How can we promote L2 acquisition through the negotiation of meaning and input adaptation?
Here are some points to consider on the role of comprehensible input and learner discourse modifications in the development of our learners’ interlanguage.
With regard to L2 acquisition, a lot of research has been focusing on the role of input and interaction and to what extent these can promote language learning. Behaviourists view language as determined ‘environmentally’ by the stimuli and reinforcement learners receive during discourse. The mentalist view stresses the importance of the learners’ ‘black box’ and their innate ability to pick up any language through minimal exposure to input. The interactionist view on language acquisition is somewhere in between the two previous viewpoints and acknowledges the importance of both input and internal language processing in language learning. The belief here is that learners develop their interlanguage through a combination of complex interactions and their internal mechanisms that allow them to communicate with others and decipher meaning out of the input they receive.
Input modifications and negotiation of meaning: Do they foster language learning?
When examining learner discourse and its role in language acquisition we first of all need to consider its similarities and differences with native speaker talk and whether there are any modifications. Researchers divide this foreigner talk into two types: ungrammatical and grammatical. The first one (i.e. the simplification of speech by deleting certain key grammatical structures when talking to foreigners) is likely to be rejected by some learners as it may sound pragmatically inappropriate to them. The grammatical one is the most common one, where input is simplified or delivered at a slower pace, using shorter sentences and having as a primary focus the negotiation of meaning.
To promote language learning in our EFL classrooms it is important to examine to what degree such modifications of speech assist in interlanguage development. For Stephen Krashen and his input hypothesis, learners need to be exposed to input (i.e. lexis and grammatical structures) that are ‘input +1’, i.e. one step more advanced than the learners’ knowledge and linguistic development. Michael Long’s interaction hypothesis further emphasizes the importance of comprehensible input but claims that it is most effective through the negotiation of meaning.
Having these theories in mind, we can therefore come up with a plan to help our learners get the most out of their interactions and of the input we expose them to. Below you will find some key points to consider with regard to learner discourse and some tips on how to promote interlanguage development during our EFL lessons.