Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Output Tasks, Noticing, and Learning: Teaching English Past Tense to Iranian EFL Students

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Output Tasks, Noticing, and Learning: Teaching English Past Tense to Iranian EFL Students

Article excerpt


EFL Learners often have problems using the past tense accurately. In an attempt to solve their problem, this study was carried out to examine the effects of using two different types of output tasks on noticing and learning the English past tense. Sixty female school-age EFL learners were divided into groups of 18, 19, and 23 participants. A pretest was administered at the outset of the study, the scores of which proved that all the participants equally lacked the required accuracy in using the target structure. Therefore, five treatment sessions followed, during which the first two groups were given picture-cued writing tasks and reconstruction tasks respectively. The comparison group, however, did comprehension check-up tasks. Finally, a posttest was given. The results of the statistical analyses revealed that only the reconstruction group improved in their noticing of the target feature. However, both experimental groups equally promoted their learning of the form.

Keywords: Output hypothesis, Noticing, Past tense, Picture-cued writing task, Reconstruction task

1. Introduction

Mastering the grammar of a second language and being able to correctly implement this knowledge is a challenging task to accomplish. That is why most ESL/EFL learners often have problems using language forms accurately in oral and written production. They may have a good knowledge base of the L2 structures but might find it difficult to implement their declarative knowledge when it comes to practice. This very deficiency is what makes grammar instruction open to research (Ellis, 2006).

As Ellis (2005) states, research into naturalistic L2 acquisition proved that learners, more or less, followed the same sequence in acquiring grammatical structures. This led to the belief that they had their own built-in syllabus for learning grammar. Later, Krashen, in his famous input hypothesis, argued that language is acquired through receiving comprehensible input, moving from i to i+1 by understanding input that contains i+1 (Krashen, 1981, 1982, 1985, 2009; Krashen & Terrell, 1983; McLaughlin, 1987). According to him, grammar instruction could not at all contribute to the development of implicit, authomatized knowledge, but could only lead to gaining explicitly learned knowledge. In other words, one should adopt a zero grammar approach in L2 teaching (Ellis, 2005). This belief was highly popular during Krashen's era.

It was in the 1980s that Swain first proposed the output hypothesis in response to Krashen's input hypothesis, based on her observation of French immersion programs in Canada, where she found the students to be much weaker in their oral and written production compared to their reading and listening comprehension abilities. She advocated more opportunities for learners to engage in language production (i.e. output) in order to promote their linguistic abilities (Lightbown & Spada, 2006; Swain, 1985, 1995; Swain & Lapkin, 1995).

Apart from promoting automaticity in language use, Swain (1995, 2005) outlined three major functions of output in L2 acquisition: (1) the hypothesis-testing function, (2) the metalinguistic (reflective) function, and (3) the noticing/triggering function. Based on the preliminary function of output, the more learners produce verbal output, the better they will get at producing it automatically, without having many pauses and time lapses to think about what they want to utter.

The first major function has to do with the trial-and-error process in language learning. As a learner, one forms various hypotheses in his/her mind about the way a target language works. Output production, therefore, presents learners with opportunities to test the hypotheses they have already formed about the second language and see how they really work in practice.

Output production also aids learners in reflecting metalinguistically upon their own efficiency in using a target language, which, by itself, is effective in promoting their subsequent language use. …

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