The amount of attention learners pay to language forms is what turns input into the acquisition of language structures (intake).

Noticing is the necessary and sufficient condition for the conversion of input to intake for learning.

(Richard Schmidt 1994 page 17)

So in the classroom, learners’ attention needs to be drawn to language items in input for intake and acquisition to happen.

Merrill Swain also argues that one of the main functions of learner output is that is stimulates noticing of language items:

  • learners get to notice the frequency or saliency of the language item
  • they get to notice the gap between the target language and their interlanguage
  • they get to notice any holes in their vocabulary: i.e. the learner can’t say what they want to say because they don’t have the right words. This stimulates them to fill the holes.


Noticing a language item in input depends partly on its saliency, The saliency of an item is the state or quality by which it stands out relative to its neighbours. For example, take the sentence:

Yesterday we traveled to London by train.

Two items tell us that this event happened in the past, ‘yesterday’ and the ‘-ed’ ending on travel.

Yesterday we traveled to London by train.

But ‘yesterday’ is more salient than ‘-ed’; it stands out more. So the learner is more likely to notice ‘yesterday’ and ignore ‘-ed’. Which means that when speaking or writing, learners may also ignore ‘-ed’.

But take this sentence:

Yesterday we went to London by train.

In this example, ‘went’ is more salient than ‘-ed’ was in the previous sentence, essentially because it’s an irregular verbs. We know that learners tend to master many of the more common irregular verbs faster than they use the ‘-ed’ ending, partly because many irregular verbs are also high frequency verbs (went, ate, saw) but this may also have something to do with saliency.

Richard Schmidt (1990), The role of consciousness in second language learning, Applied Linguistics 11(1): 17-46

Scott Thornbury, Reformulation and Reconstruction: tasks that promote noticing.

(Schmidt 1990, 1993, Doughty and Williams 1998, Ellis 1994, 2001)

Schmidt (1994), Deconstructing consciousness in search of useful definitions for applied linguistics. AILA Review 11:11-26


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