June 2011
Baburhan Uzum, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA, baburhan@msu.edu, and
Bedrettin Yazan, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA, byazan@umd.edu

Baburhan Uzum
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI, USA

Bedrettin Yazan
University of Maryland
College Park, MD, USA

Recently, many studies have emphasized the significance of interaction in second language acquisition. Several studies have investigated cognitive variables such as working memory, attention, inhibition, and noticing (Gass, 1997; Mackey, Adams, Stafford, & Winke, 2010); many others focused on the social aspect of learning (Firth & Wagner, 1997; Lave & Wegner, 1991). After all, learning takes place with the coparticipation of all agents involved. In a recent study, Ellis and Sheen (2006) invited more research on sociopscyhological factors that may influence learners’ receptivity to corrective feedback. Motivation, in our point of view, is a good candidate for such research because it can influence learners’ receptivity to teachers’ correction and direct their attentional resources.


Teachers traditionally situate corrective feedback episodes in a meaningful context. Though this is effective for the purposes of communicative teaching, it conflicts with grammar teaching purposes. These types of interactions are laid out in initiation‒response‒follow-up sequences. Teachers provide the correction at the followup section where learners expect a comment on the content of their response. Students, however, may not expect a comment on form and might fail to see this correction. Philp (2003) argued that with recasts, the most common type of feedback used in language classrooms (Leeman, 2003), learners may not notice the gap between their utterance and the correction because of learners’ limited cognitive capacities. When learners’ attentional resources are engaged in the meaning, they may not notice the mismatch between their interlanguage and language provided in the corrective feedback.


Learners’ motivation in learning L2 is dictated by their interest in the culture (intrinsic motivation) and the advantages associated with the knowledge of a particular language (extrinsic motivation) (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Gardner, 1985). The theoretical framework of the present study was informed by Deci and Ryan’s self-determination hypothesis. The researchers offered a continuum to explain learners’ motivation in three categories:

(a) amotivation (learners are not motivated to act)

(b) extrinsic motivation (learners want to learn languages due to the advantages associated with such knowledge)

(c) intrinsic motivation (learners enjoy the language-learning process)


This study was carried out at the English Language Center of a Midwestern university. We investigated how learners (N = 13) with different types of motivation (high intrinsic/low intrinsic) responded to teachers’ corrective feedback. First, a motivation questionnaire (Noels, Pelletier, Clement, & Vallerand, 2000) was administered to explore learners’ motivational orientations. Because learners were all aware of the advantages of English language knowledge, they were considered somewhat extrinsically motivated. Therefore, we used their intrinsic motivation scores as a discriminating variable. We hypothesized that (a) learners with high intrinsic motivation will concentrate more on their errors to learn the correct forms and (b) learners with low intrinsic motivation may not be enthusiastic during the interaction and thus may not pay attention to teacher’s correction because of limited access to their attentional resources. Therefore, learners with high cognitive abilities might not use their actual potential because some psychological factors, such as objectives and reasons to learn, have not yet been fulfilled. We attempted to answer the research question: What is the relationship between the type/level of learners’ motivation and the uptake they produce?


The questionnaire was designed by Noels et al. (2000) and included seven factors: amotivation, external regulation, introjected regulation, identified regulation, knowledge, accomplishment, and stimulation. After the students were grouped,the classes were video-recorded for analyzing student-teacher interactions. Learners’ responses following corrective feedback were coded and analyzed.


The analysis of the questionnaire yielded two different groups (a) low intrinsic motivation (LIM) and (b) high intrinsic motivation (HIM). The mean scores are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Mean scores for each category
















Our first hypothesis that HIM learners will be more attuned to corrective feedback was not confirmed. Learners in the HIM group seemed responsive to semantic corrections through reformulations but not to form-focused ones. In the following excerpt with a HIM student, the teacher might be trying to clarify the meaning of the learner’s response and giving a recast to the tense error in the same turn. Because this is an overlapping correction where syntax and semantics are addressed at once, the student attends only to the semantic correction. The content is prioritized and the morpho-syntactic correction remains unanalyzed.

Excerpt 1 from a HIM student (after a quiz on a story)

1 Teacher: Mark, I watched you. You had many answers right. Why do you think you didn’t get a good grade on the quiz? (Initiation)

2 Student: Maybe I misunderstand (Response)

3 Teacher: Misunderstood the questions? (Clarification request)

4 Student: yeah (uptake)

5 Teacher: okay (teacher turns away) (Redirection)

6 Student: Oh no, the chapter! (Revised uptake)

7 The chapter? Okay, we’ll see now. (Follow up)

In the following excerpt, an HIM student fails to see the teacher’s correction on form and meaning, and seems to perceive teacher’s turn as an attempt to hear or understand the content of the previous turn. Student displays confidence and certainty in her response through falling intonation.

Excerpt 2 from a HIM student (grammar exercise)

1 Teacher: Catherine what does TY have? (question)

2 Student: When. (response with falling intonation)

3 Teacher: When or then? (question with rising intonation)

4 Student: When. (response with falling intonation)

5 Teacher: When I went to the supermarket to buy souvenirs. Well, it’s not perfect is it? Because there is a period there, so what’s better than when? (metalinguistic explanation with question)

6 Other students: Then. (response with falling intonation)

LIM learners did not show such attunement to either semantic or form corrections. Instead, they seemed to treat teacher responses as evaluation by an authority and accepted them as a default interaction strategy. Therefore, teacher-student interactions with LIM students unfolded in a less dialogic way than did those with HIM students. LIM learners responded to semantic and form-focused corrections through acknowledgments only.

Excerpt from an LIM student (talking about a short quiz)

1 Teacher: Why could he hide from the sun? Andy I saw your sentence, what did you say? (Initiation)

2 Student: He thought like the same landing. (Response)

3 Teacher: Okay. He could find somewhere to land. (Corrective feedback as follow up)

4 Student: [Nods] (Uptake)

5 Teacher: and do you want to add something Junk Yu? (Redirection)


The research findings indicate that the HIM group seemed to be attuned to semantic corrections. Given that these interactions are ideally naturalistic, the learners were concerned about conveying their message but not necessarily in the perfect form. Their tendency to continue the topic might be because of the intrusive nature of uptake in a natural conversation. Therefore, the HIM group chose to prioritize the successful maintenance of the interaction and to avoid any interruptions in the flow of a conversation unless their meaning was flawed. Because learners’ response after corrective feedback is believed to be useful for learning (Mackey et al., 2010), topic continuation as an alternative strategy, as displayed in this study, deserves further attention. From a pedagogical perspective, teachers should have the awareness that their questions and responses to students are perceived within the principles of social interaction. Further studies could look at the quality of corrective feedback and its interplay with other psycholinguistic variables that might determine learners’ receptivity to corrective feedback.


Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Instrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Ellis, R., & Sheen, Y. (2006). Reexamining the role of recasts in second language acquisition. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 28, 575-600.

Firth, A., & Wagner, J. (1997). On discourse, communication, and (some) fundamental concepts in SLA research. The Modern Language Journal, 81, 285-300.

Gardner, R. C. (1985). Social psychology and second language learning: The role of attitudes and motivation. London: Edward Arnold.

Gass, S. (1997). Input, interaction and the second language learner. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991) Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Leeman, J. (2003). Recasts and second language development: Beyond negative evidence. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 25, 37-63.

Mackey, A., Adams, R., Stafford, C., & Winke, P. (2010). Exploring the relationship between modified output and working memory capacity. Language Learning, 60(3), 501-533.

Noels, K. A., Pelletier, L. G., Clément, R., & Vallerand, R. J. (2000). Why are you learning a second language? Motivational orientations and self-determination theory. Language Learning, 50, 57-85.

Philp, J. (2003). Constraints on noticing the gap: Nonnative speakers' noticing of recasts in NS-NNS interaction. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 25, 99-126.

Baburhan Uzum is currently a doctoral student in second language studies at Michigan State University. His research interests include second language acquisition, language socialization, discourse analysis, and scholarship of teaching and learning.

Bedrettin Yazan is a doctoral student and teaching assistant in the Second Language Education and Culture program in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is currently teaching the course titled Pedagogy of Teaching ELLs.