Learning language through interaction

How can we design interactive tasks that promote our learners’ interlanguage development?

How can we encourage our learners to notice the gap between what they can do and what they want to do in order to communicate meaning effectively in the TL?

Here are 5 tips on the role of noticing and on encouraging effective communication in the language classroom

For Harmer, ‘successful language teaching’ should be judged according to the ‘balance of the activities our students are involved in’. Since in most EFL classrooms learners have limited opportunities to practice the language outside the classroom, Harmer considers ‘genuine communicative tasks’ as an important part of the lesson. We therefore need to come up with activities that will increase student talking time (STT) and will give our learners the opportunity to utilize their knowledge and find ways to interact, express themselves in a creative way and get their message across in the target language.

    Encouraging student interaction is not enough on its own though. We need to select tasks that can be adapted to our classroom’s specific needs and cater for all learning styles. What is more, we need to pay attention to the role of noticing and what we as teachers can do to promote our learners’ interlanguage development depending on their age and linguistic level by helping them turn this noticing  into active knowledge.

  • Turning noticing into active knowledge

Swain (1995) argues that output serves three purposes

WHAT TRIGGERS ‘NOTICING’ IN THE LANGUAGE CLASSROOM?

The importance of noticing in successful language learning has been highlighted by many linguists and SLA researchers (Skehan, Long, Harmer, Thornbury). There seems to be a general consensus among them that some form of attention to input is necessary for effective learning to take place. Noticing is considered to be successful when it leads to language acquisition, when our learners’ attention is shifted towards a TL structure, which is then acquired, internalized and eventually becomes part of their TL output.

    The key, therefore, is not just to make our students notice linguistic patterns in the TL. Something that has ‘grasped’ our attention could easily be forgotten after a while. Our goal as teachers is to create the appropriate circumstances in order to raise our learners’ consciousness, to help them successfully acquire this new knowledge and to begin to actively use it by turning input into intake and then into successful TL output. This blog post’s main purpose will be to draw our attention as teachers to the importance of this concept in foreign language learning and in particular to grammar teaching.

    Noticing mainly has to do with our learners being able to understand and grasp the meaning from the input they receive in terms of a newly introduced structure or grammar point. Successful learning will take place when they notice this ‘gap’ between the target language and their interlanguage and will actively try to incorporate the new structures in their TL output.

    For Ellis (2001), noticing occurs mainly due to a ‘communication breakdown’. Before our learners ‘pick up new knowledge’, they have to ‘notice’ the difference between what they know and what they need to learn in order to effectively communicate meaning in the TL (The noticing hypothesis). In order to negotiate meaning, they need to figure out what they need to learn in order to fill in their linguistic gaps. Teacher interference could be very useful at this point, as long as it is subtle and it simply helps students into a better understanding of their learning gap.

   The role of age in ‘noticing’ and interlanguage development

    Age plays a very significant role when it comes to negotiation of meaning, noticing and language learning. Younger learners have a limited attention span and will focus mainly on the communication of meaning and less on form/grammar. Adult learners on the other hand are more reflective and are thinking more analytically about their own learning. Their metacognitive awareness and their previous knowledge of learning languages play a very significant role in triggering this noticing that will eventually transform their interlanguage and will foster language learning.

        

Input enrichment and task authenticity

Our main aim is not for our students to merely notice a TL structure. The key is to turn this noticing into active knowledge. To foster this language awareness, we need to expose them to linguistic input but to also provide them with authentic tasks and opportunities to use and produce the TL patterns both in writing and in speaking.

    By loading the input we give to our learners with the target forms we want them to notice, we facilitate the learning process and give them the necessary clues they need in order to process and eventually absorb the new knowledge. Variety and authenticity in tasks is also important here as learners have the opportunity to reproduce the grammatical patterns in many different scenarios and for different communicative purposes.

    For Harmer, ‘successful language teaching’ should be judged according to the ‘balance of the activities our students are involved in’. Since in most EFL classrooms learners have limited opportunities to practice the language outside the classroom, Harmer considers ‘genuine communicative tasks’ as an important part of the lesson. We therefore need to come up with activities that will increase student talking time (STT) and will give our learners the opportunity to utilize their knowledge and find ways to interact, express themselves in a creative way and get their message across in the target language.

  • Encouraging S-S interaction

    In many cases our EFL learners have limited exposure to the TL outside the classroom and therefore they do not have many opportunities to practise the language. In order to foster their language development we must create the appropriate environment to help them do this during the lesson. We must help them develop communicative skills that will eventually promote language acquisition. By encouraging interaction among the students through collaborative writing or speaking tasks, STT (student talking time) is increased and our learners gradually begin to develop language fluency and learn from one another.

    We must give them the freedom to interact in the TL, to try to communicate successfully and appropriately (not necessarily accurately), to get their message across without the fear of errors. Our learners’ interlanguage will constantly evolve through creative mistakes. It’s not just the drilling and the exercises that will boost their linguistic development but the interaction, the constant effort to turn their passive vocabulary into active.

    Real-life simulations, games and quizzes will not only increase student talking time (STT), but will also enhance our learners’ communication skills. By working in pairs or groups in order to write a role play or a story for example, our students will combine their imagination and their knowledge of L2 lexis and grammar and will learn from one another. It is important to focus on this positive aspect of student collaboration and to clarify that competitiveness is not the goal of these interactive tasks but creative and constructive learning.

  • The learner as a discoverer

    Cultivating the anticipation of discovery should be one of our main tasks in the language classroom. We must activate our learners’ schemata and previous knowledge by having them guess what the topic and aim of the lesson are through brainstorming, through authentic and engaging activities that trigger our learners’ minds and imagination. We must train them to expect the unexpected. The teacher is there not feed them with input and instructions but to provide the stimulus and let the learners give the response and be actively involved in the learning process.

  • The importance of positive feedback

    Different levels of motivation mean different performance levels. Our ss have to be intrinsically motivated in order to be willing to participate more actively during the lesson. Teachers must be an influential raw model to their learners and to try and instill to them the passion in learning a foreign language. We have to prove to them that English is useful, easy and fun. By rewarding their efforts and praising them, we automatically give a confidence boost to our learners. This feeling of achievement brings a deep sense of pleasure to the ss and fuels the learning process. Their intrinsic motivation will be increased and they will be more willing to participate in the lesson, not because they have to but because they want to.

References

Bygate, M., Skehan, P. & Swain, M. (2001). Researching Pedagogic Task: Second Language Learning, Teaching and Testing. Harlow: Pearson Education

Ellis, R. (2001). Non-reciprocal task, comprehension and second language acquisition. In M. Bygate, P. Skehan & M. Swain (Eds.) Researching Pedagogic Tasks: Second Language Learning, Teaching and Testing (pp. 49-74). Harlow: Longman

Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford: OUP

Gass, S. M., & Madden, C. (1985).  Input in Second Language Acquisition. London: Newbury House

Harmer, J. (2001). The practice of English language teaching. Longman.

Swain, M. (1995). Three functions of output in second language learning. In G. Cook& B. Seidlhofer (Eds.),  Principle and Practice in Applied Linguistics. Oxford: OUP.

Ur, P. (2012). A course in English language teaching. Cambridge University Press

Published by Joanna Nifli

ELT teacher and freelance translator with work experience at the United Nations and the European Parliament. Holder of an MA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (MA TEFL), the Cambridge CELTA and an MA in Applied Translation Studies from the University of Leeds. Interested in innovative pedagogies in language education, TESOL, teacher training, applied linguistics and related topics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Secret ESL Teacher

Diary of an ESL Teacher

Matthew Kutter

Instructional Design - ESL & TESOL Education

Learning2gether

Archive of seminars for educators scheduled weekly at http://learning2gether.pbworks.com

TESOL

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Henry Ford

All about ELT

Expect the unexpected

TESOL Blog

TESOL International Association advances the quality of English language teaching worldwide

ELT Connect

FREE resources and networking platform

Teachers Together

Helping new English Language Teachers in their profession

SPONGE ELT

“The mind is like a sponge, soaking up endless drops of knowledge." - Robert M. Hensel

Unite ELT

Unite English Language Teachers Branch

ELT for beginners

Tips and resources to help you succeed

Transformations of an EFL teacher

Reflections of an English as a foreign language teacher..

English-Language Thoughts

English-Language Thoughts

TEFL Planet

All things TEFL and beautiful!

Learning lessons from TEFL

An exploration into all things ELT

The TEFLology Podcast

A Podcast about Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics

The Art of TEFL

On EFL, language teaching, linguistics and related topics

TEFLtastic

Classroom materials and teaching tips from TEFL lifer Alex Case. See the drop-down menus under the photo for thousands of photocopiables and articles, and for how to support TEFLtastic

Learning English with Oxford

The latest language learning tips, resources, and content from Oxford University Press.

%d bloggers like this: