Academic journal article Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication

Does Gender Influence Task Performance in EFL? Interactive Tasks and Language Related Episodes

Academic journal article Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication

Does Gender Influence Task Performance in EFL? Interactive Tasks and Language Related Episodes

Article excerpt

There are differences in the way males and females use language (Aries, 1976; Ross-Feldman, 2005, 2007). However, the role that gender plays in second language acquisition (SLA) does not seem to have been studied in depth. This factor is fundamental for the Interaction Hypothesis (Long, 1996), as interaction opportunities have been claimed to depend on gender (Ross-Feldman, 2005, 2007).

This paper aims to investigate whether gender influences conversational interaction and whether different communicative tasks have an impact on the type of interaction matched (male-male and female-female) and mixed (male-female) gender dyads engage in. The results showed that type of dyad did not influence the incidence of language related episodes (LREs) when pairs work on specific tasks, that the different tasks influence the learner's production of LREs and that most LREs were resolved correctly.

1 Introduction

Several studies have shown that there are differences in the way males and females use language (Aries, 1976; Ross-Feldman, 2007; Tannen, 1990, among others). It seems that when men and women interact, men have more opportunities to participate and control conversational turns than women. However the role that gender plays in second language acquisition (SLA) does not seem to have been studied in depth. This individual variable is fundamental for the Interaction Hypothesis (Long, 1983; 1996), which states that conversational interaction facilitates second language (L2) learning. Input or modifications to the input received in the learning process might be different depending on social status, gender and culture of the participants. Thus, it is of special interest to consider these variables to contribute to a better understanding of such a complex phenomenon.

The main goal of this paper is to investigate whether gender influences conversational interaction and whether different communicative tasks have an impact on the type of interaction matched (male -male and female-female) and mixed (male-female) gender dyads engage in. Inspired by recent work carried out by Ross-Feldman (2007) with participants from El Salvador who were learning English as second language (ESL) in the USA this paper examines the oral production of 12 (6 male, 6 female) Basque-Spanish bilinguals learning English as Foreign Language (EFL) in the Basque Country.

This paper is structured as follows: section 2 provides a brief overview of the Interaction Hypothesis (Long, 1996) and its main constructs: input, output and feedback. Special attention will be paid to Language Related Episodes (LREs) as they have been identified as the site where L2 learning may occur (Swain and Lapkin, 1998, 2001, 2002) and they are a key concept in this study. This background section will also provide information about the gender variable in first language (LI) and L2 acquisition and about tasks because they are the main data-gathering instrument in interaction research. Section 3 presents the study itself, its purpose and motivation, research questions entertained, participants and procedure. Section 4 comments the findings obtained from the experimental study and section 5 summarizes the main conclusions.

2 Background

2.1 The Interaction Hypothesis

Mackey (2007a) notes that since the early 1980s the relationship between conversational interaction and learning has been one of the core issues in L2 research, both in English as Second Language (ESL) (Mackey, 2007b) and in EFL (Alcón and García Mayo, 2008, 2009; García Mayo and Alcón, 2002, forthcoming). There is a wide range of empirical studies that deal with the relationship between interaction and learning pointing to the idea that interaction benefits learning. Back in 1978 Hatch argued that learners learn the structure of a language through interaction rather than learning grammar in order to interact. Krashen (1982, 1985), however, claimed that exposure to comprehensible input was a necessary and sufficient condition for L2 learning. …

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