Possessive Determiners, Richard Schmidt, Noticing, and a Moonwalking Bear

The last several months have been fascinating because I have spent half of my time teaching a second language class and the other half helping Nina to teach how second languages are learned to pre-service teachers at the University of Toronto.

I would spend a morning immersed in sharing what is known about the processes involved in second language acquisition, and then in the afternoon, I would witness those processes in motion. For example, on one morning, we went over White’s (1998, 2008) stages of development of the acquisition of possessive determiners for French-speaking learners of English. White found that the learners in her study went through several stages of development in learning how to use “his” and “her” in English. In the pre-emergence stage, the learners often used “your” instead of “his” or “her” and in doing so avoided the need to assign gender to the determiners. I was tickled to watch the same pattern appear in many of the paragraphs I assigned to my ESL class that afternoon. This phenomenon occurred in the work of several of my Spanish-speaking students but not at all in the work of my Chinese-speaking students.

Similar occurrences happen often in my work at Centennial, and I get quite excited about them. (Even though my colleagues always listen with a smile to my incessant babbling about such things, I have to wonder if they secretly suspect that the polar vortex is beginning to affect my mind; not everyone gets really excited about possessive determiners you see!)

Anyway, I am finding that my current work is affording me the opportunity to put the ‘applied’ into ‘applied linguistics’. I thought that I would make a few posts to share how this is going. This first one is related to noticing.

When learners are taught grammar through communicative activities, it is easy for learners to miss the grammar and attend only to the meaning. Richard Schmidt’s (1990, 1995) noticing hypothesis states that noticing is a necessary but not sufficient condition for learning. However, L2 teachers would be ill-advised (to say the least!) to assign Schmidt (1995) as reading homework for intermediate-level ESL learners.

Nonetheless, I was eager to share with my students how important it was for them to occasionally shift their attention to the grammar in the communicative activities they were doing. Thus, after reading a fairly interesting text about Voyager 1, I asked the learners to watch the following youtube clip. (All of our classrooms at Centennial are smart classrooms. These rooms provide a wide array of excellent pedagogical opportunities!) Anyway, I invite you to watch the clip. before reading any further.

Hello again. So, did you notice the moonwalking bear? None of my students did, and they were quite taken by their own lack of awareness. (They enthusiastically had me play the clip a few more times during our coffee break!)

After we watched the clip, I asked them to think back to the Voyager 1 story and tell me if they remembered any uses of the present continuous tense. The text is seeded with them, but very few of the students could be certain if they had seen any. Of course, I then allowed them to return to the text and find some examples of the tense, which they did with ease, but it was an eye-opener for them about how easy it was to fail to pay attention to the grammar when focusing solely on meaning. Since that day, when I wish to be sure that they will pay some attention to the grammar in what we are doing, I remind them to remember the bear. Sometimes, I merely have to moonwalk across the front of the classroom, and I see the lights go on in their eyes.


Dr. Paul Gregory Quinn

Success! I did it, or as I wrote in my dissertation acknowledgements, “we did it”. Kinuyo definitely should feel like it was a joint success because she was

Dr. Quinn

so supportive throughout this journey. Furthermore, I must also express my sincere gratitude to my committee and examiners pictured below, who made the entire doctoral experience so worthwhile (Pictured left to right: Committee member, Dr. Alister Cumming; External Examiner, Dr. Roy Lyster; Committee member Dr. Julie Kerekes; Supervisor (and mentor!), Dr. Nina Spada; Internal/external examiner, Dr. Eunice Jang.)After the defense


My oral defense actually took place in late November, so this post is a little late. I have been quite occupied (and remain so) with teaching and research responsibilities at the University of Toronto and Centennial College, as well as manuscript and conference preparation.

In fact, I will be giving a presentation this Sunday evening at the Third International Conference on Second Language Pedagogies. If you are interested in attending my talk on learner and teacher beliefs about corrective feedback, why not check it out. I am also very much looking forward to AAAL 2014 in Portland, where Nina and I will be giving a presentation on a potential pedagogical application for syntactic priming. I hope to see you there.

How Languages are Learned

Well, that is some title! Spoiler alert: Reading this post will not answer every question you could ever ask about second language acquisition, but it sure will point you in the direction of some excellent resources.

First off, thank you for your patience during the long blogging drought. I greatly appreciate the positive feedback that has resulted from my Blog, and if I haven’t responded to an email from you yet, I will do so soon.

HLAL 4 coverGreat News! The fourth edition of How Languages are Learned (HLAL) came out this spring, and I highly recommend it. You can even download this edition from iTunes. HLAL is used by TESL professors around the globe. Many kilograms ago, I came across a dog-eared copy of the first edition in the office of a TEFL prof in Kumamoto, Japan. HLAL is a resource that makes SLA research amazingly accessible. I received my copy of the second edition from Nina after the first year of my MA program. By that time, I had spent a year climbing an incredibly steep learning curve, and I remember wishing that I had had HLAL from the outset because it offers an excellent primer to help you build a base of knowledge from which you can more easily grasp the big picture behind the multitude of specialized studies you will read in your graduate program. The beauty of the book is that even if you are not pursuing graduate studies in SLA, you will find it as interesting as it is accessible. I will be using it in the course for student teachers that I am TAing next month for Nina. Actually, feedback I provided on using the third edition as a textbook earned me an acknowledgement in the fourth, which certainly made my day. I recommend checking out the

HLAL Acknowledgementssupplementary activities on the website, especially 4.1 and 6.1.


AAAL 2013

ImageAAAL 2013 was well worth the trip to Texas. On the final evening of the conference, I enjoyed a delicious dinner with friends and colleagues, including several OISE alumni now at universities in Japan, Korea, Mexico, and the United States.

I hope to write more about the conference in the future, but for now, I really need to break my blogging silence. My own presentation of my thesis findings was quite well attended, and the questions were excellent; they provided me with helpful insights for my discussion chapter that I might not otherwise have had. By good fortune, the Spada research group talk on grammaticality judgment tests from Nina and Julie was only two talks before my own, and it was in the same room, so I was able to enjoy the talk without the pressure of worrying about getting to another room afterward.

Shawn Loewen and Dominik Wolff’s question period was humourously interrupted by a hotel staff member looking for a “Mr. Alejandro Sanchez.” The Q & A in the exchange went something like the following:

Staff: “Is anyone in here named Alejandro Sanchez?”

Loewen: “No.”

It was probably the shortest post-talk Q&A exchange in AAAL history. We all got a laugh out of the perfect timing!

I particularly enjoyed two colloquiums. The first was on meta-analysis in which Rod Ellis urged us to consider whether or not we, as a field, were ready to be meta-analyzing our findings. Luke Plonsky and John Norris’ contributions were convincingly reassuring that the gains to be made from doing so outweighed the pitfalls of potential prematurity. We were fortunate enough to also receive presentations by my colleagues Natsuko Shintani and Shaofeng Li on their respective meta-analyses. The other colloquium, facilitated by Jan Hulstijn, was focused on the gap between the social and the cognitive perspectives in second language acquisition. Jim Lantolf made it clear that he wished that close reading would be given to the works of Vygotsky and colleagues, so that sociocultural theory could be better understood by all, while Robert DeKeyser cautioned that at some point one can move so far from what is typically considered to be science that one ought perhaps to refer to one’s endeavor as something else.

I wish I could have stayed for more of that colloquium, but I was eager to hear the fMRI talk by Hyeonjeong Jeong et al. I was well rewarded for my choice because the talk was fascinating, and it inspired me with some ideas for fMRI research on corrective feedback that I hope I can pursue as my career continues to develop.

I was quite disappointed that I missed Roy Lyster’s talk on corrective feedback because I had really wanted to go, but I missed the bus from my hotel by minutes, and the next one didn’t come until almost one hour later.

Another regret I had was that I didn’t get to converse for long with Jenifer Larson-Hall because our conversation was cut short when I had to moderate the talk following my own. Her excellent book on statistical research in second language acquisition was helpful in my data analysis, and I highly recommend it to everyone. I am particularly interested in her contention that we in the field would be served well by a more frequent use of ‘R’, given it’s ability to provide us with more robust statistics.

There is too much to cover in this one bout of blogging, but I would be remiss not to mention the brilliant corpus research work of my colleague, from the TOEFL iBT Speaking project, Choongil Yoon. I should also note that Shoko Sasayama’s talk on complexity and dual tasks in TBLT was even more interesting than her talk on Japan English at AAAL 2012. I was very intrigued as well by some other presenters from Georgetown, Rebecca Sachs et al., who conducted a replication of Williams’ (2005) study on implicit learning. Still others from Georgetown, Marisa Filgueras-Gomez et al., were kind enough to chat with me about a question regarding priming research that we share. Wataru Suzuki’s talk on written languaging was enjoyable. I should also commend Nobuhiro Kamiya on his interesting poster describing the effects of exposing TESOL students to SLA CF literature. (Nobi, if you ever read this, thanks for giving me feedback on the final private rehearsal of my presentation. As always, your advice was invaluable.) And, I was happy to bump into Mr. Harry Diakoff again this year, who seemed to be having some success in increasing the awareness of his Alpheios endeavor, especially after the very informative plenary from Brian MacWhinney regarding how the e-CALL system called “the Language Partner” could facilitate the collection of  “big data” for SLA research. Finally, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Tommi Grover from Multilingual Matters shares my love of hockey.

My apologies for those I have missed with this rather rapid-fire coverage of a truly well spent four days in Dallas.

Building bridges: Language researchers, teachers, and learners

Building Bridges

My apologies! It has been far too long since I last posted, but completing a dissertation is amazingly like climbing a mountain. You become convinced you are close to the summit, and then you make it around the next bend, and somehow the summit has moved further away than it was before. Happily I am making progress. Unfortunately, thesis writing leaves me little time for blogging!

In fact, I hope readers will not mind but for this post, I am just sharing a reply, I left on Katie Harris’ teflresearch blog

Hello Kate,

[Ed. note, I hope she will forgive me for calling her ‘Kate’. It’s my niece’s name, and my brain was sleepy…okay, no more interruptions.]

Your post resonated with me because it is basically my ongoing mission in life to make second language acquisition research accessible to other language researchers, teachers, and learners. I strongly believe that these groups working together can improve the efficiency of language teaching and learning. Experience has convinced me that many of my colleagues and mentors in the field of instructed second language acquisition research share my purpose and belief.
However, there are of course some researchers who do not believe that the results of second language research should inform pedagogy. For example, some psycholinguistic researchers are driven to find out about the mental processes involved in learning another language. They are content to do their research purely for the sake of the research. Nonetheless, their work can serve as an inspiration to those of us in instructed second language acquisition research who can draw upon their findings to test potential pedagogical applications. Another camp of researchers who feel that second language research and second language pedagogy should remain separate are the researchers who fear that practitioners would be indignant about being offered advice from researchers. I can think of two reasons for this fear. First, the findings from our field often lack the robustness of findings in fields like psychology, for example, where studies are regularly replicated to ensure the same results that happened the first time will happen again. The other reason some researchers fear teacher rejection is that this was indeed a reality at earlier stage of the field’s development, and incidentally can still be seen from time to time. However, as the language teaching profession has become more of a profession, the training and certification programs have developed, and certified teachers tend to come out of programs with a healthy curiosity about the findings of second language research. In my experience, most language teachers today are not intimidated by research because they have developed their own critical abilities to make informed choices about what they wish to accept or reject.
I am encouraged by your blog and the potential of blogging in general as a means to build bridges between learners, teachers and researchers. I believe that blogs from each of these groups could greatly benefit from the others. From the blogs of language learners, it would be excellent to hear what successes and failures they have had, and why they think that they have had them. From teachers, it would be great to hear the specific questions that they would like answered from researchers and their experience-based predictions on what those answers might be. Researchers’ blogs must draw upon what learners’ and teachers’ blogs provide. Most importantly, however, I think researchers must make the findings from their own work and the work of other researchers accessible. By accessible, I mean both in terms of economics and comprehensibility. For example, on my blog you can find a free copy of my MA thesis, and in the future, I would like to maintain the publishing rights for my own publications in the way that Dr. Roy Lyster has done, so that those who cannot afford to read my work in journals can download a free copy from my blog. Also, I think researchers need to summarize the results of our work, so that teachers and learners who may not be familiar with the jargon and analytic methods of the field can still get a sense of what the research has found. Incidentally, one excellent resource for getting a nice understanding of the results of many studies over the past few decades is (full disclosure, my supervisor) Professor Nina Spada’s book How Languages are Learned that she co-wrote with Professor Patsy Lightbown.
Anyway Kate, I am looking forward to following your blog, and thank you for finding me, so that I could find you. All the best on an excellent 2013 (with as few crumbs and as little wee as can be hoped for!)
Hope this finds you well.
Paul Gregory Quinn

Surprising Finds: Language Learning and The Routledge Encyclopedia of Second Language Acquisition

Well, in spite of Hurricane Sandy and the coyote that I caught drooling at our cat enclosures this morning, this has been a really good autumn. I am well on my way to completing my data analyses, I am almost finished the revisions for my methodology chapter, my paper presentation was accepted for AAAL 2013, and I unexpectedly stumbled onto a couple of happy finds.

First of all, when I was chasing down an interesting article connected to the timing of corrective feedback from Gurzynski-Weiss and Revesz (2012) in September’s Language Learning, I was happy to see my name on the list of the 2011 Language Learning Dissertation Grant recipients.

And if things were not going well enough, (and they were!), Nina brought the brand new (and highly recommended) Routledge Encyclopedia of Second Language Acquisition to our research group meeting, and I was very pleasantly surprised to discover a brief reference to the Jang and Quinn (2006) ACLA/AAAL  presentation on mixed methods research.

Former finance minister Manley urges debate on new language skills – The Globe and Mail

John Manley, the former finance minister who now heads the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, says it’s time for a national debate over how to encourage new language skills as part of the country’s trade efforts. (Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)The voice of Canada’s CEOs is urging parents to enroll their kids in Asian language classes to match them with the growing appetite of employers for multilingual workers.John Manley, the former finance minister who now heads the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, said it is time for a national debate over how to encourage new language skills as part of the country’s trade efforts.

via Former finance minister Manley urges debate on new language skills – The Globe and Mail.

It is always good news when those in power recognize the importance of encouraging language learning. Now, how about urging an increase in direct (public and/or private) funding of research that aims at improving the quality of foreign language pedagogy through the discovery of how the plethora of processes involved in foreign language learning work? Outside of the circles of foreign language pedagogy and research, calls for increases in the quantity of language teaching are seldom if ever accompanied by calls for an increase in the quality of that teaching. The belief that just providing more language classes will lead to a more multilingual populace is akin to the belief that doing more sit ups will alleviate obesity.

Products in advertisements that claim (without the support of rigorous second language acquisition research) to be the fastest way to learn a language “guaranteed” are the ‘absizers’ of the foreign language learning world. Those who produce such ads delude the public into thinking that the challenges of finding best practices in foreign language pedagogy have been overcome, and they profit greatly from doing so. Meanwhile, honest second language acquisition researchers whose lives are spent doing the hard work of investigation go largely unrecognized and vastly underfunded.

Unfortunately, until there is more awareness of the need to improve the quality of how languages are taught, there will be no dramatic increase in the funding into the understanding of how languages are learned. However, perhaps if the call for an increase in quantity is heeded, a recognition of the need for an increase in quality will follow, and with it, hopefully, there will be an increase in funding into instructed second language acquisition research.