Learner's Attention to Form

Schmidt came up with the Noticing Hypothesis after studying the Japanese man Wes who spoke English as an L2 (Ortega, 2009). Wes had sufficient components of everything that researchers had deemed important in the 1980’s: attitude, input, interaction and output. However, what this learner lacked was attention to form. Long’s interaction hypothesis expands on Krashen’s comprehensible input arguing that the best type of input learners receive is modified through interaction (Ortega, 2009). These modifications come about through different signals that the recipient has not understood the message then various negotiation moves such as clarification requests, confirmation checks, and recasts. These moves are presented as input to the learner who can then reflect on his own utterance, analyzing where the misunderstanding is stemming from. This interaction makes both speakers modify their language to increase each other’s understanding as well as highlight certain language forms for the learner. Clearly, interaction modifications increase comprehension in more individualized, learner centered ways.

Swain identified three functions of interaction that expand learners’ competence in the second language. Miscomprehension that arises from interaction allows learners to identify gaps in their language and find holes in what they can say within their current language level (Ortega, 2009). This awareness encourages learners to rephrase their original utterances to a more precise meaning that was not originally conveyed. There is also a metalinguistic function when negotiating for form when learners reflect on the forms they use (Ortega, 2009). Lastly, students can more easily experiment with the language, trying new forms in production and then immediately receive feedback from the listener that helps determine the success of the grammatical hypothesis testing (Ortega, 2009).

Besides the input that learners receive from the other interlocutor, their output is another aspect that contributes to a focus on form and language growth. Previously, comprehension had been focused on but Swain’s pushed output hypothesis in 1985 placed output at a competence-expanding role. Input is not as demanding as output in terms of comprehension, according to Ortega (2009), because it usually does not demand complete processing of forms. One can understand the general meaning without understanding every feature in detail by focusing on key words and context to make educated guesses. Therefore, Swain argued that the production of the language is a key factor that makes learners pay more attention to form in order to successfully communicate (Ortega, 2009). Furthermore, Van den Braden concluded in his 1997 research that negotiation stimulates pushed output (Ortega, 2009). Ortega (2009) details Imuzi’s reflections of how a learner may want to communicate something a little more advanced than what he is capable of or used to producing; consequently, these opportunities to take risks in language choices drive learning and help “destabilize the internal interlanguage representations” that then lead to further interlanguage development (Ortega, 2009). Izumi also explains that pushed output cannot be applied in mechanical language use but only in meaningful communication such as in interaction.