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The Instructed Learning of Form–Function Mappings in the English Article System

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journal contribution
posted on 20.12.2017 by Helen Zhao, Brian Macwhinney
This article analyzes the instructed learning of the English article system by second language (L2) learners. The Competition Model (MacWhinney, 1987, 2012) was adopted as the theoretical framework for analyzing the cues to article usage and for designing effective computer-based article instruction. Study 1 found that article cues followed a Zipfian distribution for availability or frequency and that the cues had overall high reliabilities. Study 2 assessed the initial level of cue reliance in a group of intermediate–advanced L2 learners. As expected, the input variables of cue availability and cue reliability clearly influenced both the accuracy of learners’ choices in a cloze test format and the subjects’ response times. Study 3 demonstrated that the form–function mappings relevant for native-like article choice can be taught in two 1-hour sessions using the strategy of cue focusing. The type of explicit instruction (analogical, i.e., by giving analogous examples without metalinguistic comments, vs. metalinguistic feedback) had an additional effect on response time, while both instruction types led to a similar increase in accuracy. These findings are novel and are highly relevant to both theory and pedagogy.


Publisher Statement

This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Zhao, H., & Macwhinney, B. (2017). The Instructed Learning of Form-Function Mappings in the English Article System. The Modern Language Journal, 102(1), 99-119, which has been published in final form at doi: 10.1111/modl.12449. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving