The case for input and interaction in an ESL program.

As mentioned in a previous post, proficiency in language acquisition, for ESL and other languages, is gained not by understanding the structure of the language, but by the quantity and quality of input and interaction. There is solid consensus that the first major cause of language development is comprehensible input (Doughty and Long 2003). In addition, Long’s (1996) Interaction Hypothesis claims that interaction is a crucial part of acquisition. Thus, the success of ESL instruction depends on how much input it provides, and how many opportunities for interaction it gives the ESL learner.

A second factor which has been shown to contribute to the development of language is that of comprehensible output (Swain, 1985). Just as interaction increases the comprehensibility of input for a given ESL learner, so does a learner’s attempts to produce language that is comprehensible to others contribute to the language acquisition process. Recently, Swain (1995) has claimed that as learners communicate, they focus on the forms and structures of the language in more detail. For this reason, ESL language instruction that involves communicative interactions is widely considered to be the most efficient way to develop language skills (Bygate, Skehan, and Swain, 2001; Lightbrown and Spada, 1999; Swain, Brooks, and Tocalli-Beller, 2002; Hall and Walsh, 2002).

Input and Interaction in TALL

Comprehensible Input

TALL provides comprehensible input to ESL learners in a variety of ways. These include video and audio segments of English speakers performing real-world tasks, and video and audio of presentations and monologues. Increasing the comprehensibility of the input is done using visuals, pre-listening activities, the introduction of key vocabulary, showing the text of audio and video segments, and translations of important words. TALL regularly checks ESL learner comprehension with activities that require verbal and non-verbal responses.


In the TALL ESL classroom, large amounts of input are provided by the teacher and by pair work and small group interactions. Interactive activities with peers and teachers require learners to demonstrate comprehension, and any problems can be immediately noticed and resolved in the process of communication.

Comprehensible Output

Opportunities for producing language are provided largely in the classroom segment of  TALL’s ESL system. Through pair work, small group interaction, one-on-one practice with the teacher, simulations and outside assignments, ESL learners interact and engage in meaningful communication. Reading and writing exercises also provide opportunities for receiving input and producing language. To the degree that ESL learners participate fully, they will have many opportunities in each lesson to produce the language, which leads to a more confident learner and more effective language acquisition

Adapted from “The TALL Language System: An Integrated, Research-Based Approach to ESL Instruction”, by Dr. C. Ray Graham, and Dr. Kent Parry, both of Brigham Young University. Used with permission. Receive a free copy of the complete document!

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