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   59   Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics, Vol. 36, 2005, 59-84 doi: 10.5774/36-0-13 Meaning-focused vs Form-focused L2 Instruction: Implications for Writing Educational Materials for South African Learners of English *   Sue Ollerhead and Johan Oosthuizen Department of General Linguistics, Stellenbosch University, 7600 Stellenbosch, South Africa. E-mail: jo@sun.ac.za 1. Introduction   In a report on the Third International Mathematics and Science Repeat Study (Human Sciences Research Council 2000), conducted in 1998/1999 to measure school learners' proficiency in mathematics and science, it was stated that South African learners achieved the lowest results of the 38 countries that took part. One reason cited for this was that the majority of South African learners were not fluent in English, the language of the test, and thus struggled to understand the questions and to communicate their ideas clearly. Significantly, however, learners from other participating countries, such as Malaysia and Singapore, who also face the challenge of having to learn in a second language (L2), performed comparatively well. Yet, unlike these countries, which have one common language in which all learners receive their instruction, the South African language policy of "additive multilingualism" (National Department of Education 2002) dictates that learners learn their home language and at least one additional official   language. This could be English, or one of the other ten official South African languages. Therefore, in those schools where English is not the official medium of instruction, and where learners are likely to    Sue Ollerhead and Johan Oosthuizen 60converse with their peers, teachers and community members in their first language (L1), exposure to English is significantly limited. As stated by the Human Sciences Research Council (2002): Clearly the language issue contributes to the poor subject knowledge of both teacher and pupil in South Africa, and if there is to be a commitment to improving the levels of pupils' performance … then solving the language issue is a critical part of the solution. As Ellis (1994:243) states, all researchers recognise the need for input in L2 acquisition, although they may differ on the role that it plays. It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that the input that South African learners are receiving in the form of their L2 instruction, is in some significant way deficient. The purpose of this paper is to identify the source of the deficiency of the input, as it appears in educational texts specifically, and to put forward suggestions as to how this deficiency can be addressed. We report on a study undertaken by us to determine how educational texts written for the South African English-as-an-additional language (EAL) syllabus (which adopt a focus-on-meaning approach to English language instruction) compare with educational texts written for the Kenyan EAL syllabus (which favour a focus-on-form instructional approach), in terms of their effectiveness in enabling South African primary school learners to acquire interrogative constructions. As a point of departure, we will first describe three different viewpoints concerning the role of instruction in L2 acquisition. We will then describe the three different types of instruction used in L2 classrooms, namely focus-on-meaning, focus-on-form and focus-on-formS instruction. A brief discussion of cumulative findings based on recent L2 type-of-instruction research will serve to contextualise our study which we discuss in this paper. The second half of the paper will proceed in the form of a report on the study itself, including the rationale behind it, an exposition of the participants and procedure, and a presentation and discussion of the results. In the conclusion we will suggest ways in which the instructional approach adopted by South African educational texts can be enhanced, so as to enable learners to acquire English more effectively.   Meaning-focused vs Form-focused L2 Instruction 61 2. Theoretical approaches to different types of instruction In L2 acquisition research that examines the effects of form-focused instruction (FFI), three different positions may be identified, as summarised in Norris and Ortega (2001:159-160). These are the noninterface, strong interface and weak interface positions. 2.1 The noninterface position The noninterface position, adopted by researchers such as Krashen (1985) and Schwartz (1993), holds that the only kind of information that is usable for L2 language acquisition is naturally occurring instances of the language, otherwise referred to as "positive evidence", or, as Krashen (1985) terms it, "comprehensible input". This position holds that teaching grammar or correcting learner errors has no effect on the learner's acquired linguistic knowledge or interlanguage. Krashen (1985:1–3) maintains that there is no interface between learned knowledge, which results from conscious learning, and acquired knowledge, which results from learners' exposure to comprehensible input. 2.2 The strong interface position In contrast to the noninterface position, the strong interface position holds that, through repeated practice, learned knowledge can be converted to acquired knowledge, which will result in natural L2 use. Proponents of this view are concerned with the question of how this conversion may take place. One such proponent is De Keyser (1998), whose research indicates that explicit FFI leads to significantly larger gains in L2 learning than does implicit learning. 2.3 The weak interface position Researchers who hold the weak-interface position maintain that if L2 material is placed within a meaningful context in an inconspicuous way, but is made sufficiently salient for further processing, it may draw learners' attention to "notice" the form of the target language, and thus eventually to acquire it (Norris and Ortega 2001:159). This position finds support amongst researchers such as White (1989), who suggests that although much of an L2 can be learned on the basis of exposure to positive evidence (viz. information about what is permissible in the target language grammar), learners may need negative evidence (viz. information about what is not      Sue Ollerhead and Johan Oosthuizen 62permissible), when their interlanguage contains rules that are more general than the rules of the target language (White 1989:50). White claims that the parameters linked to L2 learners' principles of universal grammar (UG) have been fixed according to their L1 grammar and that for the L2 learners to change these parameter settings, they need negative evidence, i.e. evidence that a certain form does not occur in the target language. Positive evidence will not suffice in this case, as it will not contain the non-occurring utterances (Le Roux 1994:23).   Similarly, in his discussion of consciousness raising (later referred to as "input enhancement"), Sharwood Smith (1991), claims that for acquisition to take place, learners must consciously notice forms and the meanings they represent in the input. He provides evidence indicating that highlighting forms in the input increases the likelihood of them being noticed and subsequently used. This evidence contradicts Krashen's claim that L2 learners acquire language unconsciously. Further evidence in this regard was provided by Spada and Lightbown's (1993) study of the effects of FFI and corrective feedback on the development of question formation in the speech of ESL learners. Their findings support the hypothesis that FFI and corrective feedback can effect the aligning of the L2 learner's interlanguage more closely with the target language. Long's interaction hypothesis posits that instruction helps learning, but only if it coincides with the natural process of acquisition (cf. Ellis 2001:10). This premise is informed by Pienemann's teachability hypothesis (cf. Ellis 2001:7), which predicts that some structures are best learned if the specific instruction coincides with the learner's next stage of development. Long views breakdowns in communication as an opportunity for learners to negotiate for meaning, which in turn highlights problematic forms. This helps learners to notice the gap between the input and their own interlanguage, and stimulates them to restructure the incorrect forms that led to the initial breakdown in communication (Ellis 2001:10).   Meaning-focused vs Form-focused L2 Instruction 63 3. Three different types of L2 instruction The interface positions outlined above underlie three significantly different types of L2 instruction, namely focus-on- meaning , focus-on- form  and focus-on- formS  instruction, which are described below.  3.1 Focus-on-meaning instruction The focus-on-meaning (FonM) approach to L2 instruction corresponds with the noninterface view, by providing exposure to rich input and meaningful use of the L2 in context, which is intended to lead to incidental acquisition of the L2 (Norris and Ortega 2001:160). A FonM instructional approach can be widely found in contemporary English Language classrooms, in techniques such as Krashen and Terrell's Natural Approach, some content-based ESL instruction and immersion programmes (Ellis 1994:571). 3.2   Form-focused instruction The term "form-focused instruction" (FFI) is defined by Ellis (2001:2) as "any planned or incidental instructional activity that is intended to induce language learners to pay attention to linguistic form". It serves as a generic term for "analytic teaching", "focus on form", "focus on forms", "corrective feedback/error correction" and "negotiation of form". The term "form-focused instruction" is used to describe both approaches to teaching forms based on artificial syllabi, as well as more communicative approaches, where attention to form arises out of activities that are primarily meaning-focused (cf. Long and Robinson 1998). FFI comprises two subcategories, namely: focus-on- formS  and focus-on- form instruction. 3.2.1 Focus-on-formS instruction Focus-on-formS (FonFS) instruction is informed by a strong interface view, and occurs when parts of a grammar are taught as discrete units, in order of their linguistic complexity. This is the traditional approach to grammar teaching, and is based on an artificially reproduced, as opposed to an "organic", syllabus. In this approach, language is treated as an object to be studied and language teaching is viewed to be an actvity to be practised systematically. Furthermore, learners are seen as students, rather than users of the language (Ellis 2001:14).  
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