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Volume 3 Number 3, Autumn 2006, Pages 1-175   

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Roles of Output in Foreign Language Learning: A Case of Collaborative Grammar Task


Given the prominent status of grammar learning in a foreign language milieu, seeking an effective grammar instruction remains a prevailing challenge for most linguists and foreign language teachers. The common paradigm still heavily focuses on language input and meaning-oriented tasks. While these two aspects are of indispensable importance for learning, the development of L2 interlanguage grammar system requires another learning process. At this juncture, Swain (1994) sheds light on roles of output as a potential learning mechanism. This study is an attempt to probe the degree to which the underlying process of output in a collaborative interactional grammar task can lead to grammar learning. Involving ten advanced and ten intermediate level students working on a text reconstruction tasks, this study revealed that output can provide a rich forum for learning to take place through its mechanisms: gap- noticing, hypothesis testing, and metalinguistic function. Yet, it exerted a different impact upon different levels of students. Gap-noticing was likely to be perceivable in the case of intermediate group whereas the other two mechanisms, hypothesis testing and metalinguistic function, seemed to be more prevailing in the advanced group. This study also found that a grammar-sensitive task can pave the way to L2 grammar learning by pushing students to deeper syntactic processing, rather than solely relying on semantic processing. In so doing, output serves a complementary function to foster L2 grammar learning.