Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version



Arizona Working Papers in SLA & Teaching, 19, 56-81 (2012)


Copyright (c) 2012 Elizabeth Enkin


The maze task was created for psycholinguistic experimental testing (Forster et al., 2009). However, this paper explores the merits of this task as a language training program for beginning Spanish learners. The attributes of providing ample comprehensible input and immediate corrective feedback allow the maze task to be considered as a potential supplemental pedagogical tool. Moreover, transfer effects to implicit and explicit measures as well as students’ perception of such a task are examined.

The maze task is a psycholinguistic technique used in experimental testing that records reaction times as subjects read (and comprehend) sentences. The task asks subjects to “weave” their way through a sentence word by word by choosing the correct grammatical alternative from two choices (Forster, Guerrera, & Elliot, 2009). The current study’s main question asks if the maze task can be applied to a teaching program. In other words, could training on particular sentence types using the maze task help late L2 learners to better their foreign language performance? If the maze task does in fact yield training effects and learning benefits, is it a task that is enjoyable for students, and why? Thus, it is the intention of this paper to provide a psycholinguistic framework from which to draw pedagogical implications.

The foundation for this paper rests on the implicit and explicit learning dichotomy and explores the merits of integrating both types of instruction within a late L2 learning curriculum. Explicit learning is associated with selectivity, which presupposes a deductive, concept-driven mode of learning; on the other hand, implicit learning is associated with unselectivity and assumes an inductive, data-driven mode of learning (Gasparini, 2004; N. Ellis, 1994). One of the main questions in second language learning is what type of instruction is best for L2 acquisition. Implicit learning is the retrieval and use of memories that have been formed without conscious awareness, whereas grammar rules and guided instruction are illustrative of explicit learning.

Similarly, implicit knowledge is the intuitive understanding of the manner in which a language works; whereas explicit knowledge is conscious awareness of the grammatical rules of a language (R. Ellis, 2009a). Within the constructs of both connectionist and generative accounts of linguistic competence, there is general agreement that linguistic knowledge is primarily comprised of intuitive and tacit knowledge (N. Ellis, 2005; R. Ellis, 1993). It may be the case, however, that adult L2 learners necessitate explicit knowledge due to the role of the L1 and its transfer effects (DeKeyser & Juffs, 2005; R. Ellis, 1993). The question then becomes what is the best mixture of implicit and explicit learning for late learners in order to build the implicit knowledge base.