AL Forum

AL Forum News, Volume 29:1 (December 2008)

by User Not Found | 11/02/2011

AL Forum

In This Issue...

  • Leadership Updates
    • From the Current Chair
    • From the Chair-Elect
    • From the Editors
  • Articles and Information
    • Task-Based Interaction: What Do the Data Reveal About Comprehensible Input and Output in SLA?
    • Comprehensible Pragmatics: Where Input and Output Come Together
    • Complementary and Confluent Contributions of Comprehensible Input and Output to Second Language Acquisition . . . and their Limitation

Leadership Updates

From the Current Chair

Ali Shehadeh, Department of General and Applied Linguistics/TESOL, United Arab Emirates University,

I hope you are having a good semester/quarter.

The summer of 2008 has been an exceptionally busy time for me this year. As the ALIS chair, I had to do a number of things:

Vetting Proposals: I worked closely with TESOL’s Central Office and the Précis Management Company to assign proposals to reviewers for evaluation. The ALIS received more than 130 paper, Discussion Group, and poster session proposals. Each proposal was evaluated by three reviewers on a scale from 1 to 25. A total of 14 evaluators participated in vetting these proposals. Our section was allotted 23 slots for the 2009 TESOL Convention in Denver in addition to 10 Discussion Group sessions.

Academic Session Articles: I liaisoned between our TESOL 2008 Academic Session panelists (Diane Larsen-Freeman, Andrew Cohen, and Teresa Pica) and our newsletter coeditors (Lorena Llosa and Priya Abeywickrama) to help prepare the articles in this issue. See the Message From the Editors for a full introduction of the articles.

TESOL E-Mail Retention Program: Like other ISs, the ALIS also participated in the Email Retention Program. This program works like this: each month I (and other IS leaders) receive an automatic e-mail notice that links to a list of just expired members in ALIS. Each member’s name on the list is hyperlinked so that I only have to click on the name to open an e-mail to that person. These members have allowed their membership to expire but TESOL has not yet changed their “active” status to “suspended.” Our task is to advise these members that their membership has expired but they still have 2 to 3 weeks to renew before their membership is suspended and services are curtailed.

I must admit that it was shocking to me to see that in a 5-month period (May-September), 110 members of the ALIS alone fell into this category. I have contacted these members, but most members have not responded, and the few who did respond have complained that they cannot afford to pay their renewal fees. I believe that here we have a very important and serious issue. Perhaps TESOL needs to look into the causes of the high rate of membership dropouts. From personal experience and judgment, I can point to three main reasons for the high rate of membership dropouts: (a) members need to more explicitly see and feel the direct benefit and connection between TESOL and their professional needs and careers; (b) current membership fees might be unaffordable to some (unemployed or international) members; and, very important, (c) attending the annual convention, the main event of the TESOL association, is simply very difficult—if not impossible—for many members (especially when it comes to expensive lodging and travel). This is one of the issues that we should discuss in the ALIS Business Meeting in Denver and with other IS leaders as well as with the Board of Directors. In the meantime, I encourage all of you to write to me if you have any opinions or suggestions on this issue.

TESOL 2009: The ALIS is planning a number of amazing events for TESOL 2009 in Denver. The Academic Session is being planned by Scott Phillabaum, our incoming chair. You can learn more about it in his message. As chair, I’m responsible for organizing the InterSection and I’m happy to report that in Denver we will be involved in three. The InterSection we are sponsoring is with the Intercultural Communication IS and is entitled “Plagiarism, Culture, and Ethics.” Four experts who represent different linguistic and cultural backgrounds were invited. These are Dilin Liu, Leila Mohanna, Jane Hoelker, and Susan Coakley. The session will address questions such as What is plagiarism? How does the concept of plagiarism change in different cultures? and Is plagiarism an academic or ethical issue? The session will approach these and other questions from different cultural perspectives and backgrounds based on the panelists’ research and experiences in the fields of applied linguistics and intercultural communication.

We were also invited by two other ISs to participate in their InterSections: the Second Language Writing IS and the Materials Writing IS. With the former we will have an InterSection on “Writing Across the Curriculum and Applied Linguistics: Research and Practice,” and with the latter an InterSection on “Applied Linguistics Informing Materials Writing.” I’m quite excited about the three InterSections, and I look forward to seeing many of you there.

Sincere regards,

Ali Shehadeh

From the Chair-Elect

Scott Phillabaum, Linguistics & Language Development, San Jose State University,

Greetings, fellow ALIS members! It is a pleasure to address you for the first time as chair-elect of the Applied Linguistics Interest Section. Some of you may know me already from my work over the past 3 years as coeditor of the AL Forum. For those of you who do not know me yet, let me take this opportunity to introduce myself.

I first entered the field of TESOL when I served as a Teach for America (TFA) corps member in Pharr, Texas, a small town along the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley. My experience teaching in south Texas was quite an eye-opener. Although I was entertaining in the classroom, my knowledge of language teaching and language learning left much to be desired. Therefore, when my 2-year TFA commitment came to an end, I returned home to Louisiana to pursue an MA in linguistics. While at Louisiana State University (LSU), I was fortunate enough to spend one summer working as a consultant for the Costa Rican Ministry of Education, which was in the process of developing an English language education program for its public schools. This experience whetted my appetite to live and teach in Latin America, so after I completed my MA, I returned to Central America, this time to El Salvador, where I worked as an English teacher in a private language academy. While in El Salvador, I realized that I wanted to pursue a doctorate, and in 1998 I returned to the United States and enrolled in the applied linguistics program at UCLA.

When I went to UCLA, I had originally planned to study second language acquisition. However, after one seminar with Chuck Goodwin, I knew that discourse analysis was my passion and so I embarked on what would become the focus of my professional work. My dissertation research investigated the linguistic and embodied practices that characterized the professional development of novice photographers. My interest in the discursive practices that characterize different communities of practice carries over into TESOL as well. Currently, ALIS coeditor Lorena Llosa and I are applying this approach to an investigation of the nature of word searches in the foreign language classroom and their role on language acquisition. As I evolve as a scholar in TESOL, I hope to continue to explore the ways in which discourse analysis can be applied to language teaching as well as what it can reveal to us about how language learning takes place. Currently, I am an assistant professor in the Department of Linguistics and Language Development at San Jose State University, where I teach in the MA TESOL program.

My research interest in pragmatics and discourse analysis is at the heart of the exciting Academic Session I have planned for the upcoming TESOL convention next March in Denver. Entitled “Interaction, Grammar, and Learner Strategies in L2 Pragmatics,” this year’s Academic Session will address the question What constitutes pragmatic competence in a second language (L2) and what facilitates it? Bringing together four distinguished applied linguists—Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig, Marianne Celce-Murcia, Andrew Cohen, and Virginia LoCastro—this session will expand the discussion of L2 pragmatics by exploring the role of interaction, grammar, and learner strategies in L2 pragmatics, as well as implications for L2 teaching and learning. This session is certain to be extremely informative and thought-provoking, and I hope we’ll see you there!

See you all in Denver!

From the Editors

Lorena Llosa, New York University,, and Priyanvada Abeywickrama, San Francisco State University,

Greetings to everyone as we approach the end of 2008!

In this issue (29.1) we are pleased to feature three articles by presenters of last year’s TESOL Applied Linguistics Academic Session in New York, which was entitled “Comprehensible Input, Comprehensible Output, and L2 Learning.” The authors offer various perspectives on these key concepts in second language acquisition: the role of comprehensible input and output in learning of L2 form and use as well as their limitations in contributing to L2 development.

Teresa Pica provides a thorough review of comprehensible input and comprehensible output in applied linguistics and SLA research. She goes on to examine the role of tasks in research that addresses questions about the connections between comprehensible input and output and the learners’ acquisition of L2 form. Next, Andrew Cohen approaches the discussion of comprehensible input and comprehensible output from the lens of second language pragmatics. He explores what these concepts entail in a field in which intended meanings go beyond the literal ones. Finally, Diane Larsen-Freeman provides a brief overview of the roles of comprehensible input and comprehensible output in second language acquisition and language learning. She concludes by pointing out the limitations of these concepts and proposes a different kind of linguistic theory and a different kind of pedagogical practice that will help learners expand their L2 resources.

We thank all submitting authors for their contributions and hope you’ll enjoy this issue of the AL Forum!

Articles and Information

Task-Based Interaction: What Do the Data Reveal About Comprehensible Input and Output in SLA?

Teresa Pica, University of Pennsylvania,

When we look back at the 1960s and 1970s, those of us in the fields of TESOL, applied linguistics, and second language acquisition (SLA) can recall that a great deal of foundational work on “input” was getting under way. Corder (1967) advanced this term as a label for the data available to learners, and distinguished it from the “intake” that was actually taken in for potential integration with the interlanguage system. Some time thereafter, communication tasks were ushered into the classroom as communicative language teaching (Brumfit & Johnson, 1979; Morrow & Johnson, 1979) and language for specific purposes syllabi and methods took hold (e.g., Jupp & Hodlin, 1975). Among their many benefits, communication tasks offered the kind of authentic input that was needed for the implementation of these two instructional approaches.

Unlike language exercises, which focused solely on linguistic accuracy for its own sake, communication tasks required learners to use language accurately and appropriately to address needs and objectives similar to those they faced in the world outside the language classroom. The most successful tasks were those that required learners to exchange information with each other in order to reach a prespecified goal. As they exchanged information, filled aninformation gap, or pooled individually held pieces of information distributed in a jigsaw format, learners would be able to solve problems, reach decisions, replicate pictures, and reconstruct stories.

Throughout the 1980s, input, output, and tasks formed a bond that continues to date. Building on Corder’s important foundation, Krashen introduced the construct of “comprehensible input” (Krashen, 1981). Throughout this period, Long (e.g., Long, 1981) emphasized the importance of input that was made comprehensible through modified interaction and the negotiation of meaning, which he continued to advance with other scholars (e.g., Gass & Varonis, 1985). Despite the attribution researchers gave to comprehensible input as necessary for SLA, they warned that it might not be sufficient for the achievement of a target-like L2 grammar. Their work since that time has revealed important findings on processes of cognition and interaction that appear necessary as well.

Additional arguments on the insufficiency of comprehensible input were advanced by Swain (1985), who noted that learners needed to be able to process language for both its meaning and its grammatical form. She speculated that the learner’s output production might be crucial to this achievement. When learners were asked to modify the initially incomprehensible or inaccurate output they had produced, they might draw on their emerging grammatical rules and resources to process language syntactically. Swain, too, has gone on to uncover additional SLA constructs and processes related to output production. These include the ability to notice needed new forms and features, to test hypotheses about interlanguage structures, and to analyze these processes through “metatalk” (e.g., Swain, 1998, 2005).

The Role of Tasks in Comprehensible Input and Output and SLA
The work of the above-mentioned scholars not only reminds us of their impressive contributions at theoretical and empirical levels, but also serves to acknowledge the role that tasks, especially those that are characterized by information gaps and require information exchange, have played in their research and its applications. Throughout Krashen’s Natural Approach (Krashen & Terrell, 1983), for example, information gap tasks are used to promote access to comprehensible input, as learners follow each other’s directions to complete matrices and maps, locate sites, and solve problems. In research on comprehensible input through interaction, information gap tasks ask learners to Spot the Difference between two pictures, to choose the Odd Man Out in lists of related items (e.g., Long, 1981), and to replicate each other’s pictures and drawings (Gass & Varonis, 1985). To generate modified production and pushed output, Dictogloss tasks require learners to listen to oral texts and take notes on an individual basis, then meet in small groups to pool their notes and reconstruct the text (e.g., Swain, 1998). In recent years, the roles of information gap and information exchange tasks have broadened, as researchers have turned to them in order to address questions about the connections between comprehensible input and output and the learners’ acquisition of L2 form.

Comprehensible Input and Output Tasks in Form-Focused Perspective
Information gap tasks have figured prominently in recent investigations of different approaches to input for SLA. Gass and Alvarez-Torres (2005) used them to address questions regarding optimal sequencing for input and interaction in the acquisition of gender agreement and vocabulary. They found that interaction followed by input was more effective than the other orders. This result was confirmed by Izumi (2002) in a study that also compared the impact of enhanced input and output on relative clause formation. Izumi found that that input enhancement had no effect on relative clause reception and production; however, output production made a difference in both reception and production. Information exchange tasks involving Persuasion and Description have been used by Newton and Kennedy (1996) to address questions about split and shared distribution of input in learners’ use of conjunctions and prepositions. They found that information-bearing input was task related. Participants used more conjunctions in tasks in which they were asked to share the same information to persuade or describe, but used more prepositions in tasks in which they were each given different information to meet these aims.

With respect to output, recent studies have used Information Gap and Exchange tasks of Description and Story Construction to address questions on pushed output in vocabulary learning and retention (de la Fuente, 2002), relative clause formation (Izumi, 2002), question development (McDonough, 2005), past tense formation (Nobuyoshi & Ellis, 1993; Takashima & Ellis, 1999), and self-correction (Swain & Lapkin, 1998). The tasks have been useful in guiding learners to access these forms and processes. Many studies have used information exchange tasks to examine learners’ production of modified output in response to corrective feedback. Their results have been positive and promising with respect to L2 form access and retention over time. This was especially evident in Doughty and Varela (1998), who used Reporting tasks of classroom science experiments as a context for providing corrective recasting of past time reference errors, and in Iwashita (1999, 2003), who used Jigsaw and Information Gap tasks to generate corrective feedback for Japanese locative-initial constructions and verb morphology.

Positive results were also found in short-term studies by Muranoi (2000), who used Problem Solving Role Play tasks to generate feedback on English L2 articles; Leeman (2003), who used Information Gap tasks to promote feedback for noun-adjective agreement; Mackey and Philp (1998), who used Picture Drawing, Story Completion, and Story Sequencing tasks as a context for recasting question errors and promoting question development; and Mackey and McDonough (2000), who used Spot the Difference, Picture Description and Drawing, and Collaborative Story Sequencing tasks to promote noticing for noun classifiers and questions. Subsequent studies by Mackey and Oliver (2002) and McDonough (2005), which used similar tasks and feedback treatments, also found a positive impact on question formation.

Pica, Kang, and Sauro (2006) and Pica, Sauro, and Lee (2007) have developed a method for devising Spot the Difference, Jigsaw, and Grammar Decision Making tasks that help students in content-based language courses to notice low salience forms and features that are difficult to master from course content alone. The tasks have been effective in drawing students’ attention to low salience articles and verb endings in their course reading passages, and retaining them for subsequent use.

Information exchange tasks have been shown to be effective instruments for classroom instruction, and for the generation of comprehensible input and output and study of connections between these constructs and the acquisition of L2 form. These important contributions attest to their longevity in the fields of applied linguistics, TESOL, and SLA and hold promise for contributions of an even greater magnitude in future.

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Comprehensible Pragmatics: Where Input and Output Come Together

Andrew D. Cohen, University of Minnesota,

This article relates issues of comprehensible input and comprehensible output to an increasingly prominent field: second/foreign-language (L2)¹ pragmatics, where the intended meanings often go beyond the literal ones. Having pragmatic ability, in fact, implies that as listener or reader, one is able to interpret the intended meanings of what is said or written; the assumptions, purposes, or goals; and the kinds of actions that are being performed (Yule, 1996).

Theoretical Underpinnings for Pragmatic Comprehensibility
So, what needs to happen for nonnatives to achieve success at comprehending and producing language pragmatically? Let us look at the comprehension and production of pragmatic material, and consider briefly the negotiation of meaning and conversational repairs—modifications made to the interactional structure of discourse and to words, sounds, and syntax for the purpose of communicating pragmatics.

Krashen’s input hypothesis (Krashen, 1982) posited that learners progress along the natural order by understanding input that contains structures a little beyond their current level of competence (i + 1). In reality, applying the input hypothesis in the area of pragmatics is problematic in that much of the pragmatics of a language is not easily acquirable because it is not highly observable. Sometimes, in fact, it is very subtle (e.g., ways to complain in cultures where overt complaining is unacceptable, as in Japan), and other times the pragmatics are clear but the instances of pragmatic use are low frequency (e.g., what people say at a funeral).

In response to Krashen’s input hypothesis, Long (1985, 1996) posited that the input needs to undergo interactional modifications through the negotiation of meaning for learners to gain control of a language. Yet because of the demanding nature of communicative interaction for learners at the level of literal meanings, such interactions are that much more demanding at the level of pragmatics.

Another refinement of acquisition theories would seem to contribute especially to pragmatics: Schmidt’s addition of the noticing hypothesis (1990, 1993, 2001). Although noticing does not necessarily guarantee L2 pragmatic learning, it is claimed to be a necessary condition—that mere exposure to the L2 is unlikely to lead to learners’ noticing of pragmatic features and understanding of general pragmatic norms (Kasper & Schmidt, 1996; Kasper & Rose, 2002). There is evidence especially in the study abroad literature that this is the case; simply going off to another country does not ensure that pragmatics will be acquired (see the review of literature in Cohen & Shively, 2007). In fact, Olshtain and Blum-Kulka (1985) constituted some years ago with regard to positive politeness strategies in Hebrew that, left to their own devices, it can take L2 learners over 10 years or more to perform pragmatics in a way indistinguishable from natives.

A final theoretical refinement of the input hypothesis would be Swain’s output hypothesis. Swain posited that output opportunities are likely to contribute to learners’ acquisition of the L2 as the learners notice gaps in their linguistic system and look to the input around them (e.g., a conversational partner) for resource material that can assist them in articulating their message (Swain & Lapkin, 1995; Swain, 1998). In terms of pragmatics, however, it may well be that fellow students are not very good models for pragmatics. In fact, what may result in a failed request, for example, to a native speaker may be adequate with a fellow nonnative, especially with someone from the same speech community and sociocultural background.

In considering the role of input, interaction, noticing, and output, we need to bear in mind that learners differ in their learning styles, language strategy repertoires, and motivation for language learning (see Cohen & Weaver, 2006). Consequently, what works for one L2 learner in terms of gaining pragmatic awareness and enhanced pragmatic performance may not work for another.

Comprehending the Pragmatic Messages in the Input
The input could be through language (e.g., through lexical items, syntax, or discourse), through gestures, or through silence. Whether the input is pragmatically comprehensible to the nonnative depends on various factors, such as (a) the functional proficiency of the nonnative in the target language and in other languages, (b) the age, gender, occupation, social status, and experience of the nonnative in the relevant communities of practice (e.g., talk on the shop floor), and (c) the nonnative’s previous multilingual/multicultural experiences.

For example, to what extent do nonnatives understand the illocutionary force or function of bonjour in a French-speaking community? This apparently simple greeting may have subtle pragmatics attached to it, which the less savvy nonnative may miss. An American approaches a man on the street in Martinique, as I did in December of last year, and launches directly into a request for help in interpreting a confusing parking slip issued by a machine and intended to be put on the dashboard of the car. Instead of responding to the question (asked in fluent French), he says, “Bonjour.” So an L2 speaker of French needs to know what that bonjour means. Perhaps it could mean “What? I didn’t hear the question.” It most likely meant “I was put off by your focusing immediately and exclusively on the parking slip, without going through the courtesy of extending a morning greeting”—an instance of negative transfer from U.S. norms for requests of strangers.

Other comprehensible pragmatics problems can be attributed to negative transfer from the L1, overgeneralization of material in the L2, or limited proficiency in the L2 (three categories to be elaborated on in the section on pragmatically comprehensible output, below). So at the lexical level, the first time a nonnative hears “no worries” as used in Australia to mean “you’re welcome,” she interprets it as an intrusion into her private life and her level of worry. At the level of syntax, the nonnative has to correctly interpret the role of grammar (e.g., verb tenses) in pragmatics. It has been seen, for example, that English-speaking study abroaders to Spanish-speaking countries misread their acquaintances’ use of the conditional in requests (e.g., podrias, “could you,” instead of puedes, “can you”) as being overly formal (Cohen & Shively, 2007).

In addition, the use of silence itself can have a pragmatic function that is lost on a nonnative speaker who is unaware of the norms. So, for example, an American English speaker may interpret silence in a Japanese speaker as meaning that the person is relinquishing the floor when this may not be the case. As chair of a session at an academic meeting, I once led a round of applause for a Japanese speaker of English when I interpreted his extended pause as meaning he had ended his remarks when he had not. Another example of silence would be when hitchhikers get a ride in Israel: They are expected to remain silent, not to entertain the driver with their conversation, which may be the norm in the United States.

With a number of possible misunderstandings now laid out, the question remains as to the factors that will determine whether pragmatic failure will actually occur in the case of a given individual. Presumably it is more likely to occur among the less proficient and more inexperienced users of the L2, those unfamiliar with the language of the aged or the very young, those less familiar with how the L2 deals with social status, or those with more limited contact with members of certain communities of practice.

Producing Pragmatically Comprehensible Output
What do learners need to do in order for their output to be comprehensible pragmatically to their interlocutors? It helps for the nonnatives to accommodate to the local speech community’s norms for pragmatic performance, such as in, say, making a request. At least five factors can stand in the way of acceptable accommodation (Ishihara & Cohen, forthcoming), possibly leading to pragmatically inappropriate output: (a) negative transfer of pragmatic behavior from their L1 or some other language they know, (b) overgeneralization of pragmatic behavior to a situation where it is inappropriate, (c) insufficient L2 grammatical knowledge, (d) effect of instruction or instructional materials as a cause for divergence, and (e) resistance to target-language norms for pragmatic behavior.

Negative Transfer
In this instance, the nonnatives transfer the patterns for how they would conduct the interaction in their L1 or dominant-language speech community, most likely unknowingly but sometimes knowing it is probably wrong but the only thing they know how to do. An example would be when a Japanese student requests that a professor read a paper he wrote by saying, “Professor, read this paper please.” Such a request may come across as too direct, even though the student said “please” which would probably make the request polite enough in Japanese.

Overgeneralization of L2 Norms
Some learners may generalize pragmatic norms acceptable in one situation to another situation where that behavior is not appropriate. So, for example, a Korean learner of American English perceives Americans as being very direct and frank about things, a perception that is reinforced when the American male passenger sitting next to him on a flight shares some intimacies. Consequently, the Korean is surprised when the fellow passenger is clearly reluctant to answer a question about how much he makes a month. While the Korean would not ask that question in his home culture, he just assumed that American frankness in discussing intimacies would carry over to other topics as well.

Insufficient Grammatical Knowledge
Lack of knowledge of certain grammatical niceties in a target language may inadvertently lead to producing language that is pragmatically gauche. A beginning learner of English, for example, might request that a clerk in a repair shop fix an item with “Do this for me now” because the learner has not yet learned how to be more indirect and consequently sound more polite (e.g., “I was wondering how soon you might be able to repair this for me”). Such a request (interpreted as an order) may, in fact, draw the ire of the clerk, particularly if the nonnative has relatively good pronunciation.

Effect of Instruction or Instructional Materials
Learners might also be led to pragmatic failure as a result of somewhat misleading information that they receive either from the teacher or from the course materials. So, for example, a learner of English may have read in an ESL textbook that Americans tend to give the precise reason for why they cannot attend a party that they are invited to. Yet when the learners do the same, they find that in the particular instance (say, an important work-related party) it may be interpreted as an unacceptable excuse (e.g., “I can’t come because I have a dinner date with a friend”). As another example, an American learner of Japanese may be taught in class to fill a pause with eeto (more informal) or ano (more formal), and so does his best to fill as many pauses as he can that way. His native-speaking interlocutor is annoyed by this overuse of these pauses and eventually tells the learner that he is filling his pauses too much—that natives prefer to use silence or nonverbal cues more. Whereas in part this could be considered a case of overgeneralization, it originates from instruction regarding the filling of pauses. What is misleading is that in Japanese silence is favored more than in English, and the teacher neglected to point this out as well.

Resistance to Local L2 Norms
Another source of pragmatic failure may be an intentional desire not to abide by the L2 speech community’s norms in the given instance despite having full knowledge of what is expected, which sets this category apart from the other four. So, for example, an English-speaking learner of Indonesian hears natives use the equivalent of “Did you eat yet?” as a regular greeting but avoids using it herself because it does not really seem like a greeting to her. Or an American learner of Japanese has learned the honorific verbs that are required when speaking to or about people of higher status even if they are not present at the time (e.g., asking if the higher status person has eaten by using meshiagarimashitika instead of tabemashitika, the nonhonorific verb), but refuses to use them, feeling they are excessive.

Obviously whether or not a message leads to pragmatic failure depends not just on the nonnative sender but on the recipient as well. It is possible and often the case that the native speakers of the L2 will go the extra distance to comprehend the nonnative speaker, even if the nonnative’s behavior misses the mark by a long shot in terms of pragmatic appropriateness. In fact, the native-speaking interlocutor often has the wherewithal either to cut the nonnative slack or to lower the boom, depending on factors that may have little to do with whether the intended message was understood. On the other hand, a perceived breach of pragmatic etiquette may itself be enough to result in pragmatic failure for the nonnative.

Strategies for Negotiating Meaning and Making Conversational Repairs
Some learners are better at getting the L2 pragmatics right than are others. Part of it is due to their strategic ability as a language learner in general and especially in terms of their strategic ability with regard to pragmatics (see Cohen, 2005). These individuals are strategic both in how they go about learning pragmatics and in their L2 performance so that both their comprehension and production of language are pragmatically appropriate for the given situation. They also have strategies for evaluating metapragmatically how well they understood the pragmatics of a given message and also how effective their pragmatics were in producing a message. Such strategies can make the difference between pragmatic failure and pragmatic success since in some cases nonnatives can take strategic action to avoid pragmatic failure or remediate once it has happened. For example, nonnatives can check to make sure that they interpreted a message (such as a key request from a coworker) correctly: “So let me see if I understand your request, George. You want me to speak to the boss on your behalf?” Nonnatives could also include an alerter before a delicate speech act so that the addressee will be lenient in interpreting the intent of the message: “Hi, George. I want to make apology but not so sure it is OK. I try now. . . .”

In Krashen’s (1982) terms, some nonnatives are better monitor users than others when it comes to pragmatics. In Long’s (1985) terms, some nonnatives are better at making sure there is rich interaction that serves to clarify the intended pragmatic meaning in both the input and the output. In part this can be a function of the personality-related style preferences of the learner, such as being more extroverted or more closure-oriented (i.e., less tolerance of ambiguity; see Cohen & Weaver, 2006). In Schmidt’s (1990) terms, some nonnatives are better at noticing the pragmatic aspects of discourse, both in classroom settings and out in the real world. And there are some nonnatives who more actively create situations where they can check to see if they, in Swain’s (1998) terms, are producing output that is comprehensible pragmatically. As I suggested at the beginning of this article, what works for one L2 learner in terms of gaining pragmatic awareness and enhanced performance may not work for another. Some learners may, for example, benefit from extensive observation of what natives do without actually engaging in interaction with natives very much, while others interact extensively from the very start.

The purpose for this exploration was to take a pragmatically oriented look at both the input and output sides of what is comprehensible. The intention was to provide teachers and researchers with ideas for what needs to be considered both pedagogically and from a researcher’s perspective in order to better deal with the issues of comprehensibility in the pragmatics arena. So, let me now answer the question posed at the outset: What needs to happen for nonnatives to achieve success at comprehending and producing language pragmatically? It would appear that part of an L2 learner’s pragmatics is acquired without explicit instruction. Nonetheless, there are numerous pragmatic features that most likely would benefit from explicit instruction (whether from a teacher directly or through a Web site such as the three posted at if the intention is to have the learners achieve relative control of such features within a reasonable amount of time.


Cohen, A. D. (2005). Strategies for learning and performing L2 speech acts. Intercultural Pragmatics, 2, 275-301.
Cohen, A. D., & Shively, R. L. (2007). Acquisition of requests and apologies in Spanish and French: Impact of study abroad and strategy-building intervention. Modern Language Journal, 91, 189-212.
Cohen, A. D., & Weaver, S. J. (2006). Styles and strategies-based instruction: A teachers’ guide. Minneapolis: Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, University of Minnesota.
Ishihara, N., & Cohen, A. D. (Forthcoming). Teaching and learning pragmatics: Where language and culture meet. Edinburgh Gate, Harlow, England: Pearson Education.
Kasper, G., & Rose, K. (2002). Pragmatic development in a second language. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Kasper, G., & Schmidt, R. (1996). Developmental issues in interlanguage pragmatics. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 18, 149-169.
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Long, M. (1985). Input and second language acquisition theory. In S. Gass & C. Madden (Eds.), Input in second language acquisition (pp. 337-393). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
Long, M. (1996). The role of linguistic environment in second language acquisition. In W. C. Ritchie & T. K. Bhatia (Eds.), Handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 413-468). San Diego: Academic Press.
Olshtain, E., & Blum-Kulka, S. (1985). Degree of approximation: Nonnative reactions to native speech act behavior. In S. Gass & C. Madden. (Eds.), Input in second language acquisition (pp. 303-325). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
Schmidt, R. (1990). The role of consciousness in second language learning. Applied Linguistics, 11, 129-158.
Schmidt, R. (1993). Consciousness, learning, and interlanguage pragmatics. In G. Kasper & S. Blum-Kulka (Eds.), Interlanguage pragmatics (pp. 21-42). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Schmidt, R. (2001). Attention. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Cognition and second language instruction (pp. 3-32). Cambridge University Press.
Swain, M. (1998). Focus on form through conscious reflection. In C. Doughty & J. Williams (Eds.), Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition (pp. 64-81). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
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Yule, G. (1996). Pragmatics. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

¹ For the purposes of this article, L2 will serve as a generic label, including both the context where the language is spoken widely and the context where it is not. In principle, pragmatic development in an L2 will be faster in the former context than in the latter, but it depends largely on how the learner makes use of the available resources.

Note: The full text of the presentation will appear as Cohen, A. D. (forthcoming). Comprehensible pragmatics: Where input and output come together. In M. Pawlak (Ed.), New perspectives on individual differences in language learning and teaching [Special issue of Studies in Pedagogy and Fine Arts]. Poznan-Kalisz, Poland: Adam Mickiewicz University Press.

Complementary and Confluent Contributions of Comprehensible Input and Output to Second Language Acquisition . . . and their Limitation

Diane Larsen-Freeman, University of Michigan

Much research in second language acquisition (SLA) rests on the premise that what serves learners best are opportunities for comprehensible input (CI) (or interaction) that promotes the “noticing” (Schmidt, 1990) of certain features in the input. The reason for this focus has been the founding assumption, since Chomsky’s cognitive revolution, that SLA involves the acquisition of mental competence (not verbal behavior).

It stands to reason that if the goal of SLA is to explain the acquisition of mental competence, then students will need abundant exposure to language that they can understand. CI would enable learners to map meaning (and I would add use, or pragmatics) onto form. Such mapping would be facilitated with practice in input processing (VanPatten, 1996).

Thus, the focus of some SLA researchers has been on comprehensible input, not output. According to Krashen (1998) and others, comprehensible output (CO) has no role in constructing the internal mental grammar of learners. Instead, it is claimed that output practice serves to improve fluency (VanPatten & Cadierno, 1993; VanPatten & Oikkenon 1996), to increase automaticity with regard to routines or patterns (Gatbonton & Segalowitz, 1988; DeKeyser, 1998), and to facilitate access to the already established mental competence (Long, 1996). It is also possible that when students produce the language, they will have an opportunity to test their hypotheses about the mental grammar that they are constructing (Schachter, 1984). Therefore, although CO is thought to have a role in SLA, according to some researchers, the role is rather circumscribed. CO practice is basically rehearsal (van den Branden, 2007) of an already acquired (partial) mental grammar.

However, as is well-known by now, although Canadian French immersion students do well at acquiring French in a CI-rich environment, they still make some fundamental grammar mistakes. Learners in other settings where reception is emphasized over production may acquire an ability to understand the second language but not to produce it, or at least not to produce it grammatically; after all, comprehension and production practice make different contributions to SLA (De Keyser & Sokalski, 2001). These observations have led other SLA researchers to suggest important roles for CO in language instruction as well. CO moves learners from semantic to syntactic processing, encouraging syntactic analysis (Swain, 1985). It may also serve a metalinguistic function (Swain, 1998), and the sequence of output, feedback, and reprocessed or modified output plays an important role in “pushing” learners beyond their current performance level (Iwashita, 2001; Nobuyoshi & Ellis, 1993; Pica, Lincoln-Porter, Paninos, & Linnell, 1996; Shehadeh, 2003; Swain & Lapkin, 1995; and others). In other words, the case has been made for CO, too, to have a role in the development of the learner’s competence.

It could therefore be argued that CI and CO are complementary in some ways. It could also be asserted that both are confluent to some extent in contributing to the development and restructuring of the underlying grammatical system.

A limitation of CI and CO, however, is that they are both associated with a “computational mind” metaphor (Lantolf, 2002, p. 94).

Metaphors can become so familiar that we forget they are metaphorical and start to see them as ‘the truth. . . . Terms such as “input” and output” [from a computational mind metaphor] became just the “normal” way to talk about listening and speaking. In downplaying or disregarding the differences between the domains of the analogy, there is a risk of building too high on metaphorical foundations. When speaking becomes “output,” for example, we can lose sight of how humans construct meaning through social interaction. (Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008, pp. 12-13)

These days there are newer linguistic theories, which challenge the idea of language as a closed mental grammar. Such usage-based, emergentist approaches conceive of language as a network of dynamic language-using patterns (Ellis & Larsen-Freeman, 2006; Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008) that has no end and has no state (Larsen-Freeman, 2006a). From this perspective, interactions with others allow us to make meaning and extract frequently occurring patterns, but also to go beyond them to create new meaningful patterns in speaking and writing (morphogenesis). Thus, our language resources are dynamic, situated, partial, and shaped through time by use with others (Larsen-Freeman & Freeman, 2008). Creative patterns can form and re-form dynamically and organically over stretches of discourse and emerge cocreatively between speakers even in ordinary conversation (Carter, 2004).

With regards to language teaching, it should also be recognized that different learners obtain different benefits from the same practice activities (Larsen-Freeman, 2006b). Language learning is not about conformity to uniformity (Larsen-Freeman, 2003). Teaching should enable learners to go beyond the input, indeed beyond any static mental grammar. Doing so, however, requires a certain type of engagement, one that is “psychologically authentic.” Psychological authenticity is an important concept that deserves more attention than I can give it here (see Larsen-Freeman 2003; Segalowitz, 2003); suffice it for now to say that psychologically authentic (which is not the same as linguistically authentic) practice gives learners an opportunity to use language meaningfully for their own purposes, where the conditions of practice and the conditions of use are aligned.

To conclude, CI and CO practice are complementary to some extent, each contributing to the language resources of students in the way that I have summarized in Table 1. They are also confluent to some extent in contributing to the restructuring of the underlying system. However, it should be noted that CI and CO are computer-based metaphors, and as such, they not only facilitate but also constrain insight into SLA. Instead of seeing the object of our teaching as a closed mental grammar, we should entertain the possibility that language is an open, dynamic system and that the right kind of practice will enable learners to use language in interaction with others to create new patterns, thereby expanding their language resources.

Table 1
Complementary, Confluent, and Limited Contributions of Comprehensible Input and Comprehensible Output

Complementary to Some Extent

Comprehensible Input

Comprehensible Output

Noticing frequently occurring routines and patterns Automatizing frequently occurring routines and patterns; developing fluency
Form-meaning-use mapping Semantic to syntactic processing; metalinguistic function
Testing hypotheses
Pushing learners to go beyond their current level

Confluent to Some Extent

Restructuring grammatical system

Limited to Some Extent by Failing to Recognize That Language Use and Learning Involve

Creating new patterns (morphogenesis)

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