• The effects of various combinations of form-focused instruction techniques on the acquisition of English articles by second language learners of English

      Lloyd, Jackie S.; Department of Applied Linguistics
      Although English articles (the/a(n)) are two of the most frequently occurring words in the language, second language (L2) learners of English tend to exhibit extraordinary difficulty acquiring them. Uniquely resistant to instruction and often overlooked due to a lack of inherent meaning, articles are a suitable linguistic target for form-focused instruction (FFI), an approach that has demonstrated its efficacy over decades of research, across multiple domains of instructed L2 acquisition. With the aim of integrating attention to form into communicative L2 instruction, FFI encompasses numerous instructional techniques that promote various types of linguistic processing that contribute to L2 learning. The current study in particular focuses on three proactive FFI techniques—input enhancement, metalinguistic explanations, and practice—that sequentially facilitate noticing, awareness, and practice, respectively (Lyster, 2007, 2017; Ranta & Lyster, 2018). Targeting English articles, an experimental study was conducted to measure the differential effects of various combinations of the three FFI techniques, in order to examine the benefits attributable to each technique and its corresponding linguistic processing. Forty-six L2 learners of English were randomly assigned to four conditions: input enhancement only (n = 12); input enhancement and metalinguistic explanations (n = 11); input enhancement, metalinguistic explanations, and practice (n = 11); and a control condition (n = 12). The L2 learners each completed six hours of online English lessons. The three treatment groups received instruction on English articles according to their respective condition, while the control group received general instruction with no focus on articles. The participants’ knowledge of English articles was measured by four tasks (i.e., grammaticality judgment task, metalinguistic knowledge task, elicited imitation task, and picture-description task) in a pretest, an immediate posttest, and a delayed posttest. Results showed that the group that received input enhancement and metalinguistic explanations exhibited clear and durable gains in the metalinguistic knowledge task after the lessons. Furthermore, a subset of participants who benefitted the most from the instructional treatment revealed two factors in common, which were their article-less native languages and a high level of participation during the lessons. Based on these results, the present study contributes meaningfully to the current understanding of FFI and the L2 acquisition of English articles. In addition, it seeks to bring L2 research and L2 pedagogy one step closer together by offering evidence-based insights that further inform instructed L2 acquisition.