Balancing interaction and L2 grammar learning by children in an EFL context (INGREFL)

Research into grammar instruction (i.e. interventional efforts to direct learners’ attention to particular grammatical forms) has been a central topic in the field of second language acquisition (SLA) due to its importance in assisting second language (L2) learners to develop communicative competence. Over the last three decades, the role of grammar instruction in second/foreign language contexts has been reconsidered on the basis of findings in SLA research with adult learners. Research points to the need to identify effective instructional procedures to focus on formal aspects of language as L2 learners need to notice the mismatch between their interlanguage and the target language in order to focus attention on form. Moreover, there is currently a broad consensus that pedagogical intervention is facilitative and may even be indispensable in foreign language (FL) learning contexts as they offer no more than minimal L2 input of a few hours per week. One pedagogical framework proven to be effective for grammar learning is form-focused instruction (FFI) (Spada, 1997).A population that has clearly been underexplored regarding this issue is that of children precisely in FL learning contexts. Considering that research on this population should be a priority in coming decades (Collins & Muñoz, 2016), the main aim of this project, comprised of four different studies, is to explore the potential of several pedagogical interventions during dyadic task-based L2 performance (Long, 2015) to draw children’s attention to problematic aspects of English grammar. These choices aim to strike a balance between interactional collaborative tasks (Storch, 2013) in a communicative context and grammar learning in FL settings. Furthermore, a secondary aim of this project is to transfer knowledge to schools by creating tasks conducive to the acquisition of grammatical features that have been shown to be particularly difficult to acquire by Spanish learners of English. Overall, our aim is to foster two-way reflections from research to practice and from practice to research (Ellis & Shintani, 2014).As was the case with our previous research on oral interaction among children in FL contexts (FFI2012-32212) and interaction and written production in the same age group (FFI2016-74950-P), research on the effect of FFI on L2 children’s acquisition of grammar is basically non-existent in our context. Therefore, the present proposal will comprise four studies aimed at filling this gap by using different pedagogical efforts to attract attention to form. The studies will focus on whether interventions such as explicit metalinguistic awareness and direct written corrective feedback (Study 1), pre-task planning (Study 2), pre-task planning in the first language (L1) (Study 3), and pre-task explicit grammar instruction (study 4) have an impact on the frequency, type, and outcome of language-related episodes (LREs) in the children’s oral production and whether those LREs are incorporated in their written production. Considering the importance of individual variables in L2 learning, all the studies will assess the impact of language analytic ability, engagement with tasks and willingness to communicate on the children’s production. At the theoretical level, we expect that our findings will contribute to current SLA debates on the different issues tackled in the project. At a pedagogical level, the findings should be of relevance to primary school practitioners.