1 Chapter 1 Overview Focus on Form or Meaning? One of the most

Chapter 1
Focus on Form or Meaning?
One of the most debated topics in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) has been
how language input should be presented to the second language learner in the classroom.
For example, some SLA researchers claim an approach that includes a focus on the
grammatical form of the second language (L2) is best (Schmidt, 1993; Sharwood Smith,
1993; Van Patten, 1989). In contrast, others contest that there is no place for a focus on
grammar in the SLA classroom and it is meaningful communication that should be
emphasized (Krashen 1982, 1985). This debate has recently been discussed in terms of
focus on form vs. focus on meaning. A focus on the form (FonF) of the language
consists of drawing the learner's attention to the linguistic features of the language. A
focus on meaning, on the other hand, excludes attention to the formal elements of the
language (Doughty and Williams, 1999). Thus, a focus on form approach would allow for
the L2 learner to concentrate on the grammatical rules and constructs of the language. A
focus on meaning approach, on the other hand, would be concerned with getting the L2
learner to concentrate solely on understanding the message being conveyed. If, for
example, a student were given a text in the L2, he or she would be focusing on form if
they were asked to analyze the text in terms of how it represents the rules of the language.
The same text could be looked at but with a focus on meaning if the learner was told to
concern him/herself only with understanding the text’s message. In both cases the text is
the same but what the student is being asked to focus on is different. The question that
arises is which type of focus is most beneficial for second language learners. Is one or
the other best or perhaps a combination? After over twenty years of research in the SLA
field, this issue continues to be debated and divides both theory and research. Although
research has been done in the classroom and the laboratory in search of a resolution, the
question remains unanswered (Leeman; Arteagoitia; Fridman & Doughty, 1995, p.217).
The focus on form vs. meaning question is important to consider for both
language learners and teachers. The answer would help to formulate part of a
comprehensive account of how second languages should be taught. Over the years,
theories have fallen in and out of favor. Teaching methods have in turn swayed from one
end of the pendulum (grammar translation, consciousness raising) to the other
(suggestapedia, natural approach, communicative method). A theory based solution to the
problem would rescue teachers and students from the confusion and uncertainty these
trends create. If it is determined which type or combination of focus most profoundly
contributes to learning, teachers could select a method that helps their students. Without a
clear idea of what type or combination of focus is best, language teachers cannot be
confident that they are using the most beneficial approach.
The Self Access Center Context
The form vs. meaning debate raises important questions for SLA contexts outside
the classroom as well. This would include the Self Access Center (SAC). A recent trend
in SLA has been the promotion of autonomous learning in self access centers.
Autonomous learning puts more emphasis on the student to be responsible for his/her
progress (Dickinson, 1993). SACs are language centers that provide learning resources
and materials where students can be autonomous language learners. The SAC is a
resource the learner can use independently to support classroom learning (Littlejohn,
1985). The responsibility to ensure language learning occurs is shifted somewhat away
from the teacher to the learner.
Self access centers are being discussed more and numerous books on the subject
have been published in recent years (Benson & Voller, 1997; Gardner & Miller, 1999;
Pemberton, 1996). Self access language learning centers have recently grown in
popularity and number. For example, in central Mexico where the present study took
place, SACs for second language learning have been actively promoted since 1994
(Dominguez, 2000). SACs encompass a wide context as can be seen by research and
discussion that has been published on SACs in several different countries (Kell &
Newton, 1997; Littlejohn, 1985; Yoke & Brown, 1994). Apart from the theoretical
motivations, many universities have set up SACs for economic reasons. It is
considerably cheaper to supply and staff a SAC than a faculty of qualified second
language teachers (Yoke & Brown, 1994).
One very important aspect of the SAC is the material and resources placed in it.
The autonomous nature of the SAC inevitably puts more emphasis on a learner’s
interaction with the language learning materials. Although there is discussion of mode
(i.e. audio, video, textual, etc.), classification (according to level of difficulty for
example), and organization (how materials should be stored and accessed) in these
centers, the specific design of the material that should be in a SAC has not been
addressed (Gremmo & Riley, 1995).
There is a tendency to equip SACs with a variety of different kinds of materials
without paying close attention to which materials actually work best for students (O'Dell,
1992). This practice assumes that a variety of materials in a SAC provides the necessary
exposure for students to improve. However, research in SLA has indicated that mere
exposure to the L2 is not enough to fully promote acquisition (Harley & Swain, 1984;
Schachter 1984; White, 1985). Therefore, it may be important to ensure sufficient
materials that focus on the formal aspects of the L2 exist in the SAC. It is here that the
form vs. meaning debate becomes relevant to the SAC context. Should a SAC have
material that primarily focuses on meaning or form? Should there only be one type or the
other? If both, what ratio would be of most benefit? Why have certain types of material
in a SAC if it is not beneficial? These are questions that can be asked in relation to SACs
that to date remain unanswered. Given the trend towards promoting SACs in language
teaching, it is necessary that we investigate the factors which best contribute to students’
success in these SACs just as thoroughly as the factors contributing to their success in the
classroom. Rather than arbitrarily equipping an SAC with resources, it is important to
determine which materials are most beneficial (Gremmo & Riley, 1995).
One way to gain insight on this issue is to examine the preferences students have
in SACs. Littlejohn (1985) points out that adults learn better when they are given a
chance to determine the pace, sequence, mode of instruction, and the content of their
studies. Kumaravadivulu (1991) noticed that teachers do not accurately predict what
students prefer and claims that " the narrower the gap between teacher intention and
learner interpretation, the greater are the chances of achieving desired learning outcomes
" (p.98). Thus, it may be beneficial to consider students’ language learning preferences
more closely. In a SAC context it is possible students’ preferences may help to identify
which type of material in a SAC is most useful. A SAC may be equipped with a lot of
language learning material, but if none of it appeals to a student’s preferences it may be
less effective. The student may become frustrated and less motivated to learn (Littlejohn,
1985). In an autonomous environment such as a SAC it may be important that language
learners have access to their preferred type of instructional material.
As a result, the focus of the present study was to investigate students’ preferences
for form vs. meaning in a SAC. The study was exploratory in nature and sought to
examine what type of material was preferred by university students of English as a
foreign language in a SAC. It was hoped that gaining data on their preferences would
help to determine which type of material may be most appropriate in the SAC
environment. The study utilized both quantitative and qualitative data. Students’ choices
of form or meaning-focused exercises in a SAC were recorded. Qualitative data, in the
form of subjects’ SAC journal entries, and responses to a post interview on the type of
activities preferred, were gathered and analyzed to help explain trends in the quantitative
Review of Literature
It was necessary to consider research from several distinct, yet relevant areas.
These will be discussed in the following order: 1) focus on form and focus on meaning;
2) students’ preferences; 3) related contexts; 4) research in the SAC context.
Defining Focus on Form, Focus on Forms and Focus on Meaning
Firstly, it is necessary to define as clearly as possible exactly what these terms
mean. Long and Robinson (1999) define focus on form as " an occasional shift of
attention to linguistic code features by the teacher and/or one or more students triggered
by perceived problems with comprehension or production" (p.23). Long (1991) asserts
that focus on form is when the instructor intentionally draws attention to linguistic
elements of the L2 but maintains an overriding focus on meaning and communication.
Long and Crookes (1992) emphasize that focus on form "draws students’ attention to
aspects of the target language code" (p.43) while Doughty and Varela (1999) provide
three specific criteria for a focus on form approach:
1. The target of the focus on form should arise incidentally in the otherwise
content-based lesson.
2. The primary focus should remain on meaning or communication.
3. The teacher should draw students’ attention to form rather than leaving it to
chance that students will notice linguistic features without any pedagogical
assistance. Focus on form has a dual requirement to focus on a linguistic feature
without interrupting significantly a primarily communicative task.
It is evident that a focus on form has two main features. Firstly, focus on rules is
less important than meaning. That is, the emphasis on the meaning of the language is
primary and a shift towards a focus on formal aspects occurs only when meaning is not
accurately conveyed or when the instructor suspects the shift is necessary for
comprehension. Secondly, this shift entails attention being directed towards the
grammatical features of the language. Nevertheless, it appears that what constitutes a
focus on form approach is relative. Harley's (1999) study for example, had her learners
focus on code based aspects of the language which included metalinguistic terms.
Although Harley asserts she was using focus on form, Doughty & Williams (1999) claim
that the activities used by Harley in her study could be considered not focus on form but
what is known as focus on forms. Focus on forms involves more traditional approaches
to grammar that consist of isolating individual linguistic constructs out of context
(Doughty and Williams, 1999). Long and Crookes (1992) define focus on forms as "the
use of some kind of synthetic syllabus and/or a linguistically isolating teaching "method",
such as audiolingualism, the Silent Way, or Total Physical Response" (p.43). Long and
Crookes (1993) go on to point out that a focus on forms involves "treatment of language
as object, as the content of the syllabus and primary focus of instruction" whereas focus
on form involves "treatment of language as object in context as an incidental feature of
task accomplishment" (p.731). Long (1991) provides a more practical explanation of the
difference between the two approaches:
Whereas the content of lessons with a focus on forms is the forms themselves, a
syllabus with a focus on form teaches something else-biology, mathematics,
workshop practice, automobile repair, the geography of a country where the
foreign language is spoken, the cultures of its speakers, and so on-and overtly
draws students' attention to linguistic elements as they arise incidentally in lessons
whose overriding focus is on meaning or communication. (pp. 45-46).
Although Doughty and Williams (1999) comment that an approach like Harley's
could be considered focus on forms and not focus on form, they do concede that focus on
form can be defined on a sliding scale. They point out that "Long is at the most implicit
end of the focus on form continuum, with the narrowest interpretation of the term,
whereas both Dekeyser and Lightbrown, for instance, see at least some role for what
Long would probably call focus on forms" (p.5). So, it would be possible to label a study
such as Harley (1999) as focus on form research and point out that defining it is not
entirely fixed.
What then is a focus on meaning? Doughty and Williams (1999) succinctly
summarize the basic difference between focus on form, focus on forms, and focus on
meaning. They say that “Focus on form entails a focus on formal elements of language,
whereas focus on forms is limited to such a focus, and focus on meaning excludes it”
(p.4). Thus, it would appear that focus on meaning does not allow for any attention
whatsoever to the linguistic code of the L2. The focus on meaning approach stems from
what is known as the ‘noninterventionist’ position. This position claims that an L2 is
learned best by allowing students to experience the L2 through communication and not
through rigorous study. This would include methods such as Krashen's Natural Approach
(1983) as well as content based ESL and immersion programs (Long & Robinson, 1999).
In the present study what constituted a focus on form fell more towards a focus on
forms. Thus, the type of focus on form that subjects were required to participate in
involved them paying attention to an individual linguistic structure that stemmed from a
predetermined syllabus, rather than briefly focusing on a troublesome structure that arose
out of a meaningful activity. The relative nature of the idea of focus on form motivated
the researcher to formulate the following operational definitions for the study:
Focus on form = requires the student to focus on the grammatical correctness or
incorrectness of the L2.
Focus on meaning = requires the student to focus on the message being conveyed
by the L2.
In the following section research that contrasted focus on forms with focus on
meaning will be discussed. Focus on forms not focus on form is reviewed because the
present study was more closely related to a focus on forms approach (i.e. the grammar
points were dictated by a predetermined syllabus). It should also be pointed out that the
use of the term “focus” in this study does not refer to the subjects’ cognitive processes.
The fact that it is difficult to know what subjects actually focus on is acknowledged by
Sharwood Smith (1991, 1993) who cautions that one cannot assume that manipulation of
input will actually increase the learner's attention to form. Sharwood Smith prefers the
term “input enhancement” rather than “consciousness raising” since it is difficult to
actually know what subjects focus on (Leeman; Arteagoitia; Fridman; Doughty, 1995,
p.219). For the purposes of this study the term focus is used only to refer to the design of
the SAC exercises which attempted to “enhance” the input towards an emphasis on form
or meaning. It is not used to refer to what subjects were actually focusing on while doing
the exercises.
Focus on Forms vs. Focus on Meaning Research
This line of investigation exists because researchers discovered that many
language programs such as immersion, which focused primarily on meaning, left learners
with some L2 structures underdeveloped (Harley, 1992; Harley & Swain, 1984). This fact
lead researchers to believe that focusing on the linguistic principles of the L2 could be
beneficial for learners (Doughty & Williams, 1999). For example, a study by Alanen
(1995) made use of a semi artificial language based on Finnish. ESL learners were
randomly assigned to four different groups. The experiment took place in a classroom
setting. All four groups were asked to read a text for meaning and answer comprehension
questions. The rules of the grammar point were explained to the two forms-focused
groups. The difference between these two groups was that one received an explanation
of the rules and had the linguistic structure in question highlighted in the text while the
other only received the explanation but no highlighting. The meaning-focused group
received a highlighted text and the control group an unmodified text. Subjects in the
forms-focused groups outperformed the subjects in the meaning-focused groups on a post
experiment sentence completion task which disfavored a meaning only focus and lended
support to the effectiveness of a focus on forms. A study performed by Doughty (1991),
however, found different results. Doughty used a pretest-posttest design with adult ESL
learners in three randomly assigned conditions of exposure. The grammatical structure
that was being tested was relative clauses (" I found the book that John was talking
about" or "The girl who I gave the present to was absent"). As in Alanen's (1995) study,
the groups were asked to read a text in order to answer comprehension questions. These
texts contained relative clauses. The control group simply read the texts. The meaning
oriented group had the relative clauses highlighted in the text. The focus on forms group
read the texts and received rules to explain relative clauses. The results favored the focus
on meaning group because this group not only comprehended better the message of the
text but also was as good as the focus on forms group in relative clause knowledge.
Another experiment performed by Hulstijn (1989) in a laboratory setting directly
compared the effectiveness of a focus on forms condition with a focus on meaning
condition. Hulstijn wanted to know if the focus on meaning group would learn formal
aspects of subordinate clauses incidentally and if this group would perform better than
the focus on forms group in both rule based knowledge and content knowledge. The
study had a pretest-posttest design. The pretest aimed at testing subjects’ previous
knowledge to the target structure and consisted of having subjects rapidly copy sentences
with subordinate clauses after having been exposed to them briefly. Hulstijn's subjects
were adults learning Dutch. The focus on forms group was asked to do an exercise that
required them to match eight sentence fragments with an order given on a computer
screen. The meaning group only read the sentences on the computer screen and
commented if they agreed or disagreed with the sentence's message. Hulstijn also had a
forms plus meaning group. Groups were then asked to recall all the sentences that they
had been exposed to and Hulstijn evaluated accuracy in terms of grammar and
comprehension. The results showed that the focus on forms groups performed better than
the meaning only group with the forms plus meaning group performing best of all.
This conflicts with VanPatten (1990) who claims there is an inevitable trade off
that must occur when focus on meaning and form are concentrated on at the same time.
That is, that when one is focused on, the learner's capacity in the other suffers. This
claim was based on the fact that recall was most negatively affected when he had subjects
listen to identify the occurrence of a form and comprehend meaning at the same time.
Evidence gathered from a classroom based study sheds light on other aspects of
the focus on forms vs. focus on meaning question. Harley (1989) carried out a study with
English speaking children aged 7-8 in a French immersion program with the aim of
determining if instructional activities that focused on forms would help her students to
recognize gender cues to determine gender assignment. Harley found some different yet
equally as interesting results. She found that the students who received focus on forms
activities in class were better at gender assignment only for the words that they had been
exposed to and practiced in class. It also seemed that the relevance of the activities to the
entire curriculum was important since teachers consciously or unconsciously rejected
them if they did not fit in with what they were doing in class.
It seems that a focus on forms approach is worthwhile, yet there are some
conflicting results from these comparative type studies that leave the question open to
debate and motivates further research. In place of a comparative type approach perhaps
one possible way to help resolve the issue is to examine what type of focus students
prefer. Some researchers believe preference is a significant factor in promoting L2
acquisition. They assert that if students learn in an environment that takes their
preferences into account it is possible students will benefit. Perhaps knowing the type of
focus students prefer could help to determine which type of focus is most appropriate.
The following section discusses briefly why students’ preferences might be important and
outlines some of the research.
Language Learners’ Preferences
Some researchers assert that students’ preferences are a significant factor for L2
learners. For example, Nunan (1996) advocates a learner-centered approach to activities
and curriculum design. He claims learners should express their opinions of their needs for
learning the language, their preferred learning styles, their beliefs about language
learning or their preferred activity types. Their expressed preferences can then be taken
into consideration by the teachers and administrators to make learning more effective.
Thus, it is important for teachers and students to be aware of what their preferences are in
order to help decide how and what they will learn. This certainly would apply in the
SAC environment as well since students have a responsibility to decide what and how
they will study, and teachers have a responsibility to help guide them in their use of the
SAC. Perhaps knowing which type of focus students prefer could help to determine how
or if a focus on meaning or form should be integrated into the SAC. Research has not
been done in an SAC to determine if students prefer a focus on meaning or focus on form
specifically. Nevertheless, there are relevant studies in other contexts that have looked at
traditional vs. non-traditional, communicative vs. non communicative, and inductive vs.
deductive activities which could be considered as either form or meaning-focused type
activities. Studies of preferred activities have focused on: 1) learner opinions on their
activity preferences; 2) teachers’ preferred activities and; 3) comparisons of learners’ and
teachers’ activity preferences. Since this study was concerned primarily with students’
preferences, research from number one is most relevant and will be summarized in the
following section.
A study by Alcorso and Kalantzis (1985) showed that adult immigrant learners of
English in Australia at the intermediate level favored traditional activities over
communicative activities. Yorio (1986) reported that learners preferred four traditional
teaching methods. These were grammatical explanations, using the language library,
memorizing vocabulary lists and translation exercises. This study did not consider
communicative activities, however. Barkhuisen (1998) used a survey to obtain learners’
perceptions of 15 classroom activities. He found that learners did not like communicative
type activities and preferred more traditional classroom work. However, a study by
Green (1993) investigated how much learners’ enjoyment of communicative and non
communicative activities determined if they thought the activities were useful or not. It
found effectiveness and enjoyment to be highly correlated. The results showed that
learners tended to enjoy communicative activities more than non communicative ones (as
cited in Spratt, 1999, p.142). .
Studies that compared teachers’ preferences to students’ preferences also have
provided some data on type of activity preferred. Brindley (1984) interviewed teachers
and 115 adult migrant learners of ESL at an advanced level about language learning and
discovered that teachers preferred use focused activities, while learners preferred usage
focused activities more highly. Nunan (1988) also reports a discrepancy between
teachers’ and learners’ preferences. In his study one out of ten activities were given the
same rating by the two groups. Peacock (1997) also found disagreement between teachers
and students preferred type of activities (as cited in Spratts, 1999, p. 142).
Studies comparing learners’ preferences with teachers’ preferences generally
indicate that teachers prefer communicative activities more than learners do. Spratts’
(1999) study, for example, surveyed 997 tertiary level learners and 50 teachers in a
university context in Hong Kong about 48 classroom activities. His study showed a
considerable disagreement between learners’ preferences and teachers’ perceptions of
them. It seems that students tend to prefer more "traditional" type of activities and that
there is a discrepancy between the students’ preferences and what teachers believe
students’ preferences to be. It is not difficult to infer that narrowing this gap between
student and teacher could help students learn more effectively. All these studies
mentioned were performed in the classroom. None of them were realized in a SAC
context. Thus, teachers’ lack of understanding of what students’ preferences are is even
greater in this context. It would seem that a study such as the present one is valuable,
therefore, to help narrow this gap between teacher and student when making use of the
SAC context. If teachers are more fully aware of students’ preferences in the SAC they
can use that knowledge to help them make more effective use of the SAC environment.
Although research has not been done in the SAC context, there has been some
investigation in related autonomous contexts. This research will be the subject of the
following section.
Related Contexts
Nagata (1997) compared inductive and deductive feedback in a computer assisted
learning task (CAL) of relatively complex grammatical structures. Nagata used thirty first
semester students of Japanese at the University of San Francisco. He paired subjects on
the basis of mid term exams into deductive and inductive groups. The target structures
were the Japanese particles ga, o, wa, ni, and de. Nagata entered 68 sentence production
exercises into a computer program called Banzai. When subjects answered the exercises
the Banzai gave them either inductive or deductive feedback. The following is an
example of the deductive and inductive feedback that subjects received:
A particle is missing for NIHONGO. It should be marked with the particle DE to
indicate the role INSTRUMENT (the one by means of which the action occurs).
A particle is missing for NIHONGO. It should be marked with the particle DE.
The following examples show how the particle DE is used:
1) Waapuro de kakimashita. "(I) wrote (it) with a word processor." (p.525).
Subjects were exposed to inductive or deductive input for six sessions of 45
minutes over 15 days. At the end of the treatment Nagata had subjects fill out a
questionnaire to investigate students’ preference for the two different computer
programs. The results of the questionnaire showed no significant difference between the
two groups in preference. The deductive group, however, did prefer the feedback
messages more than the inductive group.
A study by Fortune (1992) also examined learners’ preferences towards inductive
or deductive. His study used self study grammar exercises. Fortune had fifty adult
learners of English for General Purposes studying in college part-time. Subjects were
given three weeks to do a battery of 14 grammar exercises. Seven exercises were
deductive grammar practice and seven were inductive. To avoid boredom, each exercise
dealt with a different grammar construct. When subjects had finished the 14 exercises,
Fortune applied a questionnaire and performed informal interviews to determine which
grammar materials students preferred. Results from the questionnaire indicated that 58%
preferred the deductive exercises.
Although these studies were not performed in a SAC, the autonomous nature of
their context provides some insight into what students may or may not prefer in the SAC
environment. Studies like these should be performed to gather data on students’ learning
preferences in the SAC context as well. This data would help to determine what
constitutes "appropriate" instructional material for the student in a SAC. This and many
other issues have not been studied in the SAC environment. Nevertheless, the following
section outlines relevant topics which have been examined in the SAC context.
The Self Access Center Context
Holec (1985) identifies three of the most important requirements for a self access
center as: 1) an infrastructure of appropriate materials and resources; 2) teachers trained
in providing support; 3) effective means of informing potential users about the system. In
Holec's opinion, as can be seen by his first requirement, appropriate material is one of the
most important aspects to consider in a SAC. Nevertheless, research has not been
conducted to determine the specific linguistic nature (such as emphasis on form or
meaning for example) of the instructional material and teacher support that is most
beneficial. Appropriate materials in the SAC would include those that take students’
preferences into account. Given the possibility that individual student preferences may be
important in L2 acquisition and that teachers should be aware of what they are, it is
worthwhile to investigate these preferences and how they relate to the language learning
process in this context.
It should first be pointed out that there exist many different types of SACs. Miller
and Rogerson-Revell (1993) define four different types that vary in terms of organization
and function: 1) menu driven: a dedicated self-access system specifically for language
learning. All materials are classified, and the information is stored either electronically
or on hard copy; 2) supermarket: offers the learner the opportunity to look around and
choose what to study; 3) open access: is usually part of a library. The self-access
material is open for use by students studying the L2 and to other library users;
4) controlled access: learners are directed to a specific set of materials. This study took
place in the context of a controlled access SAC. Miller & Rogerson-Revell describe in
detail the characteristics of this type of SAC:
A system where learners are directed to a specific set of materials in a self access
centre by their tutors can be called a 'controlled access' system. Usually, the
materials held in the centre are closely related to work covered in class and
classified in a similar way. Learners using this type of system would have little or
no control over what they choose to study and the classification of materials is
usually very simple, e.g. 'Worksheet 1', 'Worksheet 2', etc. (p. 229).
Discussion and investigation into materials in SACs has been mostly limited to
the general nature of the material and how it is organized and accessed in a SAC. Aston
(1993), for example, performed an experiment in which upper intermediate level second
language learners of English investigated and produced new materials for a SAC in their
university as a project to get them involved in the integration of materials into the center.
The study had students evaluate and produce materials focusing only on preferences for
video, computers, or magazines. Littlejohn (1985) performed a questionnaire on users of
a SAC at the University College of Bahrain and concluded that further research needs to
devise tasks and materials that develop the ability of learners to choose. Yoke & Brown
(1994) discuss the need to produce "in house" materials due to the cultural bias of
materials from western countries and the sometimes limited resources of Asian or African
countries. The construction of these materials took into consideration skill (grammar,
speaking, writing), level (advanced, intermediate, elementary), and type of activity
(multiple choice, matching, etc.).
Other researchers discuss "pathways" to materials which involves the
organization of material in the SAC in such a way that users are directed to a specific
sequence of materials. The set of materials that learners are guided towards are
connected by topic and focus on grammar, vocabulary, listening, reading, video, or
computer work (Kell & Newton, 1997).
The present study focused on instructional material that dealt with grammar
because of the crucial role grammar plays in the SLA field. Ellis (1994) points out the
importance of grammar for teaching and research in the second language field:
This reflects both the importance which has been traditionally attached to
grammar teaching in language pedagogy, and also the centrality of grammar in
SLA research. The focus on grammar has had both a practical and a theoretical
motivation. It has helped teachers to understand the factors that determine
whether instruction is successful, and it has helped researchers to explore a
number of issues of importance for theory building (p.611).
Although work has been published on how the SAC should be organized and
operated, it appears the trend is ahead of the research. The specific linguistic nature of
materials that should be present in a SAC has not been sufficiently investigated. Little
empirical research has been done to investigate what actually goes on in a SAC. If SACs
are to promote the acquisition of languages research must also consider issues such as
how L2 input should be presented to students in this context.
Methodological Precedents
Data for the present study were gathered using journals, questionnaires, and
interviews. Journals and diaries have been used in previous work to gather data on
students’ language learning preferences. Brown (1985) used diaries to investigate the
kind of input preferred by L2 learners of English. She analyzed the entries of subjects
that made any reference to amount of input given, type of input, and complexity or
meaningfulness of input. Schmidt & Frota (1986) used diary entries to investigate what a
L2 learner noticed most in the input received (cited in Ellis, 1994, p.245). Questionnaires
have also been used extensively to discover what type of input students prefer
(Burkhuisen, 1998; Littlejohn, 1985; Nagata, 1997; Fortune, 1992; Spratt 1999).
Brindley (1984) used interviews to determine learners’ and teachers’ preferences for use
or usage activities. The present study asked subjects to complete a battery of exercises
that were either form or meaning focused. Further data were then gathered to using
journal questions and an informal post interview. Fortune (1992) used this same
procedure to investigate students’ preferences for inductive and deductive grammar
Research Strategy
Research Question
The lack of investigation on the linguistic design and learner preferences of materials in
the SAC context motivated the following research question:
In terms of form-focused or meaning-focused materials in a SAC, what are the
preferences of advanced adult second language learners of English?
The following hypotheses were forwarded for the study:
Adult second language learners of English will prefer meaning-focused materials over
form-focused materials in a SAC.
Adult second language learners of English will prefer form-focused materials over
meaning-focused materials in a SAC (alternate).
Adult second language learners will show no preference for meaning-focused or formfocused materials in a SAC (null).
Since subjects will have freedom to choose in the SAC, it will be assumed that their
choices are their actual preferences.
The responses in journals, questionnaires, and interviews that subjects give will be
assumed to be honest and truthful.