Edited by Andrea E. Tyler, Lourdes Ortega, Mariko Uno and Hae In Park
[Language Learning & Language Teaching 49] 2018
► pp. 143–164
Chapter 7. The impact of prior knowledge on second language grammar practice
Both the skill building paradigm of language learning known as skills acquisition theory (DeKeyser, 2007) and the family of usage-based theories (N. Ellis, 2015; Tyler, 2012) hold that second language (L2) practice, broadly defined as repeated language usage, is pivotal to the learning of constructions. Intuition would thus suggest that L2 grammar pedagogy must rely on practice activities in the classroom. However, the praxis of practice is less clear. One variable that might moderate the effectiveness of practice is prior knowledge (PK), as it is reasonable to expect that the more learners can rely on PK that is relevant to a new target form, the less intensive or prolonged practice might need to be (Llopis-García, 2010). This chapter investigated the impact of prior knowledge (PK) of a given construction on practice of a new, related construction. It did so by comparing a group of students who, prior to the experiment, could already conjugate the present subjunctive and were familiar with the mood selection in some limited constructional contexts to another group of students who did not have any previous knowledge related to the mood selection in Spanish, and both to a control group. The goal was to ascertain whether PK modulates the benefits that can be obtained from activities that supported extensive practice of Spanish L2 mood selection over 6 weeks totaling 9 hours. Following a pretest/posttest design, results showed that, contrary to expectations, the group with no PK outperformed the group with PK. Results are discussed within the dynamic systems theory paradigm (Verspoor, de Bot, & Lowie, 2011). It is argued that mastery of Spanish L2 mood selection may be subject to processes of cognitive restructuring leading to a variable pathway as evidenced by a U-shaped learning curve.