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Focus on Form in Second Language Acquisition. Cheng Xiaotang School of Foreign Languages and Literature Beijing Normal University. I. What is focus on form?. Background:

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focus on form in second language acquisition

Focus on Formin Second Language Acquisition

Cheng Xiaotang

School of Foreign Languages and Literature

Beijing Normal University

i what is focus on form
I. What is focus on form?


After a long time of debate on the advantages and disadvantages of form-focused instruction and meaning-focused instruction, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the mainstream view on this issue seemed to agree that second language teaching (acquisition) that is primarily meaning-focused can be improved if some degree of attention is paid to form.

a few definitions
A few definitions:

Focus on form … overtly draws students’ attention to linguistic elements as they arise incidentally in lessons whose overriding focus is on meaning or communication (Long, 1991, cited in Doughty, 2001)

Focus on form involves an occasional shift in attention to linguistic code features — by the teacher and/or one or more students — triggered by perceived problems with comprehension or production (Long and Robinsin, 1998)
Focus on form: within a communicative approach, referring to learners and teachers addressing formal features of language that play a role in the meanings that are negotiated. This is contrasted with a focus on formS, which emphasis formal aspects rather than meaningful activities (Carter and Nunan, 2001).

… a focus on form entails a focus on formal elements of language, whereas focus on forms is limited to such a focus, and focus on meaning excludes it. … the fundamental assumption … is that meaning and use must already be evident to the learner at the time that attention is drawn to the linguistic apparatus needed to get the meaning across (Doughty and Williams, 1998).

iii why focus on form
III. Why focus on form?

(1) When classroom second language learning is entirely experiential and meaning-focused (e.g., the immersion program in Canada), some linguistic features do not ultimately develop to target-like levels.

(2) Aspects of the L2 input learners need to notice, but do not (for whatever reason), will require some kind of pedagogical intervention (Doughty, 2002).

(3) Pedagogical interventions embedded in communicative activities can be effective in overcoming classroom limitations on SLA.

(4) Focus on form can push learners beyond communicatively effective language toward target-like second language ability; It can speed up natural acquisition processes

iv different responses to focus on form
IV. Different responses to focus on form
  • Teachers adhering to communicative language teaching reject it;
  • Traditional grammar-oriented teachers take it as an justification for a return to grammar
  • FonF enthusiasts try to explore how FonF can be implemented
v research issues on fonf
V. Research issues on FonF

(1) Whether or not to focus on form: There are reasons both for and against form on form. Presently it is generally agreed the classroom context should be considered when deciding whether or not to focus on form.

(2) Timing for focus on form: What is the ideal time for FonF to take place? Pre-decided or only when triggered by need? How long should it be?

(3) Contextual factors affecting focus on form: What factors need be considered when deciding on the nature and degree of focus on form, e.g., the nature of the language program (immersion vs. intensive programs) and learner factors (e.g., age)?
(4) Proactive versus reactive focus on form: A proactive approach would entail selecting in advance an aspect of the target to focus on, whereas a reactive stance would require that the teacher notice and be prepared to handle various learning difficulties as they arise.
(5) What forms to focus on: Which forms do learners need to focus on? What forms are amendable to FonF?

(6) The degree of explicitness: To what extent should attention to form be explicit? That is, should learning tasks aim to draw learner attention to form unobtrusively or, instead, to direct learner attention to the problem area more explicitly?

(7) Curricular decision: Can certain tasks be designed during which problematic forms are likely to arise so that there is an opportunity to focus on form?

(8) Cognitive underpinnings of focus on form: What are the cognitive processes that the learner goes through when focus on form takes place? (Doughty, 2001)

vii ways of focusing on form
VII. Ways of focusing on form
  • Conscious reflection
  • Noticing the gap
  • Hypothesis formulation and testing
  • Meta-talk
  • recasting
  • Typographical (visual) input enhancement: manipulation of italics, bolding, enlargement, underlining, colouring,

Carter, Ronald and Nunan, David. 2001. The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Doughty, Catherine. 2001. Cognitive underpinnings of focus on form. In Robinson, P. (ed.), Cognition and Second Language Instruction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Doughty, Catherine, 2003. Instructed SLA: Constraints, compensation, and enhancement. In Doughty, Catherine and Long, Michael (eds.), The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition. Blackwell.

Doughty, Catherine and Williams, Jessica. (Eds.) 1998. Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Long, Michael and Robinson, Peter. 1998. Theory, research and practice. In Doughty, Catherine and Williams, Jessica. (Eds.), Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Long, Michael. 1991. Focus on form: A design feature in language teaching methodology. In K. de Bot, Ginsberg, R. and Kramsch, C. (eds.), Foreign Language Research in cross-cultural perspective. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.