Instructed SLA: Long (2017) Part 2

Implicit Learning and Input Enhancement

ELT Research Bites


The second of two posts on instructed second language acquisition (ISLA) investigates this new subfield at the intersection of second language acquisition (SLA) research and language teaching (Long 2017). In the first post we focused on his definition of ISLA and how it differs from L2 teaching and classroom research. Now we move on to the second part of the article to understand why implicit language learning is favoured by second language researchers and what this might mean for teachers.

A cognitivist-interactionist theory of ISLA

Adults learning an L2 are disadvantaged because a) first language learning has tuned out the capacity we have as newborns to learn any language (i.e., notice all kinds of phonetic contrasts or grammatical features) and b) after age 12, our capacity for implicit learning is much reduced. These factors block L2 users’ capacity to notice L2 features, creating a learning problem.

ISLA research aims to determine what kind of instruction can help. Long assumes three constraints on L2 instruction.

  1. Explicit or implicit learning alone is not sufficient: there is too much to learn. EFL learners need to know 9K word families. Class time cannot cover this volume of vocabulary, and for incidental learning via reading a 3 million word corpus would be required, also too time-consuming.
  2. Instruction can only affect the linguistic environment, NOT the actual learner. Implicit and incidental learning can occur alongside explicit knowledge gained from intentional learning. It is difficult to know what kind of learning results from instruction, although it is still possible to design tasks to encourage one type or another by focusing on language form or communicative intent.
  3. Implicit L2 learning is more important for a functional command of L2 than explicit learning, and some L2 researchers do not believe that explicit knowledge can become implicit (the “non-interface position”). This is still a minority position in language teaching, and perhaps rightly so, since few learners have both time and aptitude for implicit language learning, Long acknowledges.

Long suggests three ways instruction can support L2 acquisition given these constraints. All rely on incidental learning plus one of the following:

  1. focus on forms to facilitate noticing Teach grammar explicitly, by traditional presentation-practice-production (PPP), to make learners aware of L2 features.
  2. focus on form to facilitate noticing or detection Include brief references to L2 features during communicative teaching to make learners notice, or become conscious of a feature. Later, learners may apply this learning subconsciously, that is, detect or learn from further examples in subsequent input.
  3. unintrusive input enhancement to facilitate detection Develop unconscious awareness of L2 cues, or make L2 features salient to learners without explicit noticing, by highlighting important features like verbal morphology with bold or colour, or by associating visual and aural input.

Long argues that Condition 1 is effective only if L2 competence is tested on discrete points and without time pressure. In other words, it doesn’t produce implicit learning, and it disrupts communicative teaching. Condition 2, drawing learners’ attention briefly to particular L2 features during communicative activities, also works. This has the advantage of not sabotaging communicative instruction – see Geoff Jordan and Anthony Schmidt for more on this.

Condition 3 would have even less negative impact on communicative instruction: the goal is to to reset L1 parameters or “unlearn” instincts derived from L1 by focusing on relevant L2 features. Cintrón-Valentín & Ellis (2015) investigated the learning of L2 Latin verbal morphology by L1 English speakers. L1-influenced reliance on adverbial cues blocks learners’ attention to more important verbal morphology. The study found that highlighting morphological cues through colour coding in computer-delivered input increased attention to this salient feature and helped learners’ overcome the adverbial block to improve learning. This suggests more explicit grammar teaching is not necessary.

Condition 3 can also include ways to speed up detection of new forms in input. Malone (2016) investigated incidental vocabulary learning through reading with and without an oral rendition. He found the bi-modal condition (reading and hearing) produced better learning. He suggests teachers recommend learners read along with audiobooks to improve incidental learning. Long claims that basic research has shown that unintrusive input enhancement works, and that controlled laboratory studies should now be undertaken.

An ISLA research agenda

In conclusion, Long rejects explicit grammatical instruction such as Ellis’ hybrid grammatical and task syllabus, or a grammar syllabus supplemented by extensive reading, claiming they lack psycholinguistic coherence. He maintains his preference for incidental learning via a communicative syllabus with opportunities for focus on form, or, better, unintrusive enhancements to allow unconscious re-tuning of attention to L2 features and uptake of new forms.

Long sees a major goal of ISLA research as freeing instruction of unnecessary artificial aids, to identify the least intrusive but still efficient means of achieving instructional goals.


I like how this article carves out a space at the intersection of second language acquisition and language teaching research. SLA research is not all relevant to language teaching, since some relates to naturalistic learning, for example, or consists in basic research without direct classroom applications. Similarly, Long shows how not all research in language teaching or L2 classrooms relates to language acquisition or development. This speaks perhaps to some of Geoff Jordan’s concerns about the sociocultural turn in applied linguistics, and to Richard Smith’s points about teacher research: while not denying the interest of this work, Long is clear that a) very specific pedagogical choices are best made by teachers in their own classroom contexts, and b) the context-dependent findings of research into pedagogical procedures “do not qualify as research on ISLA.”

Since the article focuses on research rather than instruction, the arguments are framed around learning rather than teaching, and Long does acknowledge that SLA researchers’ emphasis on “incidental and implicit L2 learning in adults” is “still a minority position in the world of language teaching” (p. 23). He argues that explicit teaching should not take the form of a grammatical syllabus, but rather focus on form, or unintrusive input enhancement. His examples are based on computer-delivered instructional materials, making the teacher at best an instructional designer. Focus on form, however, also concerns teacher behaviour in the classroom, including feedback on errors, for example. There is no mention in this article of how unintrusive input enhancements might be provided and how, or indeed whether, research into this could contribute to ISLA. Thus for the moment, it seems that ISLA remains more focused on learning than teaching, no doubt to the frustration of some readers of ELT Research Bites.


Cintrón-Valentín, M. and Ellis, N. (2015) Exploring the interface: explicit focus-on- form instruction and learned attentional biases in L2 Latin. Language Learning 37(2): 197–235. 10.1017/s0272263115000029

Long, M. (2017). Instructed second language acquisition (ISLA): geopolitics, methodological issues, and some major research questions. ISLA, 1(1): 7-44.

Malone, J. (2016) Incidental vocabulary learning in SLA: effects of frequency and aural enhancement (Qualifying Paper. PhD in SLA Program). College Park: University of Maryland.

Instructed SLA: Long (2017) Part 1

ELT Research Bites


Should teacher be consumers or producers of research? Recent months have seen lively debate on the links between research on language learning on one hand, and language teaching on the other:

There’s certainly disagreement about what counts as research, what its aims should be, and how we should go about conducting studies and sharing results. One paper that tackles these issues is by Mike Long (2017), a leading figure in second language acquisition (SLA) research, which appeared in the first issue of the new, open-access journal Instructed Second Language Acquisition (ISLA).

Long is known especially for his research on cognitivist-interactionist SLA (see Myles), particularly task-based language teaching (TBLT). He has a lot to say directly about pedagogical applications of TBLT (Long 2014) and focus on form (see Ellis 2016 for a review). In this post, however, we consider how ISLA research proposes to bridge the gap between language teaching and second language research.

After defining the field of ISLA, the article argues that geopolitical factors make language learning an important concern for many, and thus increase the need for effective teaching based on SLA (and indeed for better SLA). He reviews some methodological innovations (eye-tracking studies, L2 repositories) and argues for a cognitivist-interactionist view of language learning which prioritises implicit learning .

I’m going to present Long’s arguments in two parts. In this post, we look at his definition of ISLA, showing how it includes some language teaching concerns but not others. We then consider some of the trickier aspects of implicit learning, focus on form, and input enhancement, with examples of recent studies, in a second post. Most of my post is in précis form, that is, using the author’s own words.

Instructed SLA, LT research, and L2 classroom research

For Long, instructed second language acquisition (ISLA) research is not synonymous with language teaching (LT) research or research on L2 classrooms. He sets out the differences with this analogy with biological sciences. Only basic research and controlled studies count as ISLA.

Biochemistrynutritional value of vegetablestrial of new food supplementsstudy of medical practice (how healthcare professionals treat patients)
ISLAL2 learning which is influenced by teachers, classmates, or pedagogic materialsrelationship between types of instruction and language learning outcomesresearch on language teaching

ISLA: what it is, and what it’s not*

ISLA involves incidental and intentional, implicit and explicit L2 learning, when learning processes are intended to be influenced by teachers, classmates, or pedagogic materials. ISLA does not include naturalistic learning via exposure (e.g., through residence overseas, study abroad or watching FL movies) or other forms of incidental learning in L2 environment unless instruction is involved.

ISLA research aims to understand how intervention (i.e., teaching) influences naturalistic learning processes via measurable effects on:

  1. interlanguage development and the acquisition of form-meaning-function relationships
  2. the development of learners’ ability to perform real-world L2 tasks.

Early SLA research assumed the development of learner language (no. 1 above) preceded the ability to function in the new language (no. 2 above), but now the reverse is thought to be true: it is the accomplishment of progressively more complex tasks that drives language learning.

SLA theory as well as empirical findings are used to motivate studies, with the aim of identifying causal relationships between language teaching and learning.

ISLA research differs from L2 classroom research by excluding work on identities, socialisation and acculturation, for example. It also differs from the kind of research which focuses on pedagogical procedures without making a connection with learning outcomes, such as work on teaching styles, use of L1, or learner preferences, all of which tends to be context-dependent. ISLA research operates at the level of cognitive processes and methodological principles which have the potential to be generalisable across teachers, settings, and learner types.

The ultimate purpose of ISLA research is to improve L2 learning or teaching and so some connection with language acquisition is required. Geopolitical factors, including migration, CLIL teaching, and multilingual societies, mean that second and foreign languages have become very important, and these factors have indirectly increased attention to ISLA research and spurred methodological developments, including

  1. statistical meta-analyses
  2. new technology (eye-tracking, reaction times, EEG, ERP)
  3. new instrumentation (e.g. measures of language aptitude)
  4. collaboration (repositories like IRIS, replication studies).

Long goes on to argue that SLA researchers agree on the central position of “incidental and implicit L2 learning in adults” but that this is “still a minority position in the world of language teaching” (p. 23). In my next post, I look more closely at implicit learning, including the notions of noticing and detection, and different types of input enhancement or focus on formS.

Ellis, R. (2016). Focus on form: A critical review. Language Teaching Research, 20(3), 405-428.

Long, M. (2014). Second language acquisition and task-based language teaching. Wiley.

Long, M. (2017). Instructed second language acquisition (ISLA): geopolitics, methodological issues, and some major research questions. ISLA, 1(1): 7-44. PDF

Myles, F. (2004?). Second language acquisition (SLA) research: its significance for learning and teaching issues. Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies Guide to Good Practice. Southampton.

*This heading is a nod to one of my first linguistics professors, Harry Gradman, whose 1970 dissertation rejoiced in the title: The contrastive analysis hypothesis: what it is, and what it isn’t.

The dirty dozen: key terms in DDL and SLA

The dirty dozen: bridging gaps between la didactique des langues and second language studies in 12 key terms. Paper presented at AILA international congress, August 2021

This paper takes an epistemological perspective on differences in foreign and second language (L2) teaching research in English and French. L2 studies, long a central subfield of applied linguistics in the English-speaking world, is divided over two distinct domains in French-language research in Europe: a) a psycholinguistic approach to second language acquisition, and b) language didactics, a theoretical approach to how teaching leads to learning. Following the foundation of AILA in 1964, the disciplinarisation and institutionalisation of applied linguistics in the UK and the US was very different from France. Where English-language research since Corder (1967) and Selinker (1972) has concentrated on learner language, particularly as compared to native-speaker competence (Firth & Wagner 1997), French language didacticians have focused on the target language and culture, and on the role of the language teacher (Galisson & Coste 1976). Another point of crystallisation for these opposing research cultures has been the CEFR, which has been resisted by European researchers working in English on psycholinguistic grounds (e.g., Hulstijn 2011), and by French didacticians for pedagogical and perhaps ethical reasons (Huver 2017).

Theoretical and terminological divergences across French and English writing are of course damaging to our collective research enterprise as several numerous recent writers note (Kramsch 2009; Carton, Narcy-Combes & Toffoli, 2015). The time therefore seems ripe to revisit a small collection of key terms in the L2 studies and language didactics literature in French and English which typify differences in research cultures but where intersections in interpretation also exist. For each term, the paper briefly retraces historical differences in French and English usage and shows how recent research suggests ways of bridging the gaps. The paper concludes with implications for future L2 studies/language didactics research but also emerging domains of application such as LSP didactics and higher education pedagogy.

ONELA: French applied linguistics conference

Instrumentation and New Explorations in Applied Linguistics

Conference in Toulouse, October 2021


Watch the recordings:

Read the abstracts:

Béatrice Daille: TAL et linguistique outillée
François Grin: Naviguer entre les disciplines : l’expérience de l’observatoire économie-langues-formation
Bryan Smith: Technology-enhanced language teaching and learning
in a post-COVID world: Challenges and Opportunities

La communication médiatisée par les technologies pour l’anglais à l’école primaire


Breen, M. (1987). Learner contribution to the task design. In C. N. Candlin & D. Murphy (Eds.),
Language learning tasks (Vol. 7, pp. 23–46). London: Prentice-Hall International.

Cutrim Schmid, E. & Cvetkovic, A. 2016, Digitale Medien im Englischunterricht der Grundschule. In: Peschel, M. & Irion, T. (Ed) Neue Medien in der Grundschule 2.0. Frankfurt: Grundschulverband, 178 -188.

Dooly, M., & Sadler, R., 2016. Becoming little scientists: technologically-enhanced project-based language learning. Language Learning & Technology, 20(1), 54-78.

Ellis, R. 2013, Task-based language teaching: responding to the critics. University of Sydney Papers in TESOL, 8, 1-27.

Elsner, D. (2014). Multilingual Virtual Talking Books (MuViT) – A Project to Foster
Multilingualism, Language Awareness, and Media Competency. In D. AbendrothTimmer,
& E.-M. Hennig (Eds.), Plurilingualism and Multiliteracies. International Research on Identity Construction in Language Education. Frankfurt/M.: Peter Lang, 175-190.

Erlam, R. (2016). ‘I’m still not sure what a task is’: Teachers designing language tasks. Language Teaching Research, 20(3), 279-299.

Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a Culture of Change, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mackey, A., & Gass, S. M. (2015). Second language research: Methodology and design. Routledge.

Gimeno-Sanz, A. (2016). Moving a step further from “integrative CALL”. What’s to come?. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 29(6), 1102-1115.

Gruson, B.,2011, Analyse comparative d’une situation de communication orale en classe ordinaire et lors d’une séance en visioconférence, Distances et Savoirs, 8/3: 395-423.

Jauregi Ondarra, K., Gruber, A., & Canto, S. (2020). When International Avatars Meet–Intercultural Language Learning in Virtual Reality Exchange. Research-publishing. net.

Kim, Y. (2017). Cognitive-interactionist approaches to L2 instruction. In The Routledge handbook of instructed second language acquisition (pp. 126-145). Routledge.

Long, M. H. (1996). Authenticity and learning potential in L2 classroom discourse. University of Hawai’i Working Papers in English as a Second Language 14 (2).

Long, M. H. (1980). Input, interaction, and second language acquisition. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.

Macrory, G., Chrétien, L. and Ortega-Martín, J. L. 2012, Technologically enhanced language learning in primary schools in England, France and Spain: developing linguistic competence in a technologically enhanced classroom environment, Education 3 – 13: International Journal of Primary, Elementary and Early Years Education, 40(4), .433 – 444.

Milton, J., & Garbi, A. 2000, VIRLAN: Collaborative foreign language learning on the Internet for primary age children: Problems and a solution. Educational Technology & Society, 3(3), 286-292.

Pritchard, A., Hunt, M., & Barnes, A. 2010, Case study investigation of a videoconferencing experiment in primary schools, teaching modern foreign languages, Language Learning Journal, 209-220.

van der Kroon, L., Jauregi, K., & Jan, D. 2015, Telecollaboration in Foreign Language Curricula: A Case Study on Intercultural Understanding in Video Communication Exchanges. International Journal of Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Teaching (IJCALLT), 5(3), 20-41.

Whyte, S. 2015, 

Whyte, S. 2011, Learning to teach with videoconferencing in primary foreign language classrooms. ReCALL 23(3): 271–293.

Whyte, S., & Cutrim Schmid, E. 2017, Synchronous video communication with young EFL learners: a multimodal analysis of task negotiation. Paper presented at AILA, Rio de Janeiro, 23-8 July.

Whyte, S., Schmid, E.C., van Hazebrouck Thompson, S. and Oberhofer, M. 2014, Open educational resources for CALL teacher education: the iTILT interactive whiteboard project. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 27(2), 122-148.

Ziegler, N. 2016, Taking technology to task: Technology-mediated TBLT, performance, and production. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 36, 136-163.

Using YouTube Studio and Excel for editing video

In these times of distance education and online communication, many of us are spending more time making videos, perhaps for online teaching, conferences, or projects. We’re making powerpoints with sound and video, interviewing colleagues via Zoom, or stitching together clips from different sources. And there’s often pressure to to edit videos down from longer formats into something short and sweet which will keep our viewers’ attention.

I find it helpful to work from a script with timecodes, allowing me to have an overview of all the material for my videos, but split into timed sections to help me choose what to keep and what to cut to meet an overall time limit. The best way I’ve found to get a transcript for an unscripted talk is via YouTube’s automatic subtitling function. But I’ve found it tricky to export these subtitles into a format that works in Excel and in particular to get the timecodes into a usable display.

Here’s the system I ended up using; it may be of use to others.

Working with subtitles on YouTube

First you need to upload your video to YouTube and set the language for automatic speech recognition. You’ll need a YouTube account, then go to Your Videos from the bars in the top lefthand corner or access directly from

  1. Upload video, set language, save as private.
  2. Edit subtitles from the Subtitle tab in the left menu: choose DUPLICATE and EDIT, then Show timecodes. Now you can play the video in order to correct any language errors from the automatic speech recognition process, and change any breaks if you wish. Then Save draft and PUBLISH

Now you have a transcript of your video which you can use identify the main sections of interest, and the timing breakdown for each string of words as displayed in the subtitles so you know how long each part takes.

Exporting subtitles for editing in Excel

  1. Still from the Subtitle page on YouTube Studio, hover over the three vertical dots after EDIT to the right of the list of subtitles to see more actions. Choose the srt option from the Download option.

2. Having downloaded your srt file, convert to csv (

3. Now open with LibreOffice. You should see each segment with start and finish timecodes and transcript in separate columns. (If I do this directly in Excel I get a presentation where some segments are spread over two rows and this creates problems later, in LibreOffice the two lines of text appear in the same row, and therefore with the same timecode.)

4. Check for line breaks. If you have text spread over two lines for a single start and finish time, then remove the line break. Here’s the procedure

  • From the Edit menu choose Search and Replace
  • Search for “\n” and set a single space as replacement. (Good luck on finding backslash on your keyboard – on my Macbook Air it’s alt-shift-forward slash)

5. Now you have a clean presentation which you can paste into Excel.

Converting milliseconds to minutes and seconds in Excel

The last hurdle is getting Excel to display the timecodes in minutes and seconds rather than milliseconds so you can see at a glance start and finish times, and calculate duration (i.e., finish minus start).

  1. Convert milliseconds to minutes and seconds as follows
  • divide by the number of seconds in 24 hours (86400000). If your start time is in cell B1, enter =B1/86400000 in cell C1, for example.
  • change the display format: in Format Cells choose Number => Custom format => [h]mm:ss

2. Now you can add extra columns to show Start (ms) Start (h:mm:s), Finish (ms) Finish (h:mm:s), and a difference in milliseconds(Finish minus Start), and finally a difference (h:mm:s) which converts the previous column.

3. This gives you a spreadsheet with one line per timestamp, start and finish times in minutes and seconds, and total time for each.

So now you can use your subtitle file from YouTube in Excel to select timed extracts and calculate playing time when editing your videos.

SHOUT4HE ebooks: higher education teaching with technology

The SHOUT4HE team is producing a set of ebooks drawing on different aspects of technology-mediated teaching in higher education contexts highlighted in this Erasmus+ project.

The three books focus on

  • the project’s recognition framework, which allows teachers to situate and reflect on their own practice along pedagogical and technological dimensions
  • the video practice examples recorded by SHOUT4HE partners in their own institutions, working with colleagues in a range of disciplines and with different levels of experience
  • communities of practice, or informal networks which help drive progress in HE teaching among teachers, instructional designers and teacher educators.

“Le CECR 2.0 suisse” : Autour du volume complémentaire

Frédérique Longuet et Claude Springer ont publié un livre Autour du CECR – Volume complémentaire (2018) : médiation et collaboration (2021) sur le volume complémentaire du CECRL

Cet ouvrage est en accès libre.

Résumé des auteurs

Le CECR/CV 2018 annonce une mise en question de certaines certitudes didactiques jugées dépassées voire erronées. La nécessité d’une rupture didactique s’est concrétisée au cours du processus de rédaction de la notion de médiation, piloté par North et Piccardo. Cette réorientation vers une prise en compte de la dimension sociale nous a semblé très intéressante dans la mesure où nous estimons depuis longtemps qu’une approche plus sociale, sous la forme de mise en projet des élèves, est plus que souhaitable à l’école.

Les réflexions des coordinateurs, North et Piccardo, autour de la médiation sociale peuvent avoir un effet positif et entraîner un changement pour une autre pédagogie de la classe de langues. Les changements souhaités nécessitent une nouvelle forme de formation des enseignants ainsi que de nouvelles expérimentations pédagogiques et des recherches d’un autre type. Forts de cette conviction, nous avons décidé de rédiger cet ouvrage dont le but est triple : expliciter la nouvelle orientation socioculturelle autour des notions de médiation et de collaboration ; proposer des déclinaisons pédagogiques pour une didactique de la Relation écologique et sociosémiotique ; et suggérer quelques pistes pour de nouvelles recherches en didactique des langues.

La didactique de la Relation s’intéresse à l’écosystème social dans sa globalité, dont les répertoires plurilingues font partie. Elle est écologique et sociosémiotique. Apprendre une langue complémentaire ne consiste pas uniquement à pouvoir faire sens avec des mots mais à décrypter et à transformer les nombreux réseaux sociosémiotiques du Tout-monde hyperconnecté. Ce que nous appelons réalité n’est en fait qu’une construction sociosémiotique, le résultat fluctuant de nos imaginaires.

Il s’agit pour nous d’ouvrir nos réflexions à l’importance des relations humaines, à la place des langages et de la pensée, c’est-à-dire d’accorder la place principale à la relation plus qu’à la communication, à la reliance et à l’apprenance plus qu’à la maîtrise de savoirs et de savoir-faire, fussent-ils numériques.

Numérique et enseignement-apprentissage des langues : Journée d’étude CLA-ALSIC 2021

Autour du numérique en langues

Les vidéos de la journée sont désormais disponible sur la chaîne YouTube du Centre de Linguistique Appliquée de l’Université de Franche-Comté.


Franck Amadieu (Université de Toulouse) – Vers une meilleure pédagogie pour un numérique plus utile

Luc Massou (Université de Lorraine) – Usage pédagogique des ressources éducatives libres (REL) : quelles tensions entre ouverture et didactisation des ressources numériques ?

Shona Whyte (Université Côte d’Azur) – L’écran et la classe de langue : théorie et pratiques de l’interaction dans la communication médiée par ordinateur

Laura Abou Haidar (Université de Grenoble Alpes) – L’oral à l’ère du numérique : enseigner et apprendre autrement ?

Nicolas Roland (Caféine. Studio & Université libre de Bruxelles) – Du dispositif pédagogique à l’expérience d’apprentissage : l’approche utilisateur·rice comme moteur de l’innovation

Christophe Reffay (Université de Franche-Comté) – De la pensée informatique à l’apprentissage des langues : une histoire à construire.

LaurenceSchmoll (Université de Strasbourg) – Les différentes dimensions du jeu numérique pour l’apprentissage des langues: état des lieux

Marie-Josée Hamel (Université d’Ottawa) – Un outil numérique pour optimiser les pratiques de rétroaction corrective écrite des enseignants de français langue seconde

Shannon Sauro (University of Maryland) – Online Fanfiction for Language Teaching and Learning

Sophie Othman (Université de Franche-Comté) – Explorer les formations comodales en langues