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The Cognitive Turn of Contrastive Analysis: Empirical Evidence

Irit Kupferberg
Levinsky College of Education, English Department, Israel L2 learners often notice input which is frequent, functional and perceptually salient. Frequency, functionality and salience can be induced by instruction. One possible source of salience is contrast-dependent teacher-induced salience which is defined via contrastive analysis. In an experiment conducted with 137 intermediate FL learners, Kupferberg and Olshtain (1996a) showed that contrastive metalinguistic input (CMI) facilitated the acquisition of difficult target structures. The present study partially replicates this experiment to test the effect of CMI on the acquisition of grammatical aspect in English by 57 English teachers and student teachers, advanced L2 learners, who were able to recognise the structure, but avoided production. The results of the two experiments are interpreted within a cognitive framework of L2 acquisition as an indication that the provision of CMI may enhance the production levels of difficult target structures.

Recent L2 studies foreground the centrality of attention and noticing in L2 acquisition, and provide empirical evidence that explicit instruction may engage the learners attention and make them notice input features (Schmidt, 1990). Learners notice L2 features, or are induced to notice them, by instruction in different learning conditions (Robinson, 1997) when they comprehend and produce the target language. One source of teacher-induced salience which has recently come to the fore is contrast-dependent salience (James, 1996b, 1998). Kupferberg and Olshtain (1996a) tested the effect of such salience in an experiment with 137 intermediate foreign-language learners, and showed that instruction which induces structural and functional metalinguistic salience on the basis of contrastive analysis (CA) (Lado, 1957) of the learners L1 and L2, facilitates the acquisition of difficult L2 forms. The study re-evaluated CA in cognitive terms compatible with recent developments in L2 acquisition. The present study partially replicates Kupferberg and Olshtains study (I996a) to test the effect of contrastive metalinguistic input (CMI) on the acquisition of grammatical aspect in English by advanced L2 learners.

A Cognitive Framework for Contrastive Linguistic Input

Attention, a central concept in most cognitive information-processing models, has been recently defined in L2 studies (de Graaff, 1997; Robinson, 1995; Schmidt, 1994a, 1994b; Tomlin & Villa, 1994). Attention enables the learner to select information and activate it before it is stored in long-term memory. Robinson (1995) reviews current theory and research into the nature of the interface between attention and memory during information processing, and defines the terms noticing, attention and memory in L2 acquisition. The noticing hypothesis (Schmidt, 1990) establishes a causal relation between
0965-8416/99/03 0210-13 $10.00/0 LANGUAGE AWARENESS 1999 I. Kupferberg Vol. 8, No. 3&4, 1999


The Cognitive Turn of Contrastive Analysis


linguistic input and subsequent L2 acquisition. Schmidt defines noticing as attending to specific input features. Input which is attended to and noticed becomes intake. Robinson (1995, 1997) provides evidence that noticing enhances the subsequent encoding of the noticed input in long-term memory, and redefines noticing as detection and rehearsal, or activation, in short-term memory prior to encoding in long-term memory and following the allocation of attention. Robinson also emphasises that noticing is not sufficient for L2 acquisition to occur, and what is noticed may be rehearsed in short-term memory only temporarily, then subsequently lost (Robinson, 1997: 76). Krashen (1981, 1982, 1985, 1994) does not view noticing as conducive to L2 acquisition. He claims that L2 acquisition is implicit, and results in implicitly acquired knowledge which can be used in natural performance. The conscious process of noticing, associated with explicit learning, results in explicitly learned knowledge, which cannot be used in natural performance. Robinson (1997) provides empirical evidence that supports the noticing hypothesis and counters Krashens dual system model. Input enhancement, or induced input salience (Sharwood Smith, 1993) was proposed as a safer alternative to the polysemous construct consciousness raising (Schmidt, 1994b). Induced input salience comprises teacher- or textbook-induced linguistic input which can be manipulated by instruction. Recent studies show that explicit instruction which involves input enhancement often engages the learners attention in both comprehension (Doughty, 1991; Ellis, 1995; Kupferberg & Olshtain, 1996a; VanPatten & Cadierno, 1993; Lightbown, 1998) and production (Swain & Lapkin, 1995) based tasks. Swain and Lapkin emphasise that production tasks are more successful in engaging advanced learners attention and effecting noticing in comparison with comprehension tasks. However, this raises further complications, as the definition of L2 comprehension and production is difficult because these processes constantly interact with each other when learners attempt to communicate in L2 (Ringbom, 1992). In addition, the two processes are influenced by cognitive and affective learner-dependent (Gardner & MacIntyre, 1992, 1993; Robinson, 1995, 1997), and environment-dependent (Ellis, 1994; Ringbom, 1992) factors. Laufer and Eliasson (1993) argue that noticing is also the key to explaining limited production, or complete avoidance (Schachter, 1974) (i.e. a set of strategies used by L2 learners to overcome communication difficulties). Like Schachter they argue that avoidance should be distinguished from ignorance. However, in order to establish that a learner avoids using an L2 form, they claim, one has to establish first that this form has been noticed. If this criterion is not met, it means that the learner simply does not know the target language form, and it is a case of ignorance rather than avoidance. Laufer and Eliasson do not define clearly what acquisition means, nor how production and comprehension are related. Kupferberg (1996) studies the connection between recognition and production levels of successful and unsuccessful recognizers, and defines success as the ability to recognise all the forms. The term recognition rather than comprehension indicates that participants were requested to identify morphological and syntactic constructions presented as discrete items in a list to ensure maximum control over the measured variables.


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The results show that successful recognizers produced more target forms than unsuccessful ones, and therefore Kupferberg tentatively concludes that the definition and measurement of avoidance, or limited production, should incorporate the recognition level of the learner. One source of teacher-induced salience associated with noticing is contrastive metalinguistic input (CMI) which is defined by means of contrastive analysis (James, 1996a, b, 1998). CMI can be defined as teacher-induced salience which foregrounds differences between the learners L1 and L2 which have been established as areas of difficulty in studies independent of CA (Kupferberg & Olshtain, 1996a). Contrastive analysis (Lado, 1957) of the structure of two languages is a technique which was said to enable one to predict problems encountered or to explain errors made by L2 learners. CA was criticised on empirical, theoretical and pedagogical grounds (Ellis, 1994; James, 1980). The attack on CA focused on its predictive and explanatory claims and its behaviouristic-structuralistic rationale. James (1996b) redefines CA in cognitive terms as a process which takes place when two languages come into contact in the bilingual brain (James, 1996b: 143). This process often results in metalinguistic generalisations about the target language, some of which may be erroneous. Several empirical studies show that explicit instruction which induces input salience, and engages the learners attention in comprehension-based tasks (Ellis, 1995) is beneficial to grammar learning (Doughty, 1991; Kupferberg, 1995; VanPatten & Cadierno, 1993). Kupferberg and Olshtain (1996a) provide empirical evidence that metalinguistic contrastive input (CMI) focusing attention on important differences between the two languages via recognition tasks facilitates intermediate learners grammar acquisition in comparison with instruction which lacks this focus, and consists of inductive presentation and communicative tasks. In an experiment with 137 participants, Kupferberg and Olshtain (1996a) assigned a new role to CMI which is compatible with recent developments in L2 grammar acquisition research. In this study, CA was used for the definition of salient input which may assist L2 learners. CA conducted between the target structures in Hebrew and English (Kupferberg, 1995) resulted in the definition of structural and functional CMI. CMI comprised statements which clearly summarised L1L2 differences and similarities, and focused on the form and function of two difficult constructions. Difficulty was defined on the basis of previous studies independent of CA. Data collection was conducted via controlled recognition and production tasks. Recognition and production tasks measured the participants ability to identify and use the functions of the target structures (i.e. compound nouns and relative clauses) in naming and definition tasks, respectively (Biber, 1988). The results of Kupferberg and Olshtain (1996a) support two independent theoretical claims about L2 acquisition. They support Selinkers claim (1992) that L2 learners often conduct a cognitive inter-lingual comparison, or some sort of CA between the linguistic form they have noticed in the input, and knowledge of their native language. Therefore, instruction which provides CMI may assist the learner in conducting an L1L2 comparison, and arriving at the correct L2 generalisation. Furthermore, the study locates this cognitive comparison in the

The Cognitive Turn of Contrastive Analysis


rehearsal or activation of input in short-term memory (Robinson, 1995), which takes place after the input was detected by the learner and before it is stored in long-term memory. Following Selinker (1992) and Robinson (1995), Kupferberg and Olshtain (1996a) define an L1L2 comparison within a model of attention and memory in L2 acquisition as a conceptually-driven activity conducted in short-term memory between the specific input to which the learners are exposed and the knowledge (including L1 knowledge) stored in their long-term memory. The present study partially replicates the former by testing the effect of CMI on the acquisition of aspect in English by advanced learners, English teachers and student teachers, native speakers of Hebrew, who were able to comprehend the form before the experiment, but avoided production. It also remedies a limitation of the former study (i.e. the use of highly controlled measurement tasks, such as recognition and production of discrete decontextualised items) by using narrative tasks which constitute a more natural and appropriate context for the production of aspect markers than discrete-item tasks.

Temporality in Personal Stories

Personal stories show that we do not record reality, but rather construct our own versions of it. Thus when teachers tell professional stories, they impose order on the unpredictable classroom experience (Kagan, 1992). Telling stories is also conducive to professional development (Ben Peretz, 1995; Elbaz, 1983). Recent studies provide evidence showing how stories are reconstructed as generalised professional statements and organising metaphors in spoken and written narrative discourse (Kupferberg & Green, 1998; Kupferberg & Olshtain, 1996b, 1998; Olshtain & Kupferberg, 1998). Polanyi (1989) defines personal stories as specific, affirmative past time reports about a series of events at specific unique moments in a unique past time world. The temporal dimension of personal stories is expressed by tense and aspect, but each is concerned with time in different ways. Tense foregrounds main-line events, whereas aspect constitutes commentary background (Berman & Slobin, 1994). Tense and aspect are expressed by grammatical marking of the verb (e.g. affixes, vowel alternation, and auxiliaries), and by lexical items (e.g. verbs, adverbials, adjectives) (Comrie, 1976). Past and present tenses are typical features of personal stories in English and Hebrew (Berman & Slobin, 1994) and other tense languages. These tenses grammaticalise realis, or the discourse of past events, whereas the future tense, conditionals and negative forms pertain to irrealis, or the discourse of the unreal and hypothetical (Fleischman, 1990). Narrators use the past tense when specific past events are told, and they often shift from past to present to create a dramatic effect (Georgakopoulou, 1994). Grammatical and lexical aspect mark temporal background in personal stories (Berman & Slobin, 1994). English has grammatical and lexical aspect. There are two grammatical aspect constructions in English: perfect and progressive. Both take the form of an auxiliary combined with the main verb. Perfect aspect indicates anteriority. It marks one event as having occurred prior to another, for which it constitutes a temporally backgrounded event, and so


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departs from the normal sequence of the unfolding plot (Berman & Slobin, 1994: 142). Adult Americans often use simple past tense in many contexts where British speakers require a perfect form, and in both varieties past perfect forms occur in written narratives (Berman & Slobin, 1994; Biber, 1988). Lexical marking of aspect in English is achieved by means of particles, verbs and adverbials. The personal story in Example 1 was written by a native speaker of American English. It illustrates the temporal dimensions (i.e. tense and grammatical aspect) of personal stories in English. The story was divided into main and subordinate clauses (Quirk et al., 1985), and perfect aspect clauses are underlined. Example 1 Temporal dimensions of a personal story in English 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. This happened to me last Friday on the way to the gym. I was walking slowly thinking about a problem that had recently happened at work. All of a sudden, a woman on the street asked me to help her put on her earrings. This was strange because no one had ever asked me to do that before. I noticed that instead of hands she had two artificial limbs. I really wanted to help her, but I had not taken my glasses with me that afternoon, so I apologised and continued walking, thinking the whole way about this miserable woman.

Simple past tense clauses 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17 and 18 foreground the main events in this personal story. Clauses 2, 3, 4, 9, 15 and 19 express background information related to the main events. The past progressive clauses 2, 3 and 19 illustrate the function of past progressive (i.e. focus on the internal incomplete structure of the situation), and 4, 9 and 15 illustrate the past perfect function (i.e. establishing anteriority). Modern Hebrew has a three-tense system (i.e. present, past and future (Berman, 1978), and aspect marking is lexical. Example 2 presents the Hebrew glossed translation of clauses 19 of the English story. Example 2 Temporal dimensions of a personal story in Hebrew 1. Ze kara beyom ii baderex leiur hitamlut to lesson gym It happen (v, it, pasr) on day Friday on the way It happened last Friday on my way to the gym lesson

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walk+I (v, past)

slowly(adv, aspect)

I walked slowly





Thinking about something 4. ekara

that+happen(v,it, past)

to me

at work

that had happened to me at work 5. pitom raiti ia.

Suddenly see+I (v,past) woman

Suddenly I met a woman 6. ebiksa

who+ask+she (v, past)


who asked me 7. laazor la

to help to her

to help her 8. laanod

to put on




the earrings

put on her earrings 9. habakaa

The request

be+it (v, past)


The request was strange 10. meolam

Never (adv, aspect)


ask+they (v, past)


I had never been asked 11. laasot davar

to do thing


to do such a thing All the clauses in Example 2 are in the past tense. Clauses 5, 6, 7, and 8 foreground two of the main events. The other past tense clauses provide temporal background information. Progressive aspect is marked by an adverbial (leat, slowly, clause 2) which indicates that the situation is incomplete. Perfect aspect is marked by an adverb (meolam, never clause 10) which establishes a retrospective view, or a flashback. In clause 4 the retrospective view is not marked explicitly by lexical means, but it is understood from the context of the story. The present study compared the effect of CMI and explicit L2-focused metalinguistic instruction on the acquisition of past perfect forms in English by advanced L2 learners, native speakers of Hebrew. Bearing in mind the facilitative effect attributed to CMI in the acquisition of difficult grammatical structures (Kupferberg & Olshtain, 1996a), we expected that CMI, which shows contrastively how Hebrew and English establish a retrospective view in a personal story, would be more conducive to the acquisition of past perfect forms, than mere L2-focused metalinguistic input. We hypothesised that the experi-


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mental group would comprehend and produce more past perfect forms in comparison with the control group.

Participants Our sample consisted of 59 women, attending the second year of a two-year teacher-training programme in a college and a university located in central Israel. Most of the participants had already completed their BA in English Literature, or Linguistics, and were in-service English teachers. Using the book of random numbers, we allocated half of the college students and the university students to the experimental (n=29) and control (n=30) groups, respectively. T-tests indicated comparable background variables such as age, English proficiency, other languages spoken, years of English study and teaching experience. Before the experiment started, both groups had studied narrative elements (Labov, 1972), including temporal dimensions expressed by past and present tenses and progressive aspect. They did not study past perfect. Instruments Proficiency was measured by three tasks (i.e. writing, reading comprehension and a cloze) administered to both groups a month before the experiment began. The other variables were measured via a self-reported background questionnaire. The choice of narrative tasks for instruction and measurement was guided by two assumptions: personal stories are ubiquitous in teachers discourse, and teachers tend to respond to narrative discourse by producing their own personal stories (Mattingly, 1991). In view of these assumptions, we expected that participants motivation and involvement would be high. The personal stories used for L2-focused instruction and measurement tasks were written by native speakers of English. The stories were edited by a professional translator, a native speaker of American English. Subsequently, two raters, native speakers of American English acquainted with narrative analysis but not involved in this study, evaluated the appropriate use of past perfect forms in the stories (inter-rater reliability: r = 0.98). The raters and the translator pointed out that past perfect clauses seemed natural in the written edited version of the story, but could also be replaced by past tense forms. Measurement and instruction were conducted via L2 narrative tasks because the narrative format creates appropriate (but not obligatory) and natural contexts for the use of past perfect. Appropriate natural context was defined as a narrative clause which enables the narrator to depart from the normal sequence of the story-line to create a retrospective view on the complicating action. Measurement was conducted via comprehension and production tasks which measured the ability of the participants to comprehend and produce the target form in personal stories. The comprehension tasks instructed the participants to circle past perfect forms which established a retrospective view on past events. The production task measured the ability of participants to produce retrospective backtracking from the story-line by means of past perfect forms. Participants were instructed to write a story describing an unforgettable professional or personal experience. The instructions did not relate to background actions.

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Participants scores were the ratio between the number of past perfect clauses and the total number of clauses in the story. This was a necessary step because narrators total number of clauses and background clauses often vary. The comprehension and production tasks were successfully piloted with a group of native speakers of English (N = 20) and advanced English learners whose native language is Hebrew (N = 20).The pilot showed that advanced learners both comprehended and produced lexical past perfect and lexical and grammatical past progressive, but avoided the production of grammatical past perfect as anteriority markers. Procedure The experiment was conducted in the course of five consecutive 45-minute discourse analysis lessons taught in 19951996 in both institutions by the same lecturer. Measurements were conducted in the first (time 1) and fifth (time 2) lessons. Instruction and the experimental intervention took three lessons. The questionnaire, the comprehension and production tasks were administered in time 1. In time 2, only the production task was administered, because participants were able to comprehend all the past perfect forms in time 1 narrative task. Supplemental instruction was conducted in six stages. The experimental intervention comprising MCI was supplied to the experimental group in stage 6 and consisted of two tasks. The six stages are described below. In stage 1, participants were asked to circle past perfect forms. In stage 2, they reviewed the form (i.e. auxiliary have combined with past participle) and defined its function in the story (i.e. establish a retrospective view along the story-line). In stage 3, the teacher told the class an unusual personal story in order to motivate the participants to make their own narrative contribution. In stage 4, participants were divided into groups of four or five, and they were instructed to retrieve unusual personal episodes from memory and narrate them to other group members. In stage 5, participants chose the most unusual story. In stage 6, these unusual stories were told to the class and narrative elements and grammatical and lexical aspect markers (including anteriority markers) were identified and discussed. Stage 6 was conducted in two lessons. In the second lesson the experimental and control groups in each class were separated, and each group met to complete the narration of the unusual stories chosen in stage 5. The experimental intervention was administered to the experimental group on this occasion. The experimental tasks (i.e. tasks 6a and 6b) were administered in a lockstep student grouping. The experimental participants were instructed to listen to the unusual stories and jot down clauses which express a retrospective view adopted from a past time point. Task 6a, a translation task, instructed participants to translate the clauses which they had jotted down into Hebrew. In task 6b the lecturer first attempted to elicit L1L2 differences from the participants, and then she clearly summarised structural and functional differences via metalinguistic statements in English. Table 1 defines the type of tasks which were assigned to the experimental and control groups.


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Table 1 The type and time allotment of instruction given to the experimental (n = 29) and control (n = 30) groups
Instruction 1. Detecting anteriority markers in a narrative format 2. Form and function review 3. Listening to the teachers story 4. Group formation and task instructions 5. Group members tell unusual stories and choose the most unusual one 6. Stories are told to the class. Narrative and temporal elements are detected and discussed A translation task MCI Time (minutes) Experimental About 7 About 6 About 4 About 4 About 20 2 lessons

Control About 7 About 6 About 4 About 4 About 20 2 lessons

About 8 About 5

Data analysis Qualitative and quantitative data analysis of 118 personal stories (produced by participants before and after the experiment at time 1 and 2) was conducted. Following Picas target-like use analysis (Pica, 1983, 1984), we requested two English teachers, native speakers of English, who were not involved in the study itself, to detect past perfect forms in appropriate and ungrammatical contexts. Each story was assigned two scores (i.e. the number of appropriate and ungrammatical past perfect forms). Inter-rater reliability was calculated by correlation between the evaluation of the two raters. The reliability coefficient was very high (r = 0.98). Then, the ratio between the frequency of past perfect forms and the total number of clauses in each story was computed.

Qualitative analysis showed that participants used past or past perfect forms in appropriate contexts. No past perfect forms were supplied in ungrammatical contexts. Table 2 presents means and standard deviations of past perfect production at times 1 and 2. In order to compare the two groups, analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) with past perfect production as the dependent variable was conducted. Past perfect production means at time 1 were the covariate. This was a necessary step because
Table 2 Past perfect production means and standard deviations at times 1 and 2 of the experimental (n = 29) and control (n = 30) groups
Experimental SD 1.57 3.64 Control SD 0.75 1.34

M Time 1 Time 2

M 2.50 3.46

1.30 1.76

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the experimental groups production mean at time 1 was higher than the control groups. Analyses of covariance were also conducted for other aspect clauses (i.e. lexical past perfect, and grammatical and lexical past progressive) with time 1 production means as the covariate. Following Benferronis adjustment for multiple analyses, alpha level was set to 0.0125 because four ANCOVAs were performed. The results of the first ANCOVA are presented in Table 3. The other three ANCOVAs showed that there were no significant differences at the 0.05 level between the means of the experimental and control groups. Table 3 shows that the experimental groups production mean of past perfect forms (see Table 2) was significantly higher than the control groups, when the effect of time 1 was controlled by the ANCOVA (see Table 3). Therefore, we concluded that the experimental group produced more past perfect forms than the control group in time 2.
Table 3 ANCOVA results for the past perfect production means
Source Covariate (time 1) Group (G) S within-group error
Note: S = subjects; p < 0.0125

df 1 1 56

MS 229.66 39.58 730

F 4.06* 5.42*

The results of the present study are interpreted as an indication that advanced English learners, native speakers of Hebrew, benefited from MCI and improved their production level. The control groups production patterns in our study also show gains, a finding which seems to weaken our claim. These gains can, however, be explained by the L2-focused instruction which both groups received. Yet, the experimental group produced more anteriority markers at time 2. The production difference suggests that CMI concerning explicit differences and similarities between the languages did, in fact, increase the production level of a difficult grammatical structure. We use the term difficult because before the experiment, participants (i.e. English teachers and student teachers) were able to comprehend the form, but avoided production. The present study did not measure long-term gains. However, in view of the results of the present study and the former one (Kupferberg & Olshtain, 1996a), one could tentatively conclude that both intermediate and advanced learners may have benefited from the provision of MCI comprising structural and functional metalinguistic statements and improved their production levels of difficult target language structures in written narrative discourse. Therefore, MCI can be regarded as a production facilitator. We interpret the results of the two studies as an indication that MCI supplied via metalinguistic statements and comprehension tasks induced salience which drew the learners attention to L1L2 differences, made them notice the differences (detect the MCI and rehearse or activate them in short-term memory) (Robinson, 1995). The L1-L2 comparison did not result in loss of the detected


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input (Robinson, 1997), but rather contributed to retention in short- term memory. In the former study (Kupferberg & Olshtain, 1996a), the L1L2 comparison may have resulted in the formulation of L2 rules, which were subsequently stored in long-term memory. It is possible that the advanced learners in the present study benefited from CMI in a different way. They may have retrieved an L2 rule from long-term memory, activated (or rehearsed) it in short-term memory (Robinson, 1995), reformulated it with the help of the explicit and facilitative metalinguistic component provided by instruction, and then restored the rule (McLaughlin, 1990) with the newly added function of grammatical anteriority markers within the narrative format. Future research could test this interpretation empirically by measuring long-term gains. As for avoidance, evidence from both studies indicates that the definition of avoidance should incorporate the comprehension level of learners. In the first study, intermediate successful form recognizers were better form producers than unsuccessful ones. In the present study, advanced learners who were able to comprehend the forms before the study had started, but avoided production, improved their production level. We tentatively conclude that in order to establish that a learner avoids using an L2 form, one has to establish first that the form was partially acquired (i.e. the learners were able to comprehend it). The empirical evidence described in this article has practical implications. First, intermediate and advanced learners can benefit from contrastive metalinguistic instruction of grammatical structures. This analytic component does not replace experiential content-focused instruction (Allen et al., 1990), but should be incorporated into the former as metalinguistic contrastive instruction. Finally, grammar instruction may benefit from the use of authentic texts (e.g. personal stories) in comparison with discrete item lists, at all stages of the grammar lesson (Ur, 1988). Acknowledgment This study was supported by a grant provided by the Committee for the Advancement of Research at Levinsky College of Education. I extend my appreciation to Izhak Gilat, Alex Grossu, Yael Katzir and Hayuta Regev for their constructive comments on earlier versions of this article. Correspondence Any correspondence should be directed to Dr Irit Kupferberg, The English Department, Levinsky College of Education, P.O.B 48130, Tel Aviv, 61480, Israel ( References
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