Noticing in L2 writing: Problem-solving strategies and individual differences

The qualitative research study investigated the ways L2 learners of English reflect on their use of English while completing a writing task and the strategies learners apply in order to resolve their language-related problems. Factors which might have some influence on the learners' noticing and problem-solving behaviour were explored.

Dr. Monika Geist

(Betreuung: Prof. Dr. Angela Hahn)


The study investigated the ways L2 learners of English reflect on their use of English while completing a writing task and the strategies learners apply in order to resolve their language-related problems. Factors which might have some influence on the learners' noticing and problem-solving behaviour were explored using a qualitative, inductive research approach involving the detailed analyses of ten participants. Think-aloud protocols and stimulated recall interviews were used to investigate learners' noticing while composing and their use of strategies. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted in order to analyze the learners' language learning background and preferences. The analysis was purposely inductive, deriving units of analysis and categories from the data rather than basing it on existing theories. At a later stage, the data-grounded analysis as compared to existing research, terminology and theories, and adapted where necessary.

The results of the study revealed three basic tendencies (called types for a better clarity in describing the results) in noticing and strategy use behaviour. Learners of the first type frequently reflected on their language use and effectively applied a wide range of strategies to resolve their problems. The second type also used strategies effectively but applied a low range of strategy types. These learners did not often encounter linguistic problems and their linguistic problems occurred only in a few basic areas such as lexis. The third type were learners who, while encountering different numbers and ranges of language-related episodes, preferred to act intuitively rather than using problem-solving strategies in order to resolve their language-related problems. The different noticing and strategy use profiles were linked to the characteristics of the learners. Learners of the first type all had differentiated views on the importance of communication or accuracy in writing and speaking.

Besides this, they exhibited two different sets of characteristics. The first subgroup was confident learners who were motivated to learn English and willing to invest some effort into learning English and other languages. The second subgroup considered learning English as an obligation and their English learning was strongly influenced by school. They were anxious learners with low communicative confidence who seemed to feel forced to reflect on their language use in order to avoid negative consequences. Learners of the second type also saw learning English as an obligation and were influenced by school in their English learning, but as confident learners, they found ways to handle the L2 effectively and to invest only as much effort as necessary. Learners of the third type exhibited a strong private influence on their English learning, combined with the motivation to learn English and other languages. Two of them had a clear preference for oral communication, linked to a less effective use of strategies in writing, whereas one learner used written and spoken English equally and at the same time demonstrated knowledge and effective use of strategies specific to writing.

This study complements other studies which were concerned with noticing or strategy use in L2 output, adding new insights concerning the types of language-related problems, the different problem-solving strategies, and the links between these and the learner profiles. Based on the results, possible implications for English language teaching are drawn, stressing the balance of communication and accuracy in English language teaching, and illustrating how the different tendencies found in this study could be considered in foreign language instruction.