The relative contribution of input modification, learner awareness, and individual differences to second language construction learning

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Jackson, Daniel Owen
Input; awareness; individual differences; second language learning; working memory; personality
thesis / dissertation description
This study adopts a constructionist approach to investigating three recent proposals grounded in cognitive perspectives on second language acquisition, which broaden the research agenda in the areas of input modification, learner awareness, and individual differences. Specifically, it was hypothesized that the following would support learning of artificial morphological constructions: (a) input modification in the form of partially repeated sequences, (b) awareness of precise form-meaning mappings, and (c) cognitive-affective learner differences. During the computerized training phase of the study, 90 English-dominant undergraduate participants were placed into three conditions: two experimental conditions exhibiting partial repetition similar to that found in caregiver discourse and a control condition exhibiting no such repetition. The testing phase utilized a picture-word matching task to assess participants' ability to judge correct versus incorrect constructions based on trained and untrained subtest items. Learner awareness was gauged through source attributions and a retrospective written questionnaire. Measures of learner differences included working memory tasks (reading span and dual 3-back) and personality scales (openness and intellect). A test-retest study with 20 of the participants showed these individual difference measures to be relatively stable. Results indicated that the study's hypotheses were largely supported. Learner awareness levels, reading span scores, and item type significantly predicted outcomes on the trained and untrained subtests of the picture-word matching task, based on a regression model including the random effects of items and participants. Also, a better fit to the data was achieved by using a fine-grained, rather than course-grained, system of coding awareness. However, contrary to hypothesis, participants in the experimental conditions did not significantly outperform those in the control condition on the picture-word matching task. Another finding of this study was that participants reported use of both explicit (rule, memory) and implicit (guess, intuition) knowledge sources on the picture-word matching task. In conclusion, this study offers additional evidence concerning the roles of awareness and individual differences in second language learning, suggests ways to enhance the internal validity of research in this domain, and potentially informs future research on input modification as a pedagogic technique.