It has been 3 decades that researches have started investigating the ways in which interaction can benefit second language acquisition. This approach to second language acquisition views conversational interaction as an important component for second language learning. Studies in interactionist approach invesitigate how second language learners receive input during interaction which can be modified in ways to make it more comprehensible to them (Loewen and Reinders, 2011).
In the 1970s, researchers became increasingly interested in the types of discourse patterns found in native speaker and second language learners’ conversations. In particular, the researchers studied the way in which native speakers modifies their speech so as to make it more comprehensible for the learners (Mackey, Abbuhl & Gass, 2012). The focus on comprehensibility during interaction could also be found in another strand of research that influenced the development of interactionist approach: Krashen’s Input hypothesis (Krashen, 1977, 1980) According to this hypothesis, input that was comprehensible was the driving force behind second language acquisition.
However, from the late 1970s researchers began to accord more emphasis to interaction itself. Drawing upon work of Krashen’s hypothesis, Long (1980, 1981 cited in Mackey, Abbuhl & Gass, 2012) claimed in his Interaction hypothesis that comprehensible input and second language development stemmed from modifications that occurred when native speaker and second language learners worked to resolve a communication difficulty (Mackey, Abbuhl & Gass, 2012). In the most recent version of interactionist approach, Gass and Mackey (2007) note that, “it is now commonly accepted within the SLA literature that there is a robust connection between interaction and learning” (p. 176).
Drawing upon the interactionist approach, there have been a number of research which investigate the role of interaction in relation to support English acquisition among ELLs (Aukrust, 2007; Brierley, 2003; Collins, 2010). Brierley (2003) examined ways to increase opportunities for ELLs to have interactions with children and teachers. A child whom had limited English proficiency was chosen to participate in Brierley’s (2003) study. Over the three weeks of the study, Brieley (2003) was able to initiate daily interactions with the case study child on a one-one basis, or as part of a larger group. The findings revealed that a lot of groundwork needed to be done in order to create an environment where children are accepting of others and proactive in initiating interactions with other children (Brierley, 2003). Besides that, Brierley (2003) found that it is important to follow the ELLs’ interest in order to engage in interaction and thus create more natural opportunities for interactions. In addition, Brierley’s (2003) findings also note the preference of ELLs to initiate interactions with the teacher more than with peers.
While Brierley’s study (2003) focused on opportunities for ELLs interactions in natural manner, Aukrust’s (2007) study aimed to investigate relationships between teacher talk exposure in preschool and ELLs’ second language vocabulary acquisition. Aukrust (2007) claimed that immigrant children in Scandinavia have been found to have limited second language vocabularies, even when their teachers regarded them as good English speaking speakers. Aukrust (2007) viewed that it is important for ELLs to have a good set of vocabulary in English to enable them to communicate effectively with the teachers and peers. The teachers who participated in Aukrust’s study (2007) were observed during interactions in circle-time activities where the teachers’ talk of vocabulary input was identified as amount (density of word tokens), diversity (density of word types) and complexity (density of word types appearing with explanatory talk). Aukrust’s (2007) study revealed