Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Metalinguistic Knowledge of Salient vs. Unsalient Features: Evidence from the Arabic Construct State

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Metalinguistic Knowledge of Salient vs. Unsalient Features: Evidence from the Arabic Construct State

Article excerpt

Introduction

The terms metalinguistic knowledge and explicit knowledge are interchangeably used to refer to learners' conscious knowledge of the linguistic rules of a particular language (e.g., DeKeyser, 2009; R. Ellis, 2004; Hu, 2011). This construct is often distinguished from implicit knowledge that cannot be brought to awareness and verbalized (see R. Ellis, 2005; Rebuschat, 2013). According to R. Ellis (2004, further elaborated in 2005), an adequate operationalization that captures the intricacies of explicit knowledge should primarily include analyzed knowledge (i.e., structural knowledge that learners are aware of) and secondarily include metalanguage (i.e., the use of technical and semitechnical linguistic terms) that explains these rules.1

The importance of metalinguistic knowledge in second language (L2) learning has been controversial. Results of a large body of experimental research have been divided among three positions. First is the dismissive view that posits that there is no role for metalinguistic knowledge in L2 use (e.g., Alderson, Clapham, & Steel, 1997; Elder, Warren, Hajek, Manwaring, & Davies, 1999; Krashen, 1987; Paradis, 1994). According to this view, L2 performance is not affected by explicit knowledge of grammar but rather by implicit unconscious knowledge. This view has been very influential in L2 pedagogy, and for decades many language instructors and methodologists recognized no role for explicit knowledge of L2 grammar, marking a pendulum swing from the grammar translation method. The second view, on the other hand, establishes strong links between metalinguistic knowledge and L2 performance (e.g., Hu, 2011; Roehr, 2006, 2007). Proponents of this view have posited that L2 learners' performance on various tasks is associated with their reported use of metalinguistic knowledge. The third view establishes indirect links between metalinguistic knowledge and L2 use. According to this view, metalinguistic knowledge plays a role only when it is proceduralized and automatized through practice (DeKeyser, 1998, 2009; R. Ellis, 1994).

Continuing differences among these views have motivated a need to examine the factors that impact the role of metalinguistic knowledge in L2 task performance and L2 use more broadly. Specific lines of inquiry have included the effect of pedagogical treatments (whether L2 learners are taught using the explicit form-focused instruction [FFI] or communicative approach), the effect of task demands (whether the task requires analyzed knowledge and executive control), and the role of proficiency (whether varied levels of metalinguistic knowledge correlate with proficiency levels). Less investigated in the literature has been the examination of how L2 learners develop metalinguistic knowledge of grammatical forms with variable inherent characteristics (see Hu, 2002; Xu & Lyster, 2014). These characteristics include salience (whether the grammatical forms are easy to notice in the input due to being prominent), complexity (whether the surface form entails several transformational steps),2 and regularity (whether the structure conforms to an identifiable pattern; see DeKeyser, 2003; N. Ellis, 2006; R. Ellis, 2006).

Currently, in the field of teaching Arabic as a foreign language, there are two main trends: the grammatical teaching approach and an approach that focuses on language as communication (see Ryding, 2006). Although the latter trend is becoming more widespread, grammar-based approaches are still frequently used, partially because most current textbooks, such as AlKitaab fii Ta'allum Al-'Arabiyya (The Book in Learning Arabic, one of the most commonly used textbooks and one in a series of three; Brustad, Al-Batal, & Al-Tonsi, 2001) focus intensively on grammar. In surveying these two trends, Ryding (2013a) noted that knowledge of grammar may make a useful contribution to communicative methodologies. Note that among current studies of Arabic L2 learning, no systematic exploration has been conducted on the links between explicit metalinguistic knowledge of grammatical forms and task performance (see Alhawary, 2009; Ryding, 2013b, for an overview). …

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