Does Output Promote Noticing and Second Language Acquisition
Focus of the study: This study investigates the noticing component of Swain’s Output Hypothesis, which claim that while learners try to produce in their L2, they may notice gaps in their current linguistic knowledge, which then triggers their seeking input. This study aims to seek answers for the following questions: a) do output activities trigger noticing of linguistic form in input? b) do output activities lead to gains in the production of a target form? The study seeks asnwers for these questions by focusing on counterfactual/hypothetical conditionals in English.
Instructional settings and participants: 18 adult ESL learners who were enrolled in an academic writing course at a community college in the U.S. participated in this study. The students had taken another writing course before this course. The placement of students was determined by a departmental writing placement test or completing the previous level of this writing course. To assign participants into the groups of experimental and control groups, theyr were given a pretest and subsequently placed in either group in a way to make equal representation of students with various levels.
Instrumentation and procedure: The completion of the entire study took about five hours spread over one-month period. The study adopted was a pretest-post test quasi- experimental design. The treatment included two stages with two tasks at each stage. After each stage of the treatment, a posttest was given to students. The students were intially exposed to rich input including many examples of the hypothetical conditonal in English in context and subsequently were given an opportunity to produce this structure. In line with the output hypothesis, experimental group participants were expected to notice their lack of knowledge during the production and thus pay attention to related linguistic forms in the subsequent input provided. On the other hand, the control group was asked to answer true/false comprehension questions. The first stage of the treatment was composed of an essay-writing task. At this stage, students wrote a composition on a topic specificly chosen to elicit hypothetical conditonal. Then, they were given a model essay written by a native speaker and asked to underline conditional forms to prepare for the second writing task. Finally, they were asked to write another essay on the same topic. The second stage of the study included text-reconstruction tasks. Students are first given input passage to read and underline conditional forms during reading. Then, they are asked to reconstruct the passage as correctly as possible. They were then given another input passage and subsequently asked to reconstruct the text again paying attention to accuracy.
Results and discussion: The results of this study did not yield confirming evidence for the noticing function of the output hypothesis. This might be related to methodological weakness in this study, which was having learners underline target forms as a way of measuring noticing. The study did not find superiority of the output group over non-output group. Likewise, output was not fount to be a triggering factor for noticing linguistic forms in input. As interview data revealed, the fact that output group was not found to be better than the non-output group might be due to learners’ being unaware of their problems and thus failure to pay attention to forms in the input. This finding highlights the role of learners’ awareness of their problems for them to be able to notice the linguistic forms in input.