUB-
TROPICS, that is she reconstructs her mental model around the concept
CLIMATE ZONE in order to get access to the right denomination. Finally,
she settles with Vegetationszonen, vegetation zones.
What we see here is that the search for the adequate linguistic form
triggers an elaboration of the conceptual knowledge network, because it is
reconstructed in relation to its surrounding semantic field and tested in its
122 Problem solving in a foreign language

coherence. If Heike had been able to retrieve the right term for CLIMATE
ZONE immediately, it would be improbable that she had dealt with the
neighbouring and subordinate concepts with the same intensity. Because of
the search process in the linguistic problem space, she has a reason to re-
construct her knowledge, to check it and by this to deepen it.
Let us look at another example, produced by Jan:

Transcript External Activities in the Activities in the

activities conceptual ling.-rhet. prob-
problem space lem space

027 [(writing) (1 s) Writes Der Keeps concepts (Re-)constructs

die (1 s) der [translation: active, focuses form
Regenwald] The] on TROPICAL
[translation: RAINFOREST
The rain forest]
028 (2 s) ist (2 s) Keeps concepts Attempts to
mh. (3 s) active, focuses (re-)construct
[translation: is - on DISTRIBU- adequate form
erm] TION OF THE for the expres-
TROPICAL sion of the con-
029 Der tropische Keeps concepts (Re-)constructs
Regenwald liegt active, focuses form
in der tropi- on DISTRIBU-
schen . TION OF THE
[translation: TROPICAL
The tropical RAINFOREST
rainforest is lo-
cated in the
030 [(writing) . . Writes tro- Keeps concepts
[(whispering) pische Regen- active, focuses
der tropische] wald [transla- on DISTRIBU-
(1 s) Regen- (2 tion: tropical TION OF THE
s) -wald (2 s)] rainforest] TROPICAL
[translation: the RAINFOREST
tropical rain-
Data Example 17. 1120 Jan-1.a)
Language as a catalytic converter: depth of processing 123

031 . . ermm (1 s) Keeps concepts Attempts to

active, looks for (re-)construct
coherent rela- adequate form
tionships and for the expres-
order of con- sion of the con-
cepts cepts
032 entwickelte sich Keeps concepts (Re-)constructs
(1 s) active, focuses form
[translation: on DEVEL-
developed] OPMENT OF
033 [(writing) ent- Writes entwi- Keeps concepts Deduces from
wickelte sich (3 ckelte sich in active, focuses the term tro-
s) sich in (1 s) der gleichnah- on DEVEL- pisch with the
(breathes in, migen OPMENT OF similar name
1 s) in der tropischen Kli- THE TROPI- the conceptual
gleichnamigen mazone, welche CAL RAIN- connection
(4 s) gleichna- sich [transla- FOREST, re-
migen (1 s) tro- tion: developed constructs and
pischen in the tropical links TROPI-
(3 s) Klimazone climate zone CAL CLI-
(4 s) Komma with the same MATE ZONE,
welche (1 s) name, which] establishes con-
sich] ceptual link be-
[translation: tween TROPI-
developed in the CAL RAIN
tropical climate FOREST and
zone with the TROPICAL
same name CLIMATE
comma which] ZONE
034 (2 s) Re-reads his Probably: Probably: At-
own text Keeps concepts tempts to
active (re-)construct
adequate form
for the expres-
sion of the con-
cepts; actualizes
mental repre-
sentation of
Data Example 17 cont.
124 Problem solving in a foreign language

035 [(writing) im . . Writes im - Keeps concepts (Re-)constructs

quator (2 s) - quatorberech active, links form
quator- . . - [sic] befindet. TROPICAL
bereich (1 s) be- [translation: is RAINFOREST,
findet. (2 s)] located in the TROPICAL
[translation: is region around CLIMATE
located in the the equator.] ZONE and
region around CLOSENESS
the equator.] TO EQUATOR
Data Example 17 cont.

In segment 032033 Jan decides to write down the more specific form
entwickelte sich (developed instead of the formulation befindet sich
(is located), which he had (re-)constructed in the first place. In entering
the process of writing down his conceptual results and by that working on
formulating his thoughts, he is motivated to optimize the concepts them-
selves. In that, he enriches his mental representation of the distribution of
the tropical rainfores by the aspect of DEVELOPMENT, which adds both a
time and a cause dimension to the conceptual relations because it implies
the dependency of the vegetational zone on climatic causes.
However, this new sense relation might not for the first time have oc-
curred to him during the interaction with the task; can we then speak of a
deeper processing of content also? Yes, because the act of formulating leads
to a deeper establishing of knowledge, because the learner processes infor-
mation by questioning its meaning and rejects one formulation as not com-
prising enough. Even if the conceptual knowledge is not changed qualita-
tively, it is deepened and linked by reconstruction.
Here, we see clearly that the process of formulating is not only a simple
activation of memory structures; rather, it reconstructs and changes knowl-
edge structures by the need to explicate and specify meaning relations.
In the two previous examples I have deliberately chosen protocols pro-
duced by monolingual learners, because the effect of a linguistic focus on
conceptual knowledge structures can be shown not to be L2-specific. It oc-
curs even when the learners use their L1 as the working language. Similar
cases can be found in the data of the bilingual learners as well, for instance
the following:
Language as a catalytic converter: depth of processing 125

Transcript External Activities in the Activities in the

activities conceptual ling.-rhetorical
problem space problem space

093 Its . . quite Links ARID Attempts to

(1 s) with LOWEST (re-)construct
VALUES adequate lin-
guistic form in
order to express
concept, plays
with an option,
decides against
094 That are Keeps concept (Re-)constructs
active, focus on linguistic form
095 [(writing) (2 s) Writes That Keeps concept
the] are the active, focus on
096 (4 s) Keeps concept Attempts to
active, focus on (re-)construct
ARID adequate lin-
guistic form in
order to express
concept ARID
097 [(writing) erm . Writes most Keeps concept (Re-)constructs
the (1 s) most (1 arid months. active, focus on linguistic form
s) [(whispering) ARID
arid] . . mmh . .
Data Example 18. Katharina 6001-1.b)
126 Problem solving in a foreign language

098 (4 s) [(whispe- Reconstructs Assigns termi-

ring) Arid concepts ARID nology to the
[(German) heit and HUMID in concepts,
doch their features checks recon-
(2 s) [(unclear) and their inter- struction of the
wenig Nieder- relation linguistic form
schlag und] arid as an
humid (1 s) adequate ex-
[(German) viel pression for the
Niederschlag concept ARID
arid sure
means low pre-
cipitation and
humid high
099 ja.]] States congru- Evaluates re-
[translation: ence with fo- construction of
yes.] cused concept the termini
arid and hu-
mid as ade-
Data Example 18 cont.

Because Katharina is forced to formulate her thoughts in order to solve

the task, she has to decide on a term that expresses the concept ARID that
she has in mind. In that she alternates between arid and humid. So, the
concept is present and active already, but the activity in which the concepts
ARID and HUMID are reconstructed in their definitory features and by this
are semantically linked with each other are triggered by the task of finding
the adequate term for the concept. Here, too, the semantic relations be-
tween the concepts that are denominated by each term are reinforced and
adjusted, while the learner reconstructs her conscious knowledge of aspects
of the dichotomic relation.
What the data can show is that a focus on linguistic form can lead to a
deeper semantic processing. Since Craik and Lockhart (1972, see also
Cermak and Craik 1979), is has been known that different levels of seman-
tic processing can be identified. In contrast to the orthodox view that in-
formation is stored in different memory stores according to the amount of
repetitions (which means: The more repetitions, the better an information is
Language as a catalytic converter: depth of processing 127

learned), Craik and Lockhart (1972) suggest that the degree of semantic
processing determines in how much detail and stability information is
stored in memory. Here, I do not assume that information passes from
short-term to long-term memory in a sequential order, but that perceptual
stimuli are processed on several levels simultaneously. These levels form a
continuum of semantic links. The more superficially an item of information
is processed, the less meaning is linked to it; the more deeply it is proc-
essed, the more processes of pattern recognition and generation of meaning
are run.
This conception of a series or hierarchy of processing stages is often referred
to as depth of processing where greater depth implies a greater degree of se-
mantic or cognitive analysis (Craik and Lockhart 1972: 675).
So, the stronger a meaning is linked to a focused item of information,
the stronger the concept is anchored and the more likely is it that it can be
recalled in the future.
If we compare this concept with the results by Bereiter and Scardamalia
(1987) (cf. p. 46ff.), we can see that the conscious process of formulating
ones thoughts in text composition can lead to deeper processing of this
kind. The effect of linguistic processing of conceptual content could be
demonstrated in experiements by Chi (Chi 2000; Chi, de Leeuw et al.
1994). Here subjects who were prompted to provide explanations of mean-
ing relations demonstrated a better grasp of the concepts than a control
Similar assumptions have been uttered in the theoretical discussion of
immersion programs, although here, language-specific rule knowledge is in
focus (Swain 1998; Swain and Lapkin 1995). Also for CLIL education,
similar hopes are cherished concerning the effect of the L2 use, which tie
in nicely with the concept of semantic processing: Because the functional
aspect of language is in the foreground in the focus-on-meaning classroom,
a temporary focus on form never loses the link to the meaning that is to be
Der Umstand, da sich die Fremdsprache dem Schler vornehmlich als
Transportmittel fr das Sich-Aneignen und den Austausch von relevanten
Sachinformationen darstellt, kann bzw. sollte dazu fhren, da er sich ihrer
in natrlicher Weise bedient. Das bedeutet, da der Sprachgebrauch nicht
gekennzeichnet ist durch berlegungen hinsichtlich der grammatischen
Korrektheit, sondern bezglich des Aussagewertes. Dies hat zur Folge, da
der funktionale Aspekt von Sprache betont wird und nicht, wie hufig im-
128 Problem solving in a foreign language

mer noch im traditionellen Fremdsprachenunterricht, der strukturelle Be-

reich. (Bredenbrker 2000: 17)
The first insight from my data analysis is introduced by combining the
results of the examples provided above with the theoretical concept of se-
mantic processing. It confirms results from text composition and learning
The subjects do not go through sequential phases of planning in which a
mental representation is created and eventually written down. Instead the
single phases are interlaced and trigger each other. The biproduct of the
linguistic search is re-adjustments, precisions, and interlinking of the con-
ceptual content. So, from the database the following hypothesis can be
The transfer of conceptual content in a linguistic form lead to a reflection
about the semantic content and relationships, and through this to a deeper
semantic processing of the content.
The data examples above indicate that this is the case for both groups of
learners, no matter whether the written text is to be produced in the L1 or
the L2.
If the focus on the linguistic form leads to this effect anyway, is there a
difference between L1 and L2 processing of conceptual content at all? Can
we identify different types of linguistic problem solving activity in L1 and
L2 processing?

2. L1-L2 processing differences in language production

A first hypothesis would be that the bilingual subjects go through more

search processes in the linguistic problem space than the monolingual sub-
jects. In order to test this hypothesis the data corpus was searched for cases
in which a focus on the linguistic form resulted in some form of deeper
processing of content.
As Table 6 on the following page shows, we see that in the protocols of
the bilingual learners more cases of linguistically caused deeper processing
can be found than in the protocols of the L1 users. This tendency is not
homogeneous, however: The differences within each group are very big.
So, Mona, Lara, Yvonne and Tamara from the bilingual group do not show
any or only one single case of linguistically caused deeper processing,
L1-L2 processing differences in language production 129

while the leaders in this group, Katharina and Britt, show 10 and even 11

Table 6. Cases of deeper semantic processing, caused by activity in the

linguistic-rhetoric problem space
CLIL learners Number of cases

1024 Britt 11
6001 Katharina 10
1012 Karen 9
1019 Svenja 8
1011 Jennifer 7
1023 Henriette 6
1008 Bianca 4
1015 Roland 3
1004 Snke 2
1022 Tamara 1
1025 Kim 1
1005 Mona 1
1006 Lara -
1007 Yvonne -

Monolingual learners Number of cases

1115 Heike 9
1105 Max 8
1104 Tim 7
1120 Jan 5
1123 Joachim 4
1128 Isabella 2
1128 Isabella 2
1128 Isabella 2
1114 Marco -

For the L1 users, the mean deviation is somewhat smaller, but even here
there is a big difference between Marco (0) and Heike (9 cases). We can
thus conclude that the hypothesis that bilingual learners dwell more often
on linguistic sub-problems than L1 users cannot clearly be confirmed on
the data basis elicited for this project. This is rather surprising, given that
the L2 users generally have a lower proficiency in their L2 than in their L1.
On the other hand, the case study database is so small that it is not possible
to come to clear conclusions with traditional quantitative measurements.
From this basis, a restricting hypothesis needs to be added to the first
130 Problem solving in a foreign language

The impact of the working language on the processing of conceptual content

can vary strongly between subjects, no matter whether an L1 or an L2 is being
For these differences, too, different factors can be responsible, e.g., in-
dividual differences in the cognitive processing, motivations, minuteness,
language awareness and many more. It is not possible to pinpoint the role
of the L2 in this way. For a more valid statement we have to investigate
whether there are special cases in the data that clearly show the impact of
L2 processing, in contrast to the focussing effect of language in general,
without having to take external factors into account for an explanation.
Differences between L1 and L2 use that seem to be highly relevant here
are indeed to be found in the verbal protocols:
The most prominent, and rather trivial, difference between both groups
is that in the think-aloud protocols of the monolingual group only one,
while in the protocols of the bilingual group two languages play a part.
Therefore the bilingual learners have to face a special kind of linguistic
problem solving, namely translation (cf. L2 text composition model by
Krings 1996); thus, these processes are specific for the information proc-
essing of the bilingual learners.
Typical of translation phases is that a mental representation of a concept
is more or less automatically expressed in the L1, and subsequently trans-
ferred into an L2. In that, additional problem solving activities become
necessary. The following example illustrates this case:

Transcript External Activities in Activities in the

activities the concep- ling.-rhet. problem
tual problem space
070 what was Reconstructs Reconstructs
[(German) concept IVO- German form
Elfenbe- RY COAST Elfenbe-
inkste] in inkste, tries to
English again reconstruct cor-
ermm . (clicks responding Eng-
her tongue, lish term
takes a deep
breath, 1 s)
Data Example 19. Karen 1012-1.a)
L1-L2 processing differences in language production 131

071 oh no idea Keeps con- Reconstruction

cept IVORY does not succeed
072 ff- l- ermm (1 Keeps con- Tries to recon-
s) cept IVORY struct corre-
COAST ac- sponding Eng-
tive lish term for
German Elfen-
073 Okay. Turns away Reconstruction
from concept does not succeed
Data Example 19 cont.

As we see here the concept IVORY COAST is present, and even its L1
form Elfenbeinkste. The search activities that follow only take place
because Karen is trying to fulfill the requirement of formulating an answer
in the L2; had the task not contained this requirement, or had the focus
been completely on meaning, she could have stopped with the recon-
structed meaning, or solved the subordinate problem by writing the Ger-
man term.
What does this mean for the conceptual side of the task solving? As indi-
cated in the analysis above activity can be assumed in the conceptual prob-
lem space as well, because it is not plausible that the learner turns away from
the meaning side of the concept completely and only keeps a semantically
empty phonological construct active in working memory. Rather, we can as-
sume that she attempts to recall the English term while activating episodic
previous knowledge while she keeps the concept IVORY COAST active.
This leads to a longer processing of the information than if the learner had
been able to activate the right term immediately. Here, we can assume that
semantic connections are established or strengthened.
This kind of L2-specific difficulties in formulation can cause an omis-
sion of concepts that are actually mentally represented in the answer, as in
the following example:
132 Problem solving in a foreign language

Transcript External Activities in Activities in the

activities the conceptual ling.-rhetorical
problem space problem space

030 [(writing) (2 s) Writes because Reconstructs (Re-)constructs

it is important it is important evaluation of linguistic form
(6 s) to leave (2 to leave the for- the GOAL OF
s) the forest (2 est to itself THE SUG-
s) to itself again again to! GESTION FOR
031 (crosses out, 1 Crosses out to Keeps concept Evaluates lin-
s) active, focuses guistic form as
on relation IN not adequate
032 (2 s) so (1 s) so Turns focus to Reconstructs
it can . . [(Ger- concept RE- German form
man) sich erho- COVER for concept
len (sighs, 2 s) RECOVER, at-
Hm. . . tempts to recon-
[translation: to struct
recover] corresponding
English term,
does not suc-
033 Na lassen wir Turns away Stops attempts
das einfach from concept to reconstruct
weg.] RECOVER English term
okay, lets just
leave that out.]
Data Example 20. Britt 1024-6

Britt wants to express the concept TO RECOVER. Of this we can be sure

because she utters it in the L1. The following search process for the English
corresponding term does not lead to any result, so that she eventually stops
her attempts to explicate the conceptual thought. Here, we have good reasons
to assume that she would have fixated the thought in writing in German term
had it not been her aim to write an English answer. This leads to another hy-
pothesis about the special character of L2 processing of content:
L1-L2 processing differences in language production 133

The usage of an L2 as a working language can lead to the situation that less
conceptual knowledge is expressed in the learners texts than is actually
mentally present.

If, on the other hand, the learner does not interrupt the search process,
limitations in L2 knowledge can lead to additional search processes. The
following data example 21 produced by Jennifer illustrates this point. In it,
we can follow for some time how she composes the text in Figure 10.

Figure 10. Jennifers answer of task 6 (here called 5.a)

At the beginning of the protocol extract in Example 21 on the next page

Jennifer wants to express that the suggestion for a solution presented in the
task material does not correspond in all respects to the principle of sustain-
ability. In segments 052056 we can keep track of her attempts to look for
the adequate English term in order to express the concept CORRESPOND.
In German an adequate linguistic term can be retrieved, but not in English.
In 057, she decides to abandon her initial goal and starts instead to look
for an alternative concept that she can express. After a longer sequence of
searching (which she unfortunately does not vocalise) she evaluates the al-
ternative formulation she has found, would be right for, as not adequate
(expressed clumsily). Because she cannot come up with an alternative,
she still decides to write it down.
After that she is looking for the appropriate verb in order to express the
mental concept, decides first on treating, writes it down, rejects it shortly
134 Problem solving in a foreign language

afterwards and changes the text to saving. This, too, is eventually evalu-
ated as not adequate, probably under the impression of the formulation in
the information text of the task. Finally, she settles for protecting the natu-
ral resources.

Transcript External Activities in the Activities in the

activities conceptual ling.-rhet. prob-
problem space lem space

049 [(writing) (1 s) Writes The Keeps concept

mh the] active, focus on
050 .. Keeps concept Attempts to re-
active, focus on construct ade-
SUGGESTION quate linguistic
form for the ex-
pression of
probably by
making use of
the information
in the task
051 [(writing) sug- Writes sug- Keeps concept Reconstructs lin-
gestion (3 s)] gestion active, focus on guistic form
SUGGESTION suggestion
052 (1 s) mh (2 s) Keeps concepts Attempts to re-
ermm (1 s) active, focus on construct ade-
[(German) ent- CORRESPOND quate linguistic
sprechen a- -m- form for the ex-
. -m- -m- -a pression of
053 Aach! Keeps concepts Reconstruction
[expressing her active, focus on does not succeed
annoyance] CORRESPOND
054 (1 s) Keeps concepts Attempts to re-
active, focus on construct ade-
CORRESPOND quate linguistic
form for the ex-
pression of
Data example 21. Jennifer 1011-6
L1-L2 processing differences in language production 135

055 Mann! [ex- Keeps concepts Reconstruction

pressing her active, focus on does not succeed
annoyance] CORRESPOND
056 (sighs, 2 s) (5 s) Keeps concepts Attempts to re-
mh (1 s) mh . active, focus on construct ade-
CORRESPOND quate linguistic
form for the ex-
pression of
SPOND; recon-
struction does
not succeed
057 Dann anders Keeps concepts Plans to
[translation: active, focus on (re-)construct al-
then differ- CORRESPOND ternative linguis-
ently] tic form for the
expression of the
058 (1 s) mmmh Keeps concepts (Re-)constructs
(10 s) active, turns fo- alternative lin-
cus to BE guistic form
059 w . . schon Keeps concepts Evaluates lin-
wieder so un- active, focus on guistic form be
geschickt aus- BE RIGHT right as not
gedrckt adequate
[translation: oh
no, so clumsily
expressed a-
060 . . na ja] Keeps concepts (Re-)constructio
[translation: active, focus on n of an alterna-
well okay] BE RIGHT tive form does
not succeed, de-
cides to use be
right after all
061 (takes a deep Keeps concepts Prepares for act
breath, 1 s) active, focus on of writing
062 [(writing) (2 s)] Writes Keeps concepts (Re-)constructs
would active, focus on linguistic form
Data example 21 cont.
136 Problem solving in a foreign language

063 (1 s) Keeps concepts Attempts to re-

active, focus on construct linguis-
BE RIGHT tic form in order
to express the
064 [(writing) (1 s) writes be Keeps concepts (Re-)constructs
be (1 s) right (1 right for active, focus on linguistic form
s) for . . ] BE RIGHT
065 mmmh (3 s) Keeps concepts Attempts to re-
active, focus on construct lin-
BE RIGHT guistic form in
order to express
the concepts
066 [(writing) . . Writes Keeps concepts (Re-)constructs
treating] treating active, focus on linguistic form
067 (2 s) ermm (6 Keeps concepts Attempts to re-
s) active, evaluates construct lin-
TREATING as guistic form in
inadequate con- order to express
cept the concepts,
evaluates treat-
ing as not ade-
068 [(crosses out) Writes Keeps concepts
(2 s)] treating active, focus on
069 (1 s) for (1 s) Keeps concepts Attempts to re-
active, attempts construct lin-
to (re-)construct guistic form in
adequate con- order to express
cept the concepts
070 Saving Keeps concepts (Re-)constructs
active, recon- linguistic form
structs concept
071 [(writing) (1 s)] Writes Keeps concepts
saving active, focus on
Data example 21 cont.
L1-L2 processing differences in language production 137

072 (3 s) Rereads in- Keeps concepts Searches for

formation active, turns fo- adequate lin-
text cus to TROPI- guistic form us-
CAL RAIN ing the informa-
FOREST, at- tion text
tempts to
specifying con-
073 [(writing) the Writes the Reconstructs (Re-)constructs
natural (2 s)] natural NATURAL linguistic form
074 (1 s) Keeps concepts Attempts to re-
active, evaluates construct ade-
SAVING as not quate linguistic
adequate form, evaluates
saving as not
075 (crosses out, 1 Crosses out Keeps concepts
s) saving active, focus on
076 (1 s) Keeps concepts Checks ade-
active quacy of linguis-
tic form
077 [(d) nee . . an- Keeps concepts Evaluates sav-
ders.] active, evaluates ing again as not
[translation: no SAVING as not adequate
differently] adequate
078 (1 s) Attempts to re- Attempts to re-
construct ade- construct ade-
quate concept quate linguistic
form to express
the concepts
079 Protecting Reconstructs (Re-)constructs
PROTECTING linguistic form
Data example 21 cont.
138 Problem solving in a foreign language

080 (1 s) mh mh . . Turns focus to Attempts to re-

concept construct ade-
NATURAL quate linguistic
RESOURCES form in order to
express the con-
using the infor-
mation in the in-
formation text
081 [(writing) re- Writes pro- Focuses on (Re-)constructs
sources (1 s)] tecting the NATURAL linguistic form
082 (3 s) Possibly: Re- Focuses on Probably:
reads infor- NATURAL Searches for
mation text RESOURCES spelling in the
information text
083 [(writing) re- . - Writes Focuses on (Re-)constructs
sources] resources NATURAL linguistic form
Data example 21 cont.

So, what is Jennifer doing in her attempts to find a formulation? She re-
of the attempted formulations provides individual access to the conceptual
representation. In testing which concept provides the right perspective and
by that searching through the semantic field, Jennifer changes her perspec-
tive of the mental concept. Here, the interrelations between the concepts
are sorted out and reinforced. She is activating conceptual knowledge, be-
cause she evaluates the linguistic forms in their capacities to adequately
express the concept. Underlying such a process of evaluation are processes
of comparison; as Jennifer compares, she establishes relations between the
neighbouring concepts that are indicated by their linguistic form. So, be-
sides a longer focusing on the conceptual content, the whole idea that is to
be expressed is processed more deeply.
Still, such a search is not necessarily typical of L2 usage. But the begin-
ning of the transcript segment shows what caused the search process in the
first place: A gap in the L2 lexicon. It is highly plausible to assume that
L1-L2 processing differences in language production 139

Jennifer would not have initiated the whole search process with its neces-
sary deeper processing had she had an English formulation at her disposal
or could she have written a German text instead.
On these grounds we can subdivide linguistically caused cases of deeper
semantic processing in the bilingual learners into two categories:

1. Cases in which the focus on language in general causes a deeper se-

mantic processing in the search for an adequate formulation

2. Cases in which a focus on the L2 form causes a semantically deeper

processing in the search for an adequate L2 formualtion.

The result of this can be formulated as the following hypothesis:

An L2 as a working language has the potential to trigger L2 specific search
processes and by that to increase linguistic reflection, which in turn can
lead to deeper semantic processing of content.
Cases from category a) are those from which we can assume that they
would have had occurred even if the learners had not used the L2; Data
Example 18, in which Katharina contemplates using HUMID or ARID, is
such a case: Because Katharina is looking for the right subject-specific ter-
minology (which for this case is the same in English and German), she
would have needed to go through similar search processes, had she solved
the task using her L1 German.
Category b), on the contrary, subsumes cases like Data Example 21 by
Jennifer, in which a gap in L2-specific knowledge causes deeper process-
Problematic in a qualitative analysis of think-aloud data is that not all
cases can be categorized clearly. In a number of cases it seems possible,
but not definitive, that L2-specific difficulties in expressing a concept trig-
ger search activities, although it could be very possible that a correspond-
ing search for formulations would have been applied in the same way in L1
Data Example 22 by Henriette exemplifies this case. She is writing
down where Kisangani is located. While doing that she changes the formu-
lation from below the tropic of cancer to between the tropic of cancer
and the equator, and by that changes the angle from which she focuses
different features of the conceptual representation.
140 Problem solving in a foreign language

Transcript External Activities in the Activities in the

activities conceptual ling.-rhetorical
problem space problem space

028 (5 s) itsssssss (2 Looks at map Reconstructs

s) mental repre-
sentation of
attempts to
further concepts
in order to spec-
ify the concept
029 Below Constructs
specifying con-
cept: BELOW
030 (4 s) ermm (3 s) Looks for Attempts to Attempts to re-
place name in (re-)construct construct place
task prompt or further concepts name Kisan-
climate graph in order to spec- gani, recon-
ify the concept, struction does
(re-)constructio not succeed, at-
n does not suc- tempts to con-
ceed, turns fo- struct place
cus to KISAN- name while us-
GANI ing information
from task
prompt or cli-
mate graph
031 [(writing) Ki- . . Writes Kisan- Keeps concept Constructs
-san- (1 s) -gani] gani KISANGANIS place name
LOCATION ac- Kisangani
tive, focus on
Data Example 22. Henriette 1023-1.b)
L1-L2 processing differences in language production 141

032 (4 s) issss (1 s) Keeps concept Attempts to

active, (re-)construct
(re-)constructs adequate lin-
concepts TRO- guistic form in
PIC OF order to express
CANCER and the concepts
tries to link
these to
033 between (1 s) Links KISAN- (Re-)constructs
GANIS LO- linguistic form
034 [(writing) is . . Writes is be- Keeps concept (Re-)constructs
be- . . -tween (1 tween the active, focus on linguistic form
s) the tropic of Tropic of Can- LOCATION
cancer (4 s) tro- cer and the BETWEEN
pic . of (1 s) Equator. TROPIC OF
cancer (1 s) and . CANCER AND
. the . . [(whis- EQUATOR
pering) equator.]
(3 s) -quator.]
035 (1 s) Okay. Evaluates solu- Evaluates texts
tion as adequate as adequate
Data Example 22 cont.

The turn of focus from BELOW to IN BETWEEN, which actually is a

specification of the location, is not L2-specific: Such a focus switch cannot
be regarded as being caused by the foreign working language, and could
happen while processing the L1 as well. However, we cannot be com-
pletely sure whether restricted L2 knowledge indeed has caused the search
for formulation. For instance, it could be possible that Henriette is looking
for the right preposition, while she mentally focuses already on the concept
Additionally, I want to show the following data example for this cate-
gory, because it illustrates the point well:
142 Problem solving in a foreign language

Transcript External Activities in Activities in

activities the conceptual the ling.-rhet.
problem space problem space

084 [(writing) pre- Writes The Reconstructs (Re-)constructs

cipitation (4 s) precipitation is concept HIGH linguistic form
is very high (4 very high so PRECIPITA-
s) so (1 s) erm TION IN
085 I can (1 s) erm Attempts to Attempts to
. . I can . I can construct (re-)construct
(1 s) causal link be- adequate lin-
tween the sub- guistic form
ordinate con-
086 so I know Attempts to (Re-)constructs
construct linguistic form
causal link be-
tween the sub-
ordinate con-
087 [(writing) (3 s) Writes I Reconstructs (Re-)constructs
that (1 s) this know, that this relation be- linguistic form,
(2 s) has . . to have, changes tween these evaluates form
be (1 s) in . . have zu concepts and as not ade-
tropical rain has, writes VEGETA- quate,
forest . reason . to be in TION TROPI- (re-)constructs
erm regions.] Tropical rain CAL RAIN other linguistic
forest FOREST form
088 (1 s) [(Ger- Keeps con- Evaluates for-
man) oder] cepts active, mulation as not
[translation: focus on optimal, at-
or] in regions KISAN- tempts to
(1 s) in tropi- GANIS LO- (re-)construct
callll (1 s) rain CATION IN adequate lin-
(1 s) THE TROPI- guistic form in
CAL RAIN order to ex-
FOREST press the con-
Data Example 23. Svenja 1019-1.b)
L1-L2 processing differences in language production 143

089 [(stressed) in] Keeps con- (Re-)constructs

the tropical cepts active, linguistic form
rain forest. focus on
090 [(writing) (3 s) Inserts in, Keeps con-
forest. (2 s)] puts fullstop. cepts active,
focus on
Data Example 23 cont.
The formulation problem that starts in 084/085 and subsequently leads
to a search is obviously caused by a gap in L2 knowledge. Probably the
learner focuses on a concept and tries to express it (CONCLUDE or IN-
FER would be plausible, because she starts with I can), but cannot access
the right lexical elements. This leads to a reformulation so I know in 086.
With this interpretation we can classify this instance as an L2-caused
deeper processing of content, which ends up in a somewhat simplified con-
ceptual relation: So I know expresses a less elaborate subject-specific
view than so I can conclude, because the way of reasoning and the causal
relationships are not in the focus any longer.
Nevertheless, we cannot be completely sure that the L2 actually is the
cause for this. It could likewise be plausible that the learner does not even
focus any concepts such as CONCLUDE, and that we actually witness the
initial construction of a concept, so that so I know is not a second alter-
native, but the first. If that is the case, then the search for a linguistic form
is not L2-specific.
Another aspect can shed more light on this methodological problem: If
we assume that the bilingual learners L2 proficiency is incomplete, while
the monolingual group has full proficiency in their L1 and thus does not
experience any formulation difficulties, we could evaluate the above ex-
ample as clearly L2-caused. A look at the data of the monolingual group,
144 Problem solving in a foreign language

however, reveals quickly that it is not that simple; even the L1 students
struggle with language:

Transcript External Activities in Activities in the

activities the conceptual ling.-rhet- prob-
problem space lem space

062 ich begrnde Rereads his Keeps concept Tries to

meine Meinung own text active, attempts (re-)construct
damit [transla- to reconstruct linguistic form
tion: I justify my his own way of of the formula-
opinion with the concluding tion up to now
063 (2 s) dass . . das. . Reconstructs Attempts to
. Klima- . way of con- (re-)construct
diagramm [trans- cluding, at- adequate linguis-
lation: that the tempts to es- tic form for the
climate graph] tablish causal expression of the
relation be- concept
tween CLI-
MATE and
064 [(writing) Klii- Writes dass Keeps concept (Re-)constructs
ima- . . -dia- (2 das Klimadia- active, focus on linguistic form
s)] [translation gramm CLIMATE
climate gra-] GRAPH
065 Klimadiagramm . Keeps concept Attempts to
. aus. . . CLIMATE (re-)construct
[translation: cli- GRAPH OF adequate linguis-
mate graph of] KISANGANI tic form for the
active expression of the
066 Nee. [transla- Keeps concept Evaluates
tion: No.] CLIMATE (re-)constructed
GRAPH OF preposition aus
KISANGANI (of) as not ade-
active quate
Data Example 24. Max 1105-1.d)
L1-L2 processing differences in language production 145

Von? . . Oder Keeps concept Attempts to

aus? (1 s) Von? CLIMATE (re-)construct
(1 s) [transla- GRAPH OF adequate prepo-
tion: Of? Or KISANGANI sitional phrase
from? Of?] active
Das Klimadia- Keeps concept Decides on
gra- [(stressed) CLIMATE preposition
von] (1 s) [trans- GRAPH OF von
lation: The cli- KISANGANI
mate graph of] active
066 [(writing) Kii- (1 Writes von Turns focus to (Re-)constructs
s) -san- (1 s) - Kisangani concept KI- linguistic form
gani (1 s)] SANGANI
067 das Klimadia- Rereads his Keeps concept Attempts to
gramm von . own text CLIMATE (re-)construct
Kisangani GRAPH OF formulation up
068 (4 s) deutlich Attempts to re- Turns focus to
eindeutlich . construct con- form: Attempts
[translation: ceptual task to (re-)construct
clearly unambi- solving from adequate linguis-
guously (form is the information tic form in order
idiosynchratic, is from the CLI- to express con-
not part of Ger- MATE cept
man standard!)] GRAPH and
that is charac-
terized therein
069 [(writing) ein- (1 Writes ein- Reconstructs (Re-)constructs
s) -deutlich . . aus deutlich auch relation be- linguistic form
(1 s) dem (2 s) T [sic] dem T.R. tween shape of
Punkt R Punkt (1 stammt und the CLIMATE
s) stammt CURVES and
(3 s) und] [trans- the FEATURE
lation: unambi- OF CLIMATE
guously stems TYPICAL OF
from the T.R. TROPICAL
and] RAIN FOR-
Data Example 24 cont.
146 Problem solving in a foreign language

In 065 Max is not sure which preposition he should choose, and shows
in 068 and 069, that even the L1 is a learner language that contains ele-
ments that deviate from the target language. The phenomenon eindeut-
lich we see here cannot be explained as a problem of performance: Max
does not produce a slip of the tongue, but obviously his lexicon contains a
lexeme eindeutlich in the sense of eindeutig, because he does not only
pronounce it this way, but even writes it down.
This example shows that we even need to regard the L1 as a learner
language with dynamic character. This issue is highly important for a dis-
tinction between L1 and L2-specific processing of content. Therefore I will
formulate the following hypothesis:
L1 and L2 competence are not qualitatively different competences with
clear boundaries, but have to be regarded as lying on a proficiency contin-
uum. L1 users might experience fewer difficulties in mastering their work-
ing language than L2 users, but even here, linguistic processing is not com-
pletely automatized.
The evidence in the data implies that there is no principal difference be-
tween L1 and L2 usage in meaning-focused situations; the conclusion is
that we should assume rather a quantitative difference in the performance
of the two groups, not a principal difference in cognitive processing.
This leads to the situation that in an analysis of the data, cases have to
be isolated in which a mental concept is clearly present and can with more
ease be denominated in the L1, but no corresponding form in the L2 can be
accessed, so that search processes follow. They have to be separated from
unclear cases.
The result of such an analysis is shown in Table 7. Here, again, we see
big differences between the learners. Still we can conclude a clear result
concerning the role of the L2, which can be maintained without having to
take individual learner variables into account. In the data of the bilingual
learners, we find three phenomena: Firstly, linguistically caused cases of
deeper semantic processing, and they correspond to similar cases in the
monolingual group. This is indicated in the left column in Table 7. Sec-
ondly, we find cases of deeper processing in which it is not possible to
identify whether the cause is the L2 usage, or general linguistic reflections;
these cases are listed in the middle column. But thirdly, we find cases in
which search processes are directly caused by a search for an adequate L2
form, while an L1 form is already present; in this last category, it would
not be plausible to assume that these cases had taken place if not the L2
L1-L2 processing differences in language production 147

had been the working language. These cases are listed in the column on the
right hand side in Table 7. All these instances of semantically deeper proc-
essing, and probably several from the middle column, would not have oc-
curred without the L2 as the working language; L2 users show more
knowledge transforming instances in their data than would have been there
in L1 usage.

Table 7. Deeper semantic processing of the CLIL learners, caused by activity in

the linguistic problem space

Cases of deeper se- Cases of deeper se- Cases of deeper se-

mantic processing: mantic processing: mantic processing:
Generally language- Unclear, whether L2- Clearly L2-caused
caused caused
Britt 3 4 8
Katharina 4 2 6
Jennifer - 1 5
Karen 4 4 3
Bianca - 2 1
Roland 2 - 1
Svenja 4 6 1
Tamara - - 1
Henriette - 2 1
Kim - 2 1
Snke 1 2 -
Mona 1 2 -
Lara - 1 -
Yvonne - - -

So, we find evidence in the bilingual groups data that the general effect
of a linguistic focus on conceptual processing can be further enhanced by
using an L2 as a working language. Formulating this as a hypothesis, we
can state the following:

When an adequate formulation for conceptual content has to be found, the

use of an L2 enhances the effect of a deeper semantic processing, because
here additional instances of linguistic problem solving occur compared to
the use of an L1.
148 Problem solving in a foreign language

The hypotheses I have formulated so far all have their origin in the pro-
tocol phases in which the subjects focus actively on the formulation of
conceptual thoughts. In the following, I want to turn the focus to the second
macrocategory of linguistic processes in order to find out whether there are
L2-specific phenomena in the reception of linguistic information that effect
the processing of content.

3. Language reception

One of the elicitation tasks, Task 6, was specifically designed to make the
subjects decode a longer stretch of informative text. As described in Chapter
6, this task requires the learners to construct the concept SUSTAINABILITY
from the text, and after that to evaluate a solution that suggests how the
tropical rainforest can be protected in relation to the concept SUSTAIN-
ABILITY. The solution proposes protecting the tropical rainforest by estab-
lishing national parks. By that, it only takes ecological goals into considera-
tion, but not social or economic goals. So, in order to be able to recognize
this, the subjects need to build up an understanding from the information
In the analysis of the think-aloud protocols it soon becomes clear that we
can infer very little about comprehension processes from the process data.
What we can follow is only which text parts are focused on at which point in
time. A typical protocol, like the following, illustrates why an analysis is
methodologically problematic:
Filled and unfilled pauses 149

Transcript External Activities in the Activities in the

activities conceptual ling.-rhet. prob-
problem space lem space

045 One possible Reads introduc- Attempts to Attempts to de-

way . . of protect- tory text construct mental code linguistic
ing t- . -pical mh representation of information
forest would be . the facts and
to turn (1 s) the circumstances
remaining forests .
. into con- (1 s)
-servation areas or
national parks. (1
s) This would
mean that nature
would be llleft to
itself again . . un-
touched by man-
kind. (1 s) Only a
limited number of
people would then
be allowed to en-
ter restricted areas
in (1 s) parks
along special
Data Example 25. Lara 1006-6

The protocol here consists mainly of the vocalization of the text. It is not
possible to infer in detail the constructive processes from the data material; we
can only state on which text information the learner focuses her attention at a
given moment and assume that she tries to construct meaning from the linguis-
tic form. In that, elements of problem solving have to take place; but when ex-
actly do these activities take place, and which role does the L2 play here?

4. Filled and unfilled pauses

Let us take a second look at Data Example 25 above. If the processing of

the text information had no problem solving character and were merely an
150 Problem solving in a foreign language

automatized activation of meaning elements as soon as the orthographic-

phonological form was activated in working memory, the vocalization
should be very fluent; only breathing pauses should interrupt the vocaliza-
tion. The data, on the other hand, reveal a different picture: We find a lot of
gaps in the vocalization. It is to be assumed that the learner in these gaps
either faces difficulty in immediately constructing meaning from what she
just has read, or that she is occupied with the phonological decoding of the
Of course, other causes could be possible: Information could be proc-
essed in parallel in these gaps, or processing could take place in a non-
verbal code. The latter seems less likely, because the focus is on verbal
information here. But the learner could be simply distracted and wander
with her thoughts to completely different areas. So, in how far a matching
between orthographical-phonological form and meaning actually takes
place cannot be inferred reliably.
Besides unfilled pauses, we find filled pauses like mmh, erm, etc.
The number of pauses is very different from one individual to another. The
exact measurement of speech pauses is difficult and can only be achieved
on qualitative grounds, because a long-drawn-out word such as WE . . .
ELL, IN FA . . . ACT may be substituted for a pause (Aitchison 1998).
So, an individual who generally tends to speak slowly might produce fewer
pauses than a person who speaks rapidly. Thus we cannot draw conclusions
about planning and search processes from the number of pauses alone.
Without any systematic account I therefore only want to mention the in-
teresting observation that in all protocols, nearly exclusively unfilled pauses
occur during the decoding of language, while filled pauses seem to be a typi-
cal feature of text production phases. It would be interesting to investigate
this phenomenon psycholinguistically, because these surface phenomena
could have an indicator function for underlying cognitive processes.
In spite of the methodological problems concomitant with measuring
pauses reliably, it seems probable that pauses are indicators of cognitive ef-
fort. Because it is difficult to measure, I now want to take a closer look at
yet another phenomenon which might have a stronger indicator character.
Mispronunciations 151

5. Mispronunciations

Let us consider the following transcript:

010 Against the background (1 s) of the aim of . . Agenda twenty one . how
. do you
011 (2 s) evaluate
012 the following
013 sul- . . suggestion
014 for a solution. Support your answer.
015 One possible way
016 to pr- erm of
017 Protection
018 (2 s)
019 Protecting
020 the tropical rain forest (2 s) would be to turn the remaining forests into
021 conserv- (1 s) conseveration
022 areas or national parks. (1 s) This would mean that the
023 Natural
024 would be left itself again
025 (1 s) untiched . . and mankin. (1 s)
026 Only a limited number of people would then be allowed to enter
027 (4 s)
028 restricted areas in the parks
029 . along sp- . special trails (1 s)
030 and accompanied by rangers.
Data Example 26. Roland 1015-6

We see in 013, 016 and 029 interruptions that are followed by a re-
peated pronunciation of the text element in question. These cases may indi-
cate mere slips of the tongue (Aitchison 1998: 240ff); because they occur
so often in Rolands protocol, it seems plausible that these mispronuncia-
tions indicate decoding problems. Roland seems to be confronted with
these lexemes for the first time, and therefore needs more effort to pro-
nounce them. Simultaneously, these cases indicate difficulties in the se-
mantic decoding which can only be solved by a higher activation of cogni-
tive resources.
We find a slightly different case in segments 017, 021, 023 and 025.
Here, the pronunciation deviates from the text (marked in the transcript by
italics). The learner obviously does not notice his mispronunciation, be-
152 Problem solving in a foreign language

cause he does not correct himself (023 and 025) or does even mispro-
nounce it in a second try (021).
What impact do these cases have on the construction of meaning? The
learner obviously does not process the semantic content that the text pro-
vides, because he obviously cannot access it. This becomes particularly
clear in Segment 025, where he is not only confronted with an unknown
word, but also does not succeed in his attempt to integrate the information
syntactically. Here we can assume that Roland is not able to construct the
meaning of the information text. Mona provides another example:

015 in any way. Through the
016 explanation
017 of resources.
Data Example 27. Mona 1005-6

Note that in the original text it is exploitation of resources. Mona ob-

viously does not know the word exploitation, so that we can assume that
she fails to succeed in the meaning construction of the concept EXPLOI-
TATION. Mispronunciations that indicate difficulties in decoding meaning
occur with the following frequency in the bilingual learners:

Table 8. CLIL learners mispronunciations when reading

1004 Snke 8
1005 Mona 17
1006 Lara 6
1007 Yvonne 6
1008 Bianca 3, stops task solving after that
1011 Jennifer 1
1012 Karen 2
1015 Roland 7
1019 Svenja 8
1022 Tamara 6
1023 Henriette 3
1024 Britt Reads always without vocalization
1025 Kim 6
6001 Katharina 4
Mispronunciations 153

This contrasts sharply with the protocols of the monolingual subjects,

because here we do not find any of these cases. The monolingual group
only produces mispronunciations on the phonological level, as in the fol-
lowing example by Tim in Segment 003 or 005:

002 Leitbild der Nachhaltigkeit. Seit dem Weltgipfel von Rio de Janeiro im
Jahre neunzehnhundertzweiundneunzig (1 s) gilt das Leitbild der Nach-
haltigkeit als weltweit akzeptiert. (1 s) Dieses Leitbild besagt dass bei der
Nutzung von . . Ressourcen
003 . o- . . kologische soziale (1 s) und . konomische
004 Zielsetzungen gleichrangig zu beachten sind. . . Wobei nachfolgende
005 Rene- . . Generationen
006 hierdurch (1 s) keinen Schaden nehmen drfen. . . Sondern ihre Bedrf-
nisse und Rechte stets mitbedacht werden sollen.
[translation: see information text of Task 6; this is the German version.]
Data Example 28. Tim 1104-6

It is highly unlikely that Tim here reads the word Generationen for the
first time or does not know its meaning. Furthermore, every mispronuncia-
tion is immediately corrected.
From these transcript examples, the following hypothesis can be in-

CLIL learners experience greater difficulties in the receptive L2 processing

than monolingual students when processing comparable information in their
L1. In many cases, the CLIL learners do not succeed in meaning construction.

It is rather suprising, however, that instead of massive mispronuncia-

tions in some cases, one one single learner, Bianca, surrenders and inter-
rupts the task solving. All other learners solve the task. Here, some proc-
esses in the data are somewhat surprising, as can be illustrated with the
help of Monas example:
154 Problem solving in a foreign language

003 Since the world summit of Rio de Janeiro inn
004 (1 s)
005 nineteen ninety two
006 (2 s)
007 [(g with glottal stop) Agenda] twentyone the principle of sustan- .
-nbility has been globally accepted. The principle means that the
008 (1 s)
009 in terms of the use of natural resources [(g with glottal stop) ecologi-] -
gical social and economic goals should be treated (1 s) as equal impor-
tant. (1 s) At the same time the rights and need of future generations
should be respected
010 to say
011 (1 s)
012 to
013 that they are not
014 disadvantages
015 in any way. Through the
016 explanation
017 of resources.
018 (4 s)
019 Against the background of the aims of [(g with glottal stop) Agenda]
twenty-one how do you evaluate the following suggestion for a so- . -lu-
. - ution.
020 (1 s)
021 Since the world summit of Rio de Janeiro nineteen
022 twenty
023 two the principle of
024 sutenability
025 has been globally accepted the principle means that in terms of the use
of natural ressources
026 ecologish- (1 s) mmmh
027 goals should be sh- . treated
028 and
029 equally important. At the same time the rights and needs of future
030 generasions should be er- respected
031 to say . . so say . .
032 so that they are not
033 disadventures
034 in any way through the
035 explanation
Data Example 29. Mona 1005
Mispronunciations 155

036 of the resources.

037 (1 s)
038 Okayyy.
039 Against the background of the aims of [(g mit Glottalverschluss)
Agenda] twenty one
040 you d- .
041 how do you
042 ev- . -valuate
043 the following suggestion for a solution support your answer.
044 (1 s)
045 One possibility
046 way of
047 protection be left to itself
048 the tropical rain forest would . be to turn the remaining forest into
049 conser- . . -vation
050 areas or national parks. This would mean that . nature would
051 (1 s)
052 this would mmh (2 s)
053 would be left . to . itself again untouched by
054 many
055 kind. . . Only a limited number of people would then be allowed to enter
056 restricts
057 areas . in the park . along . . special trails and
058 accom- . -men- . . [(diphthongised i) accompanied] by .
059 ran- . by a ranger.
060 . One
061 possibility way of
062 protection .
063 would be to turn the [(betont) remaining] forest (1 s)
064 [(German) oh Gott [translation: Oh God]
065 das find ich gut [translation: I think thats good]
Data Example 29 cont.

Obviously, in a number of places Mona has to deal with unknown vo-

cabulary or is overchallenged with the syntactic processing (007, 009, 010,
012, 016, 019, 028, 033, 035, 042, 045, 047, 054, 056, 058, 061, 062; I do
not count the pronunciation problems in sustainability, because the in-
formation text serves the introduction of this concept).
Here, her problems do not become any the smaller when she reads the
text in which the concept SUSTAINABILITY is explained for the second
time (021 following). Once more she reads all other texts, task prompt and
156 Problem solving in a foreign language

suggestion for a solution, and after that immediately forms an evaluative

statement about the suggestion in Segment 065. Obviously, she does not
expend further cognitive effort in the precise construction of meaning, but
is still able to form a holistic evaluation of the suggestion for a solution.

6. Differences in semantic processing of text information?

Table 9. Subject-specific scores in the answers of Task 6

CLIL learners Conceptual score Monolinguals Conceptual score

1005 Mona 6,5 1128 Isabella 6,5
1015 Roland 5,5 1104 Tim 5

1025 Kim 5,5 1115 Heike 4,5

1006 Lara 5 1120 Jan 4

1011 Jennifer 4,5 1123 Joachim 4

1024 Britt 4,5 1105 Max 3,5

1023 Henriette 4 1114 Marco 1,5

1012 Karen 3,5

1007 Yvonne 3

1022 Tamara 3

1004 Snke 2,5

1019 Svenja 2,5

6001 Katharina 2,5

1008 Bianca Interrupted, no

= 4,0 = 4,2

The plausible assumption that the CLIL learners have to face more difficul-
ties in comprehending texts and to process the information semantically
deeply enough is challenged by these data. In order to investigate the actual
Differences in semantic processing of text information? 157

depth of processing, the data are not optimal; a pre-post-test design would
have been more appropriate here. Therefore, I have assessed the degree of
subject-specific qualitiy of the answer of each learner in order to see
whether there is any correspondence. For this, I used an assessment scale
for subject-specific competences, developed by Coetzee-Lachmann (2007),
the results of which are displayed in Table 9 above.
If we consider the processing difficulties that were revealed in Rolands
and Monas think-aloud protocols, it is rather surprising that their results
show a score of 5.5 and 6.5 and in that are even above the average of both
groups. Generally, we can state that the answers show major conceptual
deficits (according to an idealized sample answer that was provided by ge-
ography specialists and teachers; 6 was defined as a miminum value for
grade 10 grammar school students, see Coetzee-Lachmann 2007 for detail),
but they can be found in the monolingual subjects texts as well.
Obviously, the decoding difficulties of the CLIL learners do not lead to
larger problems in processing the content. What we can assume here is that
they employ compensatory strategies that enable them to understand suffi-
In the interviews after the think-aloud sessions, I asked the learners
about comprehension difficulties. All learners informed me that they infer
information from the context when they experience difficulties in decoding
texts. In the following interview extract I am talking to Mona about her
task solving of Task 6 (all interviews were conducted in German, and are
presented here in translation). She reports that she experienced no prob-

087 ... Did you think it was easy or difficult

088 Easy
089 to evaluate the suggestion for a solution?
090 Easy.
091 Mmh. Why?
092 Mmh. Dont know. It is nothing like, well this has all been so mathematical
and this here is more like, a little like, from humanities or something
093 Mmh.
094 And this, all these later tasks I found easier. I mean where I could write
something, and an opinion and so on
095 The tasks where you could work with a text?
096 Yes, exactly.
097 Yes, do you think that is because you could work with a text or not?
098 Yes, yes. I could work well with that.
158 Problem solving in a foreign language

099 Mmh. Where there other things in the tasks that you did not understand?
100 Some words, but else, I actually understood everything.
Data Example 30. Mona 1005-Interview

154 Mmh. And when you have to solve a geography task in English in class or
in an exam, and do not understand an important word
155 Mmh
156 What do you do then?
157 Well, we do not yet use dictionaries, but then I first try to figure it out from
158 Okay. And if you want to formulate something and you are lacking an im-
portant word, what do you do then?
159 Then I try to express it in a way that is possible without that word.
160 So you try to
161 I mean, paraphrase
162 Okay. Do you have the feeling, very generally, that you are restricted by the
foreign language as a working language?
163 No. Er.
164 Not even when you say you do not understand words at times, if you read a
German text?
165 No, but I am not restricted by that.
Data Example 30 cont.

Monas statement in 100 about having understood everything is some-

what surprising with regard to the many mispronunciations in the think-
aloud protocol. Yet obviously, she is able to construct a coherent meaning
from context and does not feel disadvantaged by the L2. Snke, in his in-
terview, is even more explicit:

528 Mmh. Okay ermm if you have to solve a geography task in English in
class or in an exam and do not understand an important word, what do
you do then?
529 [Takes a deep breath]
What I do then? An important word?
530 Mmh.
531 Ask.
532 And if you cannot ask?
533 What should I do then? Context it it is not pos- try to infer it from con-
text. And if that is not possible, then it is not possible.
534 Mmh. That was similar with sustainability
Critical thoughts on the process data 159

535 Yes.
536 now, right? You say yourself, you didnt understand, but
537 I havent paid further attention to it then. I mean if I dont really under-
stand a certain word, then I dont focus on it and read on, and but in the
end, I understand the text anyway.
Data Example 31. Snke 1004-Interview

This statement describes what we can assume in example 028 for Mona:
Obviously she does not understand many of the words, but is not too im-
pressed by that and instead goes on looking for a holistic understanding of
the text. In this, she succeeds.
So my data imply that the CLIL learners are able to construct a concep-
tual representation in spite of difficulties in understanding the linguistic
form. I would go so far as to formulate the following hypothesis (which of
course needs to be tested in more detail):

CLIL learners are used to dealing with comprehension deficits when con-
structing a conceptual representation from linguistic input, and use context
information to compensate for these. They are trained to go on focusing on
a text, even if they do not understand large parts of it.

The process data from my data set do unfortunately not allow any con-
clusions about whether the interaction with the difficult text parts leads to a
deeper or on the contrary only a more superficial semantic processing.
I counted each time of reading and re-reading the texts in Task 6 in or-
der to find out how often the information could have been processed. Here,
individual differences were big, but no tendencies in difference between
CLIL group and monolingual group could be seen. Because both groups
achieve similar results in the degree of conceptual complexity in their an-
swers (cf. Table 9), it is not likely that we have to assume that the L2 as a
working language has a negative impact on the conceptual processing. This
supports the most recent hypothesis.

7. Critical thoughts on the process data

Concerning the question of whether the L2 has an impact on receptive

processes of information retrieval from sources, we see that the process
160 Problem solving in a foreign language

data obtained in this study are not optimally suited. Although we can as-
sume problems in the reception of text, we cannot infer clearly what nature
they have, why they occur and which effect they have on the conceptual
All we can state from the interview data is that the learners obviously
use context information to draw inferences. The learners dwell too shortly
on these problem solving stages, so that they do not verbalize anything here
besides the given text information. An analysis of strategies would there-
fore not seem very promising on the basis of my data. This is not a general
problem of think-aloud protocols, however, as shows the strategy analysis
of reading activities in Wrffel (2006). It seems to be the case that in both
my learner groups the elicitation tasks are only very superficially processed
(see for a discussion of this Coetzee-Lachmann 2007, Vollmer in progress).
This does simply not make it necessary to make use of a more elaborate
set of strategies. Possibly, this is a difference to adult subjects with a higher
motivation to construct information from text. The subjects in my study
are easily satisfied with a superficial text comprehension and start very
quickly with the formulation of an answer, which in turn is not particularly
If this way of doing things is caused by the task formats, we should bear
in mind that the task were designed in close resemblance to geography-
typical text book questions. Possibly, what we see here is an interaction
with the typical school tasks in which the learners do not really see a rea-
son why they should elaborate deeper. If it holds true that textbook tasks
might not cause enough involvement and motivation, because they do not
cause any real interaction with subject-specific problems, which needs to
be investigated further, this would be an alarming result for textbook

8. Summary

In this chapter results from the analysis of the think-aloud data were pre-
sented. Coding the data on the basis of the model of conceptual-linguistic
task processing revealed interactions between problem solving activity in
the linguistic-rhetoric and conceptual problem spaces.
In particular, I demonstrated how a focus on linguistic form led to a
deeper semantic processing of the conceptual content, and how this effect
Summary 161

could be enhanced when an L2 was used as a working language. This led to

several hypotheses about the role of an L2 as a working language.
Performance features in processing the L2 receptively were discussed,
and it became clear that the data obtained for this study are more informa-
tive concerning the productive use of an L2 than the receptive use.
Chapter 10
Evaluation of the think-aloud method

1. Limitations of the think-aloud method

In Chapter 7, I presented the cognitive basis for the think-aloud method.

Here it became clear that the method is susceptible for many distracting
factors in the elicitation situation, which can lead to a very different type of
data. I mentioned the reactivity of the method, which means the impact the
verbalisation can have on the activity itself, so that the activity in question
is changed. I concluded that according to the state of research today, it is
assumed that the cognitive processes might be slowed down, but are not
changed. High validity is therefore assumed.
However, even in the pilot studies for the investigation it became obvi-
ous how differently learners deal with the think-aloud task, and how varied
the resulting protocols are. Some learners verbalize after only some min-
utes of training uninterruptedly and obviously without any cognitive effort,
while others need a long training phase, and never do reach a degree of flu-
ency in their verbalizations.
Furthermore, some CLIL learners stay nearly continuously in the Eng-
lish mode, while others verbalize mainly in German. One CLIL learner,
Britt, makes it clear right at the beginning that she cannot think aloud while
reading a text. She claims she would not be able to process the conceptual
content then. For other learners, on the other hand, this does not seem to be
a problem at all.
So, obviously the cognitive processing is interindividually different.
From this we have to conclude that for some learners thinking aloud is a
challenging additional task, while for others it is not. This leads to the con-
clusion that it is not possible to state a single value for reacitivity: The cog-
nitive processes of those learners that experience only minor difficulties
with the method should be influenced very little by it, while it should have
a greater impact on the cognitive processes of learners that have to activate
additional cognitive capacities to verbalize.
Subjective interview data 163

2. Subjective interview data

These results prompted me to collect additional data for a deeper insight

into the validity of the think-aloud method.
In a study that focuses on individual cognitive processes and which
therefore puts the individual learner in the centre, it is helpful to find out
about the learners individual view. A rather trivial research approach to
investigating the learners subjective theories and motivations is to ask him
or herself how he or she experienced the elicitation situation. Results of
those inquiries can be termed subjective data, because the data on the sub-
jects stem from the subjects themselves (vgl. Edmondson 1996; Kallenbach
1996), and we can assume that the learners structure their experiences in
form of some kind of metacognitive theory which then can be recon-
structed. The assumption that learners can provide insights into their own
language processes is based on two grounds:

1. The processes reported take place on a conscious level and are

used strategically. The learner controls her own behaviour and is
therefore able to report about strategies, and which factors have an
impact on his or her decisions.

2. The learner observes him or herself. Here, the reported processes

are not consciously triggered, but the learner has noticed by self-
monitoring that certain patterns occur in his or her behaviour. In
order to explain these patterns, a hypothesis is built.

These subjective observations do not have any special status compared

to observations from an external researcher, except that the learners have
priviledged access to the data, because they are not restricted to only a
short, highly selective data set. Of course, subjective data are problematic.
For instance, it is not possible to infer in how far they are reliable and
valid. However, subjective theories build holistic meaning relations that
exceed the elicitation situation. Therefore it is not possible to state clearly
whether they can be transferred to other situations, but on the other hand
they can serve as an additional set of data that complements other ap-
proaches (vgl. dazu Grotjahn 1991). Although it should not be assumed
that they contain highly valid data, subjective data reflect important con-
cepts and assumptions of the learner, of which in turn we can assume that
they have some impact on the learners behaviour.
164 Evaluation of the think-aloud method

For my data, this means the following: If verbalization of thought content

from working memory is achieved without any additional cognitive efford
only this would imply a really valid method the subjects should not report
any cases where they had perceived the think-aloud method as interfering.
In order to find out more about this, the learners were asked a set of
questions in which it was asked how natural it felt for them to think aloud
(1. u. 2.), and what they thought about possible impacts of the vocalization
on the task processing (3.5.).

1. Did it feel uncomfortable for you to think aloud?

2. Do you sometimes speak to yourself when you are alone, e.g. when
you do your homework? If yes, when do you do this, and in which
3. Did you have the feeling that the thinking aloud restricted you in
solving the tasks?
4. Did you have the feeling that the thining aloud helped you in any
way in solving the task?
5. Would you have solved the tasks to the same degree of complexity
had you worked on them silently?

The learners were free to elaborate their answers. If suitable, further

questions were posed on the developing topic. The goal was to interrupt the
learners as little as possible and to let them associate freely without guiding
their answers.
The first result from the interviews is the following: Four learners
(Mona, Lara, Britt and Isabella) report explicitly about their experience that
they could only capture in fragments the complexity and parallelity of their
thoughts in speech, a phenomenon which is discussed in the research litera-
ture. So, we find the following statements in the interviews:

019 Why do you think you did not say everything?

020 I dont know, because one cannot immediately speak out loud all mecha-
nisms of thinking that one goes through in ones head.
Data Example 32. Mona 1005-Interview

006 ... Besides that, one is much slower when one speaks while doing it, be-
cause one thinks much more rapidly than one can talk.

Data Example 33. Britt 1024-Interview

Reactivity 165

018 And I cannot explicate all the interrelations as clearly when Im speaking
as when Im thinking.

Data Example 34. Isabella 1128-Interview

These experiences in themselves do not prove any reactivity of the

method, but only that in the data, not all thoughts become visible. This is
an integral assumption of the think-aloud method (cf. Ericsson and Simon
1993, Heine 2005, Heine and Schramm 2007) and is supported by my data.

3. Reactivity

In order to find out about a possible reactivity of the method, I asked the
students questions about a possible impact of the method on thought activ-
ity. Firstly, I wanted to know how natural or unnatural the vocalizing task
felt for the subjects. The interest behind this is whether the learners per-
ceive their thought activity being accompanied by language in other cir-
cumstances also, and whether they tend to vocalise this code anyway. The
answers reflect a wide range of learner experiences:

3.1. Verbal coding

Several learners perceive the verbalisation of thoughts as a highly unnatu-

ral process (Roland, Britt, Kim, Tim, Joachim):

006 I would never think aloud like that. ...

Data Example 35. Britt 1024-Interview

018 Do you do that sometimes by yourself, that you when you do you homework
or when you are alone, that you speak with yourself?
019 Never.
020 You never do that.
021 No.
Data Example 36. Tim 1004-Interview
166 Evaluation of the think-aloud method

011 Yes. Erm do you do that sometimes that you speak to yourself when you do
your homework or when you are alone in some way?
012 I cant think of any situation. No.
013 So it is an unusual
014 [(simultaneously) yes task]
015 for you
016 Mh. Yes, exactly.
Data Example 37. Joachim 1023-Interview

These cases suggest that the elicitation procedure poses a highly un-
usual cognitive task to some learners, and potentially requires additional
cognitive resources.

3.2. Thinking aloud as an everyday phenomenon

On the other hand, other subjects report that they are used to perceiving
their thoughts in verbally coded form, even outside the elicitation situation,
e.g. when they do their homework (Mona, Lara, Jennifer, Tamara, Fran-
ziska, Marco, Heike, Jan). The following interview extracts provide exam-
ples of this:
002 It was a bit unfamiliar, but honestly speaking, when I do my homework, I
sometimes speak out loud everything as well.

Data Example 38. Mona 1005-Interview

009 Yes. Was it awkward for you to think aloud?

101 To think aloud? Mm no. [] I think I would do that when I am at home,
really erm to think aloud.
104 Okay.
105 So somehow for myself like that. But at school: noo, not really
106 That would probably be disturbing
107 That would be disturbing if I did it there. Sometimes, I know. I do that
without thinking about it.
108 When you are at home doing your homework
109 [(simultaneously) or something like that. Yes. Without thinking about it.]
110 If I dont understand something clearly, then I try to speak it out loud for
myself and then
Data Example 39. Marco 1114-Interview
Reactivity 167

111 Yes.
112 lets see.
113 So it has been a rather natural thing for you right now.
114 Yes, not too bad.
Data Example 39 cont.

001 Great. Thank you so much. You think aloud as if you had never done any-
thing else.
002 No. I usually do that at home, when I am sitting in my room.
003 Yes?
004 Yes.
005 [(simultaneously) Is that I tell]
006 myself what I want to write down first, and things like that. Then it be-
comes much easier somehow.
007 Okay.
008 I always do that at home. Thats why.
Data Example 40. Heike 1115-Interview

For these learners it is obviously less unnatural to speak their thoughts

out loud. Here, we can assume a smaller degree of reactivity.

3.2.1. Thinking aloud as a support strategy

In Example 39 and 40, thinking aloud was not perceived as disturbing, but
as a positive interference (see Segment 110 in Data Example 39, Marco
and 006 in Data Example 40): The verbalization of thoughts is used as a
strategy through which the solving of the task is facilitated, presumably be-
cause conceptual content is structured and, by entering the phonological
loop in working memory, is being kept active. This is how Jennifer and Jan
put it in words:
041 Do you sometimes speak to yourself when you do your homework, for ex-
ample, or when you are alone
042 When I am learning and I dont understand the topic, then [(laughing) I
do] that sometimes. That I try to explain it to myself.
043 And then it becomes clearer for you, when you speak it out loud to yourself
044 Yes, and it sticks in my mind better, too.
Data Example 41. Jennifer 1011-Interview
168 Evaluation of the think-aloud method

055 Okay. And did you have the feeling that the thinking aloud helped you in
any way in the task solving?
056 Mm well. Well, I would think that I well I could remember better
what I wanted to write down. So when I had spoken out loud everything
that I had thought, then it was easier for me to remember the texts that I
had formulated, and then to write them down.
057 So that was something that helped.
058 Yes. That helped.
Data Example 42. Jan 1120-Interview

Here thinking aloud is being perceived as a support. Therefore, the

method here might have had a positive effect on the task solving.

3.2.2. Thinking aloud as disturbance of thought activity

But we also find a less positively perceived effect. Isabella addresses this in
her interview:

016 I well I think more rapidly than I speak and when I speak more slowly,
then the thoughts escape me.

Data Example 43. Isabella 1128-Interview

So, in binding the attention to the conceptual thought that is being vo-
calized in a given moment, the stream of thought is interrupted and poten-
tially changed compared to silent thinking.

3.3. Vocalizing versus inner verbalizing

Several learners (Snke, Tamara, Max, Jan) recognize the phenomenon of

verbally coded thinking from their everyday life, but would only verbalize
internally and never vocalize loudly:

023 That I speak with myself? Well, I would say I would not speak it out loud.
If I do, then like [(stressed) internally].
Data Example 44. Snke 1004-Interview
Reactivity 169

This leads in the elicitation situation to situations like in the following

description: Here, thinking aloud blocks resources and by that potentially
changes the chain of thought.

43 Or generally, because I speak it out loud. Because, otherwise I would not

speak it out loud. And that is then a process that requires some thought.
Data Example 45. Snke 1004-Interview

3.4. Verbal code as a temporary modus of thinking

Even if thinking in a verbal code is perceived as a common phenomenon,

learners report that they do not always think in words:

30 I, because I kept telling myself what should I say now?, because I do not
think anything really at that moment, and [(laughing) what should I say
Data Example 46. Katharina-6001-Interview

Although it is not completely unfamiliar for Katharina to think in

words, this is not the case the whole time. In the elicitation situation this
puts her under pressure to find verbalizations that are not activated auto-
matically. This is a clear indicator that cognitive activities can be inter-
rupted and the focus be turned to verbalizable content.
As we can see, the subjects report very different experiences with the
think-aloud task in the elicitation situation. I therefore think that the find-
ings found in the research literature have to be specified by the following

Not every person processes information in cognitively the same way. The
simultaneous activation of a linguistic form occurs to different degrees in
different subjects. Therefore, the think-aloud method can require an activa-
tion of additional cognitive resources and cause interruptions of thought ac-
tivity in some subjects, while others are not influenced.
170 Evaluation of the think-aloud method

Thinking aloud can in some cases lead to the situation that subjects reflect
more on their processing than without vocalizing their thoughts. So, the
method can lead to a higher degree of structuring and processing of infor-

From this it follows that

Thinking aloud cannot be assumed to map thought activity in a completely

undisturbed way. We have to assume that the method interferes occasion-
ally with the cognitive activity of the subjects.

Thinking aloud is not per se a reactive or a non-reactive method. Besides

individually different cognitive processing types, other factors play a role,
which can enter and leave the focus of attention during a think-aloud ses-

4. Mental language switches

Another question which is closely linked to the discussion of validity is the

question about the language that is chosen for the vocalization.
The CLIL learners generally chose English as the most dominant lan-
guage for their think-aloud protocols.
In order to find out whether this choice was an effect of the elicitation
situation, the learners were asked the following interview questions:
1. You mostly thought aloud in English. Sometimes, however, you
switched to German. Can you tell me when you switched to German,
and why?
2. Would you say that you would have switched between the languages
in a similar way, had you been working on the tasks silently?
3. Do you think in your CLIL geography class rather in English or in
4. When do you tend to think in your CLIL class in English or when do
you do your homework in English?
5. In which situations in your CLIL class or when you do your home-
work do you tend to think in German?
Even in the answers to these questions individual differences are re-
vealed. In general, all learners report that they are familiar with the phe-
Mental language switches 171

nomenon of switching between the languages in thought. This can be

captured in the following hypothesis:

Multilingual persons switch in thoughts between the different language sys-


Most learners indicate that they switch from English to German when
they are confronted with a processing problem. This is in most cases a
problem in the linguistic problem space, namely a lack of adequate vocabu-
lary (Mona, Lara, Yvonne, Bianca, Karen, Roland).
Besides that, Snke, Jennifer, Karen and Roland state that they go back to
the English mode when they process a subject-specific problem. As another
cause for a switch, Snke and Svenja name emotionally charged situations,
e.g. when they are getting angry or when they start to get unmotivated.
Karen, Roland, Tamara and Britt report their experience that the linguistic
context has an impact on the language they think in. They stress the effect I
have assumed in the pilot studies for the data elicitation (see Chapter 7). Here,
Roland, Tamara and Britt let us know that they fall into the English mode es-
pecially when they work with English texts or have to write such a text.
The think-aloud protocols generally prove this statement right. Except
for Britt, all CLIL learners stay mostly in the English mode, and change
only in the following cases into their L1:

When vocalizing numbers and units, such as eins (one), sechsund-

neunzig (ninety-six), Grad Celsius (degree Celsius)
When confronted with conceptual problems, unsuccessful attempts at
reconstructing vocabulary (possible reason: reducing the cognitive load)
In metacomments about their own processing or the task das ist Mist
(That is bullshit), oh Gott (oh my God)
In experiencing lexical gaps, in which the concept is expressed in the
L1 and followed by L2 search activity
When communicating with the researcher (although she communcates
only in English!) Soll ich das aufschreiben? (Should I write that
down?), Darf ich was trinken? (May I drink something?)
As a marker indicating the end of the task processing: Gut (Good),
Dann weiter (On we go).
Several learners report that they tend to first think in German and then
translate into English (Mona, Lara, Yvonne, Bianca, Svenja). Kim men-
172 Evaluation of the think-aloud method

tions the interesting case that she translates L2 input into German for stra-
tegic reasons:

241 ... there are sometimes these subject-specific terms, when one speaks them
out loud in German, then one sees the relation or one can put them into con-
text then somehow. Mostly when I do not know exactly what it means.
242 Mmh.
243 Then
244 Mmh.
245 I look for the German word.
Data Example 47. Kim 1025-Interview

In the following example, Kim indicates that she has intentionally

picked English as the language for the think-aloud session.

259 ... Erm, would you say you would have switched in a similar way between
the languages, had you processed them silently?
260 If I had processed them silently, I think I would have predominantly
thought in German.
261 Ah yes. Okay. And why do you think you now have thought aloud in English
262 Because that was the task, and when one has entered that mode, one does
not switch so easily again.
Data Example 48. Kim 1025-Interview

A similar formulation can be found in Rolands interview. Here, these

two subjects report that the elicitation situation has an impact on the quality
of the data. I do not want to formulate this well-known phenomenon from
empirical research as a hypothesis, but stress how many factors play a role
in how the results are to be interpreted. Here, the value of a combination of
research methods becomes very obvious, because this issue had not been
addressed had not the interviews been part of the study.
Besides these two learners, I was surprised to hear that not less than half
the CLIL learners explicated that they evaluated their language switches as
authentic (Snke, Mona, Lara, Jennifer, Karen, Henriette, Britt). They as-
sume that they would switch in the same way in silent thinking. These re-
sults can be summarized in the following hypothesis:
Is thinking aloud a valid elicitation method? 173

Which language is activated as the language of thought in multilingual

speakers is influenced by the context language. Furthermore, if one lan-
guage has been chosen, switching to another language can be made more

5. Is thinking aloud a valid elicitation method?

How should we interpret the results of this subjective investigation? For

sure, we cannot assume that the interview statements are a one-to-one map-
ping of the actual events during the task processing. For instance, it is
possible that the learners overstress difficulties in the elicitation situation
because they regard their task solving as unsatisfactory and want to avoid a
loss of face.
Still, it remains a question whether the protocols allow valid statements
about conceptual and linguistic-rhetoric problem solving activity, or
whether all inferable processes are artificially generated and deviate from a
silent processing under normal circumstances.
If the method only has an impact on minor parts of the thought activity,
we can assume a holistically high validity. This is what we find in the in-
terviews of Mona, Bianca, Svenja, Tamara, Tim, Max, Jan and Joachim,
who do not assume that their thought activity has been changed to a high
degree in the session.

007 Was it awkward for you to think aloud?

008 Well, at the beginning it was a bit odd, but I got used to it fairly quickly.
Data Example 49. Mona 1005-Interview

030 Erm did you have the feeling that the thinking aloud disturbed you in any
031 No. Not really. No, not disturbed. I cant think of why it should have. It
doesnt matter whether I do it only in my head I mean when one speaks it
out loud, then it might take longer time, but not really restricted. No, I
wouldnt say so.
032 Okay. Erm did you have the feeling that the thinking aloud has helped you
in any way in solving the tasks?
033 Mmh. [(laughing) No.] Not either. I dont know. Whether I am thinking
aloud or silently, doesnt matter. No.
Data Example 50. Tamara 1022-Interview
174 Evaluation of the think-aloud method

015 Was it awkward for you to think aloud?

016 Well, yes, it was at the beginning, and in the end it became, it became eas-
ier and easier, and at some point you are so used to it that you do not even
notice anymore that you speak out loud.
Data Example 51. Tim 1104-Interview

015 Was it awkward for you to think aloud?

012 In the beginning it was awkward, because I do not say, because I didnt
know what to say. But after a while I got used to it and then I overcame this
Data Example 52. Max 1105-Interview

015 Was it awkward for you to think aloud?

004 Yes, in the beginning. But now I got so used to it, in the end. At first it was
a bit unfamiliar. But then at some point. Well, I think, I didnt think 100%
like I would otherwise, but rather much so.
Data Example 53. Jan 1120-Interview

030 Did you have the feeling that the thinking aloud disturbed you in any way?
018 Yes. Whenever I had to write something down, then it sometimes was dis-
turbing a litte. Then I had to concentrate on what to write down. But in gen-
eral it didnt disturb much.
019 Mh. But it was mainly when you wrote something down.
020 When writing down, yes.
021 Mh.
022 Otherwise it didnt
023 [(simultaneously) disturb. Otherwise not.]
Data Example 54. Joachim 1123-Interview

According to the learners own subjective statements, it seems unlikely

that the think-aloud method changes the thought activity generally. Fur-
thermore, I would not assume that subjects have a completely different
problem solving behaviour at their disposal, one for silent thinking, and
one for thinking aloud. So, because the research question here does not re-
quire any quantification of processes (e.g. How often do evaluation proc-
esses occur?), any exact validity measure does not possess too much rele-
Is thinking aloud a valid elicitation method? 175

The main argument for using the method still remains that hypothesis
and theory building about the L2 usage in meaning-focused contexts can
only be achieved if deep insights into mental processes can be achieved.
The think-aloud method can provide this basis.
Still, the subects statements do provoke thought. Many reports do not
correspond to the theoretical assumption uttered so often in the research lit-
erature, that thinking aloud can be made use of without provoking addi-
tional cognitive activities. On the basis of my data, I cannot follow these
one-sided positive evaluations of the method, exemplarily represented by
Ericsson and Simon (1993); rather, I think that a more differentiated pic-
ture is necessary.
The interviews with the wide range of answers, which in part are con-
tradictory, show how complex the situation is perceived by the learners. On
second thoughts this is not surprising: It reflects the character of the task.
So, the solving of a complex task with problem features cannot be assumed
to be a linear process, but rather a multi-layered and recursive one. Mental
activities can occur on different levels, and change their character in the
run of the solving in a dynamic way. On the other hand, thought activity
does not come in a single format. Human cognition is complex and not
only language-bound. If the learners are asked for simple answers, the fact
that they mirror their experience in a simplified way is not surprising.
Here, again, the advantage of the think-aloud method is that the learners
are not asked for their own cognitive processes; they have to be inferred on
the basis of a model of cognition. In that, it is possible to recognize phases
in which it is likely that problems of validity occur, which differ from
phase to phase. When a subject is extracting information from a map or a
climate graph, it is more likely that thought activity is accompanied by rep-
resentations in non-verbal form. If problem solving activities in the linguis-
tic problem space occur in these phases, they are probably based in the
method and have to be regarded as reactive. So, an interpretation can be
made on a reliable fundament if a coherent theoretical basis is present.
Furthermore, the interviews show to which different degrees people use
language as a tool for the structuring of their thoughts. These individual
cognitive differences and dynamics should gain more weight in the theo-
retical and methodological discussion about cognitions.
176 Evaluation of the think-aloud method

6. Summary

This chapter presented methodological results that were, so to speak, a bi-

product of the proper study: In order to obtain valid results from the proc-
ess data it was necessary to determine the extent to which the think-aloud
method really can provide valid data. In that, new theoretical insights could
be obtained which stress the individual character of cognitive processing:
Subjects perceive the method as disturbing their thought processes to dif-
ferent degrees, which should be acknowledged in a discussion about valid-
The analysis of the interview data suggested that thinking aloud can be
reactive and elicits data with a shifting character. Therefore, it should not
be used in research that is interested in exact quantitative measurements of
process phenomena. However, for the research interest followed here,
thinking aloud was evaluated as a highly useful tool that can provide in-
depth insights into cognitive processing.
Chapter 11
Results and discussion

1. Retrospective thoughts

It was the goal of this study to investigate on an empirical basis whether

the use of a foreign language as a working language leads to L2-specific
cognitive processing of subject-specific content, compared to the use of the
L1. In this matter, the investigation contributes to research about CLIL, but
also to the theoretical discussion about any kind of information processing
in which conceptual content and language play a role. I have tried to pre-
sent a theoretical framework which allows us to study conceptual and lin-
guistic-rhetorical mental activities in their interaction, and I have discussed
methodological ways of doing this on empirical grounds. From that, I have
generated hypotheses about the special character of the processing of
meaning-focused tasks in an L2 context.
I will summarize the most important results of the study, before I go on
to ask how they can be implemented practically in learning contexts that
deploy a foreign working language.

2. Theoretical results

Due to the embedding into results from cognitive psychology, the study
provides a solid basis for the theoretical discussion of the relation between
content processing and language. This has largely been lacking so far in re-
search about CLIL teaching and learning.
Here it becomes obvious that a theoretical integration of theories from
cognitive psychology and newer linguistic theories is useful and necessary,
because psycholinguistic results about language processing and results
about text composition can be integrated here. Niemeier (2000) has already
discussed the fact that the theoretical framework of Cognitive Linguistics is
highly suitable for the investigation of the relation between content and
language interaction in classroom settings, but her work has been largely
neglected in the context of CLIL research. After my theoretical considera-
tions, I recommend strongly that any discussion about the design of
178 Results and discussion

learning situations should make use of these conceptualizations; any scien-

tific discourse that operates on core concepts such as learning, thinking,
and language, needs a stringent conceptualization of what these concepts
actually mean, and which theoretical consequences they imply. Otherwise,
all didactic assumptions are built on a weak foundation. Therefore, lan-
guage acquisition research needs a well-established model of human cogni-
tions in which the role of language has to be located. This requires an ex-
tensive study of linguistic theories, along with a close observation of
developments in cognitive theories. One of the goals of my theoretical con-
siderations in this study was to contribute to the link between these neigh-
bouring disciplines that can profit strongly from each other, but have only
recently started to make use of each others results (e.g., Achard and Nie-
meier 2004, Robinson and Ellis 2008).
Out of these basic theoretical considerations I have developed a theo-
retical model of conceptual and linguistic-rhetorical task solving. This
model is based on the assumptions of information processing, problem
solving research, and constructivist and socio-cognitive conceptualizations,
and models how the interaction with tasks that show both a content and a
form side can be mapped as a string of problem solving activities with dif-
ferent foci. Here, conceptual and linguistic-rhetorical activities can be sepa-
rated from each other, whereby I introduced the subdivision in cognitive
elementary processes and task-specific solving phases. Furthermore, the
model considers how problem solving activities interact with the subjects
individual prior knowledge, goals, motivations and emotions, which in turn
are in interaction with context factors.
The model is kept rather general and can thus be used as a basis for
other research questions apart from the one followed here. With it the study
contributes to the discourse in problem solving research, which hitherto has
not discussed the role that language plays in problem solving.

3. Methodological results

Besides the theoretical results, the study focuses to a great deal on meth-
odological issues on process reserach, in particular on questions about the
think-aloud method and its validity with special regard to L2 context.
Here, it becomes obvious how essential a deep understanding of cogni-
tive theoretical basics is to conceptualizations such as language of thought,
modal and amodal representations of thought, problem solving, construc-
Methodological results 179

tion processes etc. Without them it is not really possible to consciously

choose a particular method, and to interpret the data obtained with its help.
Only when central concepts can be clearly distinguished from each other
(that might even look identical on the data surface) is it possible to recog-
nize them in the data, and to interpret them.
These theoretical considerations were followed by the insight that a
careful description of learner behaviour can only be made when the analy-
sis of internal cognition and input features, aspects of personality and of
social context are integrated. This was presented in the task analysis. Here,
the theoretical implications have an impact on the methodological frame-
work: Because in an empirical investigation of this format only a minor
range of potentially important factors can be controlled. Therefore I had to
restrict the data analysis on interactions that reveal themselves in the proc-
esses of the data base, without having to integrate learner features or con-
text factors for an explanation.
The analysis of the empirical data adds further facets to the general dis-
cussion about the validity of the think-aloud method. They are in coherence
with the constructivist and socio-cognitive macro-framework:
We find how strong the impact of individual construction processes is,
e.g. in the great interindividual differences in the role language plays in
thinking, or the individually perceived disturbance caused by vocalizing
thought. With this, the interview data of my study support the observation
that it is methodologically vital to distinguish different cognitive types in
subjects. This observation has coincidentally been made in the research on
the think-aloud method, but has never been underpinned systematically
with empirical data before.
As regards the validity of think-aloud data in L2 context, the pilot stud-
ies conducted for this investigation revealed that the language code that is
being used by the researcher has a strong impact on the choice the learners
make for their vocalization language. The learners reports in the interview
data hint at the fact that thinking aloud in the L2 can be a source of bias in
thought activitiy.
However, maybe the most important methodological insight from the
learner data is how inconsistent the character of the elicitation procedure
can be. From this follows that researchers need to be aware that the validity
of the method can change dramatically during a task processing session. I
would therefore not recommend the method for a quantitative investiga-
tion. However, the depth of insight it can provide in cognitive processing is
180 Results and discussion

invaluable and justifies its use for the generation of hypothesis and the in-
vestigation of patterns.
Finally, I want to summarize the hypotheses about the think-aloud
method that were obtained from the study.
Hypothesis TA1 has a theoretical motivation, while all the others build
on the empirical data base. TA5, TA6 and TA7 contribute new aspects to
the theoretical discussion, while the others have been addressed before, but
can be supported by my data. I would once more like to stress the impor-
tance of a modelling of individual, unstable and dynamic aspects in the
theoretical discussion.

3.1. The think-aloud method: Hypotheses

TA1 Language is activated in parallel

Human thought can be linked to different cognitive modalities, and is not
necessarily dependent on language. Still, when the focus is aimed at a spe-
cific concept, in many cases its linguistic form is automatically activated in
working memory.

TA2 People process differently

Not every person processes information in cognitively the same way. The
simultaneous activation of a linguistic form occurs to different degrees in
different subjects. Therefore, the think-aloud method can require an activa-
tion of additional cognitive resources and cause interruptions of thought ac-
tivity in some subjects, while others are not influenced. The impact of the
working language on the processing of conceptual content can vary strongly
between subjects, no matter whether an L1 or an L2 is being used.

TA3 Thinking aloud can enhance metacognitive processing

Thinking aloud can in some cases lead to the situation in which subjects re-
flect more about their processing than without vocalizing their thoughts. So,
the method can lead to a higher degree of structuring and processing of in-
Methodological results 181

TA4 Language of thought alternates

Multilingual persons alternate in thoughts between the different language
systems when thinking.

TA5 The context influences the choice of language of thought

Which language is activated as the language of thought in multilingual
speakers is influenced by the context language. Furthermore, if one lan-
guage has been chosen, switching to another language can be made more

TA6 Thinking aloud has incidental reactive effects

Thinking aloud cannot be assumed to map thought activity in a completely
undisturbed way. We have to assume that the method interferes occasion-
ally with the cognitive activity of the subjects.

TA7 The methods validity is dependent on a dynamic complex of factors

Thinking aloud is not per se a reactive or a non-reactive method. Besides
individually differnt cognitive processing types, other factors play a role,
which can enter and leave the focus of attention during a think-aloud ses-

These hypotheses are the result of a triangulation of different data sets

plus a thorough theoretical reflection. The interplay between the different
methods allows an insight into cognitive dynamics that exceeds the poten-
tial of a single methodology by far. In the following table, I give an over-
view of how the individual data types have contributed to the holistic re-
182 Results and discussion

Table 10. Contribution of individual data types to the study

framework: The L2 processing of conceptual content can be captured
within the framework of information processing and prob-
lem solving theory.

Problem solving activities can be subdivided into different

phases and microprocesses, which in turn can be described
on different levels of abstraction.

It is possible to subdivide activities in the conceptual and

the linguistic-rhetorical problem space.

protocols: Think-aloud protocols can be segmented and interpreted in
terms of phases and microprocesses.

Think-aloud data indicate when a switch takes place be-

tween the problem spaces.

A search in the linguistic problem space can trigger con-

struction activities in the content problem space.

answers: The written texts allow a more reliable interpretation of the
think-aloud data.

The answers support my hypothesis, because they give an

indication of the depth of semantic processing.

Interviews: Provide a validity check for the phenomena that have been
identified in the think-aloud data.

Indicate interindividual differences in processing.

Show that thinking aloud is partly reactive.

Empirical results 183

The theoretical and methodological findings of this study are products

of the necessary preparatory considerations before the empirical investiga-
tion could be conducted. On their basis, the empirical study was designed
and the data interpreted.
The results of this empirical investigation, which I summarize once
more in the next section, provide answers to the initial research question.

4. Empirical results

The analysis of the empirical data, with the think-aloud data as the primary
source, resulted in several hypothesis, which I will summarize here once
more. Some of them can be related to language reception and others to lan-
guage production.

4.1. Hypotheses on language production

LP1. Language as a catalytic converter

The transfer of conceptual content in a linguistic form leads to a reflection
about the semantic content and relationships, and through this to a deeper
semantic processing of the content.

LP2. Difficulties in expression enhance the catalytic function of language

If problems occur in the search for an adequate linguistic form in order to
express a conceptual content, often a thorough restructuring of the semantic
field follows, which leads to a deepening of conceptual meaning relations.

LP3. An L2 as a working language makes it more difficult to find an adequate

CLIL learners experience greater difficulties in the receptive L2 processing
than monolingual students when processing comparable information in their
L1. In many cases, the CLIL learners do not succeed in meaning construc-
184 Results and discussion

LP4. An L2 enhances deeper semantic processing more often than an L1

When an L2 is used as a working language, two kinds of linguistically trig-
gered deeper processing occur: Cases that are based on a general linguistic
focus, but also cases in which L2-specific processing activities lead to a
deeper semantic processing. So, when an adequate formulation for concep-
tual content has to be found, the use of an L2 enhances the effect of a
deeper semantic processing, because here additional instances of linguistic
problem solving occur compared to the use of an L1.

To put the results in a nutshell: Each focus on producing an adequate

linguistic form in order to express conceptual content has the potential to
deepen semantic relationships. Because of the more restricted ability for
expression in the L2, more cases of focus on form occur in an L2 process-
ing. So, an L2 as a working language enhances this effect.

4.2. Hypotheses on language reception

From the empirical data further hypotheses could be formed about particu-
larities in the reception of language in meaning-focused contexts. I will
summarize them in the following:

LR1: CLIL learners experience greater difficulties in decoding meaning-

focused texts
CLIL learners experience greater difficulty in decoding information from
L2 information texts than monolingual learners with comparable L1 texts.
The use of an L2 as a working language can lead to the situation that less
conceptual knowledge is expressed in the learners texts than is actually
mentally present.

LR2: CLIL learners compensate the decoding difficulties

CLIL learners are used to dealing with comprehension deficits when con-
structing a conceptual representation from linguistic input, and use context
information to compensate these. They are trained to go on focusing on a
text, even if they do not understand large parts of it.
Final remarks 185

LR3: Differences between L1 and L2 processing are gradual

L1 and L2 competence are not qualitatively different competences with
clear boundaries, but have to be regarded as lying on a proficiency contin-
uum. L1 users might experience less difficulties in mastering their working
language than L2 users, but even here, linguistic processing is not com-
pletely automatized.

As the data indicate, the CLIL learners had to face more decoding difficul-
ties with the L2 texts than the monolingual learners with the L1 texts. It is
surprising that the written answer differ only little in their subject-specific
quality between the two groups. We can surmise from this that the CLIL
learners compensate the lack of comprehension through context knowl-
edge. This assumption is supported by the interview data.

5. Implications for the design of learning contexts

What remains is to turn to the implications these results have on concrete

learning situations. Wolff (1997: 50) claims that each form of classroom,
including CLIL situations, needs activities which are in coherence with an
underlying theory of how learning takes place. Such a theory should con-
tain the possibilities for a development and improvement of teaching prac-
tice. This is a just claim, although rather broad, and therefore I want to first
answer rather broadly:
My results support a teaching methodology which is based on construc-
tivist and socio-cognitive, and by that in process-oriented and learner-
centered approaches.
The results of the study also have implications for a closer characterisa-
tion of CLIL contexts, and these might be somewhat surprising: Neither
from the cognitive-theoretical basis, nor from my data can I find any fea-
tures of L2 processing of content, which differ qualitatively from L1 proc-
essing. Language is nothing specific for CLIL classes. Therefore, it is not a
CLIL-specific task to develop language awareness or focussing on lan-
guage as a tool for thinking and for participation in discourse communities;
rather, these goals have to be pursued in any kind of classroom setting. So,
my claim is that linguistic awareness and language use have to be focused
on in any kind of classroom.
186 Results and discussion

However, my data support the relevance of CLIL settings. They show

that even when the learners experience L2-caused difficulties, they profit
from them, because the additional language-specific problem solving ac-
tivities cause deeper semantic processing. So, the use of an L2 as a working
language can be highly useful, even if the language competence is re-
According to the evidence in the data, it seems justified to promote the
use of an L2, even when the learners are not able to produce adequate for-
mulations that contain the whole complexity of their conceptual representa-
tion, because the deeper processing occurs nevertheless. However, it is still
unclear how well-developed the L2 competence needs to be in order to
avoid premature interruptions of the whole task solving process.
Even in decoding L2 text, the enhanced difficulties in constructing
meaning from linguistic form do not seem to lead to disadvantages in the
text understanding that is eventually reached.
Another issue that is suggested by the empirical data is that any form of
meaning-focused learning situations profits from a focus on form, espe-
cially in language production. This, again, is not reserved for L2 usage, but
holds true also for L1 classrooms. For institutionalized learning contexts
this means that any kind of curriculum should integrate a focus on lan-
guage, because language is a perfect tool with which to conceptualize and
define conceptual concepts and meaning relations. This claim has been
taken up in the discussion on language across the curriculum (Anson,
Schwiebert et al. 1993). My empirical results give further evidence for the
justification of this claim.
In the presentation of the results, I have indicated that the learners who
participated in the study focus rather superficially on language, and go
rather sparsely through activities in the linguistic problem space. This leads
in most cases to a somewhat superficial text comprehension and a very
rapid text composition with little reflection. I have assumed that this could
be due to the learners expectations vis-a-vis the task, which they perceive
as typically school-like. If this assumption should be right, then the learners
are not aware of the importance of conciseness in subject-specific answers.
This leads to the claim that this issue has to be addressed and practised in
class, because simultaneously with a focus on form, a reflection about the
subject-specific statement is achieved. This issue could best be achieved in
classrooms which provide space for the design of individual learning situa-
tions which take regard to a learners individual state of knowledge and
Final remarks 187

Yet another observation is of interest for concrete suggestions how to

proceed in CLIL classrooms: All CLIL learners in this investigation report
that they are used to asking the CLIL teacher immediately when they expe-
rience difficulties in comprehension. Obviously, they immediately receive
answers. Contrary to this practise, my results suggest that this is not neces-
sary, and not even useful: Firstly, the learners (at least in the group that
participated in this study) are perfectly capable of constructing an under-
standing of a text by making use of context information. Secondly, and
more importantly from a learning perspective, the data show that instances
of linguistic disturbance provide opportunities for a deeper semantic
processing and with that to learning.
Therefore, my claim would be to address linguistic questions and
heighten the awareness for the relationship between language and semantic
content, and provide opportunities where the learners have time to con-
struct meaning themselves.

6. What further research is needed?

This study has provided a starting point for further research in the relation-
ship between language and conceptual problem solving. Nevertheless, this
area is still highly underresearched, and several issues need to be investi-
gated further.
Firstly, we need to know more about the role of learner features in the
interaction between language and conceptual information processing. Be-
cause the individual variation in cases of linguistically caused semantic
deep-processing is so large, studies are necessary that shed light on correla-
tions between occurrences of cases and certain learner features. If it should
be possible to show that these features can be subject to alteration e.g.
language awareness results like this can be used as the basis for informed
recommendations for activities in the classroom (Fehling 2005). If, on the
other hand, the important learner features belong to the group of static
characteristics, then an awareness of relevant differences in learners can
lead to adequate reactions in learning situations as well. For investigations
like that a combination of methods seems necessary in which process data
are combined with tests in which potentially important constructs like mo-
tivation, language awareness and expectations towards the tasks can be
188 Results and discussion

One question that is closely linked to this is how the relationship be-
tween learner features and task features can be described in order to de-
velop learning tasks. In the discussion about task-based cognitive processes
in Chapter 3, I have already indicated that the degree of task difficulty can-
not be determined when the individual learners previous knowledge is not
identified. Such an investigation needs to be linked to the research on
learning tasks (Eckerth and Siekmann 2008; Ellis 2003, 2005a, b, Robinson
2007), but exceed questions of language acquisition. Here, too, problem
solving research can provide a suitable starting point.
The hypothesis about use of strategies in order to compensate for a lack
of L2 knowledge leads to the question whether CLIL learners tend to de-
velop stronger coping skills in frustrating or overchallenging situations, be-
cause they are used to dealing with patchy information and to the necessity
to infer lacking elements from other sources. Here, it would be highly in-
teresting to gain a systematic insight into how different strategies are used.
Besides performance process data, insights into strategical awareness and
strategical skills would be highly informative.
This studys results concerning the gain of semantically deeper process-
ing through the use of an L2 as a working language can only be generalized
to a certain degree; it is certainly not the case that a high degree of diffi-
culty in the input information does always lead to a more intense semantic
processing. Here, we still lack knowledge about how well the language
proficiency needs to be developed in order to trigger the conceptual proc-
esses, and when the learners are overchallenged to a degree that makes
them stop the task processing altogether. This question is particularly inter-
esting for the development of didactic material for different learner groups,
and has to be investigated empirically as well.
One further question, which can be linked to the previous one, is the
question of how multilingual speakers with extended language learners bi-
ographies deal with CLIL situations, e.g. learners with an immigrant back-
ground. Here, it could be investigated which different roles which language
system takes in different situations (see Ehlers 1998, 2003), and in particu-
lar, how the language of thought is influenced, e.g. by emotional attitudes.
An interesting design would be to let learners process similar tasks in
different languages, e.g. to not let them decide which language to use in
thinking aloud, and to compare the results.
A follow-up question would be whether CLIL learner actually develop a
bilingualism in subject-specific contexts. Snke, for instance, reports in his
interview that he does not assume that he would be able to express geogra-
Final remarks 189

phy-specific content in German with the same proficiency as in English. If

this was indeed the case, and would hold for a representative group of
CLIL learners, then this form of subject-specific education would not hold
what the pedagogical concept actually started out to achieve.
Furthermore, what is not really proven yet is whether the incidental
cases of deeper semantic process that I was able to identify in the think-
aloud protocols actually lead to a real learning effect, and in how far a
measurable learning achievement is the result. Here, Chis experiements
about task-based learning could be used as a model (Chi 1997, 2000; Chi,
de Leeuw et al. 1994; Chi, Feltovich et al. 1981; Chi and Glaser 1985; Chi,
Glaser et al. 1982; Chi and Koeske 1983). Such a design requires pre- and
post-test studies, and possibilities for the mapping of knowledge structures,
such as the technique of concept mapping (Koch 2005, 2007).

7. Final remarks

In foreign language research, the ideal teaching method remains the holy
grail of research. And in study after study, it remains difficult to give sim-
ple answers to questions about causal relationships between method and
learning achievement. Maybe the question is not the right one: Although it
is understandable to wish for clear answers and a guaranteed recipe for
successful methods, I would assume that it is not doing justice to the highly
complex field of investigation. The range of factors that can have an impact
on individual performance is so vast that no research design, no matter how
careful it is elaborated, can capture it all.
Of course, the question remains which goals research on learning and
teaching, and research in general, has to reach. For sure, learning should be
optimated, learning should be initiated, learners need to be empowered to
pursue their individual goals and to become self-determined members of
society. The more CLIL teachers, but also foreign language teachers and
subject teachers learn about the interrelation between language and concep-
tual learning the better they will be able to understand what is going on in
their classroom, and the better they will be able to make informed and co-
herent decisions in novel situations.
Therefore, I deem a connection between research and teaching, and be-
tween activities in the classroom and a coherent theoretical construct, as
absolutely necessary but not in the form that an obligatory teaching man-
ual is presented, not even when the necessity of research is questioned un-
190 Results and discussion

less it produces these manuals. The goal is instead to raise awareness of the
complexity of factors and the circumstances in which learning takes place.
Only when such an understanding is achieved can the results of empirical
research in the field be interpreted and appreciated.
Part of the problem is that research should be perceived as a process in
which the dynamic character of how insight is achieved is at the centre.
Here it needs to be accounted for relativity of results, the vast width of fac-
tors and the problem that this complexity can only be reduced with a loss
of (potentially important!) detail. Theoretical frameworks enable the re-
searcher to find a path through the jungle; however, with its help, only part
of the problem can be grasped at a time. To learn to cope with this discrep-
ancy has to be part of any qualifying education for teachers. Results of
carefully conducted empirical research form necessary corner stones, but at
the same time they run the risk of being based on a too simplified view of
the phenomena that occur in reality. I would therefore like to advocate that
the ongoing scientific discourse with its potential of awareness raising and
learning is a superior goal to the obtaining of clear results and easily di-
gestable truths.
Transcription conventions

. Single dot surrounded by blanks: minimal


.. Two dots: short pause of less than a second/of x


(x s) Pause of x second(s)

[(whispering) and then] Qualifyer in round brackets modifies utterance

in square brackets

coordinaaaaaates Reiteration of letters indicates slow and

stretched-out speech

coordinates Text in quotation marks is read

coordinates Text in italics indicates deviating pronunciation

from what is in the text

[(writing) coor- (1 s) -dinates] Underlined text: speech accompanied by writing


coordinates. Single dot after word: Falling intonation

coordinates? Question mark: Raising intonation

xx Utterance incomprehensible, one x per


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accommodation, 29, 31 competence tests, 3

accretion, 29 compound and coordinate
applied linguistics, 37, 40 bilingualism, 10
assimilation, 29, 31 Comprehensible Input Hypothesis,
concept mapping, 189
BICS, 12 conceptual knowledge, 8, 16, 22,
Bilingual Education, 1, 2 36, 37, 42, 59, 121, 124, 133,
138, 184
construction (as cognitive process),
CALP, 12 4, 6, 15, 23, 26, 29-32, 35, 37,
case grammar, 39 38, 42, 45, 47, 59, 61-64, 66,
CLIL, 1-4, 127, 177, 185, 187, 188 70, 73, 74, 76-81, 102, 116,
paradox, 4 124, 143, 152, 153, 156, 160,
climate graphs, 6, 35, 45, 69, 70, 71, 178, 179, 182, 183
77-79, 86, 87, 95, 96, 109, 116 constructivism, 11, 13, 21, 24, 35,
Content and Language Integrated 37, 40, 64, 66, 73, 149, 178,
Learning, see CLIL 179, 185
coding (data), 56, 99-102, 116, 118, content learning, 3
160 context (as source of information),
cognition, 8, 14, 17, 23, 29, 36, 69, 73, 4, 6, 9, 15, 19, 28, 35, 38, 44,
87, 88, 90, 99, 175, 178, 179 49, 50, 58, 65, 74, 106, 157-
cognition hypothesis, 34 160, 178, 179, 181, 185, 187
cognitive ability, 11 continuum, 25, 26, 31, 127, 146,
cognitive complexity, 25 185
Cognitive Linguistics, 13, 14, 17, 21, Contrastive Hypothesis, 11
36, 57, 177 curriculum, 33, 186
cognitive processes, 1, 5, 6, 19, 24-26,
28, 30, 32, 35-37, 40, 50, 57, 69, deeper processing, 7, 124, 126-
77, 83, 86, 89, 90, 99, 150, 162, 129, 139, 143, 146, 147, 159,
163, 175, 188 160, 183, 184, 186-189
cognitive psychology, 8, 9, 14, 19, 21, design of learning contexts, 185
24, 27, 36, 40, 55, 74, 89, 177 dual coding, 20, 21
cognitive shift, 8
cognitive task analysis, 7, 73, -75, 80
comparison (as cognitive process), 23, editing, 43, 49, 116
25, 26, 32, 61, 63, 102, 138 elicitation tasks, 5, 6, 35, 50, 58,
compensation, 4, 157, 159, 184, 185, 66, 68, 69, 76, 77, 79, 81, 83,
188 91, 148, 160
Index 215

empirical, 5, 6, 7, 8, 16, 21, 22, 33, 35, inner speech, 18, 19, 84
37-39, 45, 49, 51, 56, 58, 65-68, Interaction Hypothesis, 33
76, 83-86, 172, 177, 179, 180, 183, Interdependence Hypothesis, 12
184, 186, 188, 190 Interpretation (as cognitive proc-
enactive theories, 21 ess), 10, 15, 24, 38, 39, 70, 73
encyclopaedic knowledge, 9, 14, 21, introspection, 82-84
22, 39, 40, 57, 59, 64
evaluate (as cognitive process), 23, 28,
50, 54, 62, 64, 88, 133, 138, 148 keyboard protocols, 89
eye movement data, 38, 82, 89 knowledge
declarative, 79
procedural, 32, 45, 75, 80
feature semantics, 13, 14 telling, 45, 46, 47, 49
focus transforming, 47-49, 50, 147
on form, 1, 32-35, 127, 184, 186
on forms, 33, 34
on meaning, 1, 2, 32-35 L1, 1, 2, 6, 10, 11, 12, 51, 56, 68,
format of thought, 15, 19, 84 90, 92, 93, 118, 119, 124, 128-
frame semantics, 14 132, 139, 141, 143, 146, 147,
functional approach, 25, 26, 30, 31, 153, 171, 177, 180, 183-185,
38, 50, 127 187
proficiency, 3, 11, 143
gaps, 7, 38, 39, 106, 150, 171 -specific processes, 56
garden path experiments, 38 language
geography, 2, 3, 35, 49, 68, 69, 73, 76, acquisition, 2, 10, 12, 23, 33,
157-159, 170, 188 34, 83, 178, 188
goal state, 5, 28, 31, 43, 58, 59, 62, 65, of thought, 19, 20, 84, 94, 173,
66 178, 181, 188
gradience, 14 production, 40, 41, 53, 54, 64,
70, 128, 183, 186
switches, 41, 90, 91, 170, 172
imagery debate, 19 learner
immersion programme, 2 characteristics, 6
individual differences, 13, 84, 89, 130, type, 88
159, 170, 179, 182 linguistic
inference, 20, 38-40, 160 determinism, 16, 17
information (as cognitive construct), knowledge, 5, 8-14, 21, 22, 45,
5, 6, 20-29, 31-40, 44, 45, 49, 54, 54, 57, 62, 64
55, 58, 61, 64, 69, 70, 73, 75-82, processing, 6, 9, 36, 48, 56, 68,
86, 95, 106, 116, 119, 126, 170, 80, 127, 146
175, 180, 183, 184, 187, 188 relativity, 4, 16, 17, 120
processing, 25, 27, 30, 37, 57, 59,
66, 85, 130, 177, 178, 182, 187
216 Index

structure, 1, 2, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, perception, 8, 9, 16, 17, 25, 26, 73,
19, 22, 33, 34, 38, 39, 40, 59, 63, 88
102 phase (of problem solving), 4, 7,
long-term memory, 44, 45, 50, 54, 127 30-32, 35, 43, 44, 57, 61-66, 75,
76, 80, 96-98, 101, 102, 114, 116,
128, 130, 148, 150, 175, 178, 182
meaning-focused pilot study, 73, 91-93, 163, 171,
problem solving, 1, 8 179
task, 5, 26, 28 presupposition, 40
memory, 9, 21, 23-26, 30, 31, 35, 39, problem (as mental category), 4, 5,
45, 47, 49, 58, 59, 70, 76, 79, 80, 23, 27, 30, 31, 35, 42, 47, 49, 51,
106, 124, 126, 127 57, 58, 65, 66, 69, 70, 74, 75, 79,
mental 81, 82, 92, 93, 95, 96, 114, 116,
lexicon, 9, 13, 22, 40, 41, 80 129, 131, 143, 171, 175
model, 20, 21, 40, 83, 121 problem solving theory, 28, 182
processes, 6, 7, 8, 23, 26, 30, 32, problem space, 27, 47-49, 58, 59,
37, 40, 51, 67, 69, 73, 74, 76, 80, 61, 62, 65, 66, 101-111, 116,
86, 90, 92, 98, 99, 106, 175 119, 124, 130, 133, 148, 161,
representation, 1, 6, 10, 16, 21, 22, 171, 176, 183, 187
23, 24, 27, 32, 40, 41, 47, 59, 62, proposition, 19, 20, 40, 80
63, 73, 75, 80, 84, 95, 96, 102, prototype theory, 14, 21
107, 111, 114, 116, 124, 128, 130
mentalese, 19
metacognition, 64, 86, 87, 163, 180 qualitative, 7, 87, 89, 116, 124,
methodology, 3, 4, 6, 17, 68, 81-85, 139, 146, 150, 185
92, 93, 99, 118, 119, 143, 148, quantitative, 7, 26, 130, 146, 176,
150, 175, 177-179, 182, 183, 185 179
mispronunciation, 151-153, 158
modality-specific, 21
monitor, 28, 43, 44, 89, 163 reactivity, 88, 89, 93, 162, 165,
monolingualism, 12 167
multilingualism, 10, 12 reading, 6, 20, 37, 38, 42, 50, 57,
62, 91, 96, 101, 107, 152, 159,
noticing hypothesis, 33, 34 reconstruction, 23, 29, 30, 32, 35,
61, 63, 64, 78-80, 81, 124
reliability, 106, 107
operation, 24, 26, 27, 30, 59, 68 revising, 44, 45
orthography, 111, 114, 150 rules, 9, 22, 33, 80, 127

parallel processing, 24, 41, 96, 150, schema, 14, 29, 30, 39, 55
164, 180 script, 14, 15, 40
pause, 106, 149-150 semantic primitives, 13, 14
Index 217

social context, 6, 19, 35, 1179 understanding (as cognitive proc-

sociocultural, 9, 55, 65 ess), 32, 37, 38, 61-63, 75, 80,
theory, 17, 19 116, 148, 159, 186, 187
strategy, 12, 25, 28, 31, 44, 51, 55, 64,
87, 88, 157, 160, 163, 167, 172,
188 validity, 7, 83, 91, 114, 116, 162-
subjective, 21, 24, 65, 73, 107, 163, 163, 170, 173-176, 178-182
173, 174 variables of personality, 64
data, 163 verbal protocol, 82, 84, 86, 130
theories, 163 vocalization, 86, 149, 150, 152,
subject-specific competence, 3, 157 164, 170, 179
SUP, 12
syllabus, 2, 33, 34
world knowledge, see encyclope-
dic knowledge
task, 1, 3-5, 6, 26, 29, 30-35, 39, 42, working memory, 40, 50, 54, 85,
44, 45, 47, 55, 57-67, 69, 70-83, 87, 89, 93, 109, 131, 150, 164,
85-88, 90, 91, 93-96, 102, 106, 167, 180
107, 117, 124, 126, 131, 133, 134, writing, 41-57, 66, 82, 85, 96, 97,
139, 148, 160, 162, 165, 175, 178, 98, 99, 101, 116, 124, 131, 132,
185, 188 139
design, 6, 34, 58, 69, 73, 148, 160
teaching method, 185, 189
text zone of proximal development, 1
composition, 1, 6, 37, 4145, 47,
49, 50, 56, 85, 127, 128, 130, 177,
comprehension, 3740, 160, 161,
text written so far, 45, 54, 55, 65
think-aloud data, 6, 7, 92, 94, 99, 101,
106, 107, 117, 139, 160, 179, 182,
thinking, 1523, 25, 30, 35, 43, 49, 85,
92, 93, 164-169, 178, 179, 181,
for speaking, 16, 17
thought, see thinking
transcription, 84, 99
translating, 56, 85
triangulation, 5, 83, 88, 181