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Journal of English and Literature Vol. 2(2), pp.

28-52, February 2011

Available online
ISSN 2141-2626 ©2011 Academic Journals

Full Length Research Paper

Qualitative and quantitative analyses of L2 learners’

performance in essay writing and two correction tasks:
Insights from L2 acquisition research and cognitive
Hosni M. El-dali
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, United Arab Emirates University, P.O. Box, 17771, Al- Ain, UAE.
Accepted 9 November, 2010

This study attempted to find answers for the following questions: (1) Are students’ errors in
grammatical structures, as they will appear in their written output, due to deficiency in their conscious
grammar rules, or to deficiency in their abilities to transfer this knowledge (if it exists) to other language
tasks such as writing compositions in English? and (2) Can conscious rules of grammar guide
students'performance in monitoring (self-correcting) their written output once their attention is drawn
to an error?. The subjects of this study consisted of fifteen foreign students enrolled in the advanced
level of the English Language Institute at the University of Pittsburgh. The instruments of this study
were (1) questionnaire; (2) free composition; (3) unfocused correction and focused correction tasks;
and (4) interviews. The results of this study demonstrate, among other things, that deficiency in the
subjects’ knowledge of grammar results in accurate composition writing and unsuccessful correction
of errors, even if their attention is drawn to their errors.

Key words: L2 writing, correction tasks, transfer of knowledge, attention.


Recent research in second language acquisition has THREE POSITIONS ABOUT THE FUNCTION OF
been characterized by continuous efforts to construct EXPLICIT KNOWLEDGE
theoretical models of learning and in so doing to explain
the function of explicit, formally acquired knowledge of The non-interface position
the target language (Brown, 2009). In reviewing the
literature, this study will focus, first, on the following three The non-interface position has been advanced most
positions about the function of this knowledge: (1) the strongly by Krashen (1982). Krashen's theory has been
non-interface position, (2) the interface position, and (3) described by McLaughlin (1978: 19) as "the most
the variability position. Each of these positions is relevant ambitious theory of the second language learning
to the issue under investigation. It should be emphasized, process"). Spolsky (1989) also maintains that "Krashen's
however, that none of them would qualify as a theory in Monitor Model, with all its fundamental weaknesses,
the strict sense of the word. Instead, each emphasizes makes the best attempt at a comprehensive theory
certain concepts that are pertinent to the present study. accounting for current research in second language
Second, it will shed some light on the endless debate on learning”. Krashen identifies two types of linguistic
‘the focus of form’ issue and its role in L2 learners’ knowledge in Second language Acquisition (SLA): (1)
performance. acquisition, and (2) learning. He argues that acquired
El-dali 29

knowledge and learned knowledge are entirely separate formal aspects of productive response, that is, it is
and unrelated. In particular, he disputes the view that primarily a formal production strategy" (p. 78).
"learned" knowledge is converted into "acquired" Elsewhere, Bialystok (1981) suggests that [monitoring] is
knowledge. Krashen (1982: 83-84) puts it this way: “A not restricted to speaking situations. Any language
very important point that.....needs to be stated is that response, including comprehension, may be monitored
learning does not `turn into' acquisition. The idea that we by reflection upon the formal aspects of the message and
first learn a new rule, and eventually, through practice, concern with its structure. The explicit, formal knowledge
acquire it, is widespread and may seem to some people that the language learner has obtained may be used in
to be intuitively obvious... Language acquisition happens any language encounter to improve the quality of the
in one way, when the acquirer understands input language (Saddler and Graham, 2005; Andrews and
containing a structure that the acquirer is `due' to acquire, Torgerson, 2006).
a structure at his or her `i + I'”. In his discussion of the
‘non-interface’ position, Ellis (1984) notices that it runs
counter to the traditional assumption of language The interface position
teaching and also to the intuitions of countless language
teachers. That is, teachers distinguish "skill-getting" and The interface position has two forms; one is called the
"skill-using" on the grounds that the former should come weak version, and the other is the strong one. The weak
before the latter, particularly with adults. In fact, although interface position was proposed by Seliger (1979).
Krashen does acknowledge that sometimes a rule can be Seliger's subjects were twenty-nine monolingual English-
'learned' before it is `acquired', he argues that this does speaking children, eleven bilingual children, and fifteen
not establish that ‘learning’ is a prerequisite of adult ESL learners. The subjects were asked to perform a
‘acquisition’. In Krashen's view, having learned a rule language task which required the use of the indefinite
does not preclude having to acquire it later on. Since article. After the task, the subjects were asked to explain
learned knowledge cannot be converted into acquired their performance. Seliger found no relationship between
knowledge, consciousness-raising and formal practice his subjects' ability to state the rule and their
have only a minor role to play in Second Language performance. Seliger suggests that different learners end
Development (SLD). Krashen (1982: 112) claims that: up with different representations of the rules they have
“The use of the conscious grammar is limited. Not been taught and, in turn, these rules do not describe the
everyone monitors. Those who do only monitor some of internal knowledge that is called upon in natural
the time and use the Monitor for only a sub-part of the communication. These rules, according to Seliger, act as
grammar...the effect of self-correction on accuracy is "acquisition facilitators" by focusing the learners' attention
modest. Second language performers can typically self- on "critical attributes of the real language concept that
correct only a small percentage of their errors, even when must be induced. That is, conscious or pedagogical rules
deliberately focused on form...and even when we only make the inductive hypothesis testing process more
consider the easiest aspects of grammar”. efficient" (p. 368). Seliger, however, does not propose
According to Krashen's Monitor hypothesis, learning that "learned" knowledge or pedagogical rules are
has only one function, and that is as a Monitor or editor converted into internalized knowledge. The major
and that learning comes into play only to make changes problem with Seliger's study is that he did not submit his
in the form of our utterances, after it has been produced data to statistical analysis and, therefore, his results
by the acquired system. Krashen suggests that second- should be treated with a great deal of caution.
language performers can use conscious rules only when Another study on the relationship between conscious
three conditions are met. Those conditions are necessary knowledge of grammar and ESL learners' performance
and not sufficient, that is, a performer may not fully utilize was conducted by Furey (1987). In her study on
his conscious grammar even when all three conditions advanced ESL learners' explicit rule knowledge of five
are met. These conditions are (1) sufficient time; (2) English grammar patterns and their performance on a
focus on form; and (3) knowing the rule. Krashen further grammar production task, she investigated how explicit
suggests that some of the individual variation we see in linguistic knowledge and learner' performance are
adult second-language acquisition and performance can associated. Furey found that the subjects with explicit
be accounted for in terms of differential use of the rule knowledge did not perform better on the grammar
conscious Monitor. In this regard, learners can be either production task than those without such knowledge.
(1) Monitor over-users; (2) Monitor under-users; or (3) Furey's (1987: iv) conclusion was as follows: “while it
optimal Monitor users. Similarly, Bialystok (1978: 78) appears that for advanced-level students explicit rule
maintained that "the monitoring strategy operates by knowledge does not contribute to performance, we
bringing information from explicit linguistic knowledge to cannot conclude that knowledge does not play a role in
the language task for the purpose of examining or learning grammar at earlier stages of instruction”. On the
correcting the response". She also maintained that other hand, the strong interface position is advocated by
"monitoring is maximally effective for shaping up the Stevick (1980), Bialystok (1979, 1981), Bialystok and
30 Int. J. English Lit.

Frohlich (1977), McLaughlin (1978) and Sharwood-Smith consciousness" (p. 318). Controlled processing requires
(1981), among others. First, Stevick (1980) develops a active attention, so that only a limited number of features
model of SLA called "Levertov Machine" which allows for can be controlled at a time without interference occurring.
a flow of knowledge from "learning" to "acquisition" and Automatic processing takes place without active control
vice versa. Although Stevick sees "acquisition" as the or attention. According to McLaughing, “automatic
product of communicative experience, he argues that processes are learned following the earlier use of
there is a possibility that "learning" can become controlled processes” (p. 319). Therefore, SLA entails
"acquisition". Second, Bialystok (1978: 72) proposes a going from the controlled to the automatic mode of
model to deal with differences in skill developed. operation, and it is not necessary to presuppose two
Specifically, she postulates three hypothetical constructs: unconnected knowledge types such as the
First, Explicit Language Knowledge, which contains "all "acquired/learned" distinction. In another study,
the conscious facts the learner has about the language McLaughlin et al. (1983) point out that communication in
and the criterion for admission to this category is the a second language is a complex process involving the
ability to articulate these facts"; second, Implicit coordination and integration of a number of different
Language Knowledge which refers to the intuitive skills. The problem lies in the fact that information
information upon which the language learner operates in processing requires a great amount of attention, but
order to produce responses and third, Other Knowledge human beings are limited-capacity processors. Therefore,
which may include knowledge of the native language and human beings can allocate much attention only to one
of other languages, knowledge of the world, etc. In fact, task. According to McLaughlin et al. (1983) explicit
Bialystok's model constitutes a theoretical base for abstract knowledge of linguistic structure can help adult
Sharwood-Smith (1981) model which has been learners process language by creating a shortcut in the
developed as a full interface model to account for the role learning process. It also saves them the trouble of
of formal instruction in SLA. According to this model, the creating false hypotheses (Dabaghi and Tavakoli, 2008).
learner can produce L2 output in three different ways: (1) One of the studies that have been undertaken to examine
just using implicit knowledge; (2) using just explicit the relationship between explicit linguistic knowledge and
knowledge, and (3) using both explicit and implicit learners' performance from an information processing
knowledge. As Ellis (1986: 236) explains, "it follows from perspective is Hulstijn and Hulstijn's (1984) study on 32
this model that performance that is planned entirely or adult learners of Dutch as L2.
partly on the basis of explicit knowledge which is lacking This study demonstrated that learners with explicit
in automaticity can provide feedback into implicit knowledge generally applied rules better than the
knowledge; if this happens often enough (that is through learners without such knowledge. Regarding the value of
practice), the explicit knowledge can become fully attention, the study showed that "learners without explicit
automated as part of implicit knowledge". rule knowledge gained just as much from focus on form
In another study, Bialystok (1979) applied her model to and absence of time pressure as learners with such
judgment grammaticality and showed that one can make explicit knowledge" (p. 41).
a judgment about grammaticality either on the basis of
knowledge of rules or on the basis of intuition. Thus, the
task of judging grammatically is one that does not The variability position
necessarily bias towards implicit or explicit knowledge.
To develop her theoretical model, Bialystok (1981) The variability position emphasized the interrelationship
transforms her earlier 'distinction between "Explicit" and between use and acquisition. That is, the kind of
"Implicit" into a distinction between analyzed and language use that the learner engages in determines the
unanalyzed knowledge, and adds to this the distinction kind of knowledge that he acquires. One of the attempts
between automatic and non-¬automatic to give a four- to account for the learner's variable control of the L2
way matrix of kinds of second language. (Dekeyser, system has been made by Bialystok (1984). She
2005). Third, the idea of "automaticity" has been distinguishes two continua involving an analyzed factor
previously discussed by McLaughlin (1978). In his attack and a control factor.
on Krashen's distinction between learning and The analyzed factor, according to Bialystok (1984),
acquisition, McLaughlin suggests another distinction refers to the extent to which the learner is able to
which is "more empirically based and ties into a general represent the structure of knowledge along with its
theory of human information processing" (p. 318). content. The control factor refers to the relative ease of
This is a distinction between “controlled" and access that the learner has to different items of linguistic
"automatic" processing. According to McLaughlin (1978), knowledge; it relates to automaticity. Bialystok makes two
"the advantage of this distinction is that it enables one to basic points: (1) different tasks require different types of
avoid disputes about "conscious" or "subconscious" knowledge, and (2) different kinds of learners can be
experience, since the controlled-automatic distinction is identified according to which kind of knowledge they
based on behavioral acts, not on inner states of possess.
El-dali 31

“FOCUS ON FORM” INSTRUCTION occurs primarily or exclusively in classrooms where other

students share the same L1, appear to benefit from FFI
Central aspects of focus on form instruction that helps them make more efficient use of their limited
exposure to the sounds, words, and sentences of the
In the 1970s, a new pedagogy of communicative language they are learning (Lightbown and Spada,
language teaching (CLT) and a new theoretical view of 2006a, b). One thing is certain: Language acquisition is
second language acquisition (SLA) emphasized the not an event that occurs in an instant or as a result of
importance of language development that takes place exposure to a language form, a language lesson, or
while learners are engaged in meaning-focused activities. corrective feedback. It is an evolving and dynamic
Teachers and methodologists developed language phenomenon that is perhaps better characterized by the
classroom activities that featured interaction among word ‘development’ (suggesting ongoing change) than by
learners, opportunities to use language in seeking and the word ‘acquisition’ (if this is taken to mean that the
exchanging information, and less attention to learning language user has complete and irrevocable possession
metalinguistic rules or memorizing dialogues and of some linguistic knowledge or behavior (Spada and
practicing patterns (Brumfit, 1984; Howatt, 1984). One Lightbown, 2008; Hartshorn et al., 2010; Chan, 2010).
type of CLT that has become especially widespread is Long (1991) and Long and Robinson (1998) claim that
content-based instruction (CBI) in which the new formal L2 instruction should give most of its attention to
language is a vehicle for learning subject matter that is of exposing students to oral and written discourse that
interest and value to the learner. It has been mirrors real-life, nonetheless, when it is observed that
hypothesized that in CBI “language learning may even learners are experiencing difficulties in the com-
become incidental to learning about the content” (Snow, prehension and/or production of certain L2 grammatical
Met and Genesee, 1992: 28). However, some forms, teachers and their peers are obligated to assist
researchers have observed that good content teaching them notice their erroneous use and/or comprehension of
may not always be good language teaching (Swain, these forms and supply them with the proper
1988), and since the introduction of CLT and CBI, explanations and models of them. Moreover, teachers
debates have continued about whether and if so, how can help their students and learners can help their peers
attention to language form should be included in notice the forms that they currently lack, yet should know
approaches to language instruction that are primarily in order to further their overall L2 grammatical
meaning-focused (Achard, 2007; De Bot and Lowie, development. This means that, according to Long and
2007; Loewen et al., 2009). Robinson (1998), the responsibility of helping learners
Focus on form instruction makes up an important part attend to and understand problematic L2 grammatical
of the literature on second language acquisition research. forms falls not only on their teachers, but also on their
However, as Poole (2005) points out, few works have peers. They assert that teachers are not to focus
both summarized and critically evaluated focus on form instruction on the teaching / learning of specific L2
instruction. In reviewing the literature on this issue, there grammatical items. They, instead, should aim to help
are two goals: (1) to highlight the central aspects of focus students learn how to use language in a way that
on form instruction, and (2) to review some of the major emulates realistic communicative scenarios. The majority
research studies examining focus on form instruction. of class time should be devoted to teacher-
Focus on form instruction is a type of instruction that, student/student interaction via both oral and written
on one hand, holds up the importance of communicative modes. Relatedly, evaluation should centre on students’
language teaching principles such as authentic abilities to actively engage in authentic communication,
communication and student – centeredness, and, on the using the forms they have learned during interaction.
other hand, maintains the value of the occasional and This type of instruction is different from those modes of
overt study of problematic L2 grammatical forms, which is instruction that, in general, are aimed at teaching specific
more reminiscent of non communicative teaching (Long, L2 grammatical forms rather than presenting language as
1991). Some individuals, especially those who begin a mechanism for communication. Those modes of
learning as young children, acquire high levels of second instruction are generally non-communicative in the sense
language ability without form-focused instruction (FFI). that they do not foster L2 development that enables
This outcome supports the hypothesis that FFI is not learners to engage in real-life communication. Also, such
necessary for SLA. However, it is rare for students in methods focus on the prescribed L2 grammatical forms
second or foreign language classes to reach such high that the teacher can transmit to his/her students. In this
levels. Some claim that this failure to master a new sense, they are teacher-centered. In contrast, focus on
language is due to physiological changes that occur with form instruction is learner-centered due to its aim of
age. Others point to the limitations inherent in classroom responding to learners’ perceived needs in a
contexts. Whatever the reason, learners who begin spontaneous manner. Long (1991) and Long and
learning when they are beyond early childhood, Robinson (1998) argue that focus on form instruction is
especially those whose exposure to the target language different from the purely communicative instruction, or
32 Int. J. English Lit.

what they call “focus on meaning instruction.” For them, communicative activity or after an activity in which
focus on meaning instruction is paramount to spending students have experienced difficulty with a particular
little or no time on the discrete parts of language; instead, language feature. In isolated FFI, the focus on language
the interest is on the use of language in real-life form is separated from the communicative or content-
situations. Such a mode of instruction is apparent in the based activity (Bardovi-Harlig, 2006; Ellis, 2005; Ellis,
Natural Approach (Terrell and Krashen, 1983), which, in 2006). In addition, they argue that making a choice
theory, prohibits direct grammar teaching. In contrast, between integrated and isolated FFI is not necessary (or
Long (1991) and Long and Robinson (1998) assert that advisable). Rather, the challenge is to discover the
the occasional focus on the discrete forms of the L2 via conditions under which isolated and integrated FFI
correction, negative feedback, direct explanation, recast, respectively are most appropriate. These conditions are
etc., can help students become aware of, understand, likely to involve a number of factors, including the nature
and ultimately acquire difficult forms (Bitchener, 2008; of the language feature (e.g., its complexity, and its
Bitchener and Knoch, 2008; Bitchener et al., 2005). frequency and salience in the input), learners’
developmental levels in the acquisition of the feature, and
the relationship between comparable features in the
Form and meaning: isolation or integration learners’ L1 and the L2. Other important factors include
teachers’ and learners’ preferences for how to
Johnson (1982) made a distinction between what he teach/learn about form, learners’ literacy and
called the unificationist and separationist positions on the metalinguistic sophistication (especially in their L1), and,
teaching of language use and language structure. He their age and overall L2 proficiency (Kimberly, 2009;
described the separationist position as one with “structure Eskildsen, 2008; Wyse, 2001).
being taught first (through a structural syllabus) followed The value of FFI within instruction that is primarily
by a second communicative stage at which use is taught meaning-focused has been demonstrated by research
and where structures are ‘activated’ or ‘recycled’. conducted in CLT and CBI programs over the past 20
According to Johnson, the separationist position implies years. In addition, teachers who have experience with
“a divorce between the teaching of forms and uses, the strong version of CLT – an exclusive focus on
though other kinds of related separation are often also meaning with no attention to language form (Howatt,
being implied as between knowledge and its ‘activation’, 1984; Spada, 2006a) have observed that, without FFI,
between correctness and fluency” (p. 129). In contrast, some language features never emerge in learners’
from the unificationist perspective, “the divorce of form language, and some non-target forms persist for years.
and use is seen as undesirable and probably also Experience with CLT and CBI shows that meaning-based
untenable on linguistic and psycholinguistic grounds. exposure to the language allows L2 learners to develop
The position argues for a communicative framework from comprehension skills, oral fluency, self-confidence, and
the very beginning” (p. 129). Other writers have used communicative abilities, but that they continue to have
different labels to distinguish different types of FFI. Long difficulties with pronunciation as well as with
(1991) has made a distinction between ‘focus on forms’ morphological, syntactic, and pragmatic features of the
and ‘focus on form’. Focus on forms refers to lessons in L2 (Lyster and Mori, 2006; Lyster, 1987). Research in
which language features are taught or practiced CLT and CBI classrooms shows that the introduction of
according to a structural syllabus that specifies which FFI has contributed to changes in learners’ knowledge
features are to be taught and in which sequence. Focus and use of certain language features (Lyster, 2004;
on forms might involve teaching approaches as varied as Sheen, 2005). Advocates of CBI have increasingly
mimicry and memorization or grammar translation, but all emphasized the importance of planning lessons that have
are based on the assumption that language features both content objectives and linguistic objectives
should be taught systematically, one at a time. In (Echevarria, Vogt and Short, 2004; Schleppergrell et al.,
contrast, Long’s focus on form refers to instruction in 2004). Thus, both research and teaching experience
which the main emphasis remains on communicative have led to a growing consensus that instruction is most
activities or tasks but in which a teacher intervenes to effective when it includes attention to both form and
help students use language more accurately when the meaning. As a result, the most engaging questions and
need arises. Originally, Long (1991) defined focus on debates in L2 pedagogy are no longer about whether
form as reactive and incidental. Spada and Lightbown CLT should include FFI but rather how and when it is
(2008) have chosen to use the terms “isolated” and most effective (Loewen et al., 2009; Ellis et al., 2008; Gu
“integrated” to describe two approaches to drawing and Wang, 2008; Sheen, 2007).
learners’ attention to language form in L2 instruction. Some of the empirical work investigating the kind of
Isolated FFI is provided in activities that are separate knowledge that is acquired durin form-focused instruction
from the communicative use of language, but it occurs as has shown that FFI can play a role in helping classroom
part of a program that also includes CLT and/or CBI. learners in CLT and CBI use their L2 with greater fluency
Isolated FFI may be taught in preparation for a and accuracy (Mangubhai, 2006; Lyster, 2004) and to
El-dali 33

use language forms that represent more advanced seen between the groups in terms of their use of
developmental levels (Doughty and Varela, 1998). Skill adjectival participles. In a study made by Williams (1999)
acquisition theorists hypothesize that language learned eight students of various proficiency levels studying in an
first as metalinguistic knowledge can, through repeated intensive English institute in the United States were tape-
meaningful practice, eventually become so well recorded daily during 45-minute class period for eight
incorporated and automatized that the language user weeks. During this time, they were involved in group
learned it in the first place (DeKeyser, 2003). In sum, activities. Williams sought out to describe the types of
both focus on form and focus on meaning instruction are forms that they attended to. Overall, the results revealed
valuable, according to Long (1991) and Long and that, among other things, students infrequently attended
Robinson (1998), and should compliment rather than to grammar (20%) in favor of vocabulary (80%). In
exclude each other. In their view, focus on form another study, Poole (2003), replicated Wlliams’ (1999)
instruction maintains a balance between the two by study using 19 ESL students in an advanced writing class
calling on teachers and learners to attend to form when in a large US university. Students were tape-recorded for
necessary, yet within a communicative classroom 10 weeks for a total of nine hours, during which time they
environment. It is worth-mentioning, however, that Long were engaged in a variety of communicative group
(1991) and Long and Robinson (1998) do not guarantee activities. As in Williams’ (1999) study, the majority of
that focus on form instruction will lead to a specific level students attended to vocabulary (89.8%) instead of
of L2 grammatical development within a certain time grammar (10.2%). Norris and Ortega (2000) examined
frame, presumable “because of factors related to “quality the effectiveness of L2 instruction by conducting a meta-
of instruction, intensity of instruction, and the stages of analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental studies.
morphosyntactic development through which L2 learners Their study provided some positive evidence for the
must pass” (Lightbown and Spada, 1999: 8). superiority of explicit instruction over implicit instruction
and evidence for the durability of L2 instruction.
However, it also indicated that, “a focus on form and a
‘Focus on form’ research: Mixed results focus on forms are equally effective” (p. 501). This finding
is surprising, given that other researchers have
Actual research on focus on form, over the past 20 years, suggested that Focus on Form (FonF) fosters L2 learning
has yielded mixed results with respect to their efficacy. in comparison with the traditional Focus on Forms
Leeman et al. (1995) compared focus on form instruction (FonFS) instruction. Ellis and Loewen (2001) investigated
and focus on meaning instruction. They found that those preemptive focus on form (that is, occasions when either
students who received focus on form instruction were the teacher or a student chose to make a specific form
more accurate in their production of Spanish verbs than the topic of the discourse), The study found that in 12
were those who received focus on meaning instruction. hours of meaning focused instruction, there were as
Van Patten (1996) investigated the effects of processing many preemptive focus-on-form episodes (FFEs) as
instruction on a group of secondary students studying reactive FFEs. The majority of the preemptive FFEs
Spanish at the intermediate level. Processing instruction were initiated by students rather than the teacher and
involves an explicit explanation of a certain grammatical dealt with vocabulary. Students were more likely to
rule, followed by contextualized practice activities. uptake a form (that is incorporate it into an utterance of
Participants were divided into three groups, one which their own) if the FFE was student initiated. The
received explicit explanation of rules, one which received preemptive FFEs were typically direct, that is, they dealt
contextualized practice activities, and one which received with form explicitly rather than implicitly. Despite this, they
both explicit explanations of rules and contextualized did not appear to interfere unduly with the communicative
practice activities. It was found that those who only flow of the teaching. The study concludes by arguing that
received explicit explanations retain the fewest preemptive focus on form deserves more attention from
grammatical rules; the other two groups, on the other classroom researchers than it has received to date.
hand, achieved significantly higher scores on post Basturkmen et al. (2004) investigated the relationship
treatment tests. Doughty and Verela (1998) found that between three teachers’ stated beliefs about and
those students who received corrective recasts per- practices of focus on form in intermediate level ESL
formed significantly better on post-test than did those communicative lessons. Focus on form was defined and
who received teacher led instruction. Williams and Evans studied in terms of incidental time-outs taken by students
(1998) studied the precision with which intermediate-level and teachers to deal with issues on linguistic form during
ESL leaner’s used the passive voice and adjectival communicative lessons. The teachers’ statements of
participles. Two groups were established, one which belief about focus on form were compared to their
received input flooding, and one which acted as a control management of focus on form during lessons in which all
group. The results demonstrated that the experimental teachers used the same communicative task. Results
group showed more accurate use of the passive than did showed some inconsistencies in the teachers’ stated
the control group, yet no significant differences were beliefs, in particular, in relation to when it is legitimate to
34 Int. J. English Lit.

take time out from a communicative activity to focus on INSIGHTS FROM COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY: THE
issues of form, and preferred error correction technique. NOTICING HYPOTHESIS, AND ATTENTION
While some statistically significant differences in the
teachers’ practice were reflected in differences in their Over the past two decades, researchers in the field of
stated beliefs, others were not. These results indicated a Second Language Acquisition (SLA) have become
somewhat tenuous relationship between the teachers’ increasingly interested in concepts traditionally
practice and stated beliefs regarding focus on form. It is associated with cognitive psychology. Ellis (2002: 299)
argued that future investigations of teachers’ beliefs, points out, "We are now at a stage at which there are
especially of unplanned elements of teaching such as important connections between SLA theory and the
focus on form, need to be based on both stated beliefs neuroscience of learning and memory". The concept of
and observed behaviors. attention has become especially important because of its
Moreover, the results of a study by Saeidi and Chong crucial role in so many aspects of SLA theory such as
(2006) indicate that focus on form provides learners with input, processing, development, variation, and instruction.
an understanding of the interdependence between In this regard, Ellis (1994: 10) points out that “Schmidt is
grammar and communication. In other words, learners, one of the few linguists who have adopted the conceptual
while learning grammar, focus on three primary aspects and experimental rigours of experimental psychology in
of grammar: form, meaning, and use (Laufer and Girsai, answering questions concerning the role of conscious-
2008). ness in L2 acquisition”. Much of Schmidt’s work (1990a,
Particular studies that failed to establish the efficacy of b; 1992; 1993 a, b; 1994 a, b; 1995 a, b; 2001) ties
focus on form interventions include Izumi (2002), Leow findings from cognitive psychology into SLA theory.
(1997) and Overstreet (1998). In this regard, Han (2005) Reviewing the psychological literature on consciousness
and Han et al. (2005) provided a comprehensive critique has led Schmidt to propose the Noticing Hypothesis,
of 16 focus on from research studies on second-language which states that "noticing is the necessary and sufficient
learning conducted over the past 15 years. They condition for converting input into intake" (1990: 129).
ascertained that many previous studies that failed to Since then, a considerable amount of research has
show the efficacy of focus-on-form instruction had flaws addressed the issue of noticing in SLA (Brown, 2009;
in their theoretical assumptions or in their research Hoey, 2007; Stubbs, 2007).
designs. In contrast, the studies that demonstrated the Based on reviews of relevant L1 literature and L2 work,
efficacy of focus on form possessed arguably positive Schmidt (1990a, 1990b) argues that forms that are not
design characteristics. Among these characteristics are noticed in the first, lower level sense (that is, not
the following: (1) the studies were long-term rather than consciously perceived), do not contribute to learning.
short-term studies, (2) they targeted “ready learners”, (3) That is, there is no such thing as subliminal language
the interventions provided participants the opportunity to learning. He accepts that implicit language learning
“act upon” noticed input, and (4) the interventions allowed probably occurs (that is, learning by noticing forms
participants to process the target input for meaning without understanding the rule or principle involved) but
before processing it for them. thinks that understanding those rules is highly facilitative
While many studies (Byrnes, 2000; Lee, 2000) provide in cases where straightforward ones can be formulated.
insight into the efficacy of focus on form instruction, they Similar views on the importance of attention, noticing,
all have taken place in settings that appear to be well- and ‘mental effort’ in L2 acquisition are expressed in
funded, adequately supplied with teaching and learning Gass (1988), Hulstijn (1989), Schmidt (1993, 1994),
materials, and generally free of classroom discipline Watanabe (1992) and Larsen et al. (2007). On this
problems (Poole, 2005). In addition, most studies of focus account, failure to learn is due either to insufficient
on form instruction have taken place in a few countries, exposure or to failure to notice the items in question,
notably the United States, New Zealand, and Japan even if exposure occurred and the learner was attending.
(Poole and Sheorey, 2002). “No single empirical study A learner could attend carefully to a lecture in an L2 and
can be found that took place in a setting in which classes still fail to notice a particular linguistic item in it. This is
were overcrowded, up-to-date materials were generally the opposite position to that taken by Krashen (e.g.,
not available, and teachers received less than adequate 1985, 1989), VanPatten (1988), and others, who have
training in language skills and pedagogy” (Poole, 2005: denied there is any evidence of beneficial effects of a
52). focus on form, at least in the early stages of language
This observation was, also, made by Klinger and learning. Krashen has claimed that adults can best learn
Vaughn (2000); Mora (2000), and Baker and Markhan an L2 like children learn an L1, subconsciously (that is,
(2002). Likewise; no study supporting focus on form incidentally, without intention, while doing something
instruction appears to have taken place in a developing else) and implicitly (via subconscious abstraction of
country, where the socioeconomic, political, and patterns from input data), while attending to something
pedagogical realities may differ significantly from those in else (meaning). Attention to (and understanding or
more developed countries. awareness of) linguistic forms is supposedly neither
El-dali 35

necessary nor beneficial. Schmidt’s (1992: 218) claim preposition-stranding construction in English is acquired
about the necessity of noticing does not refer to higher earlier than unmarked pied-piping, even by learners
level understanding or awareness of language: “Noticing whose L1 only allows pied-piping. Bardovi-Harlig
is used to mean registering the simple occurrence of suggests that the frequency of preposition-stranding in
some event, whereas understanding implies recognition English makes it salient and draws learners’ attention to
of a general principle, rule, or pattern. For example, a it. Also consistent are the results of experimental studies
second language learner might simply notice that a native comparing learning of new L2 vocabulary and morpho-
speaker used a particular form of address on a particular syntax by learners whose attention is partly manipulated
occasion, or at a deeper level the learner might by the researcher onto or away from the target items. In
understand the significance of such a form, realizing that general (but not always), superior learning is seen in
the form used was appropriate because of status subjects whose attention researchers attempt to focus on
differences between speaker and hearer. Noticing is the items during performance of a task using such
crucially related to the question of what linguistic material devices as prior instructions to attend to both form and
is stored in memory ….. understanding relates to meaning (Hulstijn, 1989), showing them rules applied to
questions concerning how that material is organized into examples in order to structure the input (Ellis, 1993),
a linguistic system”. multiple choice margin glosses (Hulstijn, 1992;
According to Schmidt (1994: 179) noticing refers to the Watanabe, 1992), highlighting and capitalization
“registration [detection] of the occurrence of a stimulus (Doughty, 1991), and other forms of what is referred to as
event in conscious awareness and subsequent storage in “input enhancement” (Sharwood-Smith, 1991, 1993).
long term memory...”. Schmidt is careful to distinguish Finally, especially relevant is a study by Alanen (1992)
noticing from understanding, which he defines as which although failing to find an advantage for input
“recognition of a general principle, rule or pattern” (1995: enhancement, nevertheless produced strongly supportive
29). Understanding represents a deeper level of evidence for the claimed importance of noticing. Alanen
awareness than noticing which is limited to “elements of compared the learning through reading of locative
the surface structure of utterances in the input” rather suffixes and a phonological phenomenon, consonant
than underlying rules (Schmidt, 2001: 5). Tomlin and Villa gradation, in Finnish by 36 English speakers under one of
(1994) suggest that there are four conceptions of four conditions: input enhancement (italicization), rule,
attention in SLA. One is that of attention as a limited rule and enhance, and control. Subjects described their
capacity system. The idea being that the brain may be thoughts as they went along in a taped think-aloud
presented (through the sensory system) with an procedure. Across all four groups, the think-aloud
overwhelming number of stimuli at any given time, and it protocols showed that subjects’ performance on
seems impossible to process them all. The limitations of subsequent unexpected tests of the target items was
attention refer not only to the amount (or duration) of greatly influenced by attentional focus and reported
attention that may be given to a single stimulus but also noticing during the two learning tasks, with learners who
to the number of stimuli that may be attended to reported that they paid attention to the target forms
simultaneously. This leads to a second conception of generally having acquired them, regardless of the
attention, namely that it constitutes a process of treatment they had received, and no learners having
selection. The overwhelming amounts of incoming stimuli acquired the targets without having noticed them (Ritchie
force the attentional system to be selective. The third and Bhatia, 1996).
conception of attention involves controlled rather than One of the most influential attentional studies in SLA
automatic processing of information. The underlying was conducted by VanPatten (1990), who investigated
assumption here is that some tasks require more the notion of attention as a limited resource. More
processing effort, and hence a higher degree of attention, specifically, the study examined whether learners were
than others. A person may therefore perform two tasks at able to consciously attend to both form and meaning
the same time, especially if one requires automatic when processing input. Results showed that the ‘content
processing (low attention). By the same token, it is more only and lexical groups’ significantly outperformed ‘the
difficult to perform two tasks if both require controlled form and morphology groups’. This led VanPatten to
processing (high attention). The fact that controlled conclude that it was difficult, especially for beginners, to
processing of two simultaneous tasks is sometimes notice content and form at the same time. Moreover, he
possible led researchers to develop a fourth conception postulated that learners would notice meaning before
of attention, which is that it must involve a process of form, since their primary objective is to understand the
coordination among competing stimuli and responses. In prepositional content of utterances. VanPatten’s findings
this process, attention must be established, maintained, have led SLA researchers to try and find ways to help
discontinued, and redirected in order to perform different learners focus on both form and meaning. One such way
actions. is input enhancement, which refers to the manipulation of
Some support for Schmidt’s position lies in Bardovi- certain aspects of the input (e.g., form) to make them
Harlig’s (1987) finding that the typologically marked more salient and thereby more noticeable to learners
36 Int. J. English Lit.

(Sharwood, 1993). Stronger evidence for the facilitative second language pedagogy and theory. (2) Although the
role of noticing comes from a study by Jourdenais et al. literature is replete with a lot of studies that deal with
(1995). Results showed that the Enhanced group used various aspects of L2 learning, there has been little
the target structure more often than the Unenhanced empirical research that directly investigates the
group on both the think-aloud protocols and the written relationship between explicit knowledge of grammar and
production task, suggesting that input enhancement L2 learners' written production. This study, therefore, is a
made the target forms more noticeable. Moreover, modest contribution to the empirical research in applied
subsequent production by the Enhanced group was more linguistics.
target-like than the Unenhanced group, suggesting that
noticing facilitated acquisition. A more innovative
experimental design by Leow (1997, 2000, 2001)
provides further evidence for the facilitative role of METHODOLOGY
awareness in SLA. Leow (1997) used a crossword puzzle
task as input that was designed to initially induce Fifteen subjects participated in this study. They were from a variety
of language backgrounds. There were nine females and six males.
learners’ error. Eventual clues in the puzzle provided Two subjects were under twenty years of age. Seven subjects were
learners with the correct form, thereby increasing their between twenty and twenty-five years old. Six subjects were over
chances of noticing the mismatch. Similar results were twenty-five years of age. Three subjects had studied English in their
found in a subsequent study (Leow 2000). Results home countries for more than eight years. One subject had studied
showed that participants who displayed evidence of English in her home country for exactly eight years, three for seven
awareness performed better on the post-exposure tasks years, six for six years, one for four years, and one for five years..
Only four subjects indicated that their previous English classes
than those classified as unaware. In a similar gave the most attention to writing. Emphasis on grammar was
experimental design, Rosa and O'Neill (1999) mentioned as the core of most subjects' previous English classes.
investigated the role of awareness in acquiring syntactic None of the subjects had ever been in an English-speaking
structures. Among other things, the study found that environment before coming to the U.S.A. Twelve had been in the
awareness seemed to increase learners' ability to U.S.A. for less than one year. Three had been in the U.S.A. for
more than a year, one of them for more than sixteen years. The
recognize the syntactic structures on the post-test. There
subjects were from Japan (N-5); Taiwan (N-4); Malaysia (N-1);
was also a strong correlation between awareness and Turkey (N-1); Indonesia (N-1); Brazil (N-1); Saudi Arabia (N-1) and
intake. Leow’s explanation seems to support VanPatten's Korea (N-1).
(1990) findings that attention to both form and meaning is The instruments of this study consisted of four tasks. First, a
difficult. However, the modality of the input in this case questionnaire was constructed to elicit information from each
(written) differed from that in VanPatten’s study (aural). subject about his/her name, country, sex, age, linguistic
background, and the extent of his/her exposure to the English
The question, then, would be “could modality differentially Language. Each subject was also asked to pinpoint the most
affect attention to meaning and form?” Wong (2004) tried difficult areas of grammar that always troubled him/her when he/she
to address this question with a partial replication of wrote in English (Appendix 1). Second, the subjects were asked to
VanPatten (1990). His variations included the addition of write an essay of about two hundred words. The topic was "The
a written mode of input and using English (instead of Value of Learning English." It was chosen because it was related to
Spanish). Findings for the aural input mirrored those of students' interest and not technical. In order to keep the
classroom's atmosphere as natural as possible, students' regular
VanPatten, since there was a significant decrease in teachers assigned this task as if it were a regular class assignment.
performance when participants had to attend to both Written instructions were given to the students before they wrote.
content and form. However, no significant difference To guarantee that every student knew what he/she should do,
was found when the input was written (which incidentally teachers read the instructions and asked students to feel free to ask
took less time to read than the aural input). Moreover, questions if they did not understand. Specifically, students' attention
was drawn to the necessity .of concentrating on both form and
when processing both form and meaning, the listening
meaning. The time allowed was forty minutes (Appendix 2). Third,
task proved more difficult than the written task, focused/unfocused correction tasks were used. The basis of these
suggesting once again that different modalities may two tasks was the morphosyntactic errors that appeared in each
impose different attentional demands (Firth and Wagner, student's essay. In an unfocused correction task, all sentences with
2007). To conclude, the noticing hypothesis has served morphosyntactic errors were provided. Each sentence contained
to generate important theoretical and empirical debates in one or more errors from the individual's essay. Each student was
told that there were grammatical errors in the sentence and was
SLA. It has also provided an opportunity to integrate asked to correct them. Written instructions were given to each
useful concepts from cognitive psychology into SLA student. The time allowed for this task was fifteen minutes
theory. (Appendix 3). Having done this task, students were given written
To conclude, reviewing the role of conscious instructions on how to work on the "focused correction task"
knowledge of grammar in second language learning and (Appendix 4). In the focused correction task the same sentences
L2 learners' performance has shown the following: (1) from the student’s essay were presented. This time, the students’
attention was drawn to the specific errors (that is, the errors were
The issue of the relationship between conscious underlined). Before students started to work on this task, their
knowledge of grammar and the accuracy of the written regular teacher explained the written instructions clearly and slowly.
production of advanced language learners is worth Students were asked to correct the errors that appeared in each
investigating. This issue is of special importance to both sentence (Appendix 4). Fourth, each student was interviewed to
El-dali 37

explain his/her performance in the essay, the unfocused correction Schachter (1974: 212). Specifically, Schachter suggested
task and the focused correction task. The students were that “the learner apparently constructs hypotheses about
interviewed individually by the author. Conducting the interview,
with each subject took about twenty to thirty minutes. Every subject
the target language based on knowledge he already has
had the opportunity to choose the time of the interview. During the about his own language. If the constructions are similar in
interview, students were asked to explain why changes were made the learner's mind, he will transfer his native language
and were probed to clarify as often as necessary. No feedback on strategy to the target language. If they are radically
the correctness of the changes was given before the end of the different, he will either reject the new construction or use
interview. Students' explanations were tape-recorded and it only with extreme caution”. Schachter's Chinese and
The data analysis had a quantitative and a qualitative,
Japanese subjects had difficulty with relative clauses and
interpretative part. The quantitative part consisted of a statistical therefore avoided them. This is probably the case with
comparison of the number of errors in the composition, unfocused Subject (1) and English modals. As a whole, Subject (1)
correction and focused correction tasks (by means of one-way made eight morphosyntactic errors in the essay. These
ANOVA). First, the number of students' errors in the essay, errors were in tenses, articles, prepositions and the
unfocused correction and focused correction tasks was calculated.
distinction between "among" and "between". In the
Students' errors in the unfocused correction task were counted as
either remaining ones that were previously made in the essay (and unfocused correction task, she made seven
never corrected), or new errors. Similarly, students' errors in the morphosyntactic errors; four of them were previously
focused correction task were categorized as either remaining, or made in the essay, and the other three errors were new.
new errors. Second, the frequency distributions and descriptive The four remaining errors were in tenses and articles,
statistics for students' errors in the essay, unfocused correction and and the three new errors were in prepositions. In the
focused correction tasks, were made. The qualitative part was an
analysis of each student's conception of the grammatical rules that
focused correction, task, she made three errors in
were violated in order to explain any discrepancies between their "tenses". In the unfocused correction task, Subject (1)
performances in the tasks. This analysis was inductive, based could not figure out what was wrong in the sentence, and
entirely on the individual's explanations, and aimed at accounting since she had to correct the sentences, she tended to
for the differences between the tasks. focus more on the semantic aspect of her sentences than
their grammatical accuracy. In other words, she did not
use grammar knowledge to correct her erroneous
RESULTS sentences. Instead, she tended to use what may be
called "stylistic variations" of those sentences. When she
Summary statistics was asked to explain why she made those changes, her
only answer was "I really don't know….you know, did not
The statistical analyses indicate that the condition (essay, see any problem in the sentence. “I tried to change
unfocused correction, focused correction) affected the something standard deviation of 3.1 (Tables 1 - 7). Figure
number of errors made by students. Students made the (1) also, illustrates the decrease in the number of errors
most errors in the essay, the fewest errors in the focused made by the subjects in the three tasks.
with a standard deviation of 2.9, while the mean number In the focused correction task, Subject (1) was unable
of errors in the focused correction task is 4.2 with a to see or correct the error although it was underlined for
standard deviation of 3.1. The following Figure 1 her. That is, although her attention was drawn towards a
illustrates the decrease in the number of errors made by specific grammar error, she could not correct it; instead,
the subjects in the three tasks. she tended to express the meaning of the sentence in a
different form which sometimes happened to be correct.
However, because she appeared to be lacking accurate
DISCUSSION grammar knowledge, the new versions of her erroneous
sentences contain grammar errors that should not be
Subject (1) made by an advanced student.
Subject (1) is a female student from Taiwan. She studied
English in her country for almost seven years. Her
previous English classes put a lot of emphasis on Subject (2)
grammar, reading vocabulary and writing. She had never
been in an English speaking environment before coming Subject (2) is a male student from Malaysia. He studied
to the United States. She had come to the U.S.A. four English in his country for more than eight years. His
months before the study was conducted. She indicated Previous English classes gave the most attention to
that the major area of English grammar that always teaching English grammar, then writing, listening,
troubled her was modals. In writing, vocabulary is her vocabulary, reading and speaking. He came to the U.S.A.
biggest problem. An evaluation of her essay shows that four months before the study. He indicated that the major
she tended not to use modals in her writing and, areas of English grammar that always troubled him were
accordingly, her essay is void of any errors in English tenses, particularly past perfect and continuous tenses,
modals. This strategy was previously observed by and modals. In his written essay, Subject (2) made
38 Int. J. English Lit.

Table 1. Number of students’ errors in the essay unfocused correction and focused correction tasks.

Unfocused correction Focused correction

Subject Essay From From
Remaining New Total Total
remaining new
1 8 4 3 7 1 3 4
2 27 8 5 13 1 0 0
3 9 3 1 4 0 4 4
4 18 7 4 11 0 2 5
5 23 7 1 8 3 0 12
6 17 11 1 12 12 0 3
7 9 1 5 6 3 2 2
8 12 6 0 6 0 1 3
9 12 4 5 9 2 0 0
10 7 1 4 5 0 2 8
11 15 8 0 8 6 1 3
12 11 2 2 4 2 1 7
13 9 2 4 6 6 1 4
14 11 5 0 5 3 2 5
15 25 8 2 10 3 2 3

Table 2. The distribution of subjects' errors in the essay. Table 3. The mean, standard deviation and other measures of
central tendency of subjects’ errors in the essay
Number of errors Number of students
7 1 Measures of central tendency Values
8 1 Mean 14.200
9 3 Mode 9.000
11 2 Kurtosis -0.383
12 2 S E Skew 0.580
15 1 Maximum 27.000
17 1 Std error 1.665
18 1 Std dev 6.450
23 1 S E Kurt 1.121
25 1 Range 20.000
27 1 Median 12.000
Total 15 Variance 41.600
Skewness 0.920
Minimum 7.000
twenty-seven morphosyntactic errors. They were in the Sum 213.000
plural morpheme [s] (that is, he did not use the plural
marker when it was required), articles (particularly the
definite article and the indefinite article "an"), copula languages in the world. The other two errors were in the
before an adjective and tenses. In the unfocused definite article, that is, he did not use "the" where it was
correction task, he made thirteen morphosyntactic necessary. Subject (2) explained the reason for making
errors; eight of them were previously made in the essay such a high number of errors in the written essay as
and never corrected, and the other five errors were new. follows: “when I write an essay I don't think a lot about
In this task, Subject (2) corrected his morphosyntactic how to composition, put word after word - sometimes I
errors in the indefinite article ‘an’ and the copula before notice things - sometimes I don't”. However, Subject (2),
an adjective. In addition, he came up with rather new sometimes, tried to find an excuse for his errors in the
sentences that were correct. In the focused correction essay by simply saying "I forgot - just I forgot - I am
task, he made only morphosyntactic errors in verbs. The sorry". In the unfocused correction task he began to pay
following are two examples of his errors in the focused some attention to the structures he used in the essay and
correction task: (1) English was using by people and (2) was able to correct many of his mistakes. In addition, he
Recently, English became one of the important tried to come up with almost new sentences: a
El-dali 39

Table 4. The distribution of subjects’ errors in the Table 6. The distribution of subjects' errors in the
unfocused correction task. focused correction task.

Number of errors Number of students Number of errors Subjects

4 1 0 2
5 1 2 1
6 3 3 4
7 2 4 3
8 2 5 2
9 1 7 1
10 1 8 1
11 1 12 1
12 1 Total 15
13 1
Total 15
Table 7. The mean, standard deviation and other
measures of central tendency of subjects' errors in the
focused correction task.
Table 5. The mean, standard deviation and other
measures of central tendency of subjects' errors in the
unfocused correction task. Measures of central tendency Values
Mean 4.200
Measures of central tendency Values Mode 3.000
Mean 7.600 Median 4.000
Mode 6.000 Variance 9.314
Kurtosis -0.799 Kurtosis 2.091
S E Skew 0.580 S E Skew 0.580
S E Kurt 1.121 S E Kurt 1.121
Std err 0.742 Skewness 1.121
Std dev 2.874 Std err 0.788
Skewness 0.548 Std dev 3.052
Range 9.000 Range 12.000
Median 7.000 Maximum 12.000
Variance 8.257 Minimum 0.000
Maximum 13.000 Sum 63.000
Minimum 4.000
Sum 114.000
Table 8. Anova summary table.

strategy that may suggest that he did not know where the Source SS D.F. MS F
error was and, naturally, failed to correct it. In the focused Type of task 775.60 2 387.80 35.53
correction task, he managed to reduce the number of Error 305.73 28 10.92
errors to only four: “when you put a line under `language'
I noticed that `language' should have `s' because we
have `many'”. "tenses". First of all, Subject (3) made nine
morphosyntactic errors in the essay, four errors in the
unfocused correction task and no errors in the focused
Subject (3) correction task. As she indicated in her responses to the
questionnaire, Subject (3) had some problems with
Subject (3) is a female student from Turkey. She studied English tenses. This was very clear in her explanations of
English in her country for four years. Her previous her performance in the essay and the unfocused
English classes gave a lot of attention to vocabulary, then correction task: “In the essay, I wrote "English becomes"
writing, grammar, then reading, listening and speaking. and in grammar task (1) I wrote "English became" - I
She had never been in an English speaking environment do not know why I changed the verb - maybe I'm
before coming to the U.S.A. She came to the U.S.A. less not confident in myself so I have to change something -
than a year before the study. She indicated that the major but you see - in grammar task (2) when I did not see it
area of English grammar that always troubled her was underlined I realized I was correct – so I used ‘English
40 Int. J. English Lit.

Figure 1. Plot of mean number of errors under the three conditions: essay,
the unfocused correction and the focused correction task.

becomes’”. In addition to her problem with tenses, think deeply before making a decision, and (3) ability to
Subject (3) appeared to have a problem with transfer her knowledge of grammar to complex tasks
prepositions. In her written essay, her nine such as writing. Having these three qualities combined
morphosyntactic errors were mainly in prepositions, helped Subject (3) to perform successfully in writing,
adjectives in the comparative form, and the definite grammar tasks, and providing accurate rationalizations
article. The following is the students' explanation -of why for her performance.
she made errors in the essay: “I know the rule. This is a
comparison, so I should use "er" on the adjective - I did
this in grammar tasks (1) and (2) but I forgot when I wrote Subject (4)
the essay. Can you explain why you forgot to do that?”
When I wrote I thought deeply about the subject and I do Subject (4) is a male student from Indonesia. He studied
not pay attention to the rules”. In the unfocused English in his country for six years. His previous English
correction task; Subject (3) made four morphosyntactic classes gave a lot of attention to both reading and writing.
errors; three of them were previously made in the essay He had never been in an English speaking environment
and never corrected, and the fourth error was new. She before coming to the U.S.A. He came to the United
corrected her previous errors in some prepositions, States a year before the study. He indicated that the
comparative adjectives, and some articles. However, she major area of English grammar that always troubled him
did not correct her-errors in some other articles and was "pronouns". In his essay, he only made one error in
different types of prepositions. Her new error in this task reflexive pronouns. In his written essay, Subject (4) made
was in tenses. In the focused correction task, she made eighteen morphosyntactic errors, mainly in prepositions,
no errors. Subject (3)'s good performance in the three articles, word order and adjectives. Subject (4) explained
tasks and her correct explanations during the interview the reason for making errors in the essay: “But you know
may be due to the following factors: (1) good when I write the composition the ideas - you know - it is
understanding of English grammar; (2) awareness of her very hard - there are too many rules”. In the unfocused
problems in English grammar rules, which enabled her to correction task, he made eleven morphosyntactic errors;
El-dali 41

seven of them were previously made in the essay and he corrected his errors in some of his usages of the
never corrected, and the other four errors were new. The definite article "the"; however, he still made some errors
seven remaining errors were mainly in reflexive in using "the" appropriately. He also corrected his errors
pronouns, prepositions, and adjectives. His new errors in object pronouns and verb "to be". His errors in the
were in structures he already used correctly in the essay, unfocused correction task were mainly in the indefinite
but in this task he changed them to incorrect forms. For article "an", subject verb agreement, "between-among"
example, he wrote in the essay "person can distinction and, occasionally, the definite article "the". In
communicate", but in the unfocused correction task, he the focused correction task, he made five errors only in
changed it to "can communicating" and "can the articles (the, an) and "between-among" distinction..
communicated". When asked about the reasons for these
changes, he gave the following justification:
Subject (6)
“Why did you change "can communicate" in your
essay to "can communicating" in grammar task (1) Subject (6) is a male student from Japan. He studied
and then "can communicated" in grammar task 2? I English in his country for almost five years. His previous
don't know...I think because communicate is a English classes gave a lot of attention to teaching English
descriptive verb - I don't know - I just felt "can grammar and reading. He had never been in an English
communicate" is wrong - it is my opinion. speaking environment before coming to the U.S.A. He
Okay, but can you explain how you came to this came to the United States five months before the study.
decision? He indicated that the major area of English grammar that
I don't know. always troubled him was "prepositions". In his written
Do you know what comes after "can"? essay, he made seventeen morphosyntactic errors in
I don't know (silence for seconds) maybe something prepositions, articles, conditional structures, subject-verb
like "do".” agreement and "to + simple form of the verb". In the
unfocused correction task, he made twelve
In the focused correction task, Subject (4) made thesame morphosyntactic errors; eleven of them were previously
four errors he previously made in the unfocused made in the essay and never corrected and only one new
correction task. That is, he corrected all the underlined error in tenses. In the focused correction task, he made
errors, however, he failed to correct the incorrect twelve morphosyntactic errors in the same structures he
structures he came up within the unfocused correction incorrectly used in the unfocused correction task.
task. Although Subject (6)'s attention was drawn to his errors,
he was unable to correct them successfully. All he did
was either leave the incorrect structures as they were or
use new structures which were also incorrect. This may
Subject (5) suggest that he lacks the necessary knowledge of
grammar and, accordingly, drawing his attention to his
Subject (5) is a male student from Brazil. He studied errors did not improve his performance.
English in his country for almost seven years. His
previous English classes gave a lot of attention to
teaching English grammar, writing, reading, listening, Subject (7)
vocabulary and speaking. He had never been in an
English speaking environment before coming to the Subject (7) is a female student from Taiwan. She studied
U.S.A. He came to the United States less than a year English in her country for almost eight years. Her
before the study. He indicated that the major area of previous English classes gave a lot of attention to
English grammar that always troubled him was English teaching English 'grammar, writing and speaking. She
models, and how to use adjectives and adverbs. In his had never been in an English speaking environment
written essay, he made twenty three morphosyntactic before coming to the United States. She came to the
errors. These errors were mainly in articles (the, an); U.S.A. five months before the study. She indicated that
subject-verb agreement; "between-among" distinction; her major problem was "prepositions". She made nine
object pronouns (plural object pronouns with singular morphosyntactic errors in the essay, six errors in the
antecedent) and incorrect use of verb to be. His unfocused correction task, and three errors in he focused
explanation as to why he made errors in the essay was correction task. During the interview Subject (7) pointed
as follows: “you know when I write in English I think in out that when she wrote the essay she thought of her
Portuguese and I don't think of grammar alone. When I native language. The following is an example:
write in English, I put 80% of my feelings but I don't pay
attention to grammar”. In the unfocused correction task, You put a line under "every countries" – but what is
he made eight errors; seven of them were remaining wrong with it. I don't know.
errors from the essay and one error was new. In this task, Do you know whether "every" should be followed by
42 Int. J. English Lit.

a singular or plural noun? forms of the verb after “can”, particularly, she used “verb+
(Silence for seconds) maybe singular...but in my s” after “can” and, finally, using incorrect prepositions. In
language, I use "every" with all I the unfocused correction task, she made six errors which
should say "every country”." were all made in the essay but never corrected. No new
errors were made. This means that she corrected six of
Her nine morphosyntactic errors in the essay were mainly her errors in the essay but failed to correct the other six
articles, prepositions and structures such as "to + simple errors. She seemed to have some problems with
form of the verb, and appropriate forms of nouns after the prepositions, articles and tenses. Interestingly, she
words (every, this, their). Specifically, she mistakenly indicated in her responses to the questionnaire that these
used plural nouns after "every" and "this", but singular three areas of grammar knowledge always constituted a
nouns "their". In addition to relying on her native problem for her. In addition, she was able to display and
language forming her structures in the essay, she verbalize the grammar rules that govern the structures
appeared to lack of understanding of English grammar she corrected in the unfocused correction task: “It is not
which led her to make sense assumptions about the good to have tense in the present and tense in the past. I
target language's structures: know that, but when I write it is difficult to use grammar”.
“Alright, why did you write "knowledge...are" in your The above explanation may suggest that Subject (8) had
essay and change it to "knowledge is" in the other problem of transferring her knowledge of grammar to the
two tasks? writing task. That is, although she knew the rules of six of
I thought "knowledge" is plural, I sometimes say to her twelve errors in the essay, and was able to state
myself it is plural, sometimes it is singular. I think it is these rules, she was still unable to transfer her
singular”. knowledge of these rules of grammar when she was
writing the essay. When her attention was partially drawn
In other words, her deficiency in grammar knowledge to her errors, she was able to correct them and clearly
made uncertain of what she should use. In the unfocused state the rules. However, since she appeared to lack the
erection task she made six morphosyntactic errors. Only necessary knowledge of grammar for the other six errors,
one of these errors was previously made in the essay she was unable to correct them or display any
and never corrected; the other five errors were new. The understanding of the rules involved. In the focused
new errors are mainly in the plural morpheme marker [s] correction task, she made only two errors, one in
as shown in: (1) People should study English as second prepositions and the other in word order. Both errors
languages, and (2) It is impossible to study every were made as a result of her attempts to make new
languages. sentences when she was unable to correct the underlined
The fifth error was in "tenses," as the following words by only relying on grammar knowledge. When
sentence might show: “It also makes the world developed asked to explain the changes she made to correct one of
easily”. In the focused correction task, she made three her errors, she provided the following explanation:
errors as a result of her lack of grammar knowledge. “See...the sentence is not good...the meaning...I have to
Specifically, she made two errors in using plural nouns change it, all of is not clear - so I changed the words.
after the word "every", and the third error was in using the didn't make attention for grammar. . . I want this sentence
preposition "with" whereas "to" was required. This clearly to mean anything”.
suggests that drawing students' attention to their errors is
not of great help as long as students lack the necessary Subject (9)
knowledge of grammar.
Subject (9) is a female student from Korea. She studied
English in her country for almost eight years. Her
Subject (8) previous English classes put a lot of emphasis on
teaching writing, grammar, listening, comprehension,
Subject (8) is a female student from Taiwan. She studied vocabulary, reading and speaking. She had never been
-English in her country for almost eight years. Her in an English speaking environment before coming to the
previous English classes gave a lot of attention to United States. She had been 'in the United States for
teaching English grammar, reading, vocabulary and sixteen years. She indicated that the major area of
writing, and finally listening and speaking. She had never English grammar that always troubled her was "articles".
been in an English speaking environment before coming Subject (9) made twelve morphosyntactic errors in the
to the United Stated six months before the study. She essay, nine errors in the unfocused correction task and
indicated that prepositions and tenses were problematic only ' three errors in the focused correction task. Subject
for her. Subject (8) made twelve morphosyntactic errors (9)'s main problem was explicitly expressed by her during
in the essay, six errors in the unfocused correction task the interview: “My problem is I cannot write and think of
and only two errors in the focused correction task. Her grammar together - my teacher can read my essay but
errors in the essay were mainly in verb “to be” and verb without...I mean grammar is later”. She also explained
“to do” when used in the negative mood; using incorrect the rationale of her changes as follows: “Oh... my God...I
El-dali 43

made the same mistake "knowledges" should be make new sentences in the unfocused correction task.
"knowledge" - I should also say "in the U.S.A."...I always Consider the following statement made by Subject (10):
say in the U.S.A. - I forgot when I wrote. Right, you “(Smiling) sometimes I don't pay attention to
correct it in task (2). Because I concentrated...I thought teacher told me I'm good at grammar but
about - I wasn't writing”. Subject (9)'s morphosyntactic when I write I forget something”. And the reason for
errors in the essay were mainly in nouns, modals, the forgetting "something" was: “I wanted first to finish the
definite article "the", and subject-verb agreement. In the essay”.
unfocused correction task, she made nine morpho-
syntactic errors; four of them were previously made in the
essay and remained incorrect in this task too, and the Subject (11)
other five errors were new. The four remaining errors
were mainly in modals, nouns, and articles. The five new Subject (11) is a female student from China. She studied
errors were made because Subject (9) tended to make English in her country for six years. Her previous English
new sentences that contained more errors, instead of classes put a lot of emphasis on teaching grammar and
concentrating on the already written sentences. In the vocabulary. She had never been in an English speaking
focused correction task, she made three errors in subject- environment before coming to the U.S.A. She came to
verb agreement, first person/plural pronoun and plural the United States two years before the study. She did not
morpheme [s]. give any response regarding the major area of grammar
that troubled her. I assume that she did not know the
answer. Subject (11) made fifteen morphosyntactic.
Subject (10) errors in the essay, eight errors in the unfocused
correction task and the same number of errors in the
Subject (10) is a female student from Japan. She studied focused correction task. Her errors in the essay were in
English in her country for six years. Her previous English subject-verb agreement, prepositions, articles, adjectives
classes gave a lot of attention to speaking, reading, and the verbs, especially those that follow "can". She
grammar, vocabulary and writing. She had never been in explained why she always makes errors in writing
an English speaking environment before coming to the essays: “because in the essay I just think about the
U.S.A. She came to the United States less than a year content - I don't think about the grammar -maybe (laugh)
before the study. She indicated that the major area of the time is not... Maybe I just translate from my native
English grammar that always troubled her was "tenses, language. I didn't pay attention - I didn't know what was
particularly past and present perfect". Subject (10) made wrong. I emphasize the meaning...I don't think of
eleven morphosyntactic errors in the essay; five errors in grammar. I used my experience”. In the unfocused
the unfocused correction task and no errors at all in the correction task, she made eight errors; all were
focused correction task. In the essay, Subject (10) previously made in the essay but never corrected. These
appeared to have problems with the definite article "the"; eight errors were in prepositions, subject-verb agreement
prepositions, and nouns. Regarding the definite article and adjectives. She made these errors because she did
"the", she used it incorrectly; that is, she used it when it not know what was wrong; however, she managed to
was not necessary. Regarding prepositions, she correct seven of the errors made in the essay.
appeared to have a problem making a distinction In the first two sentences Subject (11) corrected her
between "in", "on" and "to". She failed to use nouns in the erroneous sentences on the basis of knowledge of
plural form, such as "Many big company". In the grammar. In the second two sentences she did not make
unfocused correction task, she made five errors, only one use of explicit knowledge of grammar; rather she
error was previously made in the essay and never correctly used different words that expressed the
corrected, and the other four errors were new because meaning. Her verbal explanations demonstrate that she
she tried to correct her errors by coming up with new followed this strategy because she did not know exactly
sentences which contained new errors mainly in what was wrong and, as a result, she did not apply
prepositions and articles "a" and "the". However, in the grammar rules. Her inability to make grammaticality
focused correction task she corrected all her errors. judgments about her erroneous sentences may
Subject (10) had good understanding of the English demonstrate that she did not have the grammar
grammar and she did not have a serious problem knowledge that governed the structures involved. This
transferring this knowledge to other tasks such as writing. suggestion gains some credibility when we consider
In addition, her verbal explanations of the changes she Subject (11)'s performance in the focused correction task.
made and why she made them were clear and accurate. Subject (11) made the same number of morphosyntactic
She made the least number of errors in the essay and errors in both the focused and unfocused correction task,
she was one of two students who did not make any error although her attention was drawn to these errors. This
in the focused correction task. However, she failed means that she lacks the necessary knowledge of
sometimes to correct her errors. Instead she tended to grammar and, as a result, she could not correct her
44 Int. J. English Lit.

errors. This is the second case of one of the subjects Subject (13)
making the same number of errors in the unfocused and
the focused correction tasks. The other case was Subject Subject (13) is a male student from Saudi Arabia. He
(6) who made twelve errors in each of these two tasks. studied English in his country for seven years. His
Comparing both subjects' performances and verbal previous English classes put a lot of emphasis on writing,
explanations suggests one conclusion: successful grammar, reading, listening, vocabulary and speaking.
performance requires both knowledge and attention. He had never been in an English speaking environment
before coming to the U.S.A. He came to the United
States one year before the study. He indicated that his
Subject (12) major problem was adjectival clauses. Subject (13) made
nine morphosyntactic errors in the essay; six errors in the
Subject (12) is a female student from Japan. She studied unfocused correction task and, surprisingly, seven errors
English in her country for more than eight years. Her in the focused correction task. The subject attributed his
previous English classes put a lot of emphasis on errors in the essay to (1) lack of concentration; (2) short
reading, grammar, vocabulary, writing and speaking. She time; and (3) his mind was "loaded" since he spent the
had never been in an English-speaking environment night before writing the essay working on a research
before coming to the U.S.A. She came to the United paper until midnight. His nine errors in the essay were in
States nine months before the study. She indicated that prepositions, missing copula, "make-do" distinction,
she always had problems with articles and tenses when "other-another" distinction and nouns. He explained the
she wrote English. Subject (12) made eleven reason for making errors in the essay as follows:
morphosyntactic errors in the essay, four errors in the “Why did you miss the verb in the sentence when
unfocused correction task and three errors in the focused you wrote the essay?
correction task. She attributed her morphosyntactic errors because actually there was short time and there
in the essay to two factors: was no concentration...I wrote in any
composition I wrote it every time I wrote
“But you didn't use "to" in the essay, why is that? anything...anything...then come back to rewrite it
I forgot, always when I am writing English I forgot and change it...I add something...I take something
some prepositions...writing a composition is very away”.
ambiguous for me. (Laugh) - you know I don't think
much. I forgot "to" again, oh God, prepositions are In addition, Subject (13) was able to provide accurate
problem. I cannot decide”. statements of grammar rules; however, he failed to
transfer his knowledge of these rules when he wrote the
The decrease in the number of errors in the unfocused essay. In this regard, Subject (13) said: “I think...I was
and the focused correction tasks is due to the fact that very tired...the night before the class I stayed up till
Subject (12) tended to change the whole sentence in midnight to finish the research paper...I couldn't
such a way that she avoided the structures she concentrate on every a foreigner
previously used in the essay. Her eleven errors in the student I must read a lot - I know the rule but we
essay were in prepositions; "other another" distinction, cannot...I cannot realize every problem...I need more
demonstrative pronouns, articles and copula +(past experience”.
participle of verbs that functions as an adjective). In the In the unfocused correction task, he made six
unfocused correction task, she made four morphosyntactic errors; two of them were remaining
morphosyntactic errors; two of them were previously errors from the essay and the other four were new. The
made in the essay but never corrected and the other two two remaining errors were in prepositions and "another-
errors were new. The two remaining errors were in other" distinction. The new four errors were in articles,
demonstrative pronouns and the definite article "the". The prepositions and nouns. In the focused correction task,
other two errors were made because she tried to correct Subject (13) made seven errors in "other-another"
her errors by expressing the meaning of the sentences in distinction and nouns. Instead of concentrating on the
different forms, which happened to contain some new underlined words that had errors, he tended to come up
errors. In the focused correction task, she made three with new sentences. This behavior was peculiar. It was
errors in the definite article and adjectives. Subject (12)'s thought that he did not understand the instructions, but
explanation of some of the changes she made suggests during the interview he demonstrated complete
that drawing students' attention to their errors does not understanding of what he was supposed to do. However,
improve their performance as long as they lack the he did not do what he was asked to. In such a case, it
necessary knowledge of grammar: “I changed "other becomes difficult to pinpoint the influence of grammar
language" to "the second language" - Here when I knowledge on L2 learners' performance, since Subject
concentrated I noticed "other" was mistake but I didn't (13) had his own way of correcting errors. It must be
know which word I use so I used "the second language" -I emphasized, however, that he demonstrated some
am not sure which word I use”. understanding of grammar rules during the interview:
El-dali 45

Here you wrote in the essay "other language" -do you meanings to the sentences she previously used in the
know whether we use singular or plural nouns after essay: “I didn't know what the problem is... in task (1)
"other?" here I tried to change the words...I made a new,
(Directly) It must be plural. sentence. I think I did so in task (2)...I don't know a
What if the noun is singular - Do you know which word specific problem”. To sum up, the qualitative analysis of
we must use? the data indicated that giving students more time to draw
"another" on their conscious knowledge of grammar did not always
improve the accuracy of their writing because their
Surprisingly, although Subject (13) was aware of the knowledge was too fragmentary.
"other-another" distinction, he made most of his errors in
'using "other" where "another" was required, and vice
versa. The only explanation that may be offered in this Conclusion
regard is that his knowledge of grammar is still too
fragmentary or shaky to be transferred to tasks other than The results of this study demonstrate that students' errors
being verbalized. in the essay were not just due to carelessness or
forgetfulness as some of the subjects claimed during the
interview. An examination of the performance of the
Subject (14) subjects suggests that deficiency in their knowledge of
grammar results in inaccurate composition writing and
Subject (14) is a male student from Japan. He studied unsuccessful correction of errors. When asked to correct
English in his country for seven years. His previous their errors, L2 learners with deficiency in conscious
English classes put a lot of emphasis on grammar, knowledge of grammar seem to rely on their "feelings"
vocabulary, writing, speaking, listening and reading. He about the structures of the target language. However,
had never been in an English speaking environment since these "feelings" are based on incorrect knowledge,
before coming to the United States less than a year L2 learners tend to follow false assumptions and, in turn,
before the study. He mentioned that present and past their corrections of errors are unsuccessful. In addition,
perfect tenses were the major problems for him. Subject they appear to search for various ways to express the
(14) made eleven morphosyntactic errors in the essay, meanings of their erroneous sentences in new forms, but
five errors in the unfocused correction task and four many of these contain new errors. Thus, it can be
errors in the focused correction task. His errors in the concluded that relying on "feelings and experience" (to
essay were in nouns, prepositions, articles and "other- use Subject (4)'s words), without having adequate
another" distinction. These errors were made for two conceptual knowledge of grammar rules leads to
reasons: (1) lack of grammar knowledge and (2) unsuccessful performance, even if students' attention is
carelessness. In the unfocused correction task, he made drawn to their errors. This conclusion is based on four
five morphosyntactic errors in nouns, prepositions and pieces of evidence. First, many errors do not get
"other-another" distinction. These five errors were corrected in the unfocused correction task. An
remaining errors from the essay and had never been examination of the performance of the subjects shows
corrected in this task. In the focused correction task, he that none of the subjects was able to correct all his/her
made four errors in nouns and prepositions. His verbal errors in the unfocused correction task. For example,
explanations indicated clearly that he was lacking the Subject (1) failed to correct four of the eight errors he
ability to verbalize or explain his performance in the three made in the essay. Subject (2) failed to correct eight of
tasks. his twenty seven errors in the essay. Subject (3) also
failed to correct three of his nine errors in the essay.
Subject (15) Subject (4) failed to correct seven of his eighteen errors
previously made in the essay. Subject (5) made eight
Subject (15) is a female student from Japan. She studied errors in the unfocused correction task; seven of them
English in her country for six years. Her previous English were previously made in the essay and never corrected.
classes gave a lot of attention to speaking, grammar, Subject (6) also failed to correct eleven of the seventeen
writing, reading, listening and finally vocabulary. She had errors he made in the essay. Likewise, Subject (8) made
never been in an English speaking environment before six errors in the unfocused correction task; all were made
coming to the U.S.A. She came to the U.S.A. one year in the essay but never corrected. Subject (9) also made
before the study. She indicated that her major problems nine morphosyntactic errors in the unfocused correction
in English grammar were modals. Subject (15) made task; four of them were previously made in the essay and
twenty-five morphosyntactic errors in the essay; ten remained incorrect in this task too. Subject (11) made
errors in the unfocused correction task and five errors in eight errors; all were previously made in the essay but
the focused correction task. Instead of correcting the never corrected. Subject (14) made five errors in the
specific error, she tended to correct the whole sentence unfocused correction task; all were previously made in
by choosing new words, new structures and similar the essay but never corrected. Finally, Subject (15) made
46 Int. J. English Lit.

ten errors in the unfocused correction task; eight of them were correct. Subject (11) also managed to reduce the
were previously made in the essay but never corrected. number of his errors from fifteen errors in the essay to
Secondly, even when the error is identified (as in the eight in the unfocused correction task. She managed to
focused correction task), students often fail to correct it. correct some of her errors in the essay by coming up with
Subject (6) made twelve errors in the unfocused new sentences that happened to be correct. An
correction task, eleven of which were previously made in examination of Subject (12)'s performance also shows
the essay and never corrected, and only one of which that the decrease in the number of errors in the
was new. Although his attention was drawn to his errors, unfocused and the focused correction tasks is due to the
he was unable to correct them successfully. All he did fact that she tended to change the whole sentence in
was either leave the incorrect structures as they were or such a way that avoided the structures she previously
use new structures which were also incorrect. He made used in the essay. She made eleven errors in the essay,
twelve morphosyntactic errors in the same structures he four in the unfocused correction task, and three in the
had used incorrectly in the unfocused correction task. focused correction task. Subject (8) clearly stated that
This clearly suggests that he lacks the necessary she was relying on making new sentences rather than
knowledge of grammar and, consequently, drawing his correcting the already written erroneous sentences:
attention to his errors did not improve his performance. “See.. the sentence is not good.. .the meaning. I have to
Likewise, Subject (1) was unable to see or correct the change it, all of is not I changed the words.
errors although they were underlined for her. That is, I didn't make attention for grammar...1 want this sentence
although her attention was drawn towards a specific to mean anything”.
grammar error, she could not correct it; instead, she In addition to the above analysis, another interpretation
tended to express the meaning of the sentence in a can be provided, which is based on cognitive
different form which sometimes happened to be correct. psychology’s perspective. That is, in addition to the
Moreover, because she appeared to be lacking accurate deficiency in grammar knowledge as a reason for
grammar knowledge, the new versions of her erroneous students’ inaccurate composition writing, there is another
sentences contain yet more grammar errors. Likewise, possible reason that makes these students commit many
Subject (11)'s performance demonstrates that even when morphosyntactic errors in writing such as the many
the mistake is clearly identified, she still often fails to constraints that writing in a foreign language imposes on
correct it. She made eight errors in the unfocused foreign language learners and deficiency in students’
correction task and the same number of errors in the abilities to transfer their knowledge of grammar to
focused correction task. She made these errors because complex tasks such as writing. It can be argued that
she did not know what was wrong. Although her attention composing in English as a second language is a
was drawn to specific errors, she made the same number multidimensional activity which requires L2 learners to do
of errors in both correction tasks. more than one thing simultaneously. This argument is
Third, many new errors are introduced, even when the compatible with the principles of the attention theory. Two
subjects are paying attention. Subject (1) for example, important features within the phenomenon of attention
made three new errors in the unfocused correction task, have been identified: 1) an individual can attend to only
and two new errors in the focused correction task. one thing at a time or think only one thought at a time; 2)
Subject (2) made five new errors in the unfocused attention appears to be serial, and we find it very difficult
correction task, and three new errors in the focused to mix certain activities, That is, the focus of attention is
correction task. Subject (7) made six errors in the only on one place at one time. Our ability to attend to
unfocused correction task; five of them were new. Five of several sources of information simultaneously is severely
the nine errors made by Subject (9) were new, and four restricted. Consequently, a human who must process
of the five errors made by Subject (10) were also new in information that exceeds his channel capacity will
the unfocused correction task. Subject (13) made six inevitably make errors. Moreover, L2 learners may
errors in the unfocused correction task, four of which appear to have the necessary knowledge to make correct
were new. Finally, even when the subjects' errors are responses; however, they are unable to transfer this
eliminated, it is often because students tend to write new knowledge while writing; listening to spoken English;
sentences instead of correcting them. For example, reading written texts, and solving certain types of
Subject (1) tended to focus more on the semantic aspect grammatical problems (El-daly, 1999). In this regard,
of her sentences than on their grammatical accuracy. In Gelman and Meck (1986:30) rightly a point out that
other words, she did not use grammar knowledge to knowledge of the correct principles does not guarantee
correct her erroneous sentences. Instead, she tended to correct performance. Principles specify characteristics
use what one could call "stylistic variations" of those that a correct performance must possess, but they do not
sentences, which happened to be correct. Likewise, provide recipes for generating a plan for correct
Subject (2) managed to reduce the number of his errors performance. Nor do they guarantee correct execution of
from twenty-seven errors in the essay to thirteen in the plan (Eskildsen, 2008; Reynolds, 2010). In thinking about
unfocused correction task because his new sentences foreign language learners’ performance as an object of
El-dali 47

study, therefore, the essence of the underlying and Lefevre (1986) maintain that linking conceptual and
knowledge that accounts for their performance must be procedural knowledge has many advantages for
examined. This examination of the learners underlying acquiring and using procedural knowledge. These
knowledge will in turn uncover the basis for the strategies advantages are: (A) Enhancing problem representations
they use in solving language problems. In this regard, and simplifying procedural demands. (B) Monitoring
Gass (1983: 277) suggests that for foreign language procedure selection and execution. (C) Promoting
learners the ability to think and talk about language might transfer and reducing the number of procedures required.
involve abstract analyses of a number of different types. Moreover, linking conceptual knowledge and procedural
It might include, for example, analyses of their own knowledge has benefits for conceptual knowledge.
language, a comparison between their native language According to Anderson (1983), for which no routine
and the target language, a comparison between their procedures are available are solved initially by facts and
native language and other languages previously learned, concepts in an effortful and laborious way. As similar
or even a comparison between the target language and problems are solved repeatedly, conceptual knowledge is
other languages previously learned. And, as Johnson gradually transformed into set routines (condition-action
(1982) maintains, when learning a language is viewed as pairs) for solving the problem. The condition- action pairs
learning skills, the process appears to be usefully broken constitute the basic elements of the procedural system.
into two or three phases. The first is the development of Thus knowledge that is initially conceptual can be
declarative knowledge; however, “declarative linguistic converted to knowledge that is procedural. In addition,
knowledge cannot be employed immediately but only procedures can facilitate the application of conceptual
through procedures activating relevant parts of knowledge because highly routinized procedures can
declarative knowledge in speech reception and reduce the mental effort required in solving a problem
production” (Farch and Kasper, 1986:51). In the second and by making possible the solution of complex tasks)
or associative phase, the skill is performed. In the third (Kubonyiova, 2008; Van Patten and Williams, 2008).
phase, the skill is continually practiced, and becomes The results of this study show that the existence of
automatic and faster (Brown, 2009; Cohen, 2008). knowledge is not sufficient to distinguish skilled or fluent
Accordingly, one can argue that deficiency in the performance from less skilled. Through practice and
subject's declarative knowledge may result in (1) failure experience the learner must gain easy access to
to detect the erroneous item that must be corrected for knowledge. Cognitive psychologists describe this
the sentence to be correct; (2) failure to decide whether difference in access as automatic” or “not automatic” or
the sentence is correct or incorrect; and, in most cases, “controlled”. In other words, foreign language learners
the sentence seems grammatically correct although it may appear to have the necessary knowledge to make
violates a certain invisible grammatical rule. correct responses; however, they are unable to display
In addition, because there was no link between this knowledge in multi - dimensional tasks. In such
declarative and procedural knowledge, many subjects tasks, learners are required to do more than one thing
failed to correct the item they identified as erroneous, or simultaneously. This argument is compatible with the
provide accurate rationalizations for their performance. principles of the attention theory. That is, this study
Therefore, examining the relationships between supports Van Patten’s (1990) conclusion that it is difficult,
declarative and procedural knowledge is a worthwhile especially for beginners, to notice content and form at the
pursuit since students often fail to recognize or construct same time. Also, this study provides further evidence for
these relationships, and, sometimes are able to reach the facilitative role of increased attention in improving L2
correct answers for problems they do not really learners’ performance. This implies that our students’
understand. In his discussion of this issue, Carpenter failure to perform on language tasks may be due,
(1986) points out that three different models have been sometimes, to cognitive deficiency; rather than linguistic
proposed to describe the relationship between one. And, in broad terms, language acquisition may not
conceptual and procedural knowledge. The first model be fully understood without addressing the interaction
hypothesizes that advances in procedural knowledge are between language and cognition. Therefore, further
driven by broad advances in conceptual knowledge. The research is needed in this area, at least, to know how our
second proposes that advances in conceptual knowledge students think and how to teach them to think
are neither necessary nor sufficient to account for all strategically. As a whole, the results are consistent with
advances in procedural knowledge. The third model Van Patten (1990): the second language learner has
concurs with the first that advances in procedural skills difficulty in attending to both form and content in the
are linked to conceptual knowledge but proposes that the input. In other words, the attentional resources are limited
connections are more limited than those suggested by and therefore it is difficult to understand the content of
the first model. input when the attention is allocated to a certain form in
It seems, therefore, that the best way for effective the input. This can serve as evidence supporting such
classroom instruction and for improving our students’ theoretical and pedagogical proposals as consciousness-
performance is to link conceptual with procedural. Hiebert raising (Rutherford and Sharwood-Smith, 1985), input
48 Int. J. English Lit.

enhancement (Sharwood-Smith, 1993; Alanen, 1992), A better understanding of these factors and of how they
and focus on form (Doughty and Williams, 1998). They all interact with the students' (incomplete) knowledge may
start with the common assumptions that (1) focus on help teachers to assign more effective writing tasks and
meaning is necessary with a sufficient amount of input; to give more appropriate feedback.
(2) a certain level of conscious attention to form is also
necessary; (3) it is difficult, however, to pay attention to
form while processing input for meaning; and (4) REFERENCES
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Van Patten (1990) have provided some evidence for Joensuu, Vol. 41.
Assumption 3: simultaneous attention to form and Alanen R (1992). Input enhancement and rule presentation in second
language acquisition. In R. Schmidt (Ed.), Attention and Awareness
meaning is difficult. Furthermore, these studies favor in Foreign Language Learning (p. 259-302). Honolulu: University of
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52 Int. J. English Lit.


Name: Free composition

Sex: Male: ¬¬___ Female: ___ Please, write an essay of about 200 words on: "The
TO: Students in the Advanced Level. Value of Learning English"

Please answer the following questions by placing an X on

the line where indicated. Instructions

1. How old are you? Please write in ink

____ (A) Under 20 Pay attention to the grammar and meaning of your
____ (B) Between 20 and 25 sentences
____ (C) Over 25 You have forty minutes to write the essay
Your name is: ________________________
2. How long did you study English in your country? Now, begin.
____ (A) 6 Years
____ (B) 7 Years
____ (C) 8 Years APPENDIX 3
____ (D) More than 8 years
Correction task (1)
3. What did your previous English classes give most
attention to (Please number in order of importance, #1 Instructions
being most important etc.)
____ Listening The sentences used in this task are taken from your
____ Reading essays on "The Value of Learning English." Each
____ Writing sentence contains grammatical errors. Read each
____ Grammar sentence carefully and correct
____ Vocabulary what you think is wrong.
____ Speaking/Pronunciation

4. Had you ever been in an English speaking APPENDIX 4

environment before coming to the United States?
____ (A) Yes Correction task (2)
____ (B) No
5. If yes, for how long?
____ (A) Less than 6 months The sentences used in this task are taken from your
____ (B) Between 6 months and 1 Year essays on "The Value of Learning English." Each
____ (C) Between 1and2 Years sentence contains grammatical errors. These errors are
____ (D) More than 2 Years underlined. Read each sentence carefully and correct
what is underlined.
6. How long have you been in the United States?
____ (A) Less than 1 Year
____ (B) 1-2 Years
____ (C) More than 2 Years

7. In your view, what areas of grammar trouble you