The official website of educator & arts patron Jack C Richards

Conscious Awareness of Language

Question:

Submitted by Tri, Indonesia

Does conscious awareness of language features play a role in language learning?

Dr. Richards responds:

It has been proposed that some aspects of language are learned more easily if the learner is consciously aware of them in the language he or she hears – i.e. the learner ‘notices’ them (Schmidt, 1990). This is known as the noticing hypothesis. Schmidt proposed that for learners to acquire new forms from input (language they hear) it is necessary for them to notice such forms in the input. Consciousness of features of the input can serve as a trigger that activates the first stage in the process of incorporating new linguistic features into one’s language competence. Schmidt  further clarifies this point in distinguishing between input (what the learner hears) and intake (that part of the input that the learner notices). Only intake can serve as the basis for language development. In his own study of his acquisition of Portuguese, Schmidt found that there was a close connection between noticing features of the input, and their later emergence in his own speech. The extent to which a learner notices new features of language in the input (for example, the use of the past perfect tense in a narrative) may depend upon how frequently the item is encountered, how salient or ‘noticeable’ it is, whether the teacher has drawn attention to it or the nature of the activity the learner is taking part in. Schmidt found from a detailed longitudinal study of his own acquisition of Portuguese that new forms appeared in his Portuguese only after he had become aware of them in the Portuguese he was exposed to. On the other hand, forms that were frequent in the input he was exposed to, but that he was not consciously aware of (i.e. that he had not noticed) did not appear in his use of Portuguese. The noticing hypothesis emphasizes the role of awareness in language learning and has implications both for the teaching of grammar as well as the teaching of listening.