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4 Perspective for Our Studies of SLA: Spoken and Written Output

4 Perspective for Our Studies of SLA: Spoken and Written Output

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1.4 Perspective for Our Studies of SLA: Spoken and Written Output


…the studies tend to view beliefs as variable and fixed, and focus on changes in these

and/or on the interaction between beliefs and learner or teacher actions, acknowledging

their relationship to be a complex one. (p. 281)

Further, about the nature of beliefs, the papers confirm that

… they are context-dependent, in a number of cases variable even within one and same

context or over time – and at the same time constant – complex, discursively constructed

through negotiation, dynamic and contradictory. (pp. 285–286)

These views are highly relevant to the studies presented in this book.


Attitudes and Expectations of the Learners

Why does language acquisition get so trivialized when it comes to the classroom,

where it becomes just a subject to be studied to answer a full-length paper at the end

of the academic semester/year? A study of the various theories of SLA does not

seem to reflect the ambiguities and the sheer helplessness of the teacher to make the

learner realize the importance of language acquisition as a crucial factor in

knowledge acquisition and communication.

For example, in an engineering college, where various courses are offered on

engineering (e.g., electronics and communication engineering, electronics and

electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, informational technology, computer

science, biotechnology), the acquisition of English (which is the medium of

instruction in most institutions of higher learning, especially in science and technology) is essential to comprehend and produce knowledge. It is essential for a

teacher to be updated about the latest developments in the field of science and

engineering; and for the student to have the wherewithal to survive in a competitive


Why is it that students do not realize the importance of attaining proficiency in

English and acquisition of study skills for their own professional growth? This has

been troubling us for many years now. Existing theories of SLA (mostly Western)

do not seem to acknowledge the gravity of the situation. Caught up in the whirlpool

of syntax, morphology, semantics and phonology and pragmatics, problems in

approach to English language acquisition, and communication in general somehow

seem to have lost importance. As a result, whether it be Chomsky’s view on

language acquisition or Krashen’s comprehensible input and monitoring theories,

Swain’s output hypothesis, or the only Indian researcher who is pertinent to the

Indian context of the study—Prabhu’s communicational task approach to promote

SLA—all seem inadequate in understanding the “attitude” problem of Indian

learners who seem to look at English as a subject where some topics have to be

mastered to enable them to pass the exams. The reluctance to express themselves

without the compulsions of exams has to be, somehow, tackled by

teacher-researchers of SLA.


1 Second Language Acquisition Research on Spoken and Written Output


The Importance of Language in Higher Education

The importance of language, which is almost like the nervous system of human

existence, has been well understood by ancient Sanskrit scholars (Sanskrit being the

language of science in ancient India) who have stated things like

jite jihvam / jite sarvey

[One who conquers the tongue rules the world]


sahanavavatu sahanav gunaktu / sahaveeryam karanavahai / tejasvi navadhitamastu /

ma vidvishavahai / om shanti, om shanti, om shanti

[May God protect us both (teacher and student), may God nourish us both, may we work

together with energy and vigour, may our study provide knowledge and not give rise to ill


Taittiriya Upanishad, Katha Upanishad, Mandukya Upanishad and

Shvetashvatara Upanishad

Students will not feel that language acquisition is only required to get pass grades

in an exam but is needed for their own professional and personal development, only

when the combined efforts of the teacher and student are put together with peace,

harmony, and positive feeling, in reading a text for comprehension and future

production. Giving constant and qualitative feedback to the student in an attempt to

appreciate the hard work put in by a student may bring about attitude change. This

may make the student less exam oriented and help her follow a more holistic

approach to acquire the language of science. The student begins to see the acquisition of English as the acquisition of a macrocosmic view of the world and her own

growth as an individual to fit into the wider world—as an expansion of her microcosmic world view given by language/s acquired in her early life development. The

first language/s give/s a world view restricted to the community from where she

comes: parents, neighbours, relatives, and teachers, peers, classmates, friends,

teachers, seniors at college and books, papers or any written things that she reads,

and English acquired as a means to higher education helps expand her world view.

The microcosmic view of the world given by the first language/s is constrained

by the variables mentioned above, whereas the macrocosmic view is constrained by

the teacher of English who provides the view as well as the materials and methods

used by him/her in the classroom. If the methods, materials provided by the teacher

motivate the learner enough to do self-study outside the classroom, then the learner

goes for authentic materials available outside through media or net and acquires

English language by self-study.

As long as the teacher does not actively participate in the dynamics of language

learning in the classroom situation—whether in terms of the selection of topics,

materials, handling the syllabus, evaluative techniques, and everything connected with

the learner—the student will continue to look at an English class as a compulsory bitter

pill that has to be swallowed to “pass” the English paper at the end of the semester.

1.5 The Importance of Language in Higher Education



The Indian Setting for Our Studies on SLA

in Classrooms

English for Science and Technology (EST) became prominent during the late 1960s

and the early 1970s. Hutchinson and Waters (1987) give credit to Selinker, Ewer

and Latorre, Swales, and Trimble who have been initiators in the field of EST.

David Carter (1983) recognized English for Specific Purposes (ESP) as a

restricted language. Hutchinson and Waters (1987) have divided ESP into three

branches: (a) English for Science and Technology (EST); (b) English for Business

and Economics (EBE), and (c) English for Social Studies (ESS). They have been

further demarcated into two branches: English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and

English for Occupational Purposes (EOP).

Hutchinson and Waters (1987) agree that there is no clear demarcation between

EAP and EOP and they can together be treated under the same term of

ESP. Though the final aim for both EAP and EOP are the same; the path taken is

very different as Cummins (1979) has clearly stated that their focus is very different.

Two characteristics of ESP, i.e., absolute and variable features, have been specifically defined by Strevens in 1988. Dudley-Evans and St John (1998) have segregated the absolute characteristics of ESP and elaborated the concept further with

more variable characteristics.

After the 1980s, there has been a thrust on ESP, but rather than talking about the

learners’ specific needs, researchers focused more on register-specific needs. In the

last three decades, due to the unprecedented pace of technological development, the

thrust has been on science and technology and a formulaic language is accepted as

the language for science and technology. Language has been absolutely the lowest

priority in our education system. Educationists and education planners have forgotten that language, a product of human cognition, is a means to cognition as well.

Learning languages enriches and enhances cognition. Educationists fail to recognize the fact that the failure of education system, especially at the primary level, can

sometimes be entirely attributed to the failure of language education.

The Indian education system, just like the rest of the modern world, has supported science and technology, engineering and management, and commerce in the

last three or four decades. Progress is dependent on science and technology, no

doubt, but language education is absolutely essential even for the students of science and technology so that they can interpret, argue, and contest the results and

findings of scientific experiments with absolute clarity and conviction. The present

study and its findings, will hopefully throw a new light on the concept of SLA, with

a cognitive perspective within the confines of a classroom and a focus on the learner

and the process of learning, especially in mixed ability Indian classrooms.

The acquisition of English is important to survive today. The ancient Indian

teaching tradition has put the teacher (guru) on a pedestal, with a status at par with

the three primal gods of the Hindu pantheon—“Brahma”, “Vishnu”, and

“Maheshwar”. The guru is considered to be an omnipotent, omniscient, and almost

infallible human being. The disciples would have unquestioned faith in the integrity


1 Second Language Acquisition Research on Spoken and Written Output

of the guru. The evaluation of a disciple’s quality and knowledge level was done

solely by the guru. However, in recent times, the scenario, perspectives and attitudes of both the teacher and the learner have changed for many reasons. Some of

them are listed below

1. The percentage of literates in India has increased in practically all the states of

India, though it is not reflected in the numbers of educated people. Literacy

programmes of the Government of India have given equal importance to education and language education for adults who have had no opportunity to go to

school. This creates awareness in the minds of those who had earlier never

thought of sending their children to school. They could now as an afterthought

consider of not depriving the younger generation of basic education.

2. Democratization of education has increased opportunities for the underprivileged to send their children to schools and later even to the professional colleges. The Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009,1 has also been instrumental in

providing education to all.

3. Caste-based barriers have reduced due to radical social reforms, including those

in the field of education. The government’s attempt has been to provide access

to education for people from all sections and castes of the society. Education is

more readily available and this is one of the reasons for a larger number of

children going to school. Access to education has definitely made a lot of

difference. In ancient India, education was only available to the privileged few

while large numbers were kept out of it. In the last 100 years, education has

become more readily available to all irrespective of caste, class, and creed. As a

result one finds that education becomes a great leveller.

4. New technological advancements and the explosion of media have created a

global village. The internet, computers, and information technology have

changed the attitudes and life style of Indians with much more information

readily available to far corners of the country.

5. Transport, communication, and information systems have changed the concepts

of distance, and have contributed to the increase in the exchange of cultures.

Mobile telephony and mobile internet use has increased manifold in the last

decade, changing youth culture and approach to education and information in

major ways.

6. Globalization and revolutionary trends in commerce and business have

increased the demand for learning English (as an international language) and

other foreign languages. The Internet generation learner is highly independent in

thinking and bombarded with information from various media channels. The

learners receive information of their choice through the Internet, mobile, and

other electronic devices. In a context like the present one, the dominating role of

a teacher is questioned. The learner is also equipped with a lot of information

before she enters the classroom.


Refer to the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s website: http://mhrd.gov.in/rte, for

more details.

1.5 The Importance of Language in Higher Education


7. In this changing and growing world, Asian cultures have changed a lot. Just as

the parent–child relationship has changed and increasingly it is seen as children’s right to reason, argue, and discuss with parents, similarly the relationship

between guru and shishya has also transformed. The teacher and student today

have become more interactive both within and outside classrooms. Students do

question and they are given the right to question. They have become active

participants in the class instead of being mere passive observers. The supremacy

and infallibility of the guru are challenged or questioned. In this changed scenario, both teachers and students need to redefine their roles to develop interactive and positive learning environments within the classroom.


The Objectives and Scope

SST—Seminar Speech Task

The study is cross-sectional, partly quantitative and partly qualitative, and focuses

only on the spoken output (seminar speech) of the participants. Pauses, hesitations,

false starts, and intonations have been recorded and analysed. The number of

participants was limited to 15.

In a mixed ability classroom, the study intends want to find out that once

assigned a task what kind of preparation goes into it. Two dimensions of prior

preparation: cognitive preparation and linguistic preparation, which also reflect in

their spoken output, were examined. The Seminar Speech Task (SST) study was

conducted at the Vivekananda School of Languages, a part of Ramakrishna Muth,

Hyderabad (South India).

For our purposes, the third author followed a rough and intuitive categorization

of the participants as “good”, “okay”, and “poor” speakers of English, based on

personal experience with them as their teacher, the intuitions of other fellow

teachers, and participants’ performance in the selected task (discussed below); as

well as their overall performance on the course.

The course—a typical part-time proficiency course in English for adult second

language learners—is called a Junior Certificate Course in Spoken English,

administered by the Vivekananda School of Languages.

The course, as its name suggests, aims to develop the speech skills of those who

enroll. However, the instruction is not confined to “spoken English” in the sense of

either phonetics or elocution, as the brief description below will make clear. The

students have a prescribed course book, and a workbook. The course book consists

of reading passages with exercises on grammar items (pronouns, adjectives, articles,

prepositions, verbs, and sentence patterns), composition (letter writing), vocabulary

(synonyms, antonyms, one-word substitutes, homophones, homonyms, interchange

of parts of speech and words liable to be confused), comprehension (of descriptive,

factual, narrative passages), and phonetics (consonant sounds, vowel sounds,

diphthongs and accent); and also punctuation. The workbook consists of exercises


1 Second Language Acquisition Research on Spoken and Written Output

for further practice in the topics in the course book. In the phonetics chapter in the

workbook, exercises for pronunciation practice are given.

After admission, students are given a diagnostic test to stream them into various

sections depending on the marks they secure. The diagnostic test ascertains the

students’ knowledge of basic grammar, their knowledge of vocabulary and their

comprehension skills. The duration of the course is 5 months, with two classes a

week, each of 2 h’ duration (i.e., 4 h a week for 20 weeks). The minimum entrance

level, as mentioned earlier, is a school-leaving (SSC, or Class X) certificate.

WTPT—Written Test Performance Task

The Written Test Performance Task (WTPT) study was conducted in an engineering college at Israna, Panipat district in the state of Haryana (North India), and

explores the various mechanisms and processes involved in the processing of a

written text in English by a group of 15 students (who are undergraduates of

biotechnology, in the final year of the 4-year B.Tech course). They have a course

called Communicative Skills in English for Professional Practices, which is a totally

internally evaluated course. The students have three lectures of 55 min duration

each per week in a semester of 6 months.

The study is cross-sectional, partly quantitative, and partly qualitative. The

participants were asked to collect source materials (minimum three) on a topic of

their choice within a time period of 3 days. Then, they had to give a speech on the

topic (based on the script prepared by them) in front of the class. Soon after the

speech, they were asked to take a written test based on the speech.

The responses of the written test were analysed using ten criteria: Number of

Idea Units (C1); MLU (C2); Errors (C3); Self-corrections (C4); Clarity (C5);

Creativity (C6); Dependence on Script (C7); Criticism (C8); Discourse Structure

(C9); and New Vocabulary (C10).

Performance of a participant is compared in two ways

1. The participant’s own performance as a speaker and as a listener.

2. The participant’s performance as compared to the others in response to the text

produced by the others.


The Experimental Tasks


Students’ knowledge of grammar rules, comprehension, vocabulary, and their

writing skills are tested in a written examination which is a final examination conducted at the end of the 5-month course. This examination carries a weightage of

about 53 % in the final assessment. There is an oral test (viva) besides the written

1.5 The Importance of Language in Higher Education


examination, at the end of the course. This oral examination tests the spoken English

of the students and carries a weightage of about 33 % in the final assessment.

In addition, there is an ongoing task called a “seminar”, which carries a

weightage of about 13 % in the final assessment. The total marks allotted for the

final assessment is 150. Out of this, 80 marks are for the written test and 50 for the

viva; 20 are for the seminar.

The seminar is a form of internal assessment. This task actually entails a brief

speech, for a time of about 3 min, by every student. It is conducted at the end of every

month during the 5-month course. (In the last month, the month-end seminar is not

conducted as the students have to take the final examination and viva). Twenty marks

are allotted for each seminar. In the final assessment, the average of the marks

obtained in the four seminars is taken; and the marks are calculated out of a total of 20.

For each month-end seminar, learners are given a set of topics, 3 days ahead of

the seminar. They thus come “prepared” for speech performance, on topics given

beforehand. (Hence, the use of the term “prepared” speech performance). This

seminar task was selected to gather data for the investigation to see what speakers

do when they have to perform in a second language with inadequate linguistic

competence, but are given time to “prepare”. The situation seemed tailor-made for

the occurrence of both acquired and learnt elements.

From our experience we can say that student preparation normally takes two

forms: cognitive preparation and linguistic preparation. Cognitive preparation is the

organization of thoughts and ideas which the learner wants to express, and their

ordering into a convincing discourse. Linguistic preparation includes the speaker’s

attempts to find (in advance) the language to express her thoughts.

Let us pause here to give a more precise characterization of the notion of

linguistic preparation. To what extent is such preparation possible, or useful?

Observe that linguistic preparation cannot be equated with activating the “learnt”

system (which, it is assumed, cannot initiate utterances). Nor can it be mere rote

learning or the learning of fixed expressions and formulae (routines and patterns).

This is because the task requires not isolated responses, but a meaningful 3-min

discourse: i.e., it requires the learner to be able to initiate utterances.

To reiterate, it was assumed in accordance with the views of Krashen, that the

learnt linguistic system cannot be used to initiate utterances. The learnt system or its

elements act only as a monitor. The problem faced by the second language speaker

then is: How are they to initiate utterances? Their linguistic competence is meagre,

although they do have a certain degree of linguistic competence which can be

assumed to be a result of 5–6 years of exposure to English as a second language. In

such a situation, speakers might

1. depend upon (insufficiently) acquired grammar

2. use the additional resource of “borrowed” language (including prefabricated

routines and patterns)

3. rely on the surface structure of the first language, and attempt to make changes

or corrections using conscious grammar, the monitor.


1 Second Language Acquisition Research on Spoken and Written Output

An interesting point to remember is that “borrowed” language may itself be of

two kinds. Thus, a part of it could be within the domain of the acquired competence

of the speaker; or just enough beyond it, to undergo assimilation into (and modification of) that competence, in the act of borrowing. (One here may visualize the act

of borrowing as an input, and the borrowed language as i + 1, in Krashen’s terms).

One may also visualize the act of borrowing as the stimulation of “passive” competence. That is, although competence is theoretically neutral between the receptive

and productive skills, it is a truism that receptive skills outstrip the productive ones in

the course of language learning. Thus a part of “preparation” might be the transfer of

language from passive to active domains of performance, through rehearsal.

However, it is possible that a part of “borrowed” language is quite beyond the

acquired competence of the speaker; in which case they resort to the

routine-and-patterns strategy, or rote learning (memorization).

There also arises another question. Let us assume that cognitive preparation and

linguistic preparation go together for the learner. What happens when the speaker

remembers the thought content they have rehearsed, but does not have the language

to express it—whether acquired language, or “borrowed” language? Anticipating

the results, one might say that if the speaker in the seminar remembers the thought

content they have rehearsed, but does not have the language to express it (acquired

language or borrowed language?), they

1. abandon the thought completely, and pick up the next thought that they came

prepared with;

2. make a series of attempts to remember or recall the language, as revealed

through false starts

3. end up producing an utterance that is incoherent.


The task had the following stages:

Stage 1 The participants select text sources to make an oral presentation on their

favourite topic. The minimum number of text sources was three. There was no

maximum limit.

Stage 2 The participants were given a uniform preparation time of 3 days. They

prepared a script for the seminar task.

Stage 3 Each participant presented his or her seminar in front of the other 14.

Stage 4 Each of the seminars was followed by a written test which had content

questions (on the topic) prepared by the teacher-researcher. Each of the 15 participants thus gave speeches to the other 14 participants. Each participant, thus, took

15 tests. In every test the participants had to answer two questions. The questions

were framed by the researcher after listening to the speeches of the 15 subjects

along with the rest of the students in the class.

1.5 The Importance of Language in Higher Education


The written test is the main source for data analysis and interpretation. So, it will

be discussed in detail here.

a. Script (note-making): Note-making involves the writing of an essay on the topic

chosen by a subject. Notes range from mere copying of certain important points

from the text source to a properly written essay after considering the information

from various sources.

b. Topics: Topics chosen by the subjects for the task are very useful in getting an

insight into the attitude of a subject towards the task and test. Topics range from

very general ones like hostel life, success in life and so on to technical topics

like hypnotism, biotechnology, and so on.

c. Choice of questions: Participants’ choice of questions reveals their attitude

towards the task, test, teacher, and success in exam and so on. This is very

important as it reveals the mismatch between proficiency level and test


d. Notes taken (speaker-wise): The notes taken by the subjects while listening to

the seminars of others reveals a lot about their proficiency level, listening skill,

attitude towards the task and test, and so on. The length and format of the notes

throw light on the psychology of the subject.

All the four stages in the task preparation are important for data analysis. Thus,

the experimental data was from three sources: i. self-chosen input: (text input

sources chosen by the subjects); ii. script (or essay prepared by the subject); iii.

speech (recorded and transcribed in normal spelling). The comparative data was

from the written test (written responses of two per subject per topic). The responses

of the speakers were compared to the responses of the listeners on all the 15



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Chapter 2

Certain Theoretical Concepts in SLA

Research on Speech and Writing

Abstract This chapter provides an overview of literature on SLA research. Certain

theoretical notions—competence and performance, learning and acquisition, language deployment, input and information processing—which are relevant for both

spoken and written tasks are discussed. Concepts related to speech production in the

studies on spoken output—concept of fluency, role of imitation, speech production

in first language, errors and self-monitoring, utterance initiation in a second language, prefabricated language—are revisited. The studies on written output focus in

detail on various methods studied from the input and information-processing perspective. It also portrays the international and national scenarios in the field of

applied linguistics and language teaching. Mixed ability classes are discussed in the

backdrop of the Indian ELT scenario.


Keywords Error frequency Errors and self-monitoring

Input Intake Output and input processing (model)





Fluency strategy



Chapter 1 introduced the basic concepts in SLA, which are a prerequisite to the

empirical studies reported in this book. Furthermore, an introduction to the context

of SLA including the relationship between the learner and the teacher, as well as the

learner and the text was also discussed. Continuing with the same theme, this

chapter provides an overview of literature on the SLA research. Certain theoretical

concepts related to speech production in the studies on spoken output—concept of

fluency, role of imitation, speech production in first language, errors and

self-monitoring, utterance initiation in a second language, prefabricated language—

are revisited. An overview of the studies on written output focus in detail on various

methods studied from the input and information-processing perspective. The discussion is presented in three sections. Section 2.2 is devoted to some basic concepts

in the studies on both spoken and written outputs, whereas the second section is

devoted solely to spoken output and the third section is devoted to written output. In

© Springer India 2016

V. Narang et al., Second Language Acquisition in Multilingual

and Mixed Ability Indian Classrooms, DOI 10.1007/978-81-322-2604-8_2


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