Critical Commonalities of SLA
The Impetus for my research project came directly from my own ignorance. Teaching is both an art and a science, and I want to be good at it. I may be naturally good (or well trained) at the “art” of teaching, but without understanding how people learn or what factors make for maximum learning in minimal time, none of us can expect to “know” that our approach to teaching is either the most efficient or the most effective. On the other hand, without understanding how to implement whatever knowledge I have within the classroom setting, I can’t “make use” of that knowledge in a way that has an impact on my teaching practices.
So, with all the readings and “theory” of Second Language Learning, it both amused and irritated me to find so much research being done in what I saw as a “haphazard” manner. What I saw were a bunch of Republicans and Democrats fighting each other to promote the ideas of their “candidate” – Krashen, Long, Pica, Ellis, Swain, Wode – Input, Output, Reading, Grammar, Social Discourse, foreigner-talk, interlanguage, negotiated meanings, motivation, immersion, natural order, and on and on. I posed two basic questions for myself throughout my travels into this field of study. The first was this: Regardless of what “theory” this author is promoting, or what variables are being tested in a particular study, are there some basic “commonalities” I can find throughout ALL the research available? In other words, are there some common threads that appear in every study? And second: If there are, and if I can pinpoint and prove them, how can these “basics” be phrased in such a way as to be “practical” for a teacher? This second requirement means that while I found some truths to be true and meaningful, such as the relevance of socioeconomic background, previous language learning, motivation, personality type, etc…, I couldn’t waste my time focusing on these. And I couldn’t do so because these are not factors that we, as teachers, have any control over. These types of concepts serve to help us “understand” more, but not to teach better. In the end, we are all about “teaching”, and finding a “truth” is only as useful as it is “applicable” within the framework of a teacher’s ability to “make use” of it.
I read a lot. I thought a lot. And I found 3 incredibly meaningful, basic concepts that run rampant throughout all the literature. I named them “reaction”, “repetition”, and “range”, with range being the most important of the three. We can’t control someone’s motivation in general, but as teachers and “public performers”, we have tremendous capacity to learn how to “get their attention” in a classroom. This attention is a prerequisite for any further teaching or learning process. If they aren’t listening, and we don’t have their “interest”, we can’t continue to impact on their learning process. No matter what a study purported to do or investigate, every one implicitly or explicitly included the idea that students paid “attention” to what was going on. Without “attention” we have nothing. With attention, we have a beginning. I preferred to use the term “reaction” (although perhaps “reception” would work equally well) because it implies that something is being done with the input given. In SLA, that something produces a “reaction” within the learner. Although not all reactions help the learning process in the long run (for example, you can make a student “angry” and cause early termination of the desire to learn from you), the student must “respond, react to, or receive” the communication being offered.
The second important concept is “repetition”. This repetition may take a variety of forms. It may be the result of “forced output,” it may be the effect of reading, of repeating new vocabulary, of hearing words again and again. But repetition is a critical key to learning, and without it, learning never moves from short term memory (where reaction may occur) into long term storage for retrieval later on. Again, regardless of the study or theory I read about, there was a “repetition” type component, which facilitated the learning (or acquisition) process. As with attention, repetition does not always result in learning. There is both a minimum and a maximum level. At the minimum, things need to be repeated in some form at least 7 times. But beyond a maximum (which may vary for learners), there is “boredom” or excess, which then may contribute to a latent or subtle “turning off” process within the learner. Despite these parameters, however, repetition is a primary requirement without which language acquisition simply cannot happen.
The third and most important concept is “range”. Ellis explicitly addresses this term (and it is “his” term, not mine) in his latest work. Range is best explained by another expression, called “complexity-consciousness”. This phrase, which is attributed to Pierre Teilharrd de Chardin, a Jesuit paleontologist and theologian, refers to an evolutionary process. In this process, he noted that life developed along lines of increasing complexity and a parallel increase in consciousness. Simply put, the amoeba is simpler in terms of molecular structure, and has little, if any consciousness. As we move up the line of life, through plants, to animals, and humans, we see increasing levels of molecular complexity and accompanying higher levels of consciousness. In life as we know it on earth, man has the most densely packed and complex web of molecular structures, as well as the highest form of consciousness. Thus we have the highest levels of complexity-consciousness. Teilhard posed that the next level of evolution would occur within the intellectual and spiritual realms, where man’s consciousness continues to evolve. But that’s a subject for another day. His theory’s applicability within the realm of SLA is what we want to look at.
If in fact, this model of complexity consciousness is valid and true, and if it applies to life’s processes, then it must apply at every level within life. Then we can rephrase this biological model in terms of learning. Learning occurs in leaps (as does evolution) within the mind that lead to understanding and permanent change (knowing – increased consciousness), when something within the mind changes as a result of attaining a required level of complexity, or density of structure. This density of structure or complexity is composed of the maximizing of all inputs that are related, and which contain the same “new” meaning. Let’s get practical. Range, then (or complexity) is that which allows the learner to maximize their “view” of a new item of learning, or, it is the constant increase in “contextual” elements within the learning process. Range is provided when a student sees the same word in many different sentences, all of which add to the “perception” and understanding of what that word really means. This I call the “micro” level of range. Range is also the variety of methods and forms we use in conveying a piece of knowledge. It is increased when we not only express new words, but have students express them, have students read them, have students recognize them, have students write them. This is what I call the “macro” level of using range to increase understanding and learning. It is not to be confused with another, similar concept. It is not re-explaining in 5 thousand ways what a particular word might mean when a student doesn’t seem to understand it. The more we try to explain, the more new words we may introduce, the more confused the student may become. Rather, it is providing different “modes” or views of the same thing through variation in methods used to target the same item of knowledge.
Of the three, range (or complexity) is the most effective and most critical. Effective because it already incorporates reaction and repetition components. The more varied the stimulus we provide in approaching the same item, the more likely one or more will cause a “reaction” within the learner. And of course, the varied stimulus all point to, or contain the new item, which means “repetition” is occurring. Unlike reaction and repetition, there aren’t any downsides to using range to maximize the potential for increased “consciousness” or learning/permanent change. In all research and studies, range is the component that most affected positive learning outcomes. It also gives us a new vantage point for our understanding of theories of SLA; one which doesn’t lead us into different, conflicting camps. The concept of range allows us all to acknowledge the value of every major researcher’s concepts and initiatives, since all of them provide us with a greater “variety” of methods to use for maximizing learning in our students.
Reaction, repetition, and range; and the greatest of these is “range”. Without them, we have nothing; with them, we have, as teachers, all the tools required to maximize our effectiveness in providing students with what they need to learn.
The 3 R’s of SLA
There are over 40 theories of Second Language Acquisition (Larson-Freeman & Long, 227) and thousands of studies assessing the value of various teaching methods. The motivations of authors may vary, but the end purpose of all SLA research studies is to find ways to maximize teacher effectiveness and student learning. Nativist theories, most closely connected to Chomsky and Krashen, focus on innate learner variables. Environmentalist theories, associated with Skinner and Schumann, focus on the impact of experience. Interactionist theories, represented by a wide diversity of authors, have fathered “discourse analysis” and attempt to balance the “nature-nurture” scale. Within each of these traditions lies some aspect of truth related to SLA, and each has spawned hundreds of studies to evaluate the forces which impact on the development of language fluency.
Notwithstanding much heated debate, some concepts have become “common knowledge” within the SLA teaching community. These generally accepted ideas have catapulted SLA into a major new discipline and provide the groundwork for current approaches to curriculum development and implementation. Learners who tend to succeed are motivated (Gardner and Lambert, 1959) and affective variables have “visible effects on learning results” (Dulay, Burt, & Krashen, 1982, 54). Input is required and must be “comprehensible” (Long, 1981; Krashen, 1985). Interaction is more effective in providing comprehensible input than non-interactive input (Pica, 1987). Foreigner talk, which appears similar to motherese, “facilitates comprehension of meaning by learners” (Galloway, 226; Hatch, 1978; Ellis, Tanaka, & Yamazaki, 1994). Developmental stages must be taken into account when teaching a second language (Clahsen, Meisel, and Pienemann, 1983). There is a similarity between first and second language acquisition processes (Wode, 1981). Grammar instruction promotes writing effectiveness (Scott, 1989) and also “helps” learners acquire language (Terrell, 1989). There is a need for “negotiation of meaning” even among early learners (Freed, 1991, 35) and a “natural order” of acquisition (Gass & Selinker, 1994; Dulay & Burt, 1974), which cannot be significantly altered by instruction (Pienemann in Pfaff, 1987, 161). Forced oral practice of the target language results in “comprehensible output”, which also aids in the development of language fluency (Swain in Gass and Madden, 1985, 252). Reading facilitates language acquisition and supports the teaching process (Elley, 1991). More intense and varied exposure supports rapid language acquisition (Collins, Halter, Lightbrown, & Spada, 1999). These are some of the most widely accepted and relatively well understood ideas that teachers already include in their challenging roles as guides to second language learning.
But common knowledge cannot always be readily translated into meaningful techniques for classroom teaching. While motivation, socioeconomic background, and personality traits make a significant difference in the end results of language acquisition, teachers do not control these factors. Although age and previous exposure to other languages impacts on the facility with which learners can absorb new language information, no teacher can make use of this knowledge in a meaningful way. Teachers simply cannot alter history or change “aptitudes”, or provide for maximum exposure outside the classroom. This does not make research in unalterable variables meaningless or imply that such research should be abandoned. But teachers who practice their profession on a daily basis seek to know about those things that can be effectively turned into tools for improving their impact as teachers. They need “practical” knowledge from research, knowledge that will help them in any environment and support all types of curriculum. What the paper purports to do is focus on three variables, which have been shown to impact significantly on language acquisition. These three factors: reaction, range, and repetition, are the primary ingredients of any successful learning process, and understanding exactly what they are, how they occur, and how to maximize their effect will significantly improve learner progress in any environment.
We have posited three terms, which we claim are factors that play a primary role in SLA, and which we, as teachers, can control within the classroom environment. Further, we will claim that these factors play a principal role in ALL learning and form the foundation of human growth, which is an evolutionary process. We are not here debating whether the earth was “created” or “evolved”, but rather looking at a well documented and accepted scientific fact involving the processes of change. Teilhard de Chardin put this process this way:
“that if the universe, regarded sidereally, is in process of spatial expansion (from the infinitesimal to the immense), in the same way and still more clearly it presents itself to us, physico-chemically, as in process of organic involution upon itself (from the extremely simple to the extremely complex), —and, moreover, this particular involution ‘ of complexity ‘ is experimentally bound up with a correlative increase in interiorisation, that is to say in the psyche or consciousness.”” (Teilhard de Chardin, 1975)
Let’s simplify these words. Life appears to progress, from the smallest (amoeba) to the highest (man) level or organization in a manner which systematically increases molecular complexity and is accompanied by an increase in consciousness. Why is this important for SLA? If in fact, this process is a “truth” and forms the foundation of life’s processes, then this truth permeates all levels of growth, including the individual’s ability to intellectually process information. This theory is known as “complexity-consciousness”. A rise in consciousness (learning) results from the growth of complexity (range) within the system in a punctuated manner. “Punctuated” means that a new form (new understanding) emerges at certain intervals when “complexity” reaches a required “maximum” density. The precise amount of complexity needed (for maximization) may not be known, but the process itself is known and predictable. This is a fundamental law whereby all change and growth (learning) occurs. It will become, for us, the central core of SLA and the most critical aspect which teachers control; the development of complexity, or “range” for learners.
Before we delve into a more detailed understanding of what “range” means for SLA and why it actually is the MOST critical factor in language acquisition, let’s discuss the other two important aspects of learning, “reaction” and “repetition”. Reaction is another term for what we sometimes call attention or focus. There has been much discussion about the processes of perception and cognition, and whether learning can occur without conscious attention to input. We know that information must somehow be “processed” before it can become internalized and recalled by the learner for use or application. Gass discusses “selective processing” which turns input into “intake” (Gass, 5). “Literature in experimental psychology indicates that memory requires attention and awareness.” (McLaughlin, 1990). There are well defined theories about how and why we pay attention or become conscious of input provided to us. One of these is called “Adaptive Resonance Theory (ART)”, which both discusses the processes whereby information is selected for “intake” and how information moves from temporary awareness and storage into long term storage centers within the brain. It is founded on systems theory applied to human beings. According to ART, input is selected for attention based on previous notions and stored information. “Somehow the sound that we expect to hear based upon our previous language experience influences what we do hear,…” (Grossberg, 1998). ART supports Krashen’s concepts regarding “comprehensible input” and is in sync with Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” theories. Our drive for meaning initiates attention to input based on previously assimilated knowledge. Debates on the definition of consciousness as intention, knowledge, or awareness, and how to understand levels of consciousness aside, we know that “intake is that part of the input that the learner notices” (Schmidt, 1988). The reason “attention is paid to something” is often connected to motivation theories, and these “affective domains” are what influence discussions about what type of input serves the interests of learners best. Social interaction, ethnic identity and relationships are factors impacting on what “input models” learners actively choose to attend to. (Beebe in Gass & Madden, 411). For our purposes, it suffices to understand that the process of learning requires a measure of attention, focus, noticing, or, as herein described, “reaction”. Reaction is the term chosen because it most effectively focuses on the fact that “something must be done” with the information presented, that is to say, input must be “acted upon” or “responded to” by the system in some way for it to become fixed in memory and retrievable for later use.
Comprehensible Input becomes comprehended, or intake, based on the learner’s “reacting” in some manner to the stimulus given (information/words). Ellis discusses this “reacting” in terms of increasing the “depth of processing” that occurs through intrapsychic work performed by the conscious attention of learners. Providing interpersonal situations for interaction (although not necessarily “social” interaction) increases learner control of discourse, which promotes “interpersonal interaction” or “private speech”, which mediates the learning process. (Ellis, 239, 252, 255). His conclusion is supportive of Krashen’s theories; the negotiation of meaning that serves learning best is not necessarily the result of “external” discourse negotiation, but the “inner” negotiation of meaning through the attention (reaction) given to input. “Those who notice most, learn most, and it may be that those who notice most pay attention most” (Schmidt & Frota, 1986). To the degree that anything supports this attention/noticing/“reaction”, whether it is teaching metacognitive skills, giving learners greater control through social discourse, reading interesting materials, or teaching about language (grammar/syntax), it encourages and accelerates language acquisition. While teachers do not control learner motivation, aptitude, or socioeconomic background, they can control their choice of delivery style, curriculum content, classroom design, and interaction setup (activities) so as to elicit this “reaction” on the part of learners.
Repetition, which is the third critical component of SLA and learning in general, is founded on concepts which link the embedding of new information into the system through reinforcement. This reinforcement allows temporary storage items to become more “fixed” so that they can become part of the automated network of knowledge, capable of being recalled without significant conscious effort on the part of the learner. In management/leadership theory, there is a great deal of literature about creating new “habits” to maximize time use and efficiency. A common concept used to ingrain new habits and patterns, is that of doing something seven times in order to “imprint” it in memory. The minimum “repetitions” required to make something automatic is seven. In Latin, there is a saying, “repetitio mater studiorum est”, which means “repetition is the mother of learning”. Learning theories agree on the fact that repetition somehow enhances the underlying processes of learning. Ellis, in reviewing a study about frequency related to SLA noted that “words that occurred seven or more times in the course books of Indian learners were known by most learners” (Ellis, 46) Frequency, or repetition, increases the “meaningfulness” of information, increasing the potential of moving such information from Short Term Memory (STM) to Long Term Memory (LTM). Long Term Memory requires “deeper processing” and results in permanent imprinting of knowledge for later retrieval, while STM is a relatively temporary storage space, where information “waits” to be acted upon. If STM data is reinforced through repetition/practice, it moves into permanent storage in LTM. If it is not reinforced, it becomes available for recall only temporarily, eventually being “forgotten”.
Krashen notes as well that while “creative language” can be lost when the left hemispehere is damaged, routines and patterns appear to remain intact, even when they are far beyond the level of the developing rule system in children, if these “unanalyzed” expressions have occurred with “high frequency” within the learner’s environment. He implies that this high frequency occurrence results in their being available “in both the left and right brain hemispeheres” (Dulay, Burt & Krashen, 242). Use of repetition by mothers of children has been positively correlated with L1 language development (Conti-Ramsden in Galloway & Richards, 186) while a facilitative feature in early SLA development is teacher self-repetition (Ellis in Gass & Madden, 82). “Young children often repeat part or all of their partner’s preceding utterance in conversations” (James, 117).
Repetition can occur in any number of ways. It occurs when learners “drill” or repeat phrases or vocabulary, when they write or read for reinforcement of information, when mothers “expand or recast their child’s utterances” (Loritz, 186), when native speakers repeat non-native speakers sentences, when clarification requests are made in discourse (Pica, 1994), or when “forced output” is used to promote language acquisition. Repetition has been shown to be a component of all successful learning programs. TPR, as promoted by Asher relies on repetition coupled with physical enactment to maximize retention. Repetition in the form of “imitation, is postulated to be a universal discovery procedure for first and second language learning” (McLaughlin in Rosenberg, 235). It is pivotal, regardless of the learner’s age. While young children use repetition for learning in an automated or “intuitive” process, older children and adults use it equally, and often add an internal repetition system to their repertoire, as they utilize metacognitive skills to think about or analyze what they hear. Giving learners control and encouraging modified output increases both the probability of “meaningful” interaction, and therefore, motivation; and provides opportunities for extensive repetition as well as for the likelihood of creating input that is more comprehensible to the learner (closer to their I+1 level), that is to say, within their zone of proximal development (Ellis & Xien in Ellis, 129).
Reaction (attention/focus) has been shown to be the first step in successful instruction, and repetition (practice/reinforcement) is required for embedding new information in the deeper structures of the mind, for “permanence” of learning. In between these two, lies the crux of learning, which is range or “complexity”. In evolution, complexity is the “density of molecular structure” required for a change of state to occur, or increased consciousness (learning). In learning theory, we define range as the “variability of input containing that which is to be learned”. This variability allows for “understanding” or comprehension of new material. A simple analogy renders this definition comprehensible. An elephant may look like a barn from behind, like a snake from up front, or like a hippopotamus from the side. Increasing the number of directions (or angles) from which an observer can view an elephant, increases the likelihood of imparting to the observer the true sense of what an elephant is, or of helping the observer “understand” that the word elephant has all the dimensions we commonly associate with that word.
ART informs us that incoming signals are perceived in a “top-down” process, whereby what filters through our selective attention and storage systems is consistent with our previously stored expectations, or knowledge. This “process of resonance binds together information about both meaning and phonetics” (Grossman, 10). Neural networks develop rapidly in early life, and they do so based on the connections formed by the brain as new knowledge is processed and kept in LTM. Subsequent learning seeks to “understand” by recalling what is known and linking new information to those segments that most closely correlate to the new data provided. This biological process is the foundation for Vygotsky’s learning theories and the idea of “scaffolding”. Private speech, inner speech, and social interaction all are based on the concept of scaffolding, in which the learner’s comprehension is aided either externally (via tutors, teachers, and native speakers use of foreigner talk), or internally (via metacognitive processes) by helping place new information within “reach” for the learner. The greater the variability, or range provided, the more likely that the brain will find the connections required to make new information “meaningful”, or to “comprehend” it. Although not adequately highlighted in SLA literature, the concept of range has been addressed by various authors. Ellis, in reviewing research studies regarding modified input, quotes Mackey (1965) and concludes along with Carpay (1975) that range is the quantity of samples in which a new item is embedded, and that new words need to be introduced from the venue of at least four different contexts in order to be learned (Ellis, 98). It is not whether learners have social interaction, classroom teaching, reading, or proficiency-oriented training that makes them successful in learning. The relative success of each approach is directly correlated to the amount of variability or range that each provides the learner with. Range, as used herein, is also alluded to as “redundancy” in SLA literature, and it has been shown to be critical in developing understanding
“In our data, it appears that what the professors are doing in their second language classes is precisely this – exploiting the potential of language and the supporting extralinguistic content to increase the redundancy of the signals through which they communicate their meaning” (Wesche & Ready in Gass & Madden, 112).
In other places, the focus is on “recasts” by teachers and “self-recasts” by learners, which provide greater “richness” by increasing complexity in language structure, and which have been shown to effectively accelerate learning (Richards in Galloway & Richards, 82). TPR is so successful with beginning learners because it provides an alternate way to maximize “range” for learners whose lack of basic vocabulary precludes the extensive use of verbal language, which is beyond the beginner’s “zone of proximity”, since their scaffolding is so bare yet in terms of previous knowledge on which to hang new information presented in the L2. Instead of using “contextual referents”, TPR uses “concrete referents” (Dula, Burt & Krashen, 26) to assist the learner with creating meaning and comprehension. Transitional constructions (Krashen) and interlanguage are the visible aspects of the “organizer’s” processing, or the ongoing effort that takes new information from the realm of “unknown” to “understood”. Fossilization may result from the loss of reaction to input that is meant to create continued progress, or because excessive repetition of incorrect forms of the L2 have so strongly imprinted these forms as to preclude the inclusion of information meant to correct errors. In either case, it is related to the lack of provision of adequate “range” during the learning process. We will come back to why this is so later.
Humans are complex, adaptive systems and their language development reflects this. New structures (species or learning) occur when a threshold of complexity is reached, which develops through the weaving of connections between the old and the new, in an efficient search for patterns and systems useful for adaptive/functional purposes. The species evolved in this manner, language in general evolved in this manner, specific languages evolved in this manner, and individual SLA evolves in the same manner. The goal of language is communication, and to that end, the brain seeks to understand and connect new language information to previous linguistic and cognitive structures of meaning. Learning, similar to evolution, exhibits sudden, pervasive changes. When an “upper boundary” of complexity is reached, a higher level of organization emerges. In this manner, development and language learning cooperate with one another. SLA progresses via this constant reorganization, whereby a new “level” of organization results in understanding, or “a reorganizational jump whose characteristic is that the emergent system is somehow greater than the sum of the parts that constituted it” (Barber & Peters in Hawkins & Gell-Mann, 347).
Krashen’s theory of “roughly tuned input or net” (Terrell & Krashen, 33) is founded on the concept of providing maximum range or complexity within the learner’s I+1 or “proximal zone of development”. His emphasis on comprehensible input and inflexibility in assigning a greater role to any forms or methods that are not centered on “range” (output, the necessity of interaction, etc..) indicate his understanding of range as the “primary” requirement/necessity for SLA. Of course, all other theories contain components that also enhance language acquisition, but they do so primarily by increasing range on a microcosmic or macrocosmic level. As used here, the microcosmic level is that which provides information to the learner about the meaning of a word or form through its varied use in different sentences. This type of variation supplies the learner with both an increase in frequency (repetition), and with more angles from which to gain meaning about new input (range). In his latest work, Ellis agrees with Krashen regarding the pre-eminence of input and the workings of the brain for SLA.
“I have argued above that the kind of interaction that is crucially important for acquisition is the intrapsychological activity that results from learners’ attempts to process input for comprehension and acquisition. Such activity is not dependent on learners’ ability to interact socially, although, doubtlessly this is one way in which it can be stimulated” (Ellis, 242).
Ellis further notes that in terms of production or forced output, “there does not appear to be any obvious advantage for either the acquisition of vocabulary or grammar of actively participating in interaction” (Ellis, 245). The macrocosmic level is that aspect of complexity or range, which increases the situational contexts in which the learner sees a particular word or form; such as reading, social interaction, forced output, classroom instruction of rules about language, teaching thinking strategies, etc.. “There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the frequency with which novel words appear in a text affects acquisition” (Ellis, 155). Reading, again, provides the learner with both an increase in repetition of the targeted knowledge and an increase in range, or perspective (angle) from which to view the targeted knowledge. Ellis notes near the end of his work, “range, in particular, emerged as an important factor; learners need the opportunity to experience a new item in a number of different contexts” (Ellis, 249).
We have seen that the three primary factors that accelerate learning or SLA are reaction, range, and repetition. Of these three, range stands out as the most important. The reason for this is simple and obvious. First, reactions can be both positive and negative, and excessive attention to one particular can preclude openness of the system to further input while it “overfocuses” on one aspect of all that is being presented. Although teachers can do many things to gain attention or to motivate students, there is no guarantee that simply focusing will result in learning or acquisition. It may result in temporary focus and place new information only in the STM, which can eventually extinguish. It may also result in inappropriate focusing, for example, a teacher who dresses as a clown in order to teach things about the circus also produces “static” or distractors for the learner, whose thoughts may wander to ideas that are not related to the particular task at hand. Repetition suffers from similar problems when viewed as primary. Studies have concluded that there is a minimum requirement, but there is also an upper boundary or maximum within which frequency must fit. Too much repetition can exhaust the brain’s ability to pay attention, or to react, to a given input. Further, excessive repetition can actually diminish the potential of learning, or become an irritant as boredom sets in. It can be tricky business for a teacher to know the precise amount of rote repetition that is useful for acquisition, without risking loss of attention or harming the acquisition process.
Range, however, provides the learner with “variety” and thereby stimulates reaction, or maximizes the probability that the learner will react to the new information presented. By incorporating varied tasks at the macrocosmic level, teachers can implement the concept of range to impact on all learners by presenting instruction in such a way as to make use of the “multiple intelligence” theory, which tells us that different learners function better with differing approaches. Thus, reading, social interaction, participative activities, and overt grammar instruction, all maximize the probability that most learners can connect new information in a meaningful way to previous information and understand new ideas/concepts/words.
Further, range provides for maximum frequency/repetition, but because it does so within the context of “variation”, it minimizes the probability that learners will “burn out” from repetition. In this respect, then, range encompasses both reaction and repetition variables, which are subcomponents of range or “complexity”. Fossilization, which truncates full language acquisition is often the result of the lack of range. When the learner’s environment lacks sufficient range; either because interaction is limited to the language provided by other non-native speakers or native speakers whose language use is neither correct grammatically nor rich in vocabulary, or because not enough varied resources are utilized in teaching (reading, production, hands-on activities), incorrect and limited SLA occurs.
Understanding the impact of range on learning not only provides a framework from which to evaluate theories of SLA, but links all theories together in a comprehensive whole, which diminishes the need to emphasize one over the other, except to the extent that those which allow the most range for learners become recognized for providing greater acceleration in SLA. Each focus, however, is seen as valuable, and each contributes to eventual language acquisition. More research needs to be done which identifies range as the primary critical factor in the underlying studies, which compare various theories of SLA. In doing so, researchers will be able to connect SLA research to advances in learning theory, as well as make use of the discoveries of other fields of study, including physics, cybernetics, economics, sociology, and archeology. Meanwhile, teachers need to understand the concept of range and recognize its importance in second language acquisition. By doing so, they acquire the ability to significantly enhance their potential to successfully assist learners in acquiring language fluency.
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