Studies in Second Language Acquisition


Explicit and Implicit Negative Feedback

An Empirical Study of the Learning of Linguistic Generalizations

Susanne Carrolla1 and Merrill Swaina1

a1 The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education


The relative effects of various types of negative feedback on the acquisition of the English dative alternation by 100 adult Spanish-speaking learners of English as a second language were investigated. Our objective was to determine empirically whether feedback can help learners learn the appropriate abstract constraints on an overgeneral rule. All subjects were trained on the alternation, which was presented in terms of a simple structural change. Subjects were divided into groups according to the type of feedback they received when they made an error. Specifically, upon making an error, Group A subjects were given explicit metalinguistic information about the generalization we hoped they would learn. Group B subjects were told that their response was wrong. Group C subjects were corrected when they erred, giving them a model of the response desired along with implicit negative evidence that their response was incorrect. Group D subjects, having made an error, were asked if they were sure about their response. The comparison group received no feedback.

(Received September 12 1991)