In my most recent blogs I have been looking at different hypotheses pertaining to second language learning (SLL), specifically Krashen’s Input Hypothesis ( i + 1: Is this algebra class?), and Swain’s Output Hypothesis (If you don’t use it…You will lose it). This week I would like to turn our attention to a hypothesis that involves both the input and output of the second language, the Interaction hypothesis. Don’t worry there’s no algebra involved!
In the Interaction Hypothesis, Michael Long proposes that while both input and output are necessary for second language acquisition, in order to gain a greater understanding of how this works, one should focus more attention on the interactions language learners engage in (Long, 1981, 1983a, 1983b.). Long posits that these interactions are not merely a source of second language input, but are rather exchanges that allow the parties to negotiate the meaning of the input. This negotiation results in changes to the complexity of the input.
According to Long, these changes to the input play an important role in second language acquisition. For a second language learner, interaction allows for the fine-tuning of the second language input in order to make it more accessible to the learner. In studies when communication or comprehension difficulties arise in interaction between native and non-native speaker pairs, more often than not these pairs attempt to resolve their difficulties by using conversational tactics such as requesting repetition (i.e., “Could you repeat that, please?”), confirmation checks (i.e., “Did you say…”), comprehension checks (i.e., “Does x mean x?”), and/or clarification requests (i.e., “What do you mean by x?”) (Long, 1980, 1981, 1983a.). In this way we can see that interaction ensures that the learner is receiving i + 1, rather than i + 3 or even i + 0. (See: Krashen’s Input Hypothesis and Comprehensible Input: [i +1].) Therefore, the modifications to the conversational structure ensure that the input will be comprehensible while still containing new material in the form of new vocabulary or grammatical elements, which provides the potential for new learning.
Mango Languages provides students the convenience of learning from home at their own pace while still incorporating “interaction.” Our method starts by introducing the student to a conversation that is above their current level of comprehension, but then proceeds to modify the conversation by breaking it down in to its components. Conversational interaction tactics are also part of the Mango system. Requests for repetition can be made by the student by simply clicking on the back arrow to replay previous slides. They can also click replay on the slide they are currently on or click on the individual words or entire phrases to repeat the audio. The student also has the option to repeat entire lessons and chapters.
Our system also repeats material through the use of automatically generated quizzes and critical thinking slides. Confirmation checks can be done with the use of our voice comparison feature. This allows the student to compare their output to that of a native speaker, and in doing so, confirm their comprehension of not only the grammar and vocabulary but also the pronunciation. At the completion of a chapter the student hears the initial conversation again. This also allows them to check and confirm their acquisition and hence comprehension of the material that they did not comprehend at the onset of the chapter.
Mango’s use of literal meanings when needed as well as grammar notes, anticipates the clarification requests of students. So, although learners can use the Mango Languages software on their own without actually having a “conversation,” we recognize the importance of interaction and conversation repair tactics. We have incorporated these elements into our system while still allowing the student to have all of the benefits of learning on their own from the comfort of their own home and on their own time.
I can easily remember a time or two when I have used these conversational repair tactics in order to understand what someone was trying to tell me and even to make myself understood.
How about you? Do you know someone who constantly asks you to repeat yourself? Or do you have to frequently ask your friend for clarification because he/she never seems to provide enough details to clue you in as to what they are talking about?