Concept-Based Instruction and the
Acquisition of L2 Spanish
Eduardo Negueruela University of Miami
James P. Latltolf Pennsylvania State University
The rekindling of interest in teaching grammar in foreign language classrooms is arguably the result of concern about the lack of control over the grammatical features of the L2 (secondary language) observed among learners who have passed through pedagogical programs in which opportunities to communicate are given greater emphasis than are the formal features of learners' performance. A problem confronting those who wish to bring grammar back into focus is the need to develop a clear understanding of what grammar consists of in the first place (Odlin 1994). For instance, Ellis (2004) notes that L2 researchers do not seem to agree on either the relevance or even the relationship between such concepts as implicit versus explicit grammatical knowledge, automatic and controlled processing of grammar, metalinguistic knowledge versus grammatical rules, deductive versus inductive learning of grammatical features, and so on (see also Ellis 1997,2002; Hinkel and Fotos 2002).
In their meta-analysis of the effects of instruction of learning, Norris and Ortega (2000) conclude that explicit form-focused and forms-focused instruction, where learners are made aware of grammatical forms, have substantial positive effects on learning and are more effective than implicit instruction. On the other hand, they note that in studies in which rules are explicitly taught, the impact on learning was not significant. One problem with these studies, however, is that grammar presentation was not carried out in a consistent manner across the studies. In some studies rules were presented paradigmatically [with various forms and functions of a linguistic subsystem presented together] (484). In others, the rules were presented in stages [with aspects of a structure explained in small steps accompanied by intervening practice or exposure activities] (ibid.). In most studies rule-based explanations were presented prior to engaging learners in other instructional activities. In some studies, however, explanations were available for consultation as learners participated in instructional activities; in others, the rules were reintroduced at intervals throughout the instructional intervention (ibid.).
As far as we can determine, the previous research has not concerned itself with the quality of the grammatical rules presented to learners, and this, along with the functionality of this knowledge—that is, how instruction promotes the appropriation of grammatical knowledge to make it accessible to learners when they use the language—form the primary focus of this chapter. Specifically, our concern is with instruction of Spanish verbal aspect. However, we are not interested in accuracy of morphological endings but in learner understanding of, and control over, the concept of aspect as it is manifested in the distinction in Spanish between preterit and