Krashen begins by examining the purpose of research in second language acquisition. He first defines theoretical research, which has as its goal the development of theoryconfirming or disputing theories of second language acquisition (Krashen 33). Second, Krashen defines applied research as that research that seeks to determine which methods, techniques, and/or procedures are more efficient, which ones work, and which ones do not (Krashen 34). Thirdly, Krashen examines what teaching practices are actually evident in the foreign language classroom. Regarding teaching practices currently existing, Krashen contends that because past methodologies based on theory were not working very well, teachers have turned away from theory and researchand draw from their own ideas and experiences in their foreign language education classes (Krashen 33-35).
Krashen then provides a summary of past theoretical research by presenting five hypotheses about second language acquisition: the acquisition/learning hypothesis, the natural order hypothesis, the monitor hypothesis, the input hypothesis and the affective filter hypothesis. The acquisition/learning hypothesis states that second language ability can develop differently and separately through acquisition and learning. Acquisition is a subconscious process and is considered the implicit knowledge a learner has of his language. However, learning is a conscious process that embodies grammar rules of the language as well as error correction. The natural order hypothesis states there is a predictable order that we acquire grammatical structure i.e. negation sequences which can be altered by first language influence, but cannot be altered by the effects of instruction (Krashen 36). The monitor hypothesis claims that acquisition, not learning, is responsible for our fluency in second language performance [and that] conscious learning can be used as an editor to make corrections and change the form of output(Krashen 37). The input hypothesis asserts there are three corresponding areas of how we acquire a second language. First, we try to understand input that is just beyond our present capability. Second, we do not teach speaking but give acquirers comprehensible input where speech will emerge (Krashen 38). Third, we know that further development in second language acquisition will occur when liberal amounts of input are available for the acquirer and when that input is understood by the acquirer; grammatically sequenced input is not helpful (Krashen 38). The claim of the affective filter hypothesis is that three variables influence the success in second language acquisition: anxiety, motivation and self-confidence; these variables inhibit the learner from fully using input. Krashen abbreviates these hypotheses by stating that comprehensible input is the true and only causative variable in second language acquisition which predicts that other variables are actually intervening variables for comprehensive input(Krashen 40).
Quality of second language interaction. Although a large quantity of the target language was produced, second language interaction during game play did not seem to pose a development of accuracy and complexity of learners’ produced discourse, probably due to the demands for simultaneous communication flow. However, second language interaction during game play did, indeed, encourage a variety of discourse functions, which is summarized in Table 6. The oral-based chat transcripts showed more use of greetings than did the text-based chat transcripts (16 vs. 8 and 24 vs. 6 in sessions 1 and 3 respectively). Especially in the third session of oral interaction where students seemed to have stronger interpersonal relationships, greetings were found to be more formulaic and interaction contained more turns and small talk, while students engaged in written interaction spent less time greeting each other and initiated their conversations directly (See Example 1).
As comprehension was required to proceed to other game tasks, a large number of confirmation checks were present throughout the oral interaction (18 in session 1 and 17 in session 3), while none were present in the written communication. However, self-corrections were more frequent in the written interaction than in the oral interaction (17 vs. 6 and 18 vs. 11 in sessions 1 and 3 respectively). The fact that participants engaged in the former medium could read on-screen messages and that they had time to think and prepare would easily allow them to reflect and correct their messages before and after posting. Example 3 gives an example of confirmation checks taking place during voice- and text-based chat.
Not surprisingly, a slightly higher proportion of incomplete T-units—the shortest form of a sentence that is still grammatical—(17.82% vs. 10.98% and 15.93 % vs. 10.05%) was found in a voice-based chat (See Table 5) while a greater proportion of the number of words produced (235 vs. 133 and 307 vs. 156 average words per student) was found in a text-based chat between the two sessions (See Figure 4). However, the increased number of words produced seemed unstable. Finally, it was found that there were a higher number of English words used through written interaction than in oral interaction (1,875 vs. 1,054 and 2,455 vs. 1,245 in sessions 1 and 3 respectively) (See Table 5).
Interaction is the term used to refer to the interpersonal activity that takes place both face-to-face and electronically between people or between people and computer, as well as the intrapersonal activity that occurs within our minds (Chapelle, 2001). Interaction in the foreign language has been found to contribute to language acquisition. Interaction helps generate comprehensible input (Krashen, 1985), encourages negotiation of meaning (Pica, 1994), facilitates noticing (Schmidt, 1990), produces negative feedback (Schmidt ibid), and encourages output (Swain, 1985). Swain’s Output Hypothesis (1985) posits that for successful second language acquisition to occur comprehensible input alone is insufficient but learners must also be given opportunities to try out new language and produce comprehensible output during interaction, which, in turn enables them to develop competence in the target language.
A key element in the studies above, and in discussions of computer games in education in general, is that learners more actively participate in the activity at hand (see also Garcia-Carbonell, Rising, Montero, & Watts, 2001). In language learning, this means that games are suggested to encourage more interaction in the second language. We therefore now briefly discuss the importance of interaction on second language acquisition.
Chen and Johnson (2004) “modded” a commercial role playing game called Neverwinter Nights (Bioware, 2002) to investigate whether a digital game simulating a foreign language learning context could promote a state of ‘flow’ and motivate students to practise language skills (Spanish in the case of this study) outside of the classroom. The authors used questionnaires, video transcripts, field notes, and a post-game interview to investigate this but realised that there were significant differences in the amount of experience the participants had with playing games, and that this strongly affected their ability to play the game successfully. For example, the one participant who did have previous game-playing experience felt more comfortable in the game, spent less time accomplishing the tasks, and self-reported a higher level of enjoyment and flow in the game than the other participants. This study thus highlighted the importance of sufficient training, both to encourage greater success in playing the game, and to minimise the possibility of differences between students acting as a confounding factor in subsequent analyses.
For comprehensible output to be produced, however, learners have to be pushed in their language production. Pica (1994) claimed that negotiation of meaning helps learners make input comprehensible and helps them modify their own output, and, in turn, provides opportunities for them to acquire new language. Similar claims for the benefits of negotiation have been made by Long (1996) in his Interaction Hypothesis. According to Long, negotiation of meaning during interaction contributes significantly to second language comprehension and the negative feedback received through negotiation facilitates second language development, particularly for vocabulary, morphology, and syntax. Negotiation also provides opportunities for learners to focus their attention on linguistic form and to notice aspects of the target language. Noticing has been considered important because when input is noticed, it can become intake, i.e. input that the learner has comprehended semantically and syntactically, which facilitates acquisition (Schmidt 1990). In addition, noticing pushes learners into a more syntactic processing mode that will help them to internalise new forms and improve the accuracy of their existing grammatical knowledge.
That noticing linguistic elements in an environment where the primary focus is not on language is possible in a gaming environment was shown by Piirainen-Marsh and Tainio (2009), who used Conversation Analysis to examine how two teenage boys repeated language elements in the game to show their involvement and to make sense of the game. Video recordings of their game interactions showed frequent repetitions both in the form of immediate imitation but also for anticipatory use and to recontextualise previously heard utterances, or to expand on them. The authors conclude: ‘On the whole, repetition offers a flexible resource through which the participants display continued attention to relevant features of the game and co-construct the collaborative play activity’ (p. 166). This study did not investigate the effects of this repetition on linguistic acquisition, however.
All of the above, however, assumes that learners are not only given opportunities to produce the target language, but are also willing to make use of this opportunity. The crucial aspect of “willingness to communicate” is therefore discussed below.