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1. How can a study of Interlanguage or Learner Language help us to design a successful

curriculum for Second Language Learners?

Interlanguage (IL) has always been playing a vital role in the second language acquisition
(SLA). But how can a study of IL or Learner Language assist in designing a successful and
interesting curriculum for Second Language Learners? In this essay, a definition of IL and
analysis of the IL development stages would be discussed. It would be followed with the link
between IL and the developing stages of a child language acquisition, and the suggestions of
related classroom activities.

Interlanguage is a term coined by Selinker (1972), adapted from Weinreich’s (1953) term
“interlingual.” It refers to a learner’s acquiring second language knowledge while having a
combination of characteristics of learner’s first language (L1), second language (L2) and
some general characteristics, which exist in all or most interlanguage systems. Interlangauges
are systematic but also dynamic and transitional. They contain some transfers or borrowing
from the FL. They change as learners receive more input and revise the hypotheses about the
SL. Nemser (1971) refers them as approximative systems with regards to their grammar and
communicating meaning. On top of that, Sampson & Richards (1973) stated them as
“learner-language systems” and Corder (1971:151) argued them as the “idiosyncratic
dialects” which illustrate learner’s language as unique to particular individual and the rules of
it are unusual to that particular individual.

Stages of Interlanguage Development

Brown (1994) claimed that basically, there are four stages of IL development. The first stage
is random errors, a stage which learner tends to make guesses when constructing sentences.
The learner may inconsistently make sentences like, “Amy cans eat”, “Amy to can eat” and
“Amy can eating” within a short period of time. This shows that the learner is in his
experimental and guessing stage.


Next, second stage, or emergent, a stage whereby learner starts to grow consistency in
linguistic production. The learner starts to understand a system and internalize certain rules.
Although the rules may be “incorrect” in the target language standards, they are already in the
mind of the learner. It is also characterized as “backsliding”, indicating that the learner
seemed to have understood a rule or principle and then returned back to his previous stage.
He is still unable to correct his own error, even if it is pointed out by someone else. He may
also try to avoid certain structures and topics. Consider the following dialogue between a
second language learner (L2L) and a native speaker (NS) of English:

L2L : I eat durian.

NS : You’re going to eat durian?
L2L : What? (does not understand)
NS : You will eat durian later?
L2L : Yes.
NS : How many?
L2L : Market.
NS : Oh, you are going market to eat.
L2L :Yes, I eat market durian.

The above conversation showed a similarity of a L1 learner who is unable to discern his own
error in his speech.

The third stage, the systematic stage. Learner is able to demonstrate more consistency in his
L2 production. As the internalized rules are still not fully developed, the learner is getting
nearer to the target language. By this time, learner is able to correct his own error when even
pointed out subtly to him. Another conversation about skateboards is shown below between
a L2 learner and a native speaker (NS) of English.

L2L : So many skateboards. The skateboards are playing in the playground.

NS : The skateboards are playing?
L2L : No. The children are playing the skateboards in the playground.


Last stage, the stablilization stage. During this stage, learner has relatively few errors and has
grasped the whole system so well that he shows fluency and the intended meanings are error
free. Learner is able to self-correct without a need to wait for feedback from someone else.
However, at this point, learner who stabalise too fast, may tend to get minor errors that slips
by, unknowingly. This would link to fossilization in his language. But I would not be
discussing it further.

The Link Between Interlanguage and The Development Stages of Child

Language Acquisition
During the SLA, L2 learners would develop an interlanguage between the first and the
second languages that has a systematic grammar influenced by both languages. The SL
learners will transfer some rules from the L1 into the IL. When transferring, learners would
likely to make errors that can be lexical:choosing the incorrect word as it is similar to the one
in the L1, morphological: putting correct tense markers in wrong places, or syntactical:
incorrect word order, which each individual is treated pedagogically differently.

In one of five components of Krashen’s Monitor Model, the Natural Order Hypothesis,
focused on the idea that when children learn their L1 (English), they acquire grammatical
structures in a pre-determined, 'natural' order, at different timing. Learners would acquire the
grammatical morphemes in a sequence of, progressive –ing, plural –s, and active voice before
acquiring third person –s, or passive voice.

However, the ‘morpheme acquisition” from the learner’s first language does influence on L2
acquisition sequences. For example, learners whose L1 possessive form is similar to the
English ‘s, like the German and Danish, would acquire the English possessive form faster
than those whose L1 has different type of possessive form, like the French and Spanish.

(Cited in Lightbrown and Spada, 2010, p.83)


Likewise for most learners in early stage of negation, Italian- and Spanish-speaking learners
may prefer and use ‘no’ longer as it is similar to the pattern form from their L1 (Italian and
Spanish). They would still produce Stage 1 negative sentences in advance stage or when they
are under pressure. Hence, similarity to the L1 may also affect and delay a learner’s progress
through a particular development stage.

(Cited in Lightbrown and Spada, 2010, p.85)

The above examples on morpheme acquisition and negation show that L1 do influence the
development stages of L2 acquisition of learners.

Classroom activities in L2 classrooms

Krashen’s natural order hypothesis states that teaching language through traditional structural
syllabus may affect learners’ acquisition of the language they need. It would be a failure if
attempts are done to get the learners to produce structures before they are ready. Lightbrown
and Spada (1999) stressed that there should be ‘readiness’ in learners’ developmental stages.

Therefore, the classroom teaching method of ‘Teach what is teachable’ is proposed here.
Alison Mackey and Jenefer Philp (1998) examined some adult English second language
(ESL) learners’ through acquisition of questionnaire forms. They found out that ESL learners
at different stages would show great improvement in their production of forms if implicit
negative feedbacks through recast are given. Recasts are modified form of learners’ utterance.
After learners received modified interaction with recasts, they would be able to improve
further in their production of questionnaire forms comparing to those who only received
modified interaction without any recasts. They also discovered that learners who are at the
advance stage of forms development (‘readies’) would learn more from interaction with
recasts than learners who are in less advanced stages of question development (‘unreadies’).
It was also proven that, for the ‘readies’ who involved in interaction and recasts did better
than those who only received interactions without recasts. As for the ‘unreadies’, there were


not much difference between the group who received the recasts and the group who did not
have any reacsts, as both group did not show rapid improvement.

(Cited in Lightbrown and Spada, 2010, p.162-163)

From the above, we would say that learners should not be forced to go a stage higher or skip
a stage, if they are not ready.

Patsy Lightbrown (1998) suggested that ‘teach what is teachable’ is important to help
teachers understand on why students do not always learn what they are taught but may be at a
slower pace. If the language is ‘too advance’, it would still be good to provide learner as a
sample of language so that they can relate it into their interlanguage.

(Cited in Lightbrown and Spada, 2010, p.165)

Communicative practices are also crucial to L2 learners. The teaching plan of ‘Let’s talk’
stress on the importance of accessing the comprehensible input and conversational
interactions with teachers and other students in a classroom environment. It involved
negotiation of meaning through a series of modifications, such as, requests for clarifications,
confirmation, repetition and others.

In another study by George Yule and Doris MacDonald (1990) examined the role of
different-level learners in a two-way communication task. There were two groups of two
learners in each group, having one learner as the ‘sender’ and the other as ‘receiver’. They
were given a task to discuss about the location of different buildings on a map and the way to
get there. The learners in each group are paired with one high-proficiency learner and with
one low-proficiency learner. In group A, the high-proficiency (HP) learner is appointed as
the sender and the low-proficiency (LP) learner is appointed as the receiver. But in group B,
it is vice-versa in the roles of sender and receiver. With the LP learner as the ‘sender’,
interactions were longer and varied than having the HP learner as the ‘sender’. This is due to
more negotiation of meaning and interaction was involved. HP learner as the ‘sender’ tends
to be more dominating and LP ‘receiver’ would become the follower with little contribution,


leading to less or little interaction. Therefore, Yule and Macdonald suggest that teachers
should sometimes place more advanced students in less dominant positions in paired
activities with lower-level learners.

(Cited in Lightbrown and Spada, 2010, p.152-153)

In conclusion, interlanguage and development stages of L2 acquisition are important theories

behind the planning and designing of a curriculum for students in a English classroom
environment. The combination of ‘To teach what is teachable’ and ‘Let’s talk’ would be a
good pair of activities to allow L2 learners to learn and acquire the language at their own
pace, efficiently.

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Reference List

Baker, C. (2004). A parents’ And Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism. (2nd ed.). Frankfurt, UK:
Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Brown, H.D. (1994). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. (3rd ed.). New Jersey,
U.S.: Prentice-Hall.
Five Components of Second Language Acquisition Theory. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18,
2010, from http://www.yourdictionary.com/esl/Second-Language-Acquisition-
Fleming, D. (n.d.). Second Language Acquisition. Retrieved October 15, 2010, from
Lightbrown, P.M. & Spada, N. (2010). How Language are Learned. (3rd ed.). Oxford:
Oxford University Press.