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12. Incidental and Intentional Learning


Subject Psycholinguistics » Language Acquisition

Key-Topics intentionality, learning

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405132817.2005.00013.x


There are two popular views on what it means to learn a second language. One view holds that it means months and even years of “intentional” study, involving the deliberate committing to memory of thousands of words (their meaning, sound, and spelling) and dozens of grammar rules. The other, complementary, view holds that much of the burden of intentional learning can be taken off the shoulders of the language learner by processes of “incidental” learning, involving the “picking up” of words and structures, simply by engaging in a variety of communicative activities, in particular reading and listening activities, during which the learner's attention is focused on the meaning rather than on the form of language. These popular views on intentional and incidental learning reflect, at best, only partially the ways in which these terms have been and are being used in the academic literature. Some empirical researchers attribute to them only a specific methodological meaning, in the context of laboratory-type learning experiments. Apart from this methodological sense, incidental and intentional learning have been given various interpretations, sometimes indistinguishable from two more widely used terms, namely implicit and explicit learning, respectively. There are virtually no experimental L2 grammar learning studies which are explicitly presented as “intentional” learning studies, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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