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Exposure and focus on form

Module One | Background to language learning

Exposure and focus on form: why are they important?

Throughout time there have been studies done on how people learn foreign languages. According to experts’ recent findings, one method that people use to study a foreign language is by exposure to that language. This means hearing or reading the language all around us without studying it.  The experts say that when we are exposed to a language, we pick it up. This means that we study it and it enters our system without us realising it. This is how children normally learn their first language.

Also, to learn a foreign language, not only exposure but also focus of attention on the form of the language is important. This means that we need to focus on how the words are pronounced or written, the formation of the grammar and how it is used, the form and the meaning of vocabulary. The experts say that we must use the language as much as possible in our daily lives to communicate with others too.

Exposure and focus on form:


Listed 1-5 are statements regarding language learning which need to be completed. Do this for each statement by selecting the right answer from A, B or C.

  1. The team of students who usually gain most from picking up a language is
    (A) Children under 5
    (B)Teenagers from 15-19 years old
    (C)People who are over the age of 20

  2. Exposure to the correct language level aids students to:
    (A) Check and keep track of their own progress.
    (B) Pick up more language.
    (C) Increase their interaction.

  3. A silent period is:
    (A) A time used by students to do written work.
    (B) A time students use to process the language.
    (C) A time for students to study the language.

  4. Picking up a language involves
    (A) Careful studying of the grammar.
    (B) Listening only to exercises which are language-focused.
    (C) Learning it only by hearing or reading.

  5. When focusing on the form of the language
    (A) We talk with other classmate
    (B) We use audio cassettes and videos to listen to.
    (C)We concentrate on accuracy and use.

How do people acquire a foreign language?


There are many researches that have been done on ways in which people learn a foreign language. According to research, there are three main ways that we use to do this. They are:

  1. We acquire the language (pick it up). This takes some time. In order to learn a language thoroughly, we must be exposed to that language so that we can hear and read a great deal and a great variety of it. The language we are exposed to needs to be interesting, not too hard but challenging enough. It takes a while for us to listen to and read pieces of language until we are ready to start using them. This is called a silent period.
  2. Interaction with others is another way to learn a language. It means using the language to understand people and to convey our feelings and ideas to them. It also means making sense of what we say to other people who will let us know by showing us whether or not they have understood us. If the other person does not understand us, we must attempt communication again using other language until we achieve what we wanted to do.
  3. According to research, students who are learning a foreign language must concentrate on form, i.e. focussing on language. For example, they need to be able to identify, work with and practice the language which they must use in order to communicate with others.

Nerd baby says ...​

According to experts recent findings, the best way for people to learn a foreign language is not by using the grammar-translation method (learning grammar and translating) or by practising often until we make habits which is known as the behaviourist or structuralist approach. It is not even by communicative approach (communicating). The best way that people learn a language is by acquiring it, interacting, communicating and paying attention to form. However, there is still research being done on how people learn languages.

In order to pick up a language, the students must be able to hear and read a lot of it at the level of difficulty which is right for them both in and out of the classroom.

Students must be given sufficient time to pick up the language. This period of time is called a silent period. This may be necessary for the learners until they can use the language. All learning takes time.

The language needs to be used in the classroom to communicate with the teacher or with other students. By doing this, students have the chance to be brave and try different things with the language and discover how good or otherwise their communication is.

It is the duty of the teacher to assist students to note specific points about the language, consider the uses and practise using them. They should be given the chance to concentrate on forms of language which they have used, read or listened to when doing certain activities in the classroom.

Listening lesson activities usually look like this:
(a) Introductory activities: an introduction is given as to what the text is about. Then, activities are done which concentrate on the language used in the text.
(b) Main activities: comprehension activities are to develop separate listening subskills.

It is always important to keep in mind that each student is different from the other and may prefer different ways of learning than the other students. Therefore, teachers must make sure to teach according to the characteristics and requirements of the student.

Test Your Knowledge

Listed below from 1 to 10 are some classroom activities which encourage learning. Note which way of learning they encourage mostly and write them down in the correct column of the table below. One column may have more than one activity.



Focus on form








  1. The students listen as the teacher reads them a story.
  2. The teacher corrects and shows the student how to pronounce a word in the right way.
  3. The students are given an oral pairwork task which is about deciding on and selecting a gift for someone’s birthday.
  4. The student asks the teacher for the English word for something.
  5. The students have just learnt a new structure and are told to write sentences with examples of that structure.
  6. A cue card is given to two students to do a role play. It is about one student giving advice to the other student.
  7. The students are given a list of words which need to be put into different lexical sets.
  8. The students are asked to do research on a certain topic. They need to present the results of their research to the class.
  9. The students are given a piece of text in which they are to highlight the examples of the past simple tense.
  10. The students have a discussion in class. The teacher listens to the discussions and helps the students when they need to use words which they do not know.

From the following methods of learning, which do you like better and why?

  1. Communicative
  2. Form-focused
  3. Grammar-translation
  4. A combination of all of the above

What method do you think your students prefer and why? What is your opinion about their preferences? Would you agree or disagree with them?

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