Focus on form

Focus on form (FonF) is an approach to language education in which learners are made aware of the grammatical form of language features that they are already able to use communicatively. It is contrasted with focus on forms,[1] which is limited solely to the explicit focus on language features, and focus on meaning, which is limited to focus on meaning with no attention paid to form at all. For a teaching intervention to qualify as focus on form and not as focus on forms, the learner must be aware of the meaning and use of the language features before the form is brought to their attention.[2] Focus on form was proposed by Michael Long in 1988.[3]


The concept of focus on form was motivated by the lack of support for the efficacy of focus on forms on the one hand, and clear advantages demonstrated by instructed language learning over uninstructed learning on the other.[3] The research conflicting with focus on forms has been wide-ranging;[4] learners typically acquire language features in sequences, not all at once,[5] and most of the stages the learners' interlanguages pass through will exhibit non-native-like language forms.[6] Furthermore, the progression of these stages is not clean; learners may use language features correctly in some situations but not in others,[7] or they may exhibit U-shaped learning, in which native-like use may temporarily revert to non-native-like use.[8] None of these findings sit well with the idea that students will learn exactly what you teach them, when you teach it.[4]

In a review of the literature comparing instructed with uninstructed language learning, Long found a clear advantage for instructed learning in both the rate of learning and the ultimate level reached.[3] An important finding that supported Long's view came from French language immersion programs in Canada; even after students had years of meaning-focused lessons filled with comprehensible input, their spoken language remained far from native-like, with many grammatical errors. This is despite the fact that they could speak fluently and had native-like listening abilities.[9]


  1. Sometimes the final "S" is capitalized, making focus on formS, or form-focused instruction,; this is done to more readily distinguish it from focus on form.
  2. Doughty & Williams 1998, p. 4.
  3. 1 2 3 Long 1991. This paper was originally presented at the European-North-American Symposium on Needed Research in Foreign Language Education, Bellagio, Italy, in 1988.
  4. 1 2 Long & Robinson 1998, pp. 16–17.
  5. For review, see e.g. Gass & Selinker (2008, pp. 126–135).
  6. Andersen 1984, Huebner 1983.
  7. Pica 1983, Young 1988.
  8. Kellerman 1985.
  9. Swain 1991.


  • Andersen, Roger (1984). "What's gender good for, anyway?". In Andersen, Roger. Second languages: a cross-linguistic perspective. Rowley, MA: Newbury House. pp. 77–99. ISBN 978-0-88377-440-3. 
  • Doughty, Catherine; Williams, Jessica, eds. (1998). Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-62390-2. 
  • Gass, Susan; Selinker, Larry (2008). Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course. New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-8058-5497-8. 
  • Huebner, T. (2008). "Linguistic Systems and Linguistic Change in an Interlanguage". Studies in Second Language Acquisition. 6: 33. doi:10.1017/S0272263100000280. 
  • Kellerman, Eric (1985). "Input and second language acquisition theory". In Gass, Susan; Madden, Carolyn. Input in second language acquisition. Rowley, MA: Newbury House. pp. 345–353. ISBN 978-0-88377-284-3. 
  • Krashen, Stephen (1981). Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. New York: Pergamon Press. ISBN 0-08-025338-5. Retrieved 2011-02-28. 
  • Krashen, Stephen (2004). The Power of Reading, Second Edition. Littleton: Libraries Unlimited. ISBN 978-1-59158-169-7. 
  • Long, Michael (1991). "Focus on form: A design feature in language teaching methodology". In De Bot, Kees; Ginsberg, Ralph; Kramsch, Claire. Foreign language research in cross-cultural perspective. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. pp. 39–52. ISBN 978-1-55619-345-3. 
  • Long, Michael; Robinson, Peter (1998). "Focus on form: Theory, research and practice". In Doughty, Catherine; Williams, Jessica. Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 15–41. ISBN 978-0-521-62390-2. 
  • Pica, T. (1983). "Adult Acquisition of English As a Second Language Under Different Conditions of Exposure". Language Learning. 33 (4): 465–497. doi:10.1111/j.1467-1770.1983.tb00945.x. 
  • Swain, Merrill (1991). "French immersion and its offshoots: Getting two for one". In Freed, Barbara. Foreign language acquisition research and the classroom. Lexington, MA: Heath. pp. 91–103. ISBN 978-0-669-24263-8. 
  • Young, R. (1988). "Variation and the Interlanguage Hypothesis". Studies in Second Language Acquisition. 10 (3): 281–302. doi:10.1017/S0272263100007464. 

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