CMC and Face-to-face Communication in L2 Learning

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Zehua Liu


Bhatia and Richie (2009), in their book chapter, compare computer-mediated communication (CMC) and face-to-face communication by analyzing how learners behave when they learn a language in these two modes. Studies on face-to-face communication (e.g., VanPatten, 1990) reveal that learners have a tendency to process meaning before form because human interaction is conducted in real time. Speakers have to attend to the form (i.e., the oral output) and the meaning of the verbal production simultaneously. Previous studies on working memory (Li, 1999; Maehara and Saito, 2007) reveal that there is a trade-off between the maintenance and processing of information, as both involve working memory. VanPatten (2004), in particular, pinpoints that processing second language (L2) input involves making form-meaning connections in real-time comprehension, an online task that takes place in the working memory. As such, L2 learners have less memory space to store new information in face-to-face communication, given that the working memory is used for processing input. In contrast, CMC is said to provide more opportunities for focus on form.

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