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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 l.jpg

CLL lecture: L2 research methodology

19 October 2004

Florencia Franceschina

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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.

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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)

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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?

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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.

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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!

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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Types of analyses

What type of linguistic analysis is required?

  • Sociolinguistic

  • Linguistic 

  • Psycholinguistic

  • Neurolinguistic

  • Etc.

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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.

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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

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Types of data

Exercise: Classifying tasks and data

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Tools for analysis

  • Transcription conventions (e.g. LIDES manual

  • CLAN (

  • Wordsmith, etc.

  • Statistics

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

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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

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1. Corpora


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

    2. Other

  • Linguist-List web site

  • SLARG links page

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