The Acquisition of Formulaic Sequences in High-Intermediate ESL Learners
second language acquisition
task-based language learning
This study investigates the relative effectiveness of three types of form-focused instruction on the acquisition of English formulaic sequences (FSs), which learners of all proficiency levels seem to struggle with. 40 Mandarin-speaking graduate students were randomly assigned to 4 groups: 1 control group and 3 treatment groups. Over 2 weeks all groups received 3 reading comprehension lessons based on 3 reading passages with 10 target FSs in each. The control group received no instruction on FSs, while in the three treatment groups, after the reading comprehension activity, learners received three types of intervention: (i) Input Enhancement in combination with Explicit Instruction, (ii) Collaborative Gap-fill tasks, and (iii) Spot-the-Difference tasks. A Vocabulary Knowledge Scale test and an Awareness test were used as pre-tests, while immediate and delayed post-tests included a cued gap-fill test followed by a multiple-choice question test and the same Awareness test. Findings obtained from ANOVAs and Cohen's d effect size calculations showed that three types of form-focused instruction benefited learners in acquiring higher levels of productive and receptive knowledge of new FSs. Form-focused instruction was particularly successful in helping learners produce the newly learnt FSs in a different context. Results also revealed that effective retention of the target FSs' form was associated with higher levels of productive knowledge. Furthermore, learners' engagement in understanding the meaning of new FSs in their context had a durable positive effect on their retention of the form and productive knowledge of these FSs. Direct instruction of new FSs' meaning helped learners retain meaning most efficiently, while explicit strategy teaching tended to enhance learners' ability to notice FSs in L2 input. Correlation analyses also suggested a complex interaction of factors related to the acquisition of FSs as frequency, n-gram length and MI Score separately could not fully account for the levels of success in acquiring new FSs receptively and productively among learners.