French gender cues

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French gender cues


  1. French gender cues
  2. Abstract
  3. Glossary
  4. Research question
  5. Background and significance
  6. Dependent variables
  7. Independent variables
  8. Hypothesis
  9. Explanation
  10. Descendents
  11. Annotated bibliography


The goal of this project is to improve the ability of students of Elementary French to determine the gender of French nouns. Like other studies conducted by MacWhinney and Pavlik, this work emphasizes the role of scheduling in attaining mastery.


  • optimal spacing interval
  • mastery
  • gender rules
  • cue reliability
  • cue availability
  • lexical effects

Research question

This research is designed to discover the best method of producing robust learning of French nominal gender.

Background and significance

Tucker, Lambert and Rigault (1977) evaluated the L1 (first language) learning of cues to gender in French. More recently, Holmes and Dejean de la Batie (1999) produced the first study of the acquisition of grammatical gender by L2 learners. Holmes and Segui (2004) have extended the detail of these analyses, but so far only with native speakers. Carroll (1999) and Lyster (2006) have explored the role of cue validity and availability in predicting usage by learners. All of these studies underscore the importance of high validity cues for the general vocabulary. However, these cues are only marginally useful for the highest frequency forms, whose gender must be learned more or less by rote. These analyses are in very close accord with the claims of the Competition Model (MacWhinney 1978, 2006). Our goal here is to use these findings to guide effective instruction.

Dependent variables

The dependent variable is percentage correct gender judgment. Because there are only two genders in French, chance performance is at 50%.

Independent variables

  1. We are using a pretest-posttest design to measure the overall effects of the online training. We compare gain scores from students in the traditional course with no gender training with gain scores for students in the online course with gender training.
  2. We are also tracking the relative ease of learning particular cues in terms of how reliability interacts with lexical and cue frequency.


  1. Learning will be most robust if high reliability cues are taught before low reliability cues or rote training.
  2. Mastery training with scheduling is more effective than simple repetition.
  3. Cues that do not interact with similar cues will be easier to learn than those that interact with other cues.

These predictions derive from the Competition Model (MacWhinney, in press).


The Competition Model explanation for these effects emphasizes the role of cue reliability, cue availability, and lexical learning as determinants of gender cue learning. Availability and reliability are measured across the vocabulary.


Annotated bibliography

  • Carroll, S. (1999). Input and SLA: Adults' sensitivity to different sorts of cues to French gender. Language Learning, 49, 37-92.
  • Holmes, V. M., & Dejean de la Batie, B. (1999). Assignment of grammatical gender by native speakers and foreign learners of French. Applied Psycholinguistics, 20, 479-506.
  • Holmes, V. M., & Segui, J. (2004). Sublexical and lexical influences on gender assignment in French. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 33, 425-457.
  • Lyster, R. (2006). Predictability in French gender attribution: A corpus analysis. French Language Studies, 16, 69-92.
  • MacWhinney, B. (2006). A unified model. In N. Ellis & P. Robinson (Eds.), Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Press.