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Attentional processing of input in different input conditions: an eye-tracking study

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Abstractpeer-review

Publication date27/08/2015
<mark>Original language</mark>English
EventEUROSLA 25 - Aix-Marseille Université, Aix-en-Provence, France
Duration: 26/08/201529/08/2015


ConferenceEUROSLA 25


Although it is widely accepted that attention plays a key role in second language development, it is only recently that eye-tracking methodologies can provide a detailed insight into second language (L2) learners' attentional processing. The aims of the study reported in this presentation were to investigate how students pay attention to target items in written L2 input in different input conditions, how the learners' knowledge of a target syntactic construction changes in these conditions and how the change under different conditions is related to attentional processing. We investigated these questions in an eye-tracking study conducted with 100 undergraduate L2 learners of English in Sri Lanka. The students were divided into five groups of 20, with one control group and four other groups receiving different types of input. The experimental groups participated in an input session for three consecutive days. In each session the participants read a story containing 7 examples of the grammatical construction ‘causative had'. The first group read the stories with no textual enhancement (unenhanced only) and the second with the examples of the target structure visually enhanced (enhanced only). The third group was exposed to enhanced input with a specific instruction that asked them to pay attention to the highlighted construction in the input (enhanced+ instructions). The fourth group only differed from the third one in that they received explicit explanation of the target construction between the first and second exposures (enhanced+ instruction+ explanation). The control group received no treatment. Improvement on the knowledge of the target construction was measured by comparing post-test and pre-test scores on a sentence reconstruction (SR) and grammaticality judgement (GJ) task. Eye tracking was used to collect data on attentional processing. Total fixation duration (TFD) and the difference between observed and expected total fixation duration (DTFD) were considered as measures of the attention paid to the examples of the target construction.
The unenhanced only and enhanced only groups demonstrated a random pattern of TFD and DTFD, while the enhanced +instructions and enhanced+ instructions+ explanation groups showed a high TFD and DTFD at the beginning of the exposure which then gradually decreased. The MANOVA analysis revealed a statistically significant increase in the gain score of the SR items in the enhanced+ instructions and enhanced+ instructions+ explanation groups compared to the control and the unenhanced only groups. TFD and DTFD showed a significant correlation with the gain scores on the SR and GJ tasks in the enhanced+ instructions+ explanation group. A significant correlation between DTFD and gain scores in the enhanced+ instructions and enhanced only groups was also found. The results suggest that unenhanced input is not effective in directing learners' attention to the target structure and results in no change in learners' knowledge. Although visual enhancement can lead to increased attention to the target features, it was not found to contribute to improved performance in the post-test. The findings indicate that either specific instruction to pay attention to target features in the input or explicit explanation is needed for measurable gains in knowledge.