Investigating Linguistic Knowledge of a Second Language

by Runhan Zhang (Author)
©2015 Thesis 210 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 182


This book investigates several important issues revolving around the psycholinguistic modelling of language proficiency in terms of L2 linguistic knowledge, which is a topic of considerable interest and importance in SLA theories and language testing practice. Four tests including the Elicited Imitation Test, Timed Grammaticality Judgment Test, Untimed Grammaticality Judgment Test and Metalinguistic Knowledge Test are employed to examine the extent to which they provide separate measures of Chinese third-year university students’ L2 lingusitic knowledge. The role of four psychological factors – language analytic ability, language learning motivation, language anxiety and learner beliefs – in learners’ L2 linguistic knowledge is also explored.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Abbreviations
  • 1. Introduction
  • 1.1 Personal story of learning English and motivation for the current topic
  • 1.2 Organization of the book
  • Part I: Implicit and explicit linguistic knowledge
  • 2. Key concepts
  • 2.1 Consciousness in L2 learning
  • 2.2 Implicit and explicit language learning
  • 2.3 Implicit and explicit linguistic knowledge
  • 2.3.1 Neurolinguistic evidence for the distinction between implicit and explicit linguistic knowledge
  • 2.3.2 Different views of the relationship between implicit and explicit L2 knowledge
  • 3. Measuring implicit and explicit knowledge: Empirical studies
  • 3.1 Study 1: Han and Ellis’s (1998) study
  • 3.2 Study 2: R. Ellis’s (2005, 2009) study
  • 3.2.1 Validating study 1: validating the EIT as a measure of implicit knowledge (Erlam, 2006, 2009)
  • 3.2.2 Validating study 2: validating the timed and untimed grammaticality Judgment tests as measures of implicit and explicit knowledge respectively (Loewen, 2009)
  • 3.2.3 Validating study 3: validating a test of metalinguistic knowledge (Elder, 2009)
  • 3.3 Study 3: validating the battery of tests in R. Ellis (2005, 2009) as measures of implicit and explicit knowledge in a different language (Bowles, 2011)
  • 4. Measuring Chinese third-year university students’ implicit and explicit knowledge
  • 4.1 Research site and participants
  • 4.2 Instrumentation
  • 4.2.1 Target structures
  • 4.2.2 Tests of implicit and explicit knowledge
  • 4.3 Results and discussion of students’ linguistic knowledge
  • 4.3.1 Testing instruments of implicit and explicit knowledge
  • 4.3.2 The third year students’ linguistic knowledge structure
  • 4.3.3 Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3 linguistic knowledge
  • 4.3.4 Discussion of the three types of knowledge
  • Part II: Implicit, explicit linguistic knowledge and general language proficiency
  • 5. Psychololinguistic perspectives of general language proficiency in SLA
  • 6. Empirical studies of investigating the relationship between implicit/explicit knowledge and general language proficiency
  • 6.1 Han and Ellis’s (1998) study
  • 6.2 Elder and Ellis’s (2009) study
  • 7. Investigating the relationship between implicit/explicit knowledge and general language proficiency: What can Chinese university students tell us?
  • Part III: Implicit, explicit linguistic knowledge and individual learner differences
  • 8. Psychological factors and learners’ implicit/explicit knowledge
  • 8.1 Individual learner differences
  • 8.1.1 Language analytic ability
  • 8.1.2 Language learning motivation
  • 8.1.3 Foreign language anxiety
  • 8.1.4 Learner beliefs about foreign language learning;
  • 8.2 Exploring the role of individual difference factors in distinguishing Chinese third-year university students’ linguistic knowledge
  • 8.2.1 Instruments for investigating individual differences;
  • 8.2.2 Results and discussion of the role of individual learner differences in third-year students’ linguistic knowledge
  • 9. Critical thinking: What can Chinese third-year university students tell us?
  • 9.1 Introduction
  • 9.2 Summary of the main findings
  • 9.3 Theoretical contributions and pedagogical implications
  • 9.4 Limitations of the current study
  • 9.5 Suggestions for future research
  • 9.6 Conclusion
  • References
  • Appendix
  • Index


This book originated in my doctoral thesis on investigating linguistic knowledge of a second language and its relationship to general language proficiency and individual learner differences in an EFL context. It investigates an issue that is of considerable interest and importance in SLA theory and research, namely the composition of the mental representations of second language learners’ linguistic knowledge, and the measurement thereof. There are several theoretical perspectives on the representation of L2 linguistic knowledge; however, in order to test these theories it is imperative to have instruments that can reliably measure the constructs. Yet to date few empirical studies have attempted this. This book adds to the pursuit of that goal. It also investigates the relationship between learners’ linguistic knowledge and general language proficiency; and explores whether individual learner differences (IDs), such as language analytic ability, language learning motivation, language anxiety and learner beliefs can distinguish L2 learners in terms of their different types of linguistic knowledge.

This book has been written for all those interested in the concepts of implicit and explicit knowledge. Ellis, R. et al. (2009) wrote a book concerning these two concepts, entitled Implicit and explicit knowledge in second language learning, testing and teaching. Comparatively, the research project investigated in this book partially builds on Ellis et al.’s (2009) research into the measurement of implicit and explicit L2 knowledge, but it extends the work by investigating a different context (ESL vs. EFL). This is an important extension, as the way one learns a language is likely to determine the resulting knowledge representations. This book also extends the earlier research by exploring whether language proficiency can be conceptualized in terms of implicit and explicit knowledge. Finally, it fills the gap by exploring whether individual differences (ID) variables, such as motivation, anxiety, language learning beliefs and language analytic ability, play a part in learners’ inclination towards implicit and explicit acquisition and use. ← 9 | 10 →

I would like to express my appreciation to my supervisor and co-supervisor of my doctorate, Professor Rod Ellis and Dr. Rosemary Erlam. I also want to express my gratitude to Adrian Stähli, my enthusiastic commissioning editor at Peter Lang AG. I am blessed to have a supportive family: my parents, parents-in-law and sisters. My husband, Dianchao, deserves a special word of thanks. He has helped in many ways. ← 10 | 11 →


1. Introduction

There are two major goals of second language acquisition (SLA) research, namely to define and describe learners’ second language (L2) linguistic knowledge and to explain how this knowledge develops over time. An investigation of L2 linguistic knowledge (i.e., implicit and explicit knowledge) is crucial to understanding the nature of L2 acquisition. Generally speaking, implicit knowledge is intuitive knowledge enabling spontaneous language use without any reflection, whereas explicit knowledge is conscious and declarative knowledge used to monitor language production. As I am an L2 learner (i.e., English leaner) in a non-L2 speaking country, I would like to start with some personal comments about my experiences of learning an L2 (i.e., English) in China and the reasons for why I have chosen to examine the topic of implicit and explicit knowledge.

1.1 Personal story of learning English and motivation for the current topic

I have been learning English since I was in my primary school in the 1980s. English was not a mandatory course in primary school at that time. I learnt it because English began to be in vogue in China and many of my parents’ colleagues sent their children to study English. By and large, the English teaching methods in China were greatly influenced by the Grammar Translation Method at that time. In class, I was taught a large number of grammatical rules and vocabulary. After class, I needed to review what I had learnt in class and to try to memorize the new words by writing them down repeatedly. Then English became a compulsory course in my junior high school. However, the teaching and learning methods still emphasized grammatical rules, vocabulary and ← 13 | 14 → reading. Very few opportunities were given for speaking and listening. I was successful in studying English as reflected by my high scores in the examinations. I continued learning English until the end of my senior high school when I entered university.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (November)
psycholinguistic modelling proficiency lingusitic knowledge motivation anxiety
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 210 pp., num. tables

Biographical notes

Runhan Zhang (Author)

Runhan Zhang did her MA and PhD in Applied Lingusitics at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, U.K and the University of Auckland, New Zealand, respectively. She is now a lecturer in the School of Foreign Studies at Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing, China


Title: Investigating Linguistic Knowledge of a Second Language
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214 pages