Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Processing Instruction and Dictogloss: A Study on Object Pronouns and Word Order in Spanish

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Processing Instruction and Dictogloss: A Study on Object Pronouns and Word Order in Spanish

Article excerpt


In the current study, we present the findings of an experiment with 108 participants of Spanish as a second language in which we compared the effects of dictogloss (DG) and processing instruction (PI) and compared both sets of effects to a control group. Our findings do not support the results of a recent study, Qin (2008). In that study, DG and PI were found to be equally effective; however, we find that PI is superior overall to DG as an instructional intervention, a finding much more in line with the original research on which Qin based her study (e.g., VanPatten & Cadierno, 1993). We trace differences in results to materials and assessment tasks in Qin's study, which departed significantly from previous research.

Key words: dictogloss, first noun principle, processing instruction, Spanish object pronouns

Language: Spanish

Ever since the publication of VanPatten and Cadierno (1993), in which processing instruction (PI) was first researched and compared to traditional instruction, a number of studies have appeared that have either attempted to replicate VanPatten and Cadierno's study or have researched intervening variables (e.g., Alien, 2000; Benati, 2001, 2004, 2005; Cadierno, 1995; Parley, 2004; Keating & Parley, 2008; MorganShort & Wood Bowden, 2006; Qin, 2008; Sanz & Morgan-Short, 2004; VanPatten & Oikkenon, 1996; VanPatten & Sanz, 1995; VanPatten & Wong, 2004). Regardless of the particular comparative outcomes within each study (e.g., whether or not the effects of PI are the same as those of another intervention or focus on grammatical form), what is consistent has been that PI always results in a positive outcome (i.e., significant gains) in both the ability of learners to interpret language and in their ability to produce it in restricted contexts (but see VanPatten & Sanz, 1995, as well as Sanz & Morgan-Short, 2004, for performance on communicative tasks).

The present study turns its attention to a new strand of comparative research involving PI: comparing its outcomes with those of dictogloss (DG). We present the findings of a study in which we basically replicate the findings of VanPatten and Cadierno (1993), in contradistinction to a recently published study by Qin (2008).


Within contemporary second language acquisition research, the effect of instruction on the formal properties of language has been debated ever since Krashen launched his famous acquisition-learning distinction (e.g., Krashen, 1982). Krashen's claim was that instruction on formal properties did not affect acquisition (the creation of an implicit linguistic system) but did affect what he called learning (the creation of an explicit linguistic system). Positions about the relative effects of instruction included those that were in alignment with Krashen's position (e.g., Truscott, 1998) and those that aligned themselves with the idea that instruction did have some kind of effect (e.g., Ellis, 1994; Long, 1983; Pica, 1983).

In VanPatten and Cadierno (1993), the researchers questioned the basic either/or nature of the question and instead suggested that the question be redirected toward asking (1) what kinds of processes instruction might want to affect and (2) what kind of instruction that might be. They proposed the idea that if acquisition is input-dependent and that if we understand something about how learners interpret language (e.g., what their input processing strategies are and how they make formmeaning connections during comprehension), we might be able to see effects of instruction. They thus proposed to research the effects of what is now known as processing instruction (PI). The aim of PI is to alter the processing strategies that learners take to the task of comprehension; that is, if learners are comprehending and processing sentences incorrectly in the input, then the aim of PI is to correct this processing. Better processing ought to lead to better acquisition. …

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