The teaching and learning of lexical chunks in an online language classroom: a corpus-based study

Adinolfi, Lina (2012). The teaching and learning of lexical chunks in an online language classroom: a corpus-based study. PhD thesis University of Southampton, School of Education.



The aim of this study is to establish what insights the tracking of both input and output might contribute to corpus-based analyses of the acquisition of chunks among instructed adult second language learners.
The automated analysis of electronic corpora of natural language has played a major role in revealing the prevalence of conventionalised word sequences in human communication, thereby challenging predominant atomistic conceptualisations of linguistic processing.
While the mastery of nativelike phraseology would appear to be central to second language acquisition, reports of instructed adult learners have commonly highlighted their deficiencies in employing multi-word sequences as compared to native speaker norms.
A problem with such studies has been their product-orientated focus, the majority tending to conflate the attempts of multiple learners at a range of chunks, variously specified, at a single point in time, the absence of information as to their corresponding instructional input making it impossible to compare their performance against their levels of exposure to the formulas in question. What appears to be missing is an examination of patterns of acquisition among a set of learners in respect of the same chunk, in relation to input, and over time.
The aim of this exploratory investigation is to attempt to fill this gap among existing studies of second language chunk acquisition in instructed learning contexts by providing a window on both the processes and products involved.
Drawing on an especially-created 170 000 word longitudinal corpus composed of online classroom interaction, the study tracks the oral exposure to and use of a single internally complex word combination of 36 learners on an Open University beginners’ Spanish course.
The study uncovers a multifaceted picture of classroom input and output in respect of the same sequence and reveals that, while there is a correlation between frequency of overall exposure and the learners’ propensity to attempt the chunk, this masks considerable variation in the form these attempts take for each individual over time.
These findings underline the need to look beyond an amalgamated snapshot of learners’ use of chunks and consider individual differences in recalling and reproducing specific exemplars in relation to exposure to these sequences, while inviting further investigation into the factors that underpin such variation and continued enquiry into those aspects of input that might usefully contribute to this process.

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