Communicative language teaching and form-focused instruction Nina Spada University of Toronto
Different versions of CLT • Strong version: Exclusive focus on meaning; no attention to form • Weak version: Attention to form and meaning Howatt, 1984
Strong version of CLT has led to many myths & misconceptions CLT means an exclusive focus on meaning CLT means no explicit feedback on error CLT means learner-centred teaching CLT means listening and speaking practice CLT means avoidance of the learner’s L1
Why such a strong reaction against traditional methods of L2 teaching? • Pedagogic concerns • Grammar translation useful for the study of grammar and vocabulary but not speaking and listening • Fatigue and frustration on the part of teachers and learners with the limitations of dialogue memorization and pattern practice drills of the audiolingual method.
Research on the effects of traditional approacheson L2 learning …. • develop grammatical knowledge • not successful in “using” that knowledge • develop reading comprehension ability • struggle with listening comprehension • not able to use language communicatively • not able to use language accurately
Theoretical influences of CLT • Communicative competence (Hymes, 1972) • Comprehensible input hypothesis (Krashen, 1984) • Interaction hypothesis (Long, 1983, 1996)
Communicative competence • Knowledge of language consists of more than a knowledge of the rules of grammar but also knowledge of the rules of language use • Functional linguistics (Halliday,1973) • Notional/functional syllabus design
Comprehensible Input Hypothesis • Similarities between the process of learning a first and second language • Yet, major differences in outcomes particularly with L2 classroom learners • Create conditions for learning a second language that are similar to those of first language acquisition
Comprehensible Input Hypothesis • Expose learners to meaningful and motivating input that is • just slightly beyond their current level of linguistic competence but … • comprehensible enough for the learners to understand • L2 learners should be able to; • integrate the new input into their developing language systems and create a grammar
Interaction Hypothesis • L2 learners do not need to learn grammar in order to participate in conversations. RATHER • L2 learners, like L1 learners, need to participate in conversations to learn grammar. (Hatch, 1978)
Research on CLT (Strong version) • Content-based programs • e.g. French immersion programs in Canada, bilingual programs in the US • CLT programs with children and adults • Task-based language teaching • Comprehension-based programs with children and adults
Research findings: Strong version of CLT • Learners develop comprehension skills, vocabulary knowledge, communicative ability and communicative confidence However… • They continue to experience difficulties with grammatical accuracy in their oral and written production
Form-focused instruction (FFI) • Any effort to draw learners’ attention to form within communicative and meaning-based contexts (Spada, 1997) • Explicit or implicit • Direct instruction or corrective feedback
Results of FFI research • Many studies in CLT & content-based classrooms • Instruction that is meaning-based and includes attention to form is more effective than instruction which: • focuses exclusively on meaning OR • focuses exclusively on form (Spada, 2010; Lightbown & Spada, 2013)
Focus on form and communication Greater focus on one? Equal focus on both?
Other questions of interest to teachers and researchers • Are there better ways to draw learners attention to form? • Do learners develop different types of L2 ability depending on the way in which their attention is drawn to form?
Are there better ways to draw learners attention to language form? • TYPE of form-focused instruction • Explicit versus Implicit • TIMING of form-focused instruction • Integrated or Isolated
Research findings: Explicit versus Implicit FFI Explicit attention to form is more effective than implicit attention to form (Norris & Ortega, 2000; Spada & Tomita, 2010) BUT… that depends on what type of L2 knowledge is measured in the studies.
Are there better times to provide FFI? Are there better times in the instructional sequence to draw learners’ attention to form? Before or after communicative practice? During communicative practice?
Timing of FFI • Integrated: Attention to form always embedded in communicative practice • Isolated: Attention to form always separate from communicative practice Spada & Lightbown, 2008
Arguments for Isolated FFI? • Traditional presentation, practice, pedagogy • Traditional presentation, practice, pedagogy • A natural way to teach • Humans are limited capacity processors • You can’t pay attention to everything at once • Motivation • No interruption of communicative interaction
Arguments for Integrated FFI Efficiency: Two for One Students have an opportunity to communicate and receive feedback at the same time Motivation Immediate help is available precisely when it is needed
Transfer Appropriate Processing • When we learn something, our memories record not only the item learned but the cognitive and perceptual processes that were engaged while learning the item. • Subsequently, when we try to remember the item learned, we also recall aspects of the learning process Blaxton, 1989; Morris et al, 1977
Transfer Appropriate Processing Therefore…. the greater the similarity between how we learned something and our later efforts to retrieve that knowledge, the greater chances of success
Type of instruction & L2 knowledge Isolated FFI Integrated FFI
The Study • 109 adult ESL learners in four classes • 2 Isolated FFI; 2 integrated FFI • 2 teachers • 1 taught Isolated FFI and 1 taught the Integrated FFI classes • Target feature: “be-passive” Many cars were stolen last year. The file was deleted from the computer.
Instruction • 12 hours • Same amount of time on form and meaning-based practice • Form activities: • Attention to form only • Meaning activities: • Attention to meaning only • 12 hours • Same amount of time on form and meaning-based practice • All activities: • Attention to meaning first then attention to form woven into the meaning-based activities Integrated FFI Isolated FFI
Language Measures • Error Correction Task Laws are making by the government. made Laws are making by the government. • Oral Production Task The package was sent to the wrong address. It was returned to the post office.
Results • Both groups significantly improved over time on the passive form: • Error correction task • Oral production task Interpretation: As long as learners receive a combination of form and meaning-based practice, differences in the timing of attention to form may be less important
Results • Learners in the Isolated FFI classes performed better on the ECT • Learners in the Integrated FFI classes performed better on the OPT
Criteria for selecting Isolated or Integrated FFI for L2 instruction Learners’ level of proficiency e.g. difficult for low proficient learners to focus on form and meaning at the same time. Thus, Isolated FFI might be best for this group of learners. Type of language feature e.g. some language forms are easier to elicit in communicative activities than others. This might be a good reason for selecting those features for Integrated FFI.
Criteria for selecting Isolated or Integrated FFI for L2 instruction L1 background of learners e.g. L2 structures that learners experience difficulty with because of L1 influence may be more salient (i.e. noticeable) if they are provided via Isolated FFI. Learner preferences for instruction e.g. Some learners may have a preference to focus their attention on form either separately from or embedded within communicative practice.
Conclusion • L2 instruction that focuses primarily on meaning but not to the exclusion of attention to form is most effective for L2 learning • How attention to form is best provided? • When attention to form is best provided? • How do specific language features and learner characteristics interact with how and when attention to form is best provided?
References • Spada, N. (2011). Beyond form-focused instruction: Reflections on past, present and future research. Language Teaching. 44, 225-236. • Spada, N. (2006). Communicative language teaching: Current status and future prospects. In J. Cummins & C. Davis (Eds.), Kluwer handbook of English language teaching. Amsterdam: Kluwer Publications. • Spada, N. (1997). Form-focussed instruction and second language acquisition: A review of classroom and laboratory research. [State of the Art Article] Language Teaching, 30(2) 73-87. • Spada, N., & Tomita, Y. (2010). Interactions between type of instruction and type of language feature: A meta-analysis. Language Learning, 60(2), 1-46. • Spada, N. & Lightbown, P.M. (2008). Form-focused instruction: Isolated or Integrated? TESOL Quarterly, 42, 181-207. • Spada, N., Jessop, L., Suzuki, W., Tomita, Y. & Valeo (in press). Isolated and integrated form-focused instruction: Effects on different types of L2 knowledge. To appear in Language Teaching Research.