Incidental Reactive Focus on Form in EFL Classes: Learners’ Formulaic vs. Non-formulaic Errors, Their Treatment, and Effectiveness

Leila Gholami (Arizona State University)
Zahra Gholami (Kharazmi University)


Research on incidental focus on form (FonF) has established associations among nature of learner error, corrective feedback (CF), and effectiveness of CF measured through uptake. In this line of research, the analysis of learner error has been limited to grammatical, lexical, and phonological errors (non-formulaic). Consequently, learners’ errors with formulaic sequences (FSs) comprising collocations, lexical bundles, idioms, and compounds (formulaic) have not yet been investigated in FonF studies. To address this gap, especially given the holistic nature of FSs as self-standing units of meaning and their ubiquity in natural discourse, this study examined the extent learners’ errors with formulaic vis-à-vis non-formulaic foci were treated in language-related episodes and uptake and successful uptake. The data consisted of 36 hours of audio-recorded teacher-learner interactions in primarily communicative activities from three advanced English as a foreign language classrooms. The findings demonstrate that while learners’ formulaic-oriented errors outnumbered non-formulaic ones, the teachers provided CF significantly more often for non-formulaic errors. However, learners produced significantly more uptake and successful uptake when CF was provided for formulaic-oriented errors compared to non-formulaic errors. The learners’ higher successful uptake following formulaic-oriented errors could be attributed to the relatively higher saliency, noticeability, and significance of FSs in meaning making.


Corrective feedback; Formulaic language; Incidental focus on form, Language-related episodes; Uptake

Full Text:



. Alonso Ramos, M., Wanner, L., Vincze, O., Casamayor, G., Vázquez, N., Mosqueira, E., & Prieto, S. (2010). Towards a motivated annotation schema of collocation errors in learner corpora. Proceedings of the 7th conference on International Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC), La Valetta, Malta, 3209–3214.

. American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. (2012). ACTFL proficiency guidelines. Retrieved from

. Benson, M., Benson, E., & Ilson, R. (2010). The BBI combinatory dictionary of English: Your guide to collocations and grammar (3rd ed.). Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins. doi:

. Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S., & Finegan, E. (1999). Longman grammar of spoken and written English. Harlow: Longman.

. Brown, D. (2016). The type and linguistic foci of oral corrective feedback in the L2 classroom: A meta-analysis. Language Teaching Research, 20(4), 436-458.


. Choi, S. (2017). Processing and learning of enhanced English collocations: An eye movement study. Language Teaching Research, 21(3), 403–426. doi:10.1177/1362168816653271

. Choi, S. Y., & Li, S. (2012). Corrective feedback and learner uptake in a child ESOL classroom. RELC Journal, 43(3), 331–351. doi:10.1177/0033688212463274

. Clare, A., & Wilson, J. J. (2016). Speakout (2nd ed.). UK: Pearson Education Limited.

. Cohen J. (1960). A coefficient of agreement for nominal scales. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 20, 37–46. doi:

. Cowie, A. P., & Mackin, R. (1993). Oxford dictionary of phrasal verbs (rev. ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

. Egi, T. (2010). Uptake, modified output, and learner perceptions of recasts: Learner responses as language awareness. The Modern Language Journal, 94, 1–21.


. Ellis, N. C. (2012). Formulaic language and second language acquisition: Zipf and the phrasal teddy bear. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 32, 17–44.

doi: 10.1017/s0267190512000025

. Ellis, R. (2005). Principles of instructed language learning. System, 33(2), 209–224.


. Ellis, R. (2016). Focus on form: A critical review. Language Teaching Research, 20(3), 405–428. doi:10.1177/1362168816628627

. Ellis, R., Basturkmen, H., & Loewen, S. (2001a). Learner uptake in communicative ESL lessons. Language Learning, 51(2), 281–318. doi: 10.1111/1467-9922.00156

. Ellis, R., Basturkmen, H., & Loewen, S. (2001b). Preemptive focus on form in the ESL classroom. TESOL Quarterly, 35(3), 407–432. doi: 10.2307/3588029

. Ellis, R., Loewen, S., & Basturkmen, H. (2006). Disentangling focus on form. A response to Sheen and O’Neill (2005). Applied Linguistics, 27(1), 135–141.

doi: 10.1093/applin/ami049

. Erman, B., & Warren, B. (2000). The idiom principle and the open-choice principle. Text, 20(1), 29–62. doi:

. Fielding, J. L., & Gilbert, G. N. (2000). Understanding social statistics(2nd ed). London: Sage.

. Gooch, R., Saito, K., & Lyster, R. (2016). Effects of recasts and prompts on L2 pronunciation development: Teaching English /ɹ/ to Korean adult EFL learners. System, 60, 117–127. doi:10.1016/j.system.2016.06.007

. Garnier, M., & Schmitt, N. (2015). The PHaVE List: A pedagogical list of phrasal verbs and their most frequent meaning senses. Language Teaching Research, 19(6), 645–666.


. Granger, S. (2018). Formulaic sequences in learner corpora: Collocations and lexical bundles. In A. Siyanova-Chanturia & A. Pellicer-Sanchez (Eds.), Understanding formulaic language: A second language acquisition perspective (pp. 78-94). London: Routledge.

doi: 10.4324/9781315206615-13

. Hallin, A., & Van Lancker Sidtis, D. (2017). A closer look at formulaic language: Prosodic characteristics of Swedish proverbs. Applied Linguistics, 38(1), pp. 68-89.


. Hickey, T. (1993). Identifying formulas in first language acquisition. Journal of Child Language, 20, 27–41. doi: 10.1017/S0305000900009107

. Hornby, A. S., Bradbery, J., Deuter, M., Turnbull, J. (2015). Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary of current English. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

. Hoey, M. (2005). Lexical priming: A new theory of words and language. London: Routledge. doi:

. Horst, M. (2010). How well does teacher-talk support incidental vocabulary acquisition? Reading in a Foreign Language, 22(1), 161–180.


. Howarth, P. A. (1996). Phraseology in English academic writing. Tubingen: Niemeyer.

. Howarth, P. (1998). The phraseology of learners’ academic writing. In A. Cowie (Ed.), Phraseology: Theory, analysis, and applications (pp. 161–186). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

. Kecskes, I. (2016). Deliberate creativity and formulaic language use. In A. Capone, F. Lo Piparo, & M. Carapezza (Eds.), Perspectives in pragmatics, philosophy & psychology (pp. 3–20). DOI:10.1007/978-3-319-43491-9_1

. Laufer, B., & Waldman, T. (2011). Verb-noun collocations in second language writing: A corpus analysis of learners’ English. Language Learning, 61(2), 647–672.


. Li, S. (2018). Data collection in the research on the effectiveness of corrective feedback: A synthetic and critical review. In A. Gudmestad & A. Edmonds (Eds.), Critical reflections on data in second language acquisition (pp. 33–62). Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing Company. doi:10.1075/lllt.51.03li

. Li, S., & Vuono, A. (2019). Twenty-five years of research on oral and written corrective feedback in System. System, 84, 93–109. doi:10.1016/j.system.2019.05.006

. Lin, P. (2018). Formulaic language and speech prosody. In A. Siyanova-Chanturia & A. Pellicer-Sanchez (Eds.), Understanding formulaic language: A second language acquisition perspective (pp. 78-94). London: Routledge. doi:

. Loewen, S. (2004). Uptake in incidental focus on form in meaning-focused ESL lessons. Language Learning, 54(1), 153–188. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9922.2004.00251.x

. Loewen, S. (2005). Incidental focus on form and second language learning. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 27, 361–386.


. Long, M.H. (1991). Focus on form: A design feature in language teaching methodology. In de Bot, K., Ginsberg, R., & C. Kramsch (Eds.), Foreign language research in cross-cultural perspective (pp. 39–52). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

. Long, M. (1996). The role of the linguistic environment in second language acquisition. In W. Ritchie, & T. Bhatia (Eds.), Handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 413–468). San Diego, CA: Academic Press. doi:

. Long, M. H. (2016). In defense of tasks and TBLT: Nonissues and real issues. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 36, 5–33. doi:10.1017/s0267190515000057

. Long, M. H., & Robinson, P. (1998). Focus on form: Theory, research and practice. In C. J. Doughty, & J. Williams (Eds.), Focus on form in classroom language acquisition (pp. 15–41). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

. Lyster, R. (1998). Recasts, repetition, and ambiguity in L2 classroom discourse. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 20, 51–81.


. Lyster, R. (2001). Negotiation of form, recasts, and explicit correction in relation to error types and learner repair in immersion classrooms. Language Learning, 51, 265–301. doi:10.1111/j.1467-1770.2001.tb00019.x

. Lyster, R., & Ranta, L. (1997). Corrective feedback and learner uptake: Negotiation of form in communicative classrooms. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 19(1), 37–66.

doi: 10.1017/S0272263197001034

. Lyster, R., & Saito, K. (2010). Oral feedback in classroom SLA. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 32(2), 265–302. doi:

. Martinez, R., & Murphy, V. A. (2011). Effect of Frequency and Idiomaticity on Second Language Reading Comprehension. TESOL Quarterly, 45(2), 267–290. doi:10.5054/tq.2011.247708

. McIntosh, C. (2010). Oxford phrasal verbs. Oxford: Oxford University Press

. McIntosh, C., Francis, B., & Poole, R. (2009). Oxford collocations dictionary for students of English (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

. Meunier, F. (2012). Formulaic language and language teaching. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 32, 111–129. doi:

. Myles, F., & Cordier, C. (2017). Formulaic sequence (FS) cannot be an umbrella term in SLA. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 39(1), 3–28. doi:10.1017/s027226311600036x

. Myles, F., Hooper, J., & Mitchell, R. (1998). Rote or rule? Exploring the role of formulaic language in classroom foreign language learning. Language Learning, 48(3), 323–363. doi: 10.1111/0023-8333.00045

. Namba, K. (2010). Formulaicity in code-switching: Criteria for identifying formulaic sequences. In D. Wood (Ed.), Perspectives on formulaic language: Acquisition and communication (pp. 129–150). London: Continuum.

. Nassaji, H. (2016). Researching corrective feedback in interaction and instruction. Language Teaching Research, 20(4), 433–435. doi:10.1177/1362168816651018

. Nassaji, H. & Kartchava, E. (2017). Corrective feedback in second language teaching and learning: Research, theory, applications, implications. Routledge.


. Nattinger, J. R., & DeCarrico, J. S. (1992). Lexical phrases and language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

. Nesselhauf, N. (2005). Collocations in a learner corpus. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

doi: 10.1075/scl.14

. Ohta, A. S. (2000). Re-thinking recasts: A learner-centered examination of corrective feedback in the Japanese language classroom. In J. K. Hall, & L. S. Verplaeste (Eds.), The construction of second and foreign language learning through classroom interaction (pp. 47–71). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

. Pellicer-Sánchez, A. (2017). Learning L2 collocations incidentally from reading. Language Teaching Research, 21(3), 381–402. doi:10.1177/1362168815618428

. Pellicer-Sánchez, A., & Boers, F. (2018). Pedagogical approaches to the teaching and learning of formulaic language. In A, Siyanova-Chanturia, & A. Pellicer-Sanchez (Eds), Understanding formulaic language: A second language acquisition perspective (pp. 153–173). New York, NY: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781315206615-9

. Pica, T. (1994). Research on negotiation: What does it reveal about second-language learning conditions, processes, and outcomes? Language Learning, 44, 493–527.

. Plonsky, L., & Brown, D. (2015). Domain definition and search techniques in meta-analyses of L2 research (Or why 18 meta-analyses of feedback have different results). Second Language Research, 31(2), 267–278. doi:10.1177/0267658314536436

. Qi, Y., & Ding, Y. (2011). Use of formulaic sequences in monologues of Chinese EFL learners. System, 39(2), 164–174. doi:10.1016/j.system.2011.02.003

. Quinn, P. G., & Nakata, T. (2017). The timing of oral corrective feedback. In H. Nassaji & E. Kartchava (Eds), Corrective feedback in second language teaching and learning, (pp. 35–47). Oxon, UK: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781315621432-4

. Sato, M., & Loewen, S. (2018). Metacognitive instruction enhances the effectiveness of corrective feedback: Variable effects of feedback types and linguistic targets. Language Learning, 68(2), 507–545. doi:10.1111/lang.12283

. Schmidt, R. (2001). Attention. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Cognition and second language instruction (pp. 3–32). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


. Schmidt, R., & Frota, S. N. (1986). Developing basic conversational ability in a second language: A case study of an adult learner of Portuguese. In R. R. Day (Ed.), Talking to learn: Conversation in second language acquisition (pp. 237–326). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

. Simpson-Vlach, R., & Ellis, C. N. (2010). An academic formulas list: New methods in phraseology research. Applied Linguistics, 31, 487–512. doi: 10.1093/applin/amp058

. Sinclair, J. M. (1991). Corpus, concordance, collocation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

. Sinclair, J. (1996). Collins Cobuild English dictionary (rev. ed.) (1995). London: Harper Collins.

. Siyanova-Chanturia, A & Pellicer-Sanchez, A. (2018). Understanding formulaic language: A second language acquisition perspective. New York, NY: Routledge.


. Smith, B. (2010). Employing eye-tracking technology in researching the effectiveness of recasts in CMC. Directions and Prospects for Educational Linguistics, (pp. 79–97). doi:10.1007/978-90-481-9136-9_6

. Spöttl, C., & McCarthy, M. (2004). Comparing knowledge of formulaic sequences across L1, L2, L3, and L4. In N. Schmitt (Ed.), Formulaic sequences: Acquisition, processing, and use (pp. 191–225). Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

. Swain, M. (1998). Focus on form through conscious reflection. In C. Doughty & J. Williams (eds), Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition, (64–82). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

. Swain, M. (2005). The output hypothesis: Theory and research. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning (pp. 471–483). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. doi:

. Tabossi, P., Fanari, R., & Wolf, K. (2009). Why are idioms recognized fast? Memory and Cognition, 37, 529–540. doi: 10.3758/MC.37.4.529

. Ten Hacken, P. (2004). What are compounds? In D. J. Allerton, N. Nesselhauf, & P. Skandera (Eds.), Phraseological units: Basic concepts and their applications (pp. 53–66). Basel: Schwabe AG.

. VanPatten, B. (2006). Input processing in adult SLA. In B. VanPatten & J. Williams (Eds.), Theories in second language acquisition: An introduction (pp. 115–135). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

. Varley, S. (2009). I’ll just look that up in the concordancer: Integrating corpus consultation into the language learning environment. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 22, 133–152.

. Warren, B. (2005). A model of idiomaticity. Nordic Journal of English Studies, 4, 35–54.

. Widdowson, H. G. (1989). Knowledge of language and ability for use. Applied Linguistics, 10(2), 128–37. doi: 10.1093/applin/10.2.128

. Wood, D. (2010). Formulaic language and second language speech fluency: Background, evidence and classroom applications. London: Continuum International Publishing Group. doi:

. Wood, D. (2015). Fundamentals of formulaic language: An introduction. London/New York: Bloomsbury Publishing. doi: 10.5040/9781474218771

. Wray, A. (2002). Formulaic language and the lexicon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:

. Wray, A. (2004). Here’s one I prepared earlier: Formulaic language learning on television. In N. Schmitt (Ed.), Formulaic sequences: Acquisition, processing, and use (pp. 248–268). Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.


. Wray, A. (2018). Concluding question: Why don't second language learners more proactively target formulaic sequences. In A, Siyanova-Chanturia, & A. Pellicer-Sanchez (Eds), Understanding formulaic language: A second language acquisition perspective (pp. 19–37). New York, NY: Routledge. doi:

. Wray, A., & Namba, K. (2003). Use of formulaic language by a Japanese-English bilingual child: A practical approach to data analysis. Japan Journal of Multilingualism and Multiculturalism, 9(1), 24–51.

. Wulff, S. (2018). Acquisition of formulaic language from a usage-based perspective. In A, Siyanova-Chanturia, & A. Pellicer-Sanchez (Eds), Understanding formulaic language: A second language acquisition perspective (pp. 19–37). New York, NY: Routledge.


. Xu, J. (2015). Predicting ESL learners’ oral proficiency by measuring the collocations in their spontaneous speech (Doctoral dissertation).

Retrieved from http: //

. Yeldham, M. (2015). The influence of formulaic language on L2 listener decoding in extended discourse. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching. 1–15.

doi: 10.1080/17501229.2015.1103246

. Yilmaz, Y. (2012). The relative effects of explicit correction and recasts on two target structures via two communication modes. Language Learning, 62(4), 1134–1169.


. Zhao, S., & Bitchener, J. (2007). Incidental focus on form in teacher-learner and learner-learner interactions. System, 35(4), 431–447.




  • There are currently no refbacks.
Copyright © 2020 Leila Gholami Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.