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An empirical investigation into the acquisition and processing of L2 formulaic sequences through audiovisual input

To achieve high levels of proficiency and fluency in a second language (L2), learners need to acquire a large number of formulaic sequences, or frequently recurring words, phrases and word combinations assumed to be familiar and conventional to native speakers (Siyanova-Chanturia and Pellicer-Sánchez, 2019). In second language acquisition (SLA) research, the term formulaic sequence is commonly used to cover a wide range of multiword expressions such as lexical bundles (e.g., you know what), collocations (e.g., abject poverty), binomials (e.g., fish and chips), and idiomatic phrases (e.g., kick the bucket). Many of these can be acquired incidentally, that is, as a by-product of meaning-focused activities such as reading or TV viewing (e.g., Hulstijn, 2003). However, incidental learning is a slow, incremental process that requires vast amounts of L2 input (Webb, 2020), because of the limited depth of processing or attention typically associated with such activities (e.g., Laufer and Hulstijn, 2001). The role of attention is highly relevant for the incidental acquisition of multiword expressions, which are often discontinuous, semantically transparent, and therefore potentially less salient to learners than unknown single words (e.g., Boers et al., 2016). A few studies have examined how attention affects learning of multiword expressions from exposure to meaningful input (e.g., Choi, 2017), or have sought ways of promoting learners’ attention to multiword units through input enhancement (e.g., Szudarski & Carter, 2016; Majuddin et al., 2021; Toomer & Elgort, 2019).

The current project contributes to this line of research by empirically investigating incidental learning of multiword expressions through TV viewing and reading. The main aims of the research are to investigate whether and to what extent learners can pick up multiword expressions from these types of input, and to closely examine the role of attention in the learning process. The following research questions guided the four studies:

1. Can learners acquire knowledge single words and multiword expressions by watching a single episode of L2 television?

2. For which types of multiword expressions can learners acquire knowledge by watching L2 television?

3. What is the effect of typographic enhancement on learners’ attention to, and learning of, multiword expressions when they watch captioned television?

4. Does typographic enhancement have a durable effect on learners’ attention to, and learning of multiword expressions when these are read repeatedly in meaningful contexts?

Four empirical studies were conducted in which advanced L2 learners of English took part in incidental learning interventions. The first study explored incidental learning of multiword expressions and single words through watching a single video. The study used a pre- and posttest to measure learning gains for words and phrases encountered in the video, and compared learning gains for multiword expressions and single words through multiple regression (generalized estimating equations). The results showed that learners can acquire knowledge of both single words and multiword expressions from a single encounter in L2 television.

The second study used a similar design, but focused on the effect of learners’ prior vocabulary knowledge and item variables in incidental learning of multiword expressions from L2 television. The findings indicate that learners’ prior vocabulary knowledge and item variables such as association strength affect learning gains.

The third study investigated the effects of typographic enhancement in captioned L2 video. Multiword expressions were highlighted in the captions of a video, and participants’ eye movements and learning gains (pretest-posttest) in the enhanced and unenhanced condition were compared through mixed models. The results suggest that item difficulty and amount of visual attention were more important in predicting learning gains than typographic enhancement.

The final study used a mixed design to investigate the durability or transferability of the typographic enhancement effect in written input. Participants took part in two reading sessions containing repeated exposures to L2 collocations. Typographic enhancement was only applied in the first reading session. By tracking participants’ eye movements in both reading sessions, we measured the effect of enhancement on learners’ visual processing of collocations both in the initial, enhanced context, and in later, unenhanced contexts. The results indicated that the effect of enhancement on learners’ reading times did not transfer to later exposures after a one-week delay. The findings also suggest that collocation knowledge may develop slowly when learners are focused on communicative meaning.

Taken together, the studies’ findings have clear implications for L2 pedagogy: they demonstrate the potential of meaningful input for incidental learning of multiword expressions, and provide insight into the role of attention and input enhancement in incidental learning activities. The studies also contribute to theories on L2 processing of multiword expressions during contextualized exposure.

Date:1 Oct 2017 →  30 Sep 2022
Keywords:vocabulary, second language acquisition, usage-based learning
Disciplines:Education curriculum
Project type:PhD project