Studies in Second Language Acquisition


Nick C.  Ellis  a1 c1
a1 University of Michigan

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This paper considers how implicit and explicit knowledge are dissociable but cooperative. It reviews various psychological and neurobiological processes by which explicit knowledge of form-meaning associations impacts upon implicit language learning. The interface is dynamic: It happens transiently during conscious processing, but the influence upon implicit cognition endures thereafter. The primary conscious involvement in SLA is the explicit learning involved in the initial registration of pattern recognizers for constructions that are then tuned and integrated into the system by implicit learning during subsequent input processing. Neural systems in the prefrontal cortex involved in working memory provide attentional selection, perceptual integration, and the unification of consciousness. Neural systems in the hippocampus then bind these disparate cortical representations into unitary episodic representations. These are the mechanisms by which Schmidt's (1990) noticing helps solve Quine's (1960) problem of referential indeterminacy. Explicit memories can also guide the conscious building of novel linguistic utterances through processes of analogy. Formulas, slot-and-frame patterns, drills, and declarative pedagogical grammar rules all contribute to the conscious creation of utterances whose subsequent usage promotes implicit learning and proceduralization. Flawed output can prompt focused feedback by way of recasts that present learners with psycholinguistic data ready for explicit analysis. Other processes of acquisition from output include differentiation, analysis, and preemption. These processes of conscious construction in working memory underpin relationships between individual differences in working memory capacities and language learning aptitude. a

c1 Nick C. Ellis, English Language Institute, University of Michigan, 3134 TCF Building, 401 East Liberty Street, Ste 350, Ann Arbor, MI, 48104-2298; e-mail:


a Thanks to Rod Ellis for first suggesting that I try to write this and to the staff and students at Department of Applied Language Studies and Linguistics University of Auckland (2003), the TESOL Program Temple University Japan (2003), the Chester Language Development Reading Group, and the LOT winter school (2004) for helping me think it through. I am particularly grateful to Michel Paradis, Michael Swan, Karen Roehr, Anne Feryok, and Tamar Keren-Portnoy for pointing their giant biological cameras of consciousness at a prior draft, and for sharing their awareness with me in kindly and constructive fashion. I have learned a lot from it.