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Testing processability and effectiveness of computer-assisted language instruction: A longitudinal study of Arabic as asecond/foreign language

, Georgetown University, United States

Georgetown University . Awarded


This study investigated the claims which Pienemann's (1998) Processability Theory makes about developmental stages as constrained by a proposed speech processing hierarchy. Specifically the study aimed at testing two main claims: (1) that stages cannot be skipped through formal instruction and (2) formal instruction can be beneficial if it focuses on instruction from the stage immediately beyond which the L2er is currently at. Two types of structures, involving agreement of grammatical morphemes, were observed. These were identified as type 2 and type 3 structures. According to the proposed speech processing hierarchy, type 2 structures are claimed to be processable at stage 3 and type 3 structures at stage 4. While the study is primarily observational, it also includes an experimental component needed to further manipulate the presentation of the structures both in line with and in violation of the recommended sequence of the hierarchy, since the claim is held to be constant regardless of the timing of the presentation. Computer-assisted sessions were designed to control for this effect and, additionally, to obtain any evidence with respect to the mode's effectiveness. The production data of the participants (ten university students with zero background in Arabic, at the time receiving 6 weekly contact hours in Arabic) were gathered fortnightly for a school year. Additionally, debriefing questionnaires and result scores were gathered during and after the computer sessions. The data, quantitatively and qualitatively analyzed, revealed that the hypothesized stages according to speech processing constraints are untenable. In particular, six of the participants acquired Subject-Verb agreement (claimed to emerge at stage 4) before Noun-Adjective agreement (claimed to emerge at stage 3). The findings are particularly strong, because the participants were exposed to Noun-Adjective agreement before they were exposed to Subject-Verb agreement. L1 transfer role is suggested to instead account for the findings. The gains which appeared in the production of the experimental participants (who participated in the computer-assisted sessions) indicate that computer-assisted instruction is effective.


Alhawary, M.T. Testing processability and effectiveness of computer-assisted language instruction: A longitudinal study of Arabic as asecond/foreign language. Ph.D. thesis, Georgetown University. Retrieved February 17, 2019 from .

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