By Yan Lin
It is agreed that input plays a critical role in language acquisition thus researchers have done many studies on input. Without input the learner has nothing. But the question is what kind, form and amount of input is most useful for the language learners. Krashen (1980) has argued that the input given to the learners has to be comprehensible for acquisition to happen. He defined it as input which is slightly beyond the learner's current knowledge level (in his term I+1). Swain (1985) explained that comprehensible input means that "language directed to the learners that contains some new element in it but this is nevertheless understood by the learner because of linguistic, paralinguistic, or situational cues, or world knowledge backup." (p.245). She further argued that although comprehensible input is crucial in language acquisition, it does not ensure that the learner could produce native-like output. Her findings (1985) showed that even after years of comprehensible input, students in immersion classrooms still lagged behind native speaking peers. She contended that comprehensible output is a necessary mechanism in language acquisition. Comprehensible output provides opportunities for contextualized, meaningful language use, which allows students to "move from semantic analysis of the language to a syntactic analysis of it." (p.252) Long (1983), Varonis and Gass (1985), and others have suggested that it is not input per se that is important to second language acquisition but input which the learners get in interaction where meaning is negotiated. When meaning is negotiated the learner not only has to delivery the meaning but also tries to convey it precisely, coherently, and appropriately. In NS-NNS (native speaker-nonnative speaker) interaction usually the native speaker has to simplify, paraphrase the linguistic input, thereby making the input more comprehensible. People who have dealt with language learners have recognized that all input does not have the same impact on the learner. Some input can be taken in almost immediately and directly into output. This has to do with the linguistic or conversational environment in which the interaction takes place. There are many studies done in this area. In discussion on the importance of conversation, Long (1980) made a distinction between modified input and modified interaction. Modified interaction refers to the modification and reconstruction of the conversational form by the interlocutors in order to make the meaning understood. Other researchers agree that when learners modify their interaction through negotiation the opportunities for L2 learning are increased and enhanced considerably (Pica 1985; Holliday 1991). In favor of the positive function of negotiation, Stevick (1976, 1980, 1981) claimed that "successful communication is dependent on attentiveness and involvement in the discourse by all participants and that it is involvement which facilitates acquisition in that it charges the input, allowing it to penetrate." Gass expressed the similar view (1985) that the input must first be noticed in order to become useful to a learner in helping him/her reconstruct his/her grammar. Negotiation can be viewed as the trigger for acquisition. Researching on the factors that contribute to the creation of opportunities for negotiation and the role of task type in learner conversation, Varonis & Gass (1985) showed that the less shared background knowledge the greater the frequency and complexity of negotiation required. They found that a one-way drawing task required more negotiation than a two-way oral task. Shared knowledge in a two-way task facilitates communication while the lack of shared knowledge in the one-way task led to a greater amount of negotiation. In order to develop the language, the learner has to transfer the input into intake and then try to produce output. "Intake" is defined by Cheryl Brown as "the input that is actually incorporated by the learners." (1985, p.272). In studying the relationship between input and intake, Sharwood-Smith (1985) suggested that : Acquirers of a second or other language process the linguistic input they are exposed to in such a way as to allow cognitive mechanisms the primary role in dictating what is and is not converted into stable mental representations of the target system, and ascribing a secondary (though not necessarily trivial) role to the environment. (p. 395) There are many causations for intake to occur and for output to be produced. It is the studies on the relationships between input, intake, and output that triggered the following study. The purpose is to study the influence of the context of interaction on the learners for intake to occur and the effect of one-way drawing task on NS-NNS interactional modifications. The informants of the study will be given an information-gap task in which they will be involved in interaction with native speakers. In one context the learner will listen to a native speaker describing a picture to him/her and s/he will draw a picture according to the description. Then they are going to describe the picture to another person. In the other situation the learner will describe a picture to a native speaker so that the native speaker can draw a picture accordingly. The learner will then describe the picture again to another person. Comparison will be made between the learners' description of the picture in the first context and the second time description by the learners' in the second context to see in which situation the learner will be able to intake more. I will also look at the modified interaction of the NS and NNS, given this task to do.
This is an ethnographic study which employs the use of one-way drawing task. Its purpose is to test how Japanese ESL students develop their English through modified interaction and how one-way drawing task elicit modified interaction. It is hoped that the following questions could be answered by the study: 1. In which situation the learner will be able to produce more native-like language later, when they are listening to the native speaker describing the picture or when they are engaging in describing the picture to the native speaker. It is hypothesized that in both situations they can receive input. In the first situation they are going to be exposed to adjusted input from the native speaker, whereas in the second situation they will be involved in modified interaction in which the native speaker will give the right language form when they understand the meaning got across through nonnative-like language. Will the learner take in more when they are concentrating on getting the meaning across or when they are attentive listeners? In which situation will they produce more native-like output later? 2. How does a one-way drawing task elicit modified interaction thus facilitates the learners' second language acquisition? In what way can one-way drawing task help learners develop their second language? The hypothesis is that this kind of task initiates negotiation, requires modifications to the language, and it can not only give learners input but also give them chance to produce comprehensible output, hence help with the learners' acquisition of the language.
Four dyads of learner-NS were asked to do an information-gap task. Each pair was given a picture. In two of the dyads the native speaker described the picture to the learner and the learner would draw a picture according to the description. The learner could ask questions but would be shown the picture only after s/he finished the drawing. Then the learner described the picture to me so that I could draw the picture. In the other two pairs, the learner described the picture to the native speaker and the native speaker drew according to the description. After that the learner described the picture again to me. The activities were taped and transcribed and an analysis of the transcription was made. Based on the previous research, I believe that this task will provide a context for learners to interact with native speaker in ways that would inform the questions underlying the study.
Four Japanese learners of English from Soka University of Japan were asked to do the task. They were studying in Soka University of America in an intensive English program for three months. They were from different departments in Soka University of Japan but all of them started to learn English since junior high school. Before they came to America they took a placement test in Japan and were divided into four classes according to their scores of the test. The four learners were from the same class, indicating that they were about the same proficiency level, which was high-beginning to intermediate. Four native speakers asked to help with the study were all graduate students of Soka University of America. They were in a master program in TESOL and all had had contact with the ESL students. They knew the proficiency level of the ESL students.
The Results and Discussion
With respect to the first question: in which situation the learner can take in more and produce more native-like output later, when they are listeners or when they are describers, it seems that in the former situation the learners received more input. The input they received did not only include lexical items and sentential expressions, it also included the organization of the description. While the learner was drawing the picture according to the instruction, s/he was also paying attention to the way the picture was being described too. This is shown in the comparison made between the description made by the learner after s/he drew the picture and the description made by the native speaker. Partial transcription of conversation of one pair is given as an example.
NS: There is a dog sitting down on the ground, with pointed ears. The dog is facing the right side.
NNS: Right face?
NS: Looking to the right, and has pointed ears and long nose. The dog has a big curly tail.
It's curling up.
NNS: Curl up?
NS: The boy is also kneeling. He's sitting down too, sitting on his knees, with no shoes.
NNS: No shoes?
NS: Behind the boy there is a baseball and a bat on the ground. The ball is in between the boy and the bat..... There is also a little bit of grass behind the dog's tail, near the ball and the bat.
NNS's description after hearing the above description:
NNS: There is a dog and the dog's face is right. His nose is long. ....He's sitting on the grass. And his front legs touch the ground and he has curly tail, up curly tail............He (the boy) is sitting. His knee touch the ground and he no shoes. There is a baseball bat and ball. ME: Where is the ball?
NNS: Between the bat and the boy. There is a little bit grass behind the dog's tail.....
From the above data we can see that the NNS was trying to copy the sequence of the description made by the NS as well as some vocabulary and expressions used by the NS. Similar traits can be found in the other pair in which the native speaker described the picture first followed by the description made by the learner. Actually the beginning of the learner's description in this second pair was very close to the NS's description.
NS's description:: You need to draw a picture of a boy and a dog. The boy has a baseball cap and he's smiling.
NNS's description: One boy and one dog. The boy is smiling. He wears a baseball cap.
It is obvious that the learner made effort to follow the order used in the NS's description. Later there is also evidence that the NNS tended to use the same expression to describe the posture of the boy. The language used by the native speaker in the description was comprehensible for the learners thus the learners are able to remember the order of the description, some expressions, and words used by the native speaker and be able to copy some of them.
The input on the organization of the description provided in the first situation was not available in the second situation. In this sense the input the learner was exposed to in the first situation was more than that in the second situation. The input the learners got in the second situation was mainly in the form of questions. That is, the questions the native speaker asked to get necessary information in order to draw a picture as close as to the original. Sometimes the native speaker helped the learner come up with the expression they needed to describe the picture. For example, it was difficult for the learner to come up with an expression to describe the boy's posture in the picture. Somehow the learners used different communication strategies, such as miming, to get the meaning across. Then the native speakers gave the learners the term: the boy is sitting in Japanese style. One learner got it and used it in his second time description and the other one was not paying attention to it so she was not able to use it in her second time description. In both situations, no matter the learner was speaking or listening, the effect of the NS input on the learner was bringing vocabulary the learner could only comprehend before into vocabulary they were able to produce by giving them an example of its use and a context for the learner to use it. For instance, "face" used as a verb was understood by the learner on hearing it but they did not know how it could be used in this description task. After hearing the native speaker using it, it became the learner's active vocabulary immediately. However, if the learner heard a word completely new to him/her, they would not be able to take it in nor be able to use it later. An example of this is the word "wagging" as used in describing the dog's tail. In four cases, the learners all got this input from the native speaker but none of them was able to use it later. They made effort to remember by repeating the word right after they heard it. However, when they tried to use it in their description they failed and ended up using a synonym (a word they know, such as "moving") or a word with similar pronunciation, such as "waving". It seems that for words completely new to the learners, hearing them used once is not enough for the learners to remember them. Elaborate explanations and exercises are needed for new words to be learned. When discussing the relationship between input and intake, Sharwood-Smith (1985) argued that the input from outside will be interpreted by the acquisition device together with input from the inside. He further contended the interaction of the different stages of process is one of the causations for intake to happen. In order for the new vocabulary items to be taken in, the learners need to be able to comprehend the words first then process them together with knowledge they already have. Only then the new words become part of their vocabulary and they will be able to use them later. With regard to the second question: what effect the one-way drawing task has on the NS-NNS interaction, I found that this kind of task initiates a lot of negotiation and the task seems to be more difficult than it looks, especially to the NNS. When I first showed the picture to my subjects they all thought it was an easy task until they actually engaged in it. There were many potential difficulties, for example, how to describe the dog's ears, how to describe the boy's posture, and even how to describe the position of the baseball and the bat caused problems. They had to use various communication strategies such as paraphrasing, repetition, miming, and substituting with another word, to convey the meaning. When the native speaker was describing the picture, they were using "foreigner talk", the adjusted speech to make the language more comprehensible to the learner. This is typical in NS-NNS interaction, especially when the NNS's proficiency level is not very high. Since the native speakers have had some contact with the informants, they know what level they are at so they know when they should adjust their language. For example, in one pair the conversation went like this:
NS:...And his arms are straight ahead of him.
NS: Ahead. Ahead of him, in front of him.
Another one was like this:
NS: ...The dog is facing the right side.
NNS: Right face?
NS: Looking to the right.
In both examples we can see that the native speaker got the learner's signal for him/her to adjust his/her language and paraphrased the part the learner did not understand immediately. In addition, when describing the picture to the learner, the native speaker would use a speed slower than normal to help the learner understand. Long (1985) found speech adjustment NS make when address NNS facilitates NNS comprehension. This is evidenced by this study. Since in this task only one person in the pair got the information and s/he had to get it across to his/her partner, a lot of negotiation work was needed. The data I got from the activities done in the second situation show that the learners' second time description was better than the first time description in that the second time they were more fluent and the description was better organized. During the first time description, in order to draw the picture, the NS asked many questions for clarification and questions on details which gave the learner information on what details should be included in the description. The learner used this information to organize their second time description and they added the details which the NS asked for during their interaction. Moreover, the learner would repair the problems they had in the first time description. For example, one learner failed to give the native speaker the information on which way the boy was facing in the picture. The native speaker, consequently, drew the boy on the wrong side of the paper. This was found out after the picture was done. In the second time description the learner remembered to give explicit information on the way the boy was facing so that the same mistake was not made the second time. When the learner was describing the picture, sometimes the learner would be so much involved in what s/he was saying that s/he did not pay enough attention to what the native speaker was asking thus ignoring the possible input s/he could get. In one case the learner was too much indulged in her own description that she totally ignored the native speaker's questions, therefore communication failed at one point.
NNS: There is one boy who is wearing a cap.
NS: Which way is he facing?
NS: He's smiling. The boy is looking straight at me?
NNS: Uhum, no.
NS: Is he turned sideways or just straight?
NNS: He's sitting on the grass.
We could see from the data above, the learner did not answer the native speaker's questions. It might because the learner did not understand or misunderstood the question. To keep the conversation going the native speaker had to quit that topic and just followed the learner's description. Because of the lack of necessary information, the native speaker ended up drawing the boy on the left side of the paper which is the opposite to the original picture. The mistake was found out after the picture was drawn. In the second time description, the learner consciously put in that information:
NNS: At first, one boy is sitting on the grass. He is bending his knees. He's facing to the left. In front of him there is a dog. The dog is facing to the right.
The information was given very explicitly this time.
Conclusion and Implication
The results of this study shows that one-way drawing task is a good way to initiate negotiation. Due to the lack of shared information greater amount of negotiation work is needed. To complete the task both parties have to modify their speech to make it comprehensible for the other person. The learners hence get a chance to be exposed to input from the native speakers and they have to try to produce comprehensible output. In the task, the input the learners got during interaction where meaning was negotiated was very helpful to the learners in that the learners could comprehend them easily and take in some of them immediately. The learners had to modify their language in the interaction and this helped them improve their language as well. The results of this one-way drawing task support Stevick's idea that the attentiveness and involvement given in the negotiation facilitate language acquisition in that it charges input and allow it to penetrate into the learners' minds. It seems that learners benefit more from listening to the native speakers than describing the picture to the native speaker. It might have to do with their proficiency level, meaning for high-beginners who do not have enough command of the language they need to be exposed to more input before they are required to produce output. For intake to take place, the learner needs to process the input from outside together with the input from inside. Therefore, it is natural that the new words they get become vocabulary they can only comprehend first before they are able to produce them. The teacher should be aware that for the learners to learn the new vocabulary they need to give clear and elaborate explanation to the new words and design some activities for the learners to do.
It is also noticed from the study that native speakers' "foreigner talk" helps learners understand the language. Some adjustments such as repetition, paraphrasing, and the use of a slow pace aids NNS comprehension. Giving students tasks in which they are required to repeat what they have said can help them become more accurate and fluent in speaking the language. There are some factors that might have affected the results of the study. The personalities of the native speakers who helped with the study are different and this would affect the input they gave. In another word, because some NS seemed to have less "patience" than other NS s/he would not wait for the learner to come up with their own expression in describing the picture. S/he poured a lot of questions on the learner so that the "test" became a "multiple choice test" instead of a "constructed-response test". Some gave better organized description of the picture so the learner in turn gave a better organized description, copying the native speaker's organization. Another factor that might have affected the results was the factor that I was the person who listened to the learner's second time description. As I had already seen the picture before, the interaction between me and the learner was not as natural as it would have been if I had asked another person who did not see the picture before to listen to the learner's description and drew a picture accordingly. This study is a small scale study, however, its result could still give us some implication on how language teachers could better help the learners. If we want to get more significant study results, a larger scale research has to be done.
Brown, Cheryl. (1985). Requests for specific language input: differences between older and younger adult language learners. In Gass, Susan M. & Madden, Carolyn G. (Eds.) Input in second language acquisition. Cambridge: New House Publishers.
Gass, Susan and Plough, India. (1993). Interlocutor and task familiarity: effects on interactional structure. In Crookes, Graham and Gass, Susan M. (Eds.) Tasks and language learning. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Krashen, S. (1980). The input hypothesis. In J. E. Alatis (Ed.) Current Issues in Bilingual Education. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.
Long, M. (1980). Input, Interaction and Second Language Acquisition. Ph.D. dissertation. UCLA
Long, M. (1983). Native speakers/non-native speakers conversation in the second language classroom. In M. Clark and J. Handscombe (Eds.) On TESOL ’82: Pacific Perspectives on Language Learning and Teaching. Washington, D.C.: TESOL.
Long, Michael H. (1985). Input and second language acquisition theory. In Gass, Susan M. & Madden, Carolyn G. (Eds.) Input in second language acquisition. Cambridge: New House Publishers.
Pica, Teresa and Doughty, Catherine. (1985). Input and interaction in the communicative language classroom: a comparison of teacher-fronted and group activities. In Gass, Susan M. & Madden, Carolyn G. (Eds.) Input in second language acquisition. Cambridge: New House Publishers.
Shotreed, Ian M. (1993). Variation in foreigner talk input: the effects of task and proficiency. In Crookes, Graham and Gass, Susan M. (Eds.) Tasks and language learning. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Smith, Michael Sharwood. (1985). From input to intake: on argumentation in second language acquisition. In Gass, Susan M. & Madden, Carolyn G. (Eds.) Input in second language acquisition. Cambridge: New House Publishers.
Stevick, E. (1976). Memory, Meaning, and Method. Rowley, Mass: Newbury House.
Stevick, E. (1980). Teaching Languages: A way and Ways. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House.
Stevick, E. (1981). The levertov machine. In R. Scarcella and S. Krashen (Eds.) Research in Second Language Acquisition. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House.
Swain, Merrill. (1985). Communicative competence: some roles of comprehensible input and comprehensible output in its development. In Gass, Susan M. & Madden, Carolyn G. (Eds.) Input in second language acquisition. Cambridge: New House Publishers.
Varonis, and Gass, S. M. (1985). Task variation and nonnative/nonnative negotiation of meaning. In Gass, Susan M. & Madden, Carolyn G. (Eds.) Input in second language acquisition. Cambridge: New House Publishers.
Mailing address: Beijing Foreign Studies University
Input, Intake, and Output in One-Way Drawing Task
Term Paper for Language Acquisition Theory Course
May 12 1997
Class of 1997