Corrective Feedback in Second Language Acquisition
Mounira El Tatawy Teachers College, Columbia University
Over the last few years, the role played by corrective feedback in language acquisition has become a highly controversial issue. In the field of First Language Acquisition (FLA), researchers express strong reservations concerning the effect that negative evidence has on FLA, if there is any at all. In the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), however, there appears to be a growing consensus among the majority of researchers concerning the significance of the role played by negative evidence in the process of SLA. This literature review will focus mainly on the role played by corrective feedback in SLA. While corrective feedback clearly relates to both oral and written discourse, the focus of this discussion will center on oral production, since the preponderance of research has largely focused on this aspect. In the following sections of this review, the meaning of corrective feedback will be discussed, and the different theoretical stances towards its role in SLA examined. Empirical studies that explore the impact corrective feedback has on SLA will be reviewed, followed by a discussion of some of the issues that loom large in research in the area of corrective feedback and its role in SLA.
DEFINITION OF TERMS
There are various terms used in identifying errors and providing corrective feedback in the SLA literature—the most common being corrective feedback, negative evidence, and negative feedback. Because of possible confusion arising from the use of this terminology, a brief review of the definitions of terms and of the different types of feedback is presented below. Chaudron (1988) has pointed out the fact that the term corrective feedback incorporates different layers of meaning. In Chaudron’s view, the term “treatment of error” may simply refer to “any teacher behavior following an error that minimally attempts to inform the learner of the fact of error” (p. 150). The treatment may not be evident to the student in terms of the response it elicits, or it may make a significant effort “to elicit a revised student response” (p. 150). Finally, there is “the true” correction which succeeds in modifying the learner’s interlanguage rule so that the error is eliminated from further production (p. 150). Lightbown and Spada (1999) define corrective feedback as: Any indication to the learners that their use of the target language is incorrect. This includes various responses that the learners receive. When a language learner says, ‘He go to school everyday’, corrective feedback can be explicit, for example, ‘no, you should say goes, not go’ or implicit ‘yes he goes to school every day’, and may or may not include metalinguistic information, for example, ‘Don’t forget to make the verb agree with the subject’. (p. 171-172) 1
Corrective feedback in SLA
According to Schachter (1991), corrective feedback, negative evidence, and negative feedback are three terms used respectively in the fields of language teaching, language acquisition, and cognitive psychology. Different researchers often use these terms interchangeably. The feedback can be explicit (e.g., grammatical explanation or overt error correction) or implicit. Implicit correction includes, but is not limited to, confirmation checks, repetitions, recasts, clarification requests, silence, and even facial expressions that express confusion. Long (1996) offers a more comprehensive view of feedback in general. He suggests that environmental input can be thought of in terms of two categories that are provided to the learners about the target language (TL): positive evidence and negative evidence. Long defines positive evidence as providing the learners with models of what is grammatical and acceptable in the TL; and negative evidence as providing the learners with direct or indirect information about what is...