Sentence imitations in monolingual and early second language learners and the implications for grammar teaching
In the present article I investigated whether data obtained from 7-year-old German L1 and German-Turkish eL2 children by means of an elicited imitation task including grammatical and ungrammatical sentences mirrored current findings in acquisition research concerning case marking, adjective inflection, V2 position and finiteness. The results show that L1 children have full mastery of all four phenomena, as they revealed a greater tendency to correct ungrammatical sentences than to introduce errors into grammatical sentences. On the other hand, eL2 children differed from L1 children in terms of how they dealt with the noun-related phenomena, as they did not reveal a clear preference for either changing grammatical items or correcting ungrammatical items. In the discussion, I propose how to minimise the likelihood that participants simply repeat ungrammatical items verbatim in further imitation studies and be thus able to collect more reliable data on their grammatical knowledge. The article ends with a proposal for a primary school exercise on case marking that involves correcting errors on case marking. The suggestion is that ungrammatical sentences can be used in grammar teaching to assess pupils’ linguistic knowledge and also to guide their attention to specific regularities of the language, thus stimulating language reflection.