Pinsonneault, B.C. (2008). Authentic input in early second language learning (Masters Theses). Retrieved from Scholarworks@UMass Amherst.
The dissertation examines if authentic material leads to acquisition of vocabulary and agreement in number and gender in Spanish for a group of second language learners whose native language is English. The research was conducted at an elementary school in Massachusetts. The subjects were seventeen kindergarten, first and second grade students whose ages ranged between five and six years. They had never been previously taught a foreign language before and were still learning English as their L1. The author’s hypothesis is that as a consequence of exposure to Authentic Input (authentic material in the second language that is used for teaching purposes), L2 learners who are still acquiring the grammar of L1 transfer the structure of noun phrase, including number and gender agreement.
The author created her own teaching methodology called the Authentic Bridge to Acquisition. In this method, authentic materials were used to first introduce the lexical chunks for each lesson. Consequently, the first encounter learners had with the new vocabulary in the target language was via the authentic input. She applied the materials in two groups of students over a period of six weeks. Each lesson had at least one type of authentic material, whose activities were centered on games, dance, or learning lyrics to a song or poem in the target language.
During the last session of the program, students took an exam which included both written and oral components to determine if the authentic input provided had led them to acquire lexical chunks. The results showed that the transfer of the structure of NP (Noun Phrase) and lexical agreement had occurred. Thus, three months after the administration of the written test, two of the students were tested to confirm that they had acquired the lexical chunks through the authentic materials.
The author observed that the students had successfully retained the language they had learned. As a result, she concluded that authentic input in the form of songs, games, stories and play not only resulted in acquisition, learning and long term retention of lexical phrase but also confirmed her hypothesis that young learners produce evidence of the transfer of the structure of the NP of their L1.
Traditionally, studies in SLA tend to focus on the acquisition of grammar and vocabulary. On the other hand, more recent theories have taken seriously the social dimensions in L2 acquisition and defended that learning is a historical and social process and emerges among agents in a given context. Thus, language is conceived as a process rather than a product, and learning is never just about language but also about learning normative ways of being and thinking. As a result, one can observe that there is a lack of studies that not only analyze the role of teaching materials in the process of acquisition but also focus on other dimensions of the language. Moreover, it can also be added to that the need for studies that debate how contemporary language teaching materials conceive culture and what roles it plays in language acquisition.
Despite the fact Pinsonneault’s research brings important contributions regarding the use of authentic (input) materials in L2 classroom, she limits herself to the acquisition of grammatical aspects of the language. Another limitation of her study is that it focused on the acquisition by young learners in a very specific setting. To fully understand the effect of authentic input, it is also important to have studies that analyze the interaction between language materials and adults in different linguistic environments.
Therefore, it is possible to observe that the field of language teaching materials is still poorly explored in SLA, especially when it comes to the acquisition of communicative and intercultural skills. Qualitative research that takes into account the participants as sociocultural beings with different perspectives and backgrounds is needed to move towards a more critical and culturally sensitive SLA. Undoubtedly, this is a field that still needs more empirical research so teachers and students can be better provided with quality teaching resources and more engaging and meaningful L2 classrooms.