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Academic Paper


Title: Attention to Irregular Verbs by Beginning Learners of German
Author: Aline Godfroid
Institution: Michigan State University
Author: Maren Uggen
Institution: Kalamazoo College
Linguistic Field: Language Acquisition
Subject Language: German
Abstract: This study focuses on beginning second language learners’ attention to irregular verb morphology, an area of grammar that many adults find difficult to acquire (e.g., DeKeyser, ; Larsen-Freeman, ). We measured beginning learners’ eye movements during sentence processing to investigate whether or not they actually attend to irregular verb features and, if so, whether the amount of attention that they pay to these features predicts their acquisition. On the assumption that attention facilitates learning (e.g., Gass, ; Robinson, ; Schmidt, ), we expected more attention (i.e., longer fixations or more frequent comparisons between verb forms) to lead to more learning of the irregular verbs. Forty beginning learners of German read 12 German sentence pairs with stem-changing verbs and 12 German sentence pairs with regular verbs while an Eyelink 1000 recorded their eye movements. The stem-changing verbs consisted of six aä changing verbs and six ei(e) changing verbs. Each verb appeared in a baseline sentence in the first-person singular, which has no stem change, and a critical sentence in the second- or third-person singular, which have a stem change for the irregular but not the regular verbs, on the same screen. Productive pre- and posttests measured the effects of exposure on learning. Results indicate that learners looked longer overall at stem-changing verbs than regular verbs, revealing a late effect of verb irregularity on reading times. Longer total times had a modest, favorable effect on the subsequent production of the stem vowel. Finally, the production of only the aä verbs—not the ei(e) verbs—benefited from direct visual comparisons during reading, possibly because of the umlaut in the former. We interpret the results with reference to recent theory and research on attention, noticing, and language learning and provide a more nuanced and empirically based understanding of the noticing construct.

CUP at LINGUIST

This article appears in Studies in Second Language Acquisition Vol. 35, Issue 2, which you can read on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .



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