Interactions between L2 Instruction and L2 Difficulty: a Cognitive Perspective

Hannelore Simoens

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)


This study aims to investigate the link between L2 instruction and L2 difficulty from a cognitive perspective. It starts from the premise that the effect of instruction on L2 development is not invariable but depends on the type of instruction and the type of language feature, in interaction with the cognitive mechanisms involved in the SLA process. To this end, it builds upon and expands the findings of meta-analyses such as Norris & Ortega (2000) and Spada & Tomita (2010) by examining the effects of implicit and explicit form-focused instruction on the attention to and learning of easy and difficult L2 morphemes in an artificial language. It further holds that L2 difficulty is essentially determined by the salience of the language feature, because salience impacts on how learners interact with the input (Goldschneider & DeKeyser, 2001). Non-salient L2 features are more difficult to notice and hence more difficult to process and learn (Schmidt, 2001). The primary role of instruction is therefore to promote the noticing of non-salient L2 features so as to make them more easily available for subsequent processing and learning.

The study consists of two stages. To determine whether salience can explain L2 difficulty, I conduct a pilot study in which artificial L2 morphemes are created that differ in salience, as dictated by their perceptual, psycholinguistic, structural and experiential characteristics. L2 difficulty is behaviourally operationalised with the help of eye tracking as the quantity (measured by eye movements) and quality (measured by pupil dilation) of attention that is required to extract the various L2 morphemes from the input. It is assumed that non-salient morphemes demand more and deeper attention than salient ones for further processing to occur. Based on the results of the pilot study, four L2 morphemes that differ in degree of difficulty/salience are selected for the main study. In this main study, then, I investigate the effects of implicit and explicit form-focused instruction on the attention to (measured by eye movements and pupil dilation) and learning of (measured by implicit and explicit knowledge tests) easy and difficult L2 features.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2014
EditorsHannelore Simoens, Alex Housen
Place of PublicationBrussels
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2014
EventUnknown -
Duration: 24 Apr 2014 → …

Publication series

NameInstruction, Cognitive Processes & Complexity in SLA


Period24/04/14 → …

Bibliographical note

Hannelore Simoens & Alex Housen (VUB)


  • Instruction
  • Morphology
  • Attention
  • Second Language Acquisition
  • Eye Tracking


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