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Second Language Acquisition (SLA): A term that refers both to the

study of individuals and groups who are learning a language

subsequent to learning their first one as young children, and to the
process of learning that language.
second language (L2): In its general sense, this term refers to any
language that is acquired after the first language has been
established. In its specific sense, this term typically refers to an
additional language which is learned within a context where it is
societally dominant and needed for education, employment, and
other basic purposes. The more specific sense contrasts with foreign
language, library language, auxiliary language, and language
for specific purposes .
foreign language: A second language that is not widely used in the
learners immediate social context, but rather one that might be used
for future travel or other cross-cultural communication situations, or
one that might be studied as a curricular requirement or elective in
school with no immediate or necessary practical application.
language for specific purposes: Restricted or highly specialized second
languages, such as French for Hotel Management or English for
Academic Purposes (EAP) .
first language/native language/mother tongue (L1): A language that
is acquired naturally in early childhood, usually because it is the
primary language of a childs family. A child who grows up in a
multilingual setting may have more than one first language.
formal L2 learning: Instructed learning that takes place in classrooms.
informal L2 learning: SLA that takes place in naturalistic contexts.
simultaneous multilingualism: Ability to use more than one language
that were acquired during early childhood.

What can be the motivation behind learning second languages?

Invasion or conquest of ones country by speakers of another language
A need or desire to contact speakers of other languages in economic or
other specific domains
Immigration to a country where use of a language other than ones L1 is
Adoption of religious beliefs and practices which involve use of another
A need or desire to pursue educational experiences where access
requires proficiency in another language
A desire for occupational or social advancement which is furthered by
knowledge of another language
An interest in knowing more about peoples of other cultures and having
access to their technologies or literatures. (Crystal 1997b )

The role of natural ability

Humans are born with a natural ability or innate capacity to learn
language. Such a predisposition must be assumed in order to explain
several facts:
Children begin to learn their L1 at the same age, and in much the same
way, whether it is English, Bengali, Korean, Swahili, or any other
language in the world.
Children master the basic phonological and grammatical operations in
their L1 by the age of about five or six, as noted above, regardless of
what the language is.
Children can understand and create novel utterances; they are not
limited to repeating what they have heard, and indeed the utterances
that children produce are often systematically different from those of
the adults around them.
There is a cut-off age for L1 acquisition, beyond which it can never be
Acquisition of L1 is not simply a facet of general intelligence.

innate capacity: A natural ability, usually referring to childrens natural

ability to learn or acquire language.
Cut-off age/point: There is a cut-off age for L1 acquisition, beyond which
it can never be complete. The cut-off point for L1 acquisition means

that normal development does not occur if the process does not begin
in childhood.

Interlanguage (IL): Intermediate states or interim grammars of learner

language as it moves toward the target L2.
positive transfer: Appropriate incorporation of an L1 structure or rule in
L2 structure.
when an L1 structure or rule is used in an L2 utterance and that use
is appropriate or correct in the L2; and
negative transfer: Inappropriate influence of an L1 structure or rule on
L2 use. Also called interference. when an L1 structure or rule is
used in an L2 utterance and that use is inappropriate and considered
an error.

fossilization: A stable state in SLA where learners cease their

interlanguage development before they reach target norms despite
continuing L2 input and passage of time.
logical problem of language acquisition: The question of how children
achieve the final state of L1 development with ease and success
when the linguistic system is very complex and their cognitive ability
is not fully developed.

The notion that innate linguistic knowledge must underlie language

acquisition was prominently espoused by Noam Chomsky ( 1957 ,
1965 ), who subsequently formulated a theory of Universal
Grammar which has been very influential in SLA theory and research.
This view has been supported by arguments such as the following:

Childrens knowledge of language goes beyond what could be

learned from the input they receive
Constraints and principles cannot be learned
Universal patterns of development cannot be explained by languagespecific input

Behaviorism: The most influential cognitive framework applied to

language learning in the 1950s. It claims that learning is the result of habit
Transformational-Generative Grammar: The first linguistic framework
with an internal focus which revolutionized linguistic theory and had a
profound effect on both the study of first and second languages. Chomsky
argued effectively that the behaviorist theory of language acquisition is
wrong because it cannot explain the creative aspects of linguistic ability.
Instead, humans must have some innate capacity for language.
Principles and Parameters (model): The internally focused linguistic
framework that followed Chomskys Transformational-Generative
Grammar . It revised specifications of what constitutes innate capacity
to include more abstract notions of general principles and constraints
common to human language as part of a Universal Grammar.
Minimalist Program: The internally focused linguistic framework that
follows Chomskys Principles and Parameters model. This framework
adds distinctions between lexical and functional category development, as
well as more emphasis on the acquisition of feature specification as a part
of lexical knowledge.
Functionalism: A linguistic framework with an external focus that dates
back to the early twentieth century and has its roots in the Prague School
of Eastern Europe. It emphasizes the information content of utterances

and considers language primarily as a system of communication.

Functionalist approaches have largely dominated European study of SLA
and are widely followed elsewhere in the world.

Processability (theory): A reorientation of the Multidimensional

Model that extends its concepts of learning and applies them to teaching
second languages, with the goal of determining and explaining the
sequences in which processing skills develop in relation to language
Connectionism: A cognitive framework for explaining learning processes,
beginning in the 1980s and becoming increasingly influential. It assumes
that SLA results from increasing strength of associations between stimuli
and responses.

What is it that we learn when we learn a language?

lexicon (vocabulary ) The component of language that is concerned with
words and their meanings.
word meaning
pronunciation (and spelling for written languages)
grammatical category (part of speech)
possible occurrence in combination with other words and in idioms
phonology (sound system) The sound systems of different languages and
the study of such systems generally.
speech sounds that make a difference in meaning ( phonemes )
possible sequences of consonants and vowels (syllable structure)
intonation patterns (stress, pitch, and duration), and perhaps tone in
rhythmic patterns (pauses and stops)
morphology (word structure) The composition of words in different
languages and the study of such systems generally.
parts of words that have meaning ( morphemes )
inflections that carry grammatical information (like number or tense)
prefixes and suffixes that may be added to change the meaning of words
or their grammatical category
syntax (grammar) The linguistic system of grammatical relationships of
words within sentences, such as ordering and agreement.
word order
agreement between sentence elements (as number agreement between
subject and verb)
ways to form questions, to negate assertions, and to focus or structure
information within sentences
nonverbal structures (with conventional, language-specific meaning)
facial expressions
spatial orientation and position
gestures and other body movement
discourse The linguistic unit which is larger than a single sentence and
involves ways of connecting sentences, organizing information across
sentence boundaries, and structuring storytelling, conversation, and
interaction in general.
ways to connect sentences, and to organize information across
sentence boundaries
structures for telling stories, engaging in conversations, etc.
scripts for interacting and for events