Grammar Practice and Communicative Language Teaching: Groundwork for an Investigation into the Concept of Transfer-Appropriateness

  • Author / Creator
    Nikouee, Majid
  • It is now over four decades that communicative language teaching (CLT) has been dominant in the domain of second language (L2) teaching. During the early years, grammar instruction faced opposition from the proponents of a strong version of CLT due to the disfavour the existed at that time for structural syllabuses. However, it eventually survived and reappeared as form-focused instruction (FFI), referring to any instructional technique intended to draw learners’ attention explicitly or implicitly to grammatical structures when the focus is on meaning. Nowadays there seems to be a consensus among researchers about the compatibility of FFI and CLT. Therefore, a theoretically and pedagogically significant issue is how and when FFI can be integrated with communicative tasks. This study is an investigation of how grammar practice can be integrated with tasks at the pretask phase and is premised upon the idea that the concept of transfer-appropriate processing should be used in designing practice activities. The dissertation consists of an introductory chapter, a review paper (Paper 1), two research papers (Paper 2 and 3), and a concluding chapter.
    In Paper 1, it is argued that a reliance on highly controlled grammar exercises is not sufficient for the development of accuracy under conditions requiring fluent oral production as in a normal conversation with native speakers. After reviewing earlier conceptualizations and operationalizations of grammar practice, the paper provides the background for exploring the notion of transfer-appropriateness, which refers to the idea that cognitive processes similar to those of real-world communication should be involved during practice activities. It is argued that transfer-appropriate practice is what is needed to develop learners’ ability to produce targeted grammatical knowledge accurately during fluency-oriented task performance. This paper concludes with a discussion of how transfer-appropriate grammar practice can play a role in CLT and offers an example of a transfer-appropriate practice activity with respect to the English past tense.
    Paper 2 reports a study that compared the effect of two types of pretask practice activities on the use of the English past tense during task performance. The participants were native speakers of Mandarin enrolled in an EAP program at a Canadian university. They were randomly assigned to the Transfer-Appropriate Practice (TAPRA) or Traditional Practice condition. Oral elicited imitation and written error correction tests showed that the participants were not different in terms of their implicit and explicit knowledge of the past tense at the beginning of the study. After reviewing the past tense rules, the TAPRA group engaged in aural/oral communicative activities over three consecutive days while the Traditional Practice group completed written grammar exercises over the same period. As a post-test, both groups performed a focused communication task that required the use of the past tense. Results revealed that while the groups were not different in overall complexity, accuracy, and target-like use, the TAPRA group was significantly more fluent during the focused task. The findings suggest that TAPRA activities, compared to written grammar exercises, are more successful in balancing the competition between accuracy and fluency for L2 learners’ limited processing capacity.
    The study reported in Paper 3 was aimed at exploring the type of knowledge that learners draw upon during an elicited imitation (EI) test focused on the simple past. EI tests are often used to measure the effects of different types of form-focused intervention on the development of L2 learners' implicit knowledge. The study examined whether the grammaticality of the target feature, its position in an utterance, and the explicitness of the test instructions influence learners’ imitations and the type of knowledge that they draw on during the test. Forty-four native speakers of Mandarin enrolled in an EAP program at a Canadian university completed an EI test along with four other tests over two consecutive sessions. Results revealed that the participants were more accurate in repeating the regular verbs but neither the position of the verbs nor the type of instructions significantly influenced imitation. Moreover, the participants reported having awareness of the targeted form while repeating the stimulus statements. These learners' awareness of the target structure suggests that EI may be a measure of automatized explicit knowledge, involving the rapid and conscious retrieval of explicit knowledge, rather than implicit knowledge.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.