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Awareness, aptitude, and French grammatical gender : an exploratory study

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Awareness, aptitude, and French grammatical gender : an exploratory study

Bell, Philippa (2008) Awareness, aptitude, and French grammatical gender : an exploratory study. Masters thesis, Concordia University.

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Abstract

This study investigates the effects of awareness on the accurate assignment of French grammatical gender, and the importance of aptitude in explaining differences in awareness levels amongst second language (L2) learners. Previous awareness research using form-focused exposure tasks has found aware learners improve with the targeted linguistic feature as compared to unaware learners. In addition, research has always found some participants that are aware and some who appear to be unaware (Leow, 1997). Further research is needed on the effects of awareness with a variety of L2s and linguistic features (Rosa & Leow, 2004), and on the interaction amongst aptitude, awareness, and L2 learning (Robinson, 1997). The present study further investigated the effects of awareness on the subsequent L2 learning of French grammatical gender using a meaning-focused rather than form-focused exposure task. This research also addressed the issue of different awareness levels. Following Robinson, the role of aptitude in explaining these differences in awareness levels amongst L2 learners was explored. To investigate the effects of awareness on L2 learning, 36 beginner-French Anglophone adults completed a crossword following Leow (1997, 2000). The crossword provided participants with input on the reliably masculine noun ending eau (le plat eau ) in French, but they were not explicitly guided to look for this rule. Think-aloud protocols collected during the exposure task and two probe questions, one after the exposure task and one after the posttest, were analysed for evidence of awareness at one of two levels: unaware or aware. Learning was operationalised as pretest to posttest differences on a multiple-choice recognition task. There were two key findings: firstly, there were no differences in learning between the unaware and aware groups, and secondly, learners from both groups significantly improved in their ability to assign masculine gender to words they had encountered during the exposure task, but not to words that they had only encountered in the pretest. These findings run contrary to previous research on the effects of awareness (e.g. Leow; Rosa & O'Neill, 1999). Two possible explanations for these findings are that as the exposure task was meaning-focused rather than form-focused, participants did not verbalise their attention to form. Alternatively, it could be that French grammatical gender is being learnt as part of the exemplar-based system rather than the rule-based system (Skehan, 1998) and, as such, awareness may not be as important for linguistic features that are part of this system. To investigate possible reasons for awareness differences amongst participants, learners completed five aptitude tests, all used in previous research, that addressed the aptitude factors of attention control, working memory, phonological memory, grammatical sensitivity, and inductive language learning ability. Dörnyei & Skehan (2003) suggested that these five factors were important at the beginning stages of input processing, which were to be included in the exposure task. The results indicate that scores on the inductive language learning test predicted membership to the aware or unaware group accurately 72.22% of the time. No other test had a predictive value. This suggests that inductive ability may have played a role in promoting awareness of French grammatical gender during meaning-based exposure to French grammatical gender. Another finding is that the test for grammatical sensitivity (MLAT IV [Carroll & Sapon, 1957]) and the test for inductive (PLAB IV [Pimsleur, Reed, & Stansfield, 2004]) did not correlate. Aptitude research has often treated these two abilities together as analytic ability (Skehan, 1998), and used a grammatical sensitivity test to investigate the construct. The results from the present study suggest that these two tests may be tapping into different aptitude constructs and, as such, may need to be tested separately when investigating the role of individual differences to L2 learning

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Education
Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Authors:Bell, Philippa
Pagination:xi, 152 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:M.A.
Program:Applied Linguistics
Date:2008
Thesis Supervisor(s):Collins, Laura
ID Code:975772
Deposited By: Concordia University Library
Deposited On:22 Jan 2013 16:14
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:41
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