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Approaches to Second

Language Acquisition
Created by:
Sarah Hatcher
Smyrna High School

Approach 1: Behaviorism

Psychologist B.F. Skinner is known for his

work in behaviorism and operant

Skinner believed that major influence(s) on

human behavior are learned from the learning
environment (

Approach 1: Behaviorism

When applied specifically to language

learning, Skinner & behaviorists believed that
language acquisition occurred from a set of
automatic habits that developed as a result of
imitation (Craig, n.d.)
This view fell out of style when more research
became available citing that structured rules
of grammar and language were not imitated,
but learned

Approach 2: Innatism

Innatism and language acquisition was

made known from the work of Noam
Chomsky in the 1950s and 1960s.
This theory has the learner as an active
participant in creating the language, not
simply imitating it (Chomsky, 1965)

Approach 2: Innatism

Chomsky believes that the Language

Acquisition Device, located in the brain, helps
children produce and understand language

This would mean that children do not simply

imitate language, as Skinner thought

Based on Innatism, Chomsky proposes that

people have the ability to identify correctly
formed sentences, regardless of meaning
(Chomsky, 2008)

Approach 3: Interactionism

The Interactionist approach focuses on the

social aspects of language learning and
learner interaction
This approach focuses on the nature of
interactions in second language learning

Approach 3: Interactionism

Interactionists also found that

communication, making mistakes, and
error correction promoted second language
acquisition (Lyster & Ranta, 1998)
Interactions become a source of input and
are essential to second language acquisition
(Lantolf, 2000)

Age: A critical factor in SLA

Research suggests that natural language

acquisition can only take place between the
ages of two and twelve years, known as the
critical period hypothesis (CPH)
(Lenneburg, 1967).
The brain begins to cement pathways and is
lateralized around the time of puberty
(VanSickle & Ferris, n.d.).

Age: A critical factor in SLA

Before puberty, language acquisition and

processing takes place in both hemispheres.
After puberty, brain experiences a loss of
plasticity or ability to process language
as easily (Lenneburg, 1967).

Context & Contextual Factors in SLA

SLA varies by individual student

Factors include: age, first language

knowledge, motivation, and gender

3 contextual factors to consider in SLA

(Walqui, 2000):

Learning Process

Contextual Factors: Language

and Learner

Language: Student proficiency in L1,

knowledge of L2, and attitude

Also includes similarities and differences

between L1 and L2

Learner: Goals set by teacher & learner,

diversity in classroom setting, home

Contextual Factors: Learning Process

Learning Process: Learning style and

motivation of the student must be

Cultural influences and interactions with

peers should be considered in SLA

Tips for Teachers

Know your students!

Learning more about the contextual factors your

students bring to the classroom can help you plan
lessons to meet the diverse needs of your students

Plan engaging lessons!

Students are always more interested when they can

apply what they learn in the classroom to their
liveslearn what they are interested in to help
promote conversation in L2 with peers. This will
also help create a welcoming classroom environment.

Best Approach for My Students

The best approach for my students to learn Spanish is

the interactionist theory.
High school students take Spanish with the ultimate goal
of communication (written and oral)
Interactionism focuses on social aspects
of that language learningthese are
accomplished in class through partner speaking
activities, writing about themselves, presentations, and others

Performing a variety of activities, typically with other students,

builds confidence and allows students to use the language to
interact with others, as well as learn from their mistakes through
error correction (Lyster & Ranta, 1998).

My Favorite Approach

Not only do I think it is the best approach for my students, but

my favorite SLA approach is also interactionist
As I mentioned in the previous slide, to me, the basis of
language is communication and most of this is going to occur
socially, with others
The cycle of error correction and subsequent learning promotes
their second language acquisition.
By communicating in class and receiving feedback from me,
they are able to correct errors and learn from them.
Through the variety of activities we do in class (partner
dialogues, class presentations, group presentations), students
interact with each other and myself to learn more Spanish.

Resources on SLA

See the websites below for more tips and

information about SLA:

Wheaton Colleges Institute for Cross Cultural Training site with SLA
University of Minnesotas Center of Advanced Research on Language
Acquisition, Teacher Resources for Language Learning Strategies:
An article about SLA and its significance for learning and teaching
Excellent bibliographic site with links to various aspects of SLA:
Another bibliographic site with links to various aspects of SLA:


Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Chomsky, N. (2008). Noam Chomsky talks about universal grammar. Retrieved May 24, 2011
from .
Craig, D.V. (n.d.). Formal approaches to second language acquisition. Retrieved from
Lantolf, J. P. (Ed.) (2000). Sociocultural theory and second language learning.
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Lenneberg, E.H. (1967) Biological foundations of language. New York: Wiley and sons.
Lyster, R. & Ranta, E. (1997). Corrective feedback and learner uptake: Negotiation of form in
communicative classrooms. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 19, 37-61.
Skinner: Operant Conditioning. (n.d.) Retrieved May 24, 2011, from
VanSickle, J. & Ferris, S. (n.d.). Second language acquisition: The age factor. Retrieved May 24,
2011 from
Walqui, A. (2000). Contextual factors in second language acquisition. Retrieved May 24, 2011