By Arianna Chaves Durán - Student of the Master’s degree in Teaching English with a Mention in Direction and Evaluation of English Programs
Have you ever wondered why many adult English learners spend years studying the L2 without successfully achieving true communicative competence? This question has been a major concern to many language experts for decades. Language input not presented in a way that is comprehensible and noticed by the learner, vocabulary and grammatical structures taught in isolation and by rote, and lack of teaching the learners effective strategies on how to overcome communication breakdowns are considered as some of the factors that contribute to why learners fail to produce the language properly (Escudero et al., 2020). It is therefore imperative that EFL teachers implement interaction in their lessons so that learners are exposed to quality and quantity of linguistic input, which is required for internal processing and for increasing their opportunities for acquisition. By using the Interaction Approach in SLA, L2 learners in an EFL context will benefit by getting input modifications from interlocutors, learning how to negotiate meaning in their interactions, and adjusting their output through corrective feedback.
Unquestionably, comprehensible input plays an important role in the field of Second Language Acquisition. In order to set the scene for learning to take place, understanding the language is essential. In this regard, EFL teachers can implement some phonological, lexicon and grammatical modifications in order to ensure that learners comprehend and notice the language input. According to Gass & Selinker (2008), these modifications include slow speech rate, using high-frequency words, using less slang and idioms, employing simple sentences and utilizing more gestures and pictures. All of the aforementioned adjustments in speech can ensure the conscious noticing of input so that it can be integrated into the learner’s language system and facilitate the acquisition.
Besides input modification strategies, theory based on the Interaction Hypothesis suggests that teaching learners how to negotiate meaning is fundamental. In this sense, interactional modifications are encouraged. They involve clarification requests where the learners elicit help from conversational-partners to understand unclear utterances, confirmation checks that focus on testing if the message understood or heard by the learner was correct through repetition and rising intonation and comprehension checks used mainly by speakers to confirm whether the message was understood accurately by the addressee or not (Al Khateeb, 2014). These modifications are key in equipping learners on how to repair and sustain communication when the flow of the conversation is interrupted, making input more comprehensible, and thus promoting acquisition.
Although the Interaction Approach has brought positive effects on communication and L2 acquisition, researchers in the field of SLA have argued that not all interactions are successful in all contexts and not all communicative tasks presented to the learners favor negotiation of meaning (Lessard-Clouston, 2018). Even though interaction alone has its limitations, teachers play a fundamental role by carefully designing the communicative activities that promote negotiation of meaning and teaching the pupils how to seek and provide communicative assistance and feedback in their interactions. There is evidence that corrective feedback is a powerful strategy that helps learners notice the gap between their current language knowledge and the target form. Ellis et al. (2006) suggest that both direct and indirect feedback can contribute to students noticing the errors, internalizing the correct forms in their language system and adjusting their output. Strategies such as recasts, repetition, clarification requests and explicit correction will guarantee that learners are pushed to notice the discrepancies between their interlanguage and the target forms, which will promote L2 development.
To conclude, EFL teachers must implement social frameworks of SLA, specially the Interaction Approach if the goal is to develop the student’s communicative competence. This approach contributes greatly to SLA by making the input comprehensible and noticed by the learner as well as pushing students to produce linguistic output. In this sense, modifying the input provided to the students in the interactions plays a fundamental role. Modifications in pronunciation, vocabulary and syntax can ensure that students comprehend the new linguistic features they are introduced to. Additionally, the core of this approach is based on negotiation of meaning. It is imperative that students learn tactics on how to overcome communication breakdowns. Undeniably, corrective feedback is a key component of this approach by activating students' awareness about incorrect forms and helping them modify their linguistic system and thus their output. Finally, the interaction approach improves communicative competence since studies have proved that interaction facilitates comprehension, acquisition of new language features, and as a result L2 production.
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Al Khateeb, A. A. (2014). Hypothesis of Interaction: Reflections on its Theoretical and Practical Contributions for Second Language Acquisition (SLA). Scholink Journal, 2(3), 294-305. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/268084916.pdf
Ellis, R., Loewen, S., & Erlam, R. (2006). Implicit and Explicit Corrective Feedback and the Acquisition of L2 Grammar. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0272263106060141
Escudero, G., Cutiopala, D., Caisaguano, J., & Gallegos, L. (2020). A Comprehensible Overview of EFL Student’s Drawbacks to Produce Oral Communication. Revista Espacios, 41(18), 30-41. https://www.revistaespacios.com/a20v41n18/a20v41n18p30.pdf
Gass, S.M., & Selinker, L. (2008). Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course. Routledge.
Lessard-Clouston, M. (2018). Second Language Acquisition Applied to English Language Teaching. TESOL Press.