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LAEL Departmental Lecture by Alison Mackey

Date: 27 February 2012 Time: 2.00-3.00 pm

Venue: Elizabeth Livingstone Lecture Theatre

Second language interaction research: Considerations of cognition, social context, and methodology

In the previous twenty-five years, more than eighty empirical studies of second language interaction have been carried out in L2 laboratory and classroom settings. Recent meta-analyses of this interaction literature (Keck et al. 2006; Mackey & Goo, 2007) empirically support claims about the developmental benefits of participating in interaction. The interaction approach is dynamic, with a history of evolving in response to theoretical and methodological developments in second language acquisition and related areas. These developments in interaction research are both cognitive in orientation, for example, in recent research on the relationships amongst working memory, noticing/attention to form, aptitude, and second language learning, as well as social, for example, in relation to current investigations of the roles of learners' conversational partners, peers, and contexts in interaction-driven learning. All of these factors help to explain how and why interaction works to impact learning (and why it sometimes doesn't). In this presentation, I will first briefly outline current theoretical claims and discuss the wide range of methodological approaches used in interaction research. I will then show some data from three studies, ranging from cognitive to social in orientation.

The first study I will discuss is an experimental investigation of university learners of Spanish, and the relationship between their working memory capacities and their ability to modify their output following interactional feedback. This research, by Mackey, Adams, Stafford and Winke (2010), focuses narrowly on cognitive aspects of interaction. I will also briefly compare the young adult data with new data on working memory and interaction-driven learning in elderly adults (Mackey & Sachs 2012), and explain why research on working memory is important to our emerging understanding of interaction-driven learning. Next, I will turn to a classroom study of ESL (Mackey, 2006), which investigated whether learners developed linguistic forms that they reported noticing. I will show how triangulating data on learners' introspections with multiple measures of noticing, and analyses in the context of their test scores, was a critical part of the study, and how considering learners' perspectives, particularly in the rich, complicated context of a classroom, helps explain learning outcomes. Finally, I will describe research investigating learners of French (Philp & Mackey, 2010), where our question was open-ended and exploratory: "To what extent do social factors impact L2 interaction?" The interview data in this study reveals an interesting blend of the personal and the social underlying the nature of learners' participation in interaction. I will conclude by arguing that in our quest to understand how second languages are learned we need to include both the more cognitively-oriented and the more socially-informed, as well as recent attempts at blended approaches, and that this necessitates employing the full range of methodological tools available to us, some of which, such as eye-tracking, are yielding exciting new insights into how interacting in a second language can impact acquisition. I will conclude by laying out theoretical and empirical suggestions for future work in this area.


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: Linguistics and English Language


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
United Kingdom

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