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CLL lecture: L2 research methodology. 19 October 2004 Florencia Franceschina. Exercise : Investigating the effects of instruction A teacher has drilled her students in the structure called 'indirect questions': Do you know where my book is? Do you know what time it is?

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CLL lecture: L2 research methodology

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CLL lecture: L2 research methodology

19 October 2004

Florencia Franceschina

Exercise: Investigating the effects of instruction

A teacher has drilled her students in the structure called 'indirect questions':

  • Do you know where my book is?

  • Do you know what time it is?

  • Did he tell you what time it is?

    As a direct result of the drills, all students in the class were able to produce the structure correctly in class. After class, a student came up to the teacher and asked:

  • Do you know where is Mrs Irving?

    In other words, only minutes after the class, in spontaneous speech, the student used the structure practised in class incorrectly.

1. What do you think is the reason for this misuse?

2. Had the lesson been a waste of time?

3. How would you find out?

4. What can you conclude from this example?

G&S (2001: 13)

Problem: Is this competence or performance?

One can only ever observe performance, and infer competence from it.


How can one be confident that particular performance samples are a reflection of competence of the type we are targeting?

Towards a solution

1. Select tasks in a careful and principled way

2. Whenever possible, elicit more than one type of performance measure and then triangulate.

Another common problem

Elusive language:

Some types of language are usually very hard to find (at least in enough quantities)

Solution: Be as inventive as possible!


Devise a task to elicit many examples of questions in children in a way that is as natural as possible.

Methodological decisions

What do you want to find out about learner language?

What design and data are appropriate

for your RQ?

  • Longitudinal vs. cross-sectional designs

  • Experimental vs. naturalistic data

  • Investigating competence vs. performance

  • Triangulation

What types of learners will you be working with?

  • Child vs adult

  • Literate vs illiterate

  • Educated vs uneducated

  • Level of L2 proficiency

  • Etc.

    The above will restrict your choice of tasks.

Are you clear about:

  • the theory of language that you will adopt?(e.g., functionalist, formalist, etc.)

  • the theory of language learning that you will adopt?(e.g., UG-based, emergentist, etc.)

    Your answers to these questions will determine the type of data/analysis that will be appropriate for your study.

Types of analyses

What type of linguistic analysis is required?

  • Sociolinguistic

  • Linguistic

  • Psycholinguistic

  • Neurolinguistic

  • Etc.

What level of linguistic analysis is required?

  • Phonetic

  • Phonological

  • Morphological

  • Syntactic

  • Semantic

  • Pragmatic

  • Stylistic

    This will determine the basic units of analysis that are appropriate.


A common mistake is to assume that accuracy (i.e., target-like behaviour) is the only relevant criterion in interlanguage analysis

However, other criteria can also be informative, such as

  • Decrease incomplete absence of an L2 feature

  • Increase in attempts at expressing that L2 feature

  • Temporary oversuppliance of an L2 feature

  • Increased accuracy

Types of data

Exercise: Classifying tasks and data

Tools for analysis

  • Transcription conventions (e.g. LIDES manual

  • CLAN (

  • Wordsmith, etc.

  • Statistics

  • Psychological testing (e.g., working memory tests)

Some commonly used analysis techniques

  • SOC

  • TLU

  • MLU (mean length of utterance)

  • MLS (mean length of sentence)

  • MTUL (mean T-unit length)

  • Type/token ratio


1. Corpora


  • ICLE(International Corpus of Learner English; see Graeme Hughes about access)

    2. Other

  • Linguist-List web site

  • SLARG links page


Gass, S. and L. Selinker 2001: Second language acquisition. An introductory course. (2nd edition) Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. (Chapter 2)

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