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What Is the Interaction Hypothesis?

By Karize Uy
Updated: May 23, 2024

The Interaction Hypothesis is a type of theory proposing that one of most effective methods of learning a new language is through personal and direct interaction. This theory is applied specifically to the acquisition of a foreign or a second language. It is usually attributed to Professor Michael Long, when he wrote a paper entitled “The Role of the Linguistic Environment in Second Language Acquisition” in 1996.

Through the Interaction Hypothesis, Professor Long integrated and reconciled two hypotheses on second language acquisition (SLA): the input and the output hypotheses. The Input Hypothesis states that a language learner only needs to be supplied with “input” through the forms of reading, listening to conversations, and lessons on grammar and vocabulary. The Output Hypothesis, on the other hand, stresses the importance of practicing and speaking to retain and remember the language. The Interaction Hypothesis combines both the “input” and “output” by stating that interaction is not only a means for a learner to study the language, but also a way for the learner to practice what he has learned.

Among the types of interactions, conversation is probably the most emphasized in the Interaction Hypothesis, an idea most probably derived from the “discourse approach” by Professor Evelyn Hatch who, in 1978, wrote papers that stressed the importance of constant communication and interaction for SLA. The Interaction Hypothesis acknowledges that during conversations, there are certain situations wherein a participant does not understand what the other says, but it is in these situations where learning becomes more effective. The theory refers to this occurrence as “negotiation,” wherein the participants will attempt to understand and repair the miscommunication during the interaction.

The first step in the negotiation is the interaction itself, when both participants begin to engage in conversation. The second step, the “negative feedback,” occurs when a participant does not understand a certain word, sometimes seen in a nonverbal action such as in the furrowing of the brow. In some cases, the other participant may request clarification by saying, “Pardon?” or “Can you say that again?” The process wherein the misunderstood participant strives to make the other participant understand is called “modification output.” The participant may paraphrase or give examples to make the meaning of the word clearer, until the other participant responds in an affirmative way that he has understood.

Interaction Hypothesis suggests an interaction between a second-language learner and a native speaker, so the learner can study the language in its most authentic setting. In this way, the learner not only learns about the language, but also the nuances and other nonverbal cues the go along with the words. Many universities in English-speaking countries have English programs and classes focusing on personal interaction for many foreign students who go abroad just to learn how to speak English.

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Discussion Comments
By anon301779 — On Nov 05, 2012

The interaction hypothesis is based on two hypotheses: the input hypotheses and the output hypothesis. The input hypothesis is the idea that language learners will learn best through reading, listening to conversations, and instruction on grammar and vocabulary. The output hypothesis is focused on speaking and practicing the language. The interaction hypothesis combines these two hypotheses with the idea that students need to learn all the material found in the input hypothesis, but they also need the practice that comes with the output hypothesis.

The interaction hypothesis stresses the importance of conversations between learners and native speakers. Authentic conversations not only help the learner grasp the language, but it also helps the learner understand facial expressions and other non-verbal cues that are typical to the culture.

An example that the reading gives is furrowing eyebrows when a native speaker does not understand something that is said. An authentic conversation helps the learner to pick up on gestures similar to this.

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