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Explaining Second Language

 Contexts for Language Learning
 Behaviorism
 Innatism
 Cognitive/developmental perspective
 Information Processing
 Connectionism
 The Competition Model

 The Sociocultural Perspective

Contexts for Language Learning

 A child or adult learning a second language

is different from a child acquiring a first
language in terms of both
1) learner characteristics
2) learning conditions

Differences in Learning L1 & L2
L1 L2
Learner Characteristics
Child Child Adolescent Adult
(informal) (formal) (informal)
1. Knowledge of another - ? + +
- - + +
2. Cognitive maturity
- ? + +
3. Metalinguistic awareness
- - + +
4. World Knowledge
- - + +
5. Anxiety about speaking

Differences in Learning L1 & L2

Learning Conditions L1 L2
Child Child Adolescent Adult
(informal) (formal) (informal)
6. Freedom to be silent
+ + - -
7. Ample time & contact
+ + - ?
8. Corrective feedback:
(grammar and - - + -
pronunciation) + + + +
9. Corrective feedback:
(meaning, word choice, + + + +
politeness) Child-directed Foreigner talk or
speech Teacher talk
10. Modified input
Differences in Learning L1 & L2

 Summary:

SLA (Second Language Acquisition) theories

need to account for language acquisition by
learners with a variety of characteristics and
learning in a variety of contexts.


 Four characteristics of behaviorism:

1) imitation, 2) practice, 3) reinforcement, and
4) habit formation
 Brooks (1960) & Lado (1964):
- emphasizing mimicry and memorization
(audiolingual teaching methods)

Behaviorism / CAH

 A person learning an L2 starts off with the habits

formed in the L1 and these habits would interfere with
the new ones needed for the L2.
 Behaviorism was often linked to the Contrastive
Analysis Hypothesis (CAH):
It predicts that where there are similarities between
the L1 and the target language, the learner will
acquire target-language structures with ease; where
there are differences, the learner will have difficulty.

Behaviorism / CAH

 Criticisms about the CAH:

Though a learner’s L1 influences the acquisition of an L2,
researchers have found that L2 learners do not make all
the errors predicted by the CAH.
1. Many of their errors are not predictable on the basis of
their L1 (e.g. ‘putted’; ‘cooker’ meaning a person who
cooks; ‘badder than’)
2. Some errors are similar across learners from a variety of
L1 backgrounds (e.g. he/she; “th” sound; the use of the
past tense; the relative clauses)

Behaviorism / Summary

 The L1 influence may not simply be a matter of the transfer of

habits, but a more subtle and complex process of
- identifying points of similarity,
- weighing the evidence in support of some particular
feature, and
- reflecting (though not necessarily consciously) about
whether a certain feature seems to ‘belong’ in the L2.
 By the 1970s, many researchers were convinced that behaviorism
and the CAH were inadequate explanations for SLA.


 Universal Grammar (UG) in relation to

second language development

 Competence vs. Performance

 Krashen’s “monitor model”

Universal Grammar
 UG and SLA
1. Chomsky has not made specific claims about the implications
of his theory for second language learning.
2. Linguists working within the innatist theory have argued that
UG offers the best perspective to understand SLA. UG can
explain why L2 learners eventually know more about the
language than they could reasonably have learned (i.e. UG
can explain L2 learners’ creativity and generalization ability).
3. Other linguists argue that UG is not a good explanation for
SLA, especially by learners who have passed the critical
period (i.e. CPH does not work in SLA).
(* Note: See Chapter 3: Age of acquisition and CPH)
Universal Grammar
 How UG works in SLA:
Two different views -
1. The nature and availability of UG are the same in L1
and L2 acquisition.
Adult L2 learners, like children, neither need nor
benefit from error correction and metalinguistic
information. These things change only the superficial
appearance of language performance and do not
affect the underlying competence of the new language
(e.g., Krashen’s “monitor model”).

Universal Grammar

 How UG works in SLA:

Two different views -
2. UG may be present and available to L2 learners, but its
exact nature has been altered by the prior acquisition of
the first language.
L2 learners need to be given some explicit information
about what is not grammatical in the L2. Otherwise, they
may assume that some structures of the L1 have
equivalents in the L2 when, in fact, they do not.

Competence vs. Performance
 Competence:
It refers to the knowledge which underlies our ability to
use language.
 Performance:
It refers to the way a person actually uses language in
listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Performance is
subject to variations due to inattention, anxiety, or fatigue
whereas competence (at least for the mature native
speaker) is more stable.

Competence vs. Performance
 SLA researchers from the UG perspective (innatism)
are more interested in the language competence (i.e.,
knowledge of complex syntax) of advanced learners
rather than in the simple language of early stage

 Their investigations often involve comparing the

judgments of grammaticality made by L2 and L1
learners, rather than observations of actual language
performance (i.e., use of language).

Krashen’s “monitor model” (1982)

 The acquisition-learning hypothesis

 The monitor hypothesis

 The natural order hypothesis

 The input hypothesis

 The affective filter hypothesis

Krashen’s “monitor model”
 The acquisition-learning hypothesis
 Acquisition: we acquire L2 knowledge as we are exposed to
samples of the L2 which we understand with no conscious
attention to language form. It is a subconscious and intuitive
 Learning: we learn the L2 via a conscious process of study
and attention to form and rule learning.
 Krashen argues that “acquisition” is a more important
process of constructing the system of a language than
“learning” because fluency in L2 performance is due to what
we have acquired, not what we have learned.

Krashen’s “monitor model”
 The monitor hypothesis
 The acquired system acts to initiate the speaker’s
utterances and is responsible for spontaneous language
use, whereas the learned system acts as a “monitor”,
making minor changes and polishing what the acquired
system has produced.
 Such monitoring takes place only when the speaker/writer
has plenty of time, is concerned about producing correct
language, and has learned the relevant rules.

Krashen’s “monitor model”
 The natural order hypothesis
 L2 learners acquire the features of the TL in
predictable sequences.
 The language features that are easiest to state (and
thus to ‘learn’) are not necessarily the first to be
e.g. the rule for adding an –s to third person
singular verbs in the present tense

Krashen’s “monitor model”
 The input hypothesis
 Acquisition occurs when one is exposed to language
that is comprehensible and that contains “i +1”.
 If the input contains forms and structures just beyond
the learner’s current level of competence in the
language (“i +1”), then both comprehension and
acquisition will occur.

Krashen’s “monitor model”
 The affective filter hypothesis
 “Affect” refers to feelings, motives, needs, attitudes,
and emotional states.
 The “affective filter” is an imaginary/metaphorical
barrier that prevents learners from acquiring language
from the available input.
 Depending on the learner’s state of mind, the filter
limits what is noticed and what is acquired. A learner
who is tense, anxious, or bored may “filter out” input,
making it unavailable for acquisition.

Krashen’s “monitor model”
 Summary
 Krashen’s “monitor model” (i.e., acquisition vs. learning,
monitor, natural order, comprehensible input, and
affective filter) has been very influential in supporting
communicative language teaching (CLT), which focuses
on using language for meaningful interaction and for
accomplishing tasks, rather than on learning rules.
 Krashen’s hypotheses are intuitively appealing, but
those hypotheses are hard to be tested by empirical

Information processing

 Cognitive psychologists working in this model

 compare language acquisition to the capacities of computers
for storing, integrating, and retrieving information.
 do not think that humans have a language-specific module
(i.e. LAD) in the brain.
 do not assume that ‘acquisition’ and ‘learning’ are distinct
mental processes.
 see L2 acquisition as the building up of knowledge that can
eventually be called on automatically for speaking and
understanding (i.e., general theories of learning can account
for SLA).

Information processing

1. Attention-processing

2. Skill learning

3. Restructuring

4. Transfer appropriate processing

Information processing

 Attention-processing:
 This model suggests that learners have to pay attention at first to any
aspect of the language that they are trying to understand or produce.
 It also suggests there is a limit to how much information a learner can
pay attention to or engage in at one time.
 Gradually, through experience and practice, information that was new
becomes easier to process, and learners become able to access it
quickly and even automatically.
 This can explain why L2 readers need more time to understand a text,
even if they eventually do fully comprehend it.

Information processing

 Skill Learning:
 Some researchers regard SLA as ‘skill learning’. They suggest that
most learning, including language learning, starts with declarative
knowledge (knowledge that).
 Through practice, declarative knowledge may become procedural
knowledge (knowledge how).
 Once skills become procedualized and automatized, thinking about
the declarative knowledge while trying to perform the skill disrupts
the smooth performance of it.
 In SLA, the path from declarative to procedural knowledge is often
like classroom learning where rule learning is followed by practice.

Information processing
 Restructuring:
 Sometimes changes in language behavior do not seem to
be explainable in terms of a gradual build-up of fluency
through practice.
 Restructuring may account for what appear to be sudden
bursts of progress and apparent backsliding.
 It may result from the interaction of knowledge we already
have and the acquisition of new knowledge (without
extensive practice).
e.g. “I saw” → “I seed” or “I sawed” –
overapplying the general rule.

Information processing
 Transfer appropriate processing:
 This hypothesizes that Information is best retrieved in
situations that are similar to those in which it was acquired.
This is because when we learn something our memories also
record something about the context and the way in which it
was learned.
 This can explain why knowledge that is acquired mainly in
rule learning or drill activities may be easier to access on tests
that resemble the learning activities than in communicative
 On the other hand, if learners’ cognitive resources are
occupied with a focus on meaning in communicative activities,
they may find grammar tests very difficult.
Connectionism (I)

 Connectionists attribute greater importance to the role of the

environment than to any specific innate knowledge.
 They argue that what is innate is simply the ability to learn, not
any specifically linguistic principles.
 They emphasize the frequency with which learners encounter
specific linguistic features in the input and the frequency with
which features occur together.

Connectionism (II)

 Connectionists suggest that learners gradually build up their

knowledge of language through exposure to the thousand of
instances of the linguistic features they hear or see.
 Eventually, learners develop stronger mental ‘connections’
between the elements they have learned; thus, the presence of
one situational or linguistic element will activate the other(s) in the
learner’s mind.
 Evidence comes from the observation that much of the language
we use in ordinary conversation is predictable or formulaic.
Language is often learned in chunks larger than single words.

Connectionism (III)

 Findings of connectionist Research :

 Research has shown that a learning mechanism, simulated
by a computer program, can not only “learn” what it hears
but can also “generalize”, even to the point of making
overgeneralization errors.
 These studies have dealt almost exclusively with the
acquisition of vocabulary and grammatical morphemes, that
is, aspects of the language which innatists will grant may be
acquired largely through memorization and simple
generalization. How this model can lead to knowledge of
complex syntactic structure is still under investigation.

The Competition Model
 The competition model is closely related to the connectionist
perspective. It is based on the hypothesis that language acquisition
occurs without the necessity of a learner's focused attention or the
need for any innate capacity specifically for language.
 This model takes into account not only language form but also
language meaning and language use.
 Through exposure to thousands of examples of language associated
with particular meanings, learners come to understand how to use the
‘cues’ with which a language signals specific function.
 Most languages make use of multiple cues, but they differ in the
primacy of each. Therefore, SLA requires that learners learn the
relative importance of the different cues appropriate in the language
they are learning.
L2 Applications

 The interaction hypothesis

 The noticing hypothesis

 Input processing

 Processability theory

The Interaction Hypothesis

 SLA takes place through conversational interaction.

 Long (1983) argued that modified interaction is the
necessary mechanism for making language
 What learners need is not necessarily simplification of the
linguistic forms but rather an opportunity to interact with
other speakers, working together to reach mutual
 Research shows that native speakers consistently modify
their speech in sustained conversation with non-native
The Interaction Hypothesis

 Long’s original formulation (1983) of the Interaction


1. Interactional modification makes input


2. Comprehensible input promotes acquisition;


3. Interactional modification promotes acquisition.

The Interaction Hypothesis

 Modified interaction involves linguistic simplifications

and conversational modifications.
 Examples of conversational modifications:
elaboration, slower speech rate, gesture, additional
contextual cues, comprehension checks, clarification
requests, and self-repetition or paraphrase.

 Research has demonstrated that conversational

adjustments can aid comprehension in the L2.

The Interaction Hypothesis

 Long’s revised version (1996) of the Interaction

- more emphasis is placed on the importance of
corrective feedback during interaction.
- “negotiating for meaning” is seen as the opportunity for
language development.

 “Comprehensible output hypothesis” (Swain, 1985)

The demands of producing comprehensible output
“push” learners ahead in their development.

The Noticing Hypothesis

 Noticing Hypothesis (Schmidt, 1990, 2001)

- Nothing is learned unless it has been noticed.
- Noticing does not itself result in acquisition, but it is the
essential starting point.
- L2 learners could not begin to acquire a language
feature until they had become aware of it in the input.
 Whether learners must be aware that they are “noticing”
something in the input in order to acquire linguistic
feature is considered debatable.

Input Processing

 Input processing (VanPatten, 2004)

- Learners have limited processing capacity and cannot
pay attention to form and meaning at the same time.
- They tend to give priority to meaning. When the
context in which they hear a sentence helps them
make sense of it, they do not notice details of the
language form.

Processability Theory

 Processability theory (Pienemann, 1999, 2003)

- The research showed that the sequence of development
for features of syntax and morphology was affected by
how easy these were to process.
- It integrates developmental sequences with L1 influence.
- Learners do not simply transfer features from their L1
at early stages of acquisition.
- They have to develop a certain level of processing
capacity in the L2 before they can use their knowledge
of the features that already exist in their L1.
The Sociocultural Perspective

 Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory

 Language development takes place in the social
interactions between individuals.
 Speaking (and writing) mediate thinking.
 Zone of proximal development (ZPD): when there is
support from interaction with an interlocutor, the learner is
capable of performing at a higher level.
 L2 learners advance to higher levels of linguistic knowledge
when they collaborate and interact with speakers of the L2
who are more knowledgeable than they are.

The Sociocultural Perspective
 The difference between Vygotsky’s socialcultural
theory and the interaction hypothesis:
Vygotsky Interaction hypothesis
- Language acquisition takes - Interaction needs to be modified
place in the interactions of and through negotiation for
learner and interlocutor. meaning.
- Greater importance is attached - Emphasis is on the individual
to the conversations, with cognitive processes in the mind
learning occurring through the of the learner.
social interaction.

 There is no agreement on a “complete” theory of second
language acquisition yet.
 Each theoretical framework has a different focus and its
1. Behaviorism: emphasizing stimuli and responses, but ignoring
the mental processes that are involved in learning.
2. Innatism: innate LAD, based on intuitions
3. Information processing and connectionism: involving
controlled laboratory experiments where human learning is
similar to computer processing.
4. Interactionist position: modification of interaction promotes
language acquisition and development.