Photovoice and/or SLA in general. It is not

Research Project


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In this photovoice research
project, I will discuss my experience in learning English as a second language
(ESL) with literature reviews on the topic of ESL and Second Language
Acquisition (SLA).

Various universal influences,
which contribute to the rate, routine, and ultimate attainment to the learning
of a second language (L2), have been studied to disclose the mystery of SLA.

The secret underlying this complex process, i.e., mastering a L2, is hotly
disputed via diverse theories. One of the debates is about the power of
practice in the process of proceduralization/ automatization.

Before we plunge into the whole
discussion about the role that practice plays in automatizaton, it is necessary
that we stop and reflect on the real goals of language learning in general and
practice in particular. DeKeyser (2007) claims that the real goal of language
leaning is to achieve “fast, accurate, spontaneous, effortless use of
knowledge, which is better described as automatic than implicit.” (p.288) Challenging
as it is, the ultimate goal for most language learners is to reach a certain
level of automaticity.

acquisition theory, adopted from Anderson’s Adaptive Control of Thought
(Anderson, 1983) explains learning as developmental processes from controlled
to automatic. In this process, through consistent related practice,
declarative/ explicit knowledge can be transformed to procedural/ implicit
knowledge, thus, eventually attain automaticity in that specific skill (Ortega,
2009). However, Ellis and Schmidt (1998) argue that there is a power law of
learning, which constraints the learners’ improvement in that skill regardless
the amount of practice has been put in, because they have reached the ceiling
of their performance.

            Here again,
therefore, there are some unavoidable questions are asked, when posit your
stance towards practice in automatization and/or SLA in general. It is not that
whether practice can trigger automaticity per se, but how we can maximize the
power of practice to benefit the language learners to accelerate their
automatization process. In this philosophy paper, I will discuss skill
acquisition theory, a broader concept of practice in SLA, and major study in
the field of SLA regarding practice and automatization.


Literature Review

Acquisition Theory

Skill acquisition theory, as I
briefly mentioned earlier in this paper, entails the whole learning process,
from the novice level to the mastery level. The fundamental assertion of skill
acquisition theory is that learning of various skills presents a momentous
resemblance through the basic explicit knowledge to fluent, spontaneous, and
implicit knowledge, and this set of process can be universal to the acquisition
of different kinds of skills (DeKeyser, 2015).

Anderson (1982, 1993) claims
that there are three stages of knowledge involved in the skill acquisition
process, viz., declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge, and automatic
knowledge. In the first stage of the skill acquisition, students may acquire a
lot of knowledge about the skill explicitly from observing and analyzing other’s
behavior of using/demonstrating that skill. The next stage is converting the
“knowledge that” to “knowledge how”, i.e., transforming declarative knowledge
to procedural knowledge. This requires the students to use, and act on this
knowledge to a relatively fluent, somewhat effortless, and smooth behavior on
the skill. After acquiring the procedural knowledge, the students’ knowledge is
still not yet automatic. Sufficient practice is needed to decline the reaction
time, error rate, and required attention when executing the task. The ample
relevant practice helps to expedite the automatizaton process (DeKeyser, 2015).

for SLA

            On the
prevailing view, the concept of practice is almost always associated with numerous
boring repetition and drills. Ellis (1993) argued that practice embodies endeavor
with sufficient chances for learners to produce the language in both controlled
and free activities for the purpose of evolve highly proceduralized implicit
knowledge. DeKeyser (2007) points out that Ellis’ view reflects Chomsky’s
contrast between performance and competence: practice is not for teaching
competence, but rather for promoting performance. On the other hand, Dekeyser
also stated that cognitive psychologists believe that practice is notable in
converting declarative/explicit knowledge to procedural/implicit knowledge.

            In the
light of communicative language teaching, drilling has been viewed as a
somewhat antique which is associated with boring, repetitive formulaic language
learning/teaching activity. Paulston (1970, 1972) proposed the model of mechanical,
meaningful, and communicative drills (MMC). Putting briefly, mechanic drills
are fully controlled and have only one correct answer; meaningful drills
require learner’s complete comprehension for responding to the task; and
communicative dills go beyond meaningful drills with added new information from
the real world by the speakers. Byrne (1986) also formed a three-way language
learning model, presentation, practice, and production (PPP). Clearly, PPP is
distinct and beyond the MMC. Presentation contains but not limited to MMC;
practice incorporates mechanic and meaningful drills; and production precedes
communicative drills in MMC. In both model, practice is functioning as an
unneglectable gear in the process of SLA.

solely, indeed, can not result in automatization. However, DeKeyser (2007)
argued that to maximize the usefulness of practice, different types of practice
should be applied for different instructional contexts and different individual
characteristics, e.g., age, culture, personality, and aptitude, of the

a Broad Concept of Practice

            Practice has taken a beating from many SLA researchers.

Krashen (1982, p. 83) argued that “learning does not become acquisition,” and
Ellis (1994) claimed that “the results (of empirical research) are not very
encouraging for practice.” However, DeKeyser (2010) argued that the role that
practice plays in L2 learning should be interpreted with a broader concept:
practice as situated activities engages learners with their individualized goal
of improving knowledge and skills in the L2, and attention to form-meaning
links as well as sequenced activities should be given for facilitating the
process of proceduralization, and eventual automatization.

From the discussion above, we
can note that the term ‘practice’ involves more than mechanical drills, and
even ‘drills’ is not finite repetition. Nowadays, ‘Practice makes perfect’ is
not an agreed-upon issue in SLA research. Lightbown (2000) argue that
“communicative practice … is not sufficient to lead learners to a high degree
of fluency and accuracy in all aspects of second language acquisition,” but
“when practice is defined as opportunities for meaningful language use (both
receptive and productive) and for thoughtful, effortful practice of difficult
linguistic features, then the role of practice is clearly beneficial and even
essential” (p.443).

Study: DeKeyser (1997)

            DeKeyser (1997) conducted a research to answer the questions
of whether explicit grammar learning in an L2 with specific practice would
yield evidence that reflects skill acquisition theory’s prediction.

were 61 adults, and most of them are undergraduate student, who had learned
foreign language in the past. The study is over an 11-week semester. They were
taught four grammar rules of an artificial language explicitly, and had a large
amount of relevant practice. The participants were divided into three groups,
and had different types of practice (comprehension and production) through the
whole semester. Group one had comprehension practice for rule 1 and 2, and
production practice for rule 3 and 4; group two had production practice for
rule 1 and 2, and comprehension practice for rule 3 and 4; and group three had
practice for both comprehension and production practice for all four rules.

            A comprehension and production test was given at the end of
the semester. The comprehension part was to choose the correct picture that
illustrates a given sentence, and the production part was to write a sentence
to describe a given picture. To get the correct answer, students have to apply
the explicitly taught grammar rules in the artificial language.

            The test
results showed that all three groups had a gradual decline in reaction time and
error rate for both comprehension and production parts. Participants who were
tested on the skills that they practiced, outperformed those who didn’t have
the practice in both reaction time and error rate; participants who practiced
all skills in all four rules performed in the same level with those that had
sufficient practice for the same item.

            The test results
showed that the answer for the research questions is affirmative: plentiful of
relevant practice led declarative knowledge to procedural knowledge with slow
transaction to automatization. Moreover, it confirmed the skill – specific
predictions of skill acquisition theory (DeKeyser, 2015).


and L2 Automatization

cognitive psychology perspective, automaticity is embedded in subconscious
situations, where “we perform a complex series of tasks very quickly and
efficiently, without having to think about the various components and
subcomponents of action involved” (DeKeyser, 2001, p.125). For SLA, Segalowitz
(2003) defined automaticity as implicit knowledge, which enables learner to
comprehend and produce the L2 with more efficiency and fluency, less error rate
and neural activation patterns. As such, automaticity is an ability that
associated with lower mind occupation, higher efficiency and accuracy. From the
above discussion, we cannot conclude that practice is the only or dominant
trigger of automatization, as other factors, e.g., age, cross-linguistic
influences, linguistic environment, language aptitude, motivation, social
context, and individual differences, should also be taken into consideration. However,
good practice is, indeed, a catalyst in the process of automatizaton.

            Ortega (2007) believes that good practice tasks are
interactive, meaningful, and task essential. Khatib & Nikouee (2012) argue
that good interactive practice provokes pushed output, negative feedback, and negotiation
of meaning. They believe that good practice provides L2 learners opportunities
to build the form and meaning link instead of focusing on either. They also
stated that good practice should be purposeful, and this means practice should
cater the specific feature and context of the L2. Thus, good practice can
facilitates the gradual accomplishment of skill acquisition theory’s terminal
goal – automatization. 

            Khatib & Nikouee (2012) conducted a quasi-experimental
research to investigate the degree to which explicit knowledge of a
morphosyntactic structure – present perfect can be automatized two days after
relevant practice and can be maintained for two weeks after. Twenty
participants signed up for this study voluntarily, and they were all intermediate
level in English. They shared the same first language – Persian, and their ages
were between 16 to 26 years old. The educational level of the participants
ranges from senior high school to post-graduate. They were randomly assigned to
an experimental group (G1) and a controlled group (G2). G1 and G2 both received
rule explanation, mechanical and meaningful practice, while G1 also received
additive planned communicative practice. The findings of this study showed that
more automatization were revealed in G1, as less reaction time and error rate were
found in G1 than G2; also, G1 outperformed G2 in retaining their performance
two weeks after the practice. The results of this study can be placed in
juxtaposition with three other empirical research (DeKeyser,1996;  DeKeyser & Sokalski, 1996; and
Robinson,1997) which were all concentrating on the role of practice in
automatization in SLA. Khatib & Nikouee’s research results suggest that
communicative practice should be advocated, since it had a stronger impact in
the automatization process, in terms of decreasing the error rate and reaction
time, than mechanical and meaningful practice did. Meanwhile, it is encouraging
for teachers who prefer communicative language teaching (CLT) to not neglect a
focus on form.


Methods Section /Data Analysis

research method I used for this project is a combination of literature review
on the topic of ESL and SLA, as well as my own experience in ESL classroom. I collected
data from many research papers for this issue, and I also used Photovoice to
record my experience in ESL classroom at Kansas University.

I found that ESL
was helpful for the very basics of English. I felt that the practice I had
speaking English out of the classroom with friends and peers helped me more
than what I learned in the classroom. According to a study conducted by Annela
Teemant from Indiana University, a major problem in ESL classrooms is that ESL
professors tend to go at a faster pace than most students can keep up with. Although
many students do okay in ESL, the majority of their other professors do not
take into account that English is not their first language, which is

ESL at KU seems to
be much more student-oriented due to the fact that classroom sizes are small. However,
many students feel as though they cannot keep up with the course syllabus. Many
students also feel their grades suffer due to inadequate ESL teaching methods.

One of the biggest
challenges faced by ESL students is the time it takes to get over the learning
curve. ESL classes are offered online, which allows more convenience, but
hinders the learning process by not having sufficient in-person interactions to
practice and develop their English communication skills.

While taking ESL,
most students are also taking a full load of classes, which puts them at a
disadvantage in comparison to native English speakers in the same classes. Low
grades can cause frustration, stress, and even disciplinary action from the
university. Though ESL can be beneficial to speakers of other languages, there
are many variables that must be considered, such as classroom size, course
load, and class pace. ESL students need a way to communicate efficiently with
their other professors so their grades do not suffer based solely on their
English. The vast majority of ESL students believe they learn more English
practicing it in the real world, rather than in the classroom.



     Most students and faculty
members are aware of the ESL (English as a Second Language) programs.ESL is a
class just like any other language class, but it is aimed towards helping
students learn English as their second, third, or fourth language. ESL is very structured in its
coursework, and progress is monitored by the professor, forcing the student to
improve weak area.ESL is very helpful for international students who are not
completely proficient at reading, writing, speaking and understanding English. ESL
classes open new doors to university students. By speaking English, ESL
students can make new friends. ESL students can be more proficient in other
classes. ESL students will be able to take their English speaking knowledge
with them throughout their lives.

While the
coursework in the classroom is helpful, a great part of the language learning
process occurs outside of the classroom. ESL is very structured and is not
tailored to the learning abilities of each student, which causes many students
to feel overwhelmed and left behind. Although the classroom is a great place to
learn, practice outside of the classroom is necessary for proper communication.

While ESL provides students with the basics of English learning, it does not provide
them with every-day terms, such as slang. Textbooks and materials can be

It is clear that practice,
itself, is not responsible for a humdrum L2 classroom; the ways of how an
instructor designs it and carries it out in the classroom is far more
influential. Of course, no one will deny the importance of all the other
individual and/or social elements in the process of automatization; however,
the praxis of practice should not be cold-shouldered but used appropriately for
specific purposes and features along the way to aid learners achieving their
ultimate goals for the L2 that they want automatize, or acquiring.


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