Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Input Processing Revisited

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Input Processing Revisited

Article excerpt


Current models of language pedagogy fail to provide with the abstract principles that a comprehensive theory of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) might require. All of these models acknowledge the important role of attention in any learning process, but they fall short of offering any linguistic model that could account for the psychological complexities involve in attention and perception. To exemplify this, the article puts into question (a) the internal validity of the principles stated in Van Patten's Input Processing Theory, and (b) the assumptions regarding language processing in Van Patten's language acquisition scheme. The article proposes an alternative scheme that redefines the set of cognitive processes involved in language acquisition and that incorporates the findings of Psychology and Pedagogy.


In spite of multiple research studies focusing on the ways in which learners process second-language input, it remains largely unknown how learners develop competence in that second language. VanPatten, a leading proponent of the input-processing approach to SLA, stated that Krashen (1982) provided "the strongest position on the role of comprehensible input" (VanPatten, 1995, p. 170). Even though critical evaluation of Krashen's model reveals that its premises are trivial at best, his work is still frequently cited in SLA research partly because criticism to the model "has served to underscore the need [...] to examine what learners do with and to input as part of the acquisition process" (VanPatten 1995:170). It is true that Krashen's model examined for the first time the interaction between learners and input as part of the acquisition process and its implications in teaching foreign languages, but it should be noted that the notion of comprehensible input is not new to general cognitive processes described in Psychology and Phenomenology.

Most research in SLA is informed by the presupposed existence of a language module that process information independently of other cognitive faculties of the mind. This paper investigates the psychological underpinnings of comprehensible input in SLA. Van Patten's theory of Input Processing will be examined in order to show that dealing with second language acquisition is far too complex a task to be reduced to a restrictive linguistic theory. Language is an organization of cognitive faculties that involve as much attention, conscious and unconscious, as memory. Language outcomes in adults differ from that in children, among other reasons because of their different metalinguistic knowledge. That by itself should constitute a counterargument against the idea of a cognitively independent language module. However, the fact that meaningful approaches have proven successful for adults as much as for children may be an indication that (a) the cognitive mechanisms of children and adults are the same and that (b) cognitive mechanisms in children are available to adults. This premise is not at all new to the field of SLA[I], but it takes a completely different direction when the approach shifts from generativist linguistics to lexical-functional linguistics. These cognitive mechanisms constitute what Lakoff refers to as conceptualizing capacity, that is, "People share a general conceptualizing capacity regardless of what difference they may have in conceptual systems" (Lakoff, in Albertazzi 2000, p. 77).

A theory of cognitive semantics, such as lexical-functional linguistics, links semantic structure to general cognitive processes described in Psychology. The construal operations, you may want to call it problem-solving strategies, that enter our conceptualizing capacity are not different from the gestalt schemes that enter the world of perception. Croft & Wood (2000) list these construal operations under four processes: Attention, Judgment, Perspective, and Constitution. They all offer accounts of how the mind extracts meaning creating a whole from a fragmented perception. …

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