Awareness in child and adult language learning
In theories of second language acquisition, awareness tends to play an important role. While most SLA researchers acknowledge that languages can be learned implicitly to greater or lesser extent, most SLA researchers would subscribe to the view that more explicit attention leads to more learning and that awareness of form is desirable or even necessary in language learning, a view that has considerable implications for teaching second languages. In contrast, first language acquisition theories routinely assume that children learn language implicitly and awareness at learning is rarely topicalized. In short, when it comes to the role of awareness, there seems to be a huge gap between first and second language learning theories.
In this presentation, I would like to explore the extent to which the field of SLA has offered evidence that parts of language can be learned implicitly. In addition, I will present the results of a study that investigated the relationship between learning and awareness under incidental conditions. The results should make us sceptical about the scope of implicit learning. In a similar vein, I will review what we know about awareness in child language acquisition and present attempts to study this. The main conclusion here is that there is still a lot of ground to cover. In the final part of this presentation, I would like to discuss sampling biases in language research, consider the possibility that views on awareness in child and adult language learning may be skewed due to literacy-related research biases, and suggest that lifting these might reconcile the differences.