Winter 2002
Directed Reading with Professor Amado Padilla:
Second Language Acquisition

The Language Classroom

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"Getting Quality Input in the Second/Foreign Language Classroom"

Lightbown, P. (1992).  "Getting Quality Input in the Second/Foreign Language Classroom." In (Eds.) Kramsch, C. and McConnell-Ginet, S. Text and Context: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Language Study.  Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company

Lightbown begins with two research-based observations: audiolingual and grammar-translation methods often produce false successes during systematic structure learning; exposure to distorted language, and/or incomplete target language presentation, constitute inadequate input.  How to deliver effective, quality input is a question that continues to vex researchers and teachers.  Lightbown explores experimental work in intensive and communicative ESL courses in French-speaking Canadian schools.  Specifically, she looks at comprehension-based ESL and intensive ESL classes.

The former is based on a three-pronged theory: SLA requires comprehension, not practice; positive motivation and little stress are ideal; and students can be responsible for their learning.  Although the students in the comprehension-based course seemed to make respectable progress (after three years of daily, half hour classes centered around cassette listening with text support), it was only at basic English levels.  The consistent, quality input appeared to aid their accurate production.

In comparison, she details an intensive ESL program, in which "regular subject matter instruction (French, math, social science) is suspended and English is the only subject matter taught" (190).  After this five-month program, students seemed able "to develop very dramatically in their comprehension...and they also develop confidence in their ability to use a variety of settings" (191).  Although the students speak with confidence, their speech is riddled with errors.  However, they are prepared to continue learning on their own. When some focus on form is provided, "students can realize both short- and long-term gains in accuracy" (192).  Evidence suggests that form focus is "most effective, not in advance of communicative contexts, but at the moment when learners [produce]" (192).

Lightbown stresses that SLA is both developmental and variational; part of L2 acquisition follows a predictable, natural sequence, part is acquired and used at various times depending on learner motivation and aptitude.  Although both the depicted ESL environments offer problems for generating quality input for learners, Lightbown points out that neither are they mutually exclusive, nor are they the only possible strategies.  "In the current atmosphere of emphasis on [CLT] that involves learners in activities focusing primarily on meaning, the quality of the input available...must be given serious attention" (193-4).