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ResearchCenter for Language and Cognition

LANSPAN Colloquium: Effectiveness of Structure-based vs. Dynamic usage-based approaches to foreign language instruction: a longitudinal study on oral and written skills (Audrey Rousse-Malpat, CLCG)

When:We 30-10-2019 16:15 - 17:30
Where:Turftorenstraat room 14
Effectiveness of Structure-based vs. Dynamic usage-based approaches to foreign language instruction: a longitudinal study on oral and written skills

One of the main goals of L2 foreign language instruction in high school is to provide a favorable environment in which young learners can learn to communicate in a new language. If you agree with this statement, you will be surprised to hear that in Dutch highschools, less than 30% of the French or German language class is given in the target language (West & Verspoor, 2016). The problem is twofold: on the one hand, learners are provided with poor input in quantity and quality because many teachers in the Netherlands adopt a structure-based approach to language learning with explicit instruction, which focuses on explicit explanation of linguistic rules. On the other hand, teachers depend on such structure-based methods because they feel that the output of their learners is poor in quantity and quality. Besides, there is a strong belief among teachers that language is structure-based and that the teaching of grammar is necessary (Lightbown & Spada, 2013).

In my presentation, I will show the results of an empirical study on the development of L2 French which compares two different approaches to language learning: Structure-based (SB) vs. Dynamic Usage-Based (DUB). A DUB approach to language learning would predict that language is not structure-based but rather emerges from repetitive exposure to meaningful input and language use (Langacker, 2000; Tomasello, 2003). The DUB-inspired method in our study focuses a lot on meaning with implicit instruction to grammar, in other words with no focus on rules (Long, 1991; Ellis, 1995; Van Patten, 2002; Verspoor and Winitz, 1997).

This study addresses the question of the effectiveness of SB vs. DUB after three years of instruction. Rather than using a laboratory setting, we traced the development of 229 learners in their actual L2 French classes. The learners were compared on both spoken and written data, collected in (semi) free response tasks. Our main finding was that the DUB-inspired method was more effective on the development of both general oral and written skills after three years of instruction. Our investigation also revealed that the DUB method provided much more L2 exposure than the SB method as DUB teachers were all able to maintain a high degree of L2 exposure compared to SB teachers.

In order to control for the effects of exposure, we performed a detailed analysis of the oral and written skills of a sub-group of learners with a comparable amount of L2 exposure. This analysis showed that the DUB group had more effects on complexity and fluency (particularly in L2 use) and on some aspects of accuracy (present tense). On the other aspects of accuracy (gender and negation) and vocabulary, both methods had the same effects.

Insights from the Dynamic usage-based theory will be used to explain how we think language is processed with the DUB approach compared to the SB approach. We will also discuss what those results mean for foreign language teaching in European classrooms.


Ellis, N. C. (1995). Consciousness in second language acquisition: A review of field studies and laboratory experiments. Language Awareness, 4(3), 123-146.

Langacker, R. W. (2000). A dynamic usage-based model. In M. Barlow, & S. Kemmer (Eds.), Usage-based models of language (pp. 1-63). Stanford: CSLI.

Lightbown, P., & Spada, N. (2013). How languages are learned 4e (oxford handbooks for language teachers). UK: Oxford University Press.

Long, M. H. (1991). Focus-on-form: A design feature in language teaching methodology. In K. de Bot, G. Ginsberg & C. Kramsch (Eds.), Foreign language research in cross-cultural perspective (pp.39-52). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Tomasello, M. (2003). Constructing a language. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

VanPatten, B. (2002). Processing instruction: An update. Language Learning, 52(4), 755-803.

Verspoor, M. H., & Winitz, H. (1997). Assessment of lexical-input approach for intermediate language learners. Iral, 35, 61-75.

West, L., & Verspoor, M. (2016). An impression of foreign language teaching approaches in the Netherlands. Levende Talen Tijdschrift, 17(4), 26-36.