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Production vs. Comprehension: Differences in Underlying Competences

  • Suzanne Flynn (a1)

In this paper empirical data are presented that demonstrate significant differences in the manner in which two commonly used experimental tasks evaluate developing linguistic competence in adult second language (L2) learners. Results indicate that production tests principally evaluate a learner's developing structural competence in the L2. On the other hand, comprehension tests provide a less direct measure of structural competence and are significantly influenced by pragmatic context.

Fifty-one adult Spanish speakers at three levels of ESL ability were tested in both their elicited imitation (production) and act-out (comprehension) of complex sentences that were structurally identical. The stimuli varied in terms of the pre- and post-posing of a subordinate adverbial when clause and in terms of the direction of pronoun anaphora (forward and backward). Results from the production test indicate a significant effect of directionality, i.e., a preference for forward pronouns in post-posed clauses at the intermediate level. Results from the comprehension test did not show a significant directionality constraint at any level. They did, however, demonstrate a significant effect due to the use of a biasing pragmatic lead. Such findings are comparable to those found in early first language acquisition (Lust, Loveland, & Kornet, 1980). Implications of these findings for experimental methodology are discussed.

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Studies in Second Language Acquisition
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