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Overview on Learning in Interaction
For many years, we thought of the process of language learning as a matter of construction, in which learners consciously memorized grammar rules and vocabulary, and recited them in a testing environment. In this view, we would build a language the way we might construct a wall of stones. In such a process the learner consciously focuses on language rules and vocabulary. But second language acquisition research suggests that such a focus on form is inadequate, if viewed as the sole process for internalizing a second language.
Corder (1967) proposed a more organic view of second language acquisition; in this view, learner language development is guided by the learner’s ‘built-in syllabus,’ just as a plant’s development is guided by its DNA. Like a plant, learner language develops best in good environmental conditions; the learner should be surrounded by meaningful language input, and use learner language spontaneously in meaning-focused interaction. Current research on second language acquisition (SLA) supports the view that learners need such opportunities to use the language in interaction, while they are focused on meaning.
A balance between form and meaning is best in the classroom. Currently, researchers promoting Focus on Form recommend that language classrooms should provide an ongoing focus on meaning with periodic scaffolding from focus on form (Doughty, 2001; Lyster, 2007; Mackey, 2007; Norris and Ortega, 2000). In unscripted oral interactions, teachers and other students can provide the learner with language input, scaffolding, and support at moments when the learner needs help producing forms in the language. Together, learners co-construct more complex and accurate utterances than they could possibly produce by themselves, and through its use in such spontaneous, unrehearsed interactions, each individual’s learner language has opportunities to develop and grow.
Below are some quotations from second language acquisition researchers that we have found helpful in understanding this process of second language acquisition in interaction:
Second-language learners are ‘individually novices’ but ‘collectively experts’. Collective scaffolding [in interaction] can ‘reduce the gap between task difficulty level and individual abilities’ (Donato, 1994)
‘People working jointly are able to co-construct contexts in which expertise emerges as a feature of the group.’ The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) ‘is more appropriately conceived of as the collaborative construction of opportunities for individuals to develop their mental abilities’ (Lantolf, 2000, p. 17).
‘Speaker/hearers collaboratively produce utterances which they jointly own. And language acquisition is realized through a collaborative process whereby learners appropriate the language of the interaction as their own, for their own purposes, building grammatical, expressive and cultural competence through this process.’ (Ohta, 2000, p. 51)
Multimedia Activities focused on Interaction
Photos used with Creative Commons permission from:
brick wall - http://www.flickr.com/photos/zircular/1968625590/sizes/s/
plant scaffold - http://www.flickr.com/photos/adombrowski/5031880031/sizes/s/