The role of form -focused communication activities in complex grammar learning: The case of relative clauses in Chinese

Wei-ling Wu, University of Pennsylvania


An important question in second language acquisition theory and pedagogy has been whether activities that are focused on communication can also help learners acquire complex, nonsalient language forms needed to express precise meaning. Long (1991) has proposed the idea of drawing the learner's attention to linguistic form as the need arises for clarity and comprehensibility when messages are not understood. Much research has been done on the feasibility of and potential for integrating such a “focus on form” into meaning-focused activities. To further investigate form-focused communication activities, especially when they are implemented in the actual L2 classroom setting, this study audiotaped the interaction between 10 pairs of high school students as they carried out three form-focused communication activities. The activities required them to identify, compare, and fix problems with the accuracy and appropriateness of grammatical forms as they appeared in Chinese relative clauses. The students were developmentally ready to acquire these forms, but had made little progress in that regard. Analysis of the learners' interaction in these activities revealed four major findings: First, learners' participation in the activities activated interactional and attentional processes that were directly related to the relative clause forms and features. Second, when learners needed to reach agreement or resolve communication breakdowns over the relative clause forms and features, their attention shifted between a focus on form and a focus on meaning. This served as a strategy for implementing and completing their activities. Third, learners' interaction, when modified through negotiation, discussion, and collaboration during the activities activated three types of noticing claimed to be necessary for L2 development, i.e., noticing forms, form differences, and gaps between accurate and inaccurate encodings. Fourth, learners' assistance during the final “check up” step of the activities expanded their opportunities to focus on form and meaning. Findings from the study support current claims on the feasibility and potential for incorporating a focus-on-form approach in the foreign language classroom and add to the growing interest in developing effective techniques for Chinese language teaching and learning.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Language arts

Recommended Citation

Wu, Wei-ling, "The role of form -focused communication activities in complex grammar learning: The case of relative clauses in Chinese" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3179837.