Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Mediated Vocabulary in Native Speaker-Learner Interactions during an Oral Portfolio Activity

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Mediated Vocabulary in Native Speaker-Learner Interactions during an Oral Portfolio Activity

Article excerpt

Introduction

Most current perspectives accept that there is a strong connection between interaction and second language (L2) learning (Dobinson, 2001; Gass & Alvarez Torres, 2005; Gass & Mackey, 2007; Philp, Walter, & Basturkmen, 2010; van Lier, 2000). Despite differences in how various theories interpret the nature of the connection, interaction plays a prominent role in learning L2 linguistic systems, including L2 lexicon (e.g., De la Fuente, 2002, 2003; Kim, 2008). Key studies have suggested that learners' attention to vocabulary during interaction is higher than attention to other linguistic features (Plonsky & Loewen, 2013; Williams, 1999) and also that missing, incorrect, or unknown words lead to communication breakdowns more often than deficiencies in, and mistakes with, other linguistic features (Foster & Ohta, 2005). However, although communication breakdowns due to lexical obstacles interrupt interactive exchanges, they also represent opportunities for learning (De la Fuente, 2002; Gass & Selinker, 2001; Long, 1996; Philp et al., 2010). It has been found that in difficult exchanges, learners further concentrate on a given word ' s form and meaning in order to decode its function in speech. This increased attention promotes lexical retention and learning (De la Fuente, 2002; Ellis & He, 1999; Gass & Alvarez Torres, 2005; Shintani, 2012).

The purpose of this study was to shed light on lexical breakdowns during communicative exchanges between Spanish L2 learners and Spanish native speakers (NSs), and to investigate how such disruptions played a role in vocabulary mediation and learning. In particular, this study adopted a sociocultural theory perspective, which views language development as a process in which social and environmental features and psycholinguistic processes are not separate from one another (Foster & Ohta, 2005; van Lier, 2000). In other words, the interactive social context in which learners exercise the L2 presents opportunities for meaning making as well as for communicative disruptions that contribute to learning (Negueruela, 2008; Ohta, 1995).

Background

Sociocultural Theory: Mediation

From a sociocultural perspective, as humans assimilate to the world in which they live, they attempt to control and master their environment. This need for control leads to the creation of tools that allow individuals to shape the world according to their motives. Tools function as mediators, or instruments between the subject and the object or goal. Tools can be physical or abstract, and they include various kinds of human constructions, including language (Lantolf & Thorne, 2006). Thus, language serves as a mediation tool for cognitive change exercised by individuals as they participate in sociocultural activities (Donato & McCormick, 1994; Lantolf & Thorne, 2006). When language is employed,evenwiththesinglepurposeof social communication, it is directed outward; however, both the speaker' sand the interlocutor's internal mental processes are mutually regulated (Lantolf & Thorne, 2006).

Mediation can be materialized by human mediators. Indeed, Vygotsky, on whose work sociocultural theory is grounded, studied activity between children and their mediators, i.e., a parent or instructor. He observed how children initially relied on the expert for guidance but eventually became self-directed in their actions. Thus, the psychological functions that were necessary for the task first appeared in the form of concrete interaction between the child and the mediator and then were appropriated and internalized as the child grew independent from the expert (Kozulin, 2003). In Vygotskyan terms, the child developed and was able to do something that otherwise he or she would have been unable to do without the mediator's assistance (Foster & Ohta, 2005).

Although describing mediation in learning is complex, attempts have been made to characterize it (Kozulin, 2003). …

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