Attention to irregular verbs by beginning learners of German: An eye-movement study.

Aline Godfroid, Maren Uggen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


This study focuses on beginning second language learners' attention to irregular verb morphology, an area of grammar that many adults find difficult to acquire (e.g., DeKeyser, 2005; Larsen-Freeman, 2010). We measured beginning learners' eye movements during sentence processing to investigate whether or not they actually attend to irregular verb features and, if so, whether the amount of attention that they pay to these features predicts their acquisition. On the assumption that attention facilitates learning (e.g., Gass, 1997; Robinson, 2003; Schmidt, 2001), we expected more attention (i.e., longer fixations or more frequent comparisons between verb forms) to lead to more learning of the irregular verbs. Forty beginning learners of German read 12 German sentence pairs with stem-changing verbs and 12 German sentence pairs with regular verbs while an Eyelink 1000 recorded their eye movements. The stem-changing verbs consisted of six a ? ä changing verbs and six e ? i(e) changing verbs. Each verb appeared in a baseline sentence in the first-person singular, which has no stem change, and a critical sentence in the second- or third-person singular, which have a stem change for the irregular but not the regular verbs, on the same screen. Productive pre- and posttests measured the effects of exposure on learning. Results indicate that learners looked longer overall at stem-changing verbs than regular verbs, revealing a late effect of verb irregularity on reading times. Longer total times had a modest, favorable effect on the subsequent production of the stem vowel. Finally, the production of only the a ? ä verbs--not the e ? i(e) verbs--benefited from direct visual comparisons during reading, possibly because of the umlaut in the former. We interpret the results with reference to recent theory and research on attention, noticing, and language learning and provide a more nuanced and empirically based understanding of the noticing construct.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-322
Number of pages32
JournalStudies in Second Language Acquisition
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2013


  • noticing
  • attention
  • eye-tracking
  • verb morphology
  • German as a Foreign Language


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