Explaining Second Language Learning
Contexts for language learning
o 1. Young child learning a first language
o 2. Child learning a second language in day care or on the playground.
o 3. Adolescents taking a foreign language class in their own country.
o 4. An adult immigrant with limited or disrupted education working in a second
language environment and having no opportunity to go to language classes.
o second language learners have the prior knowledge of how the languages work
(may be an advantage).
o Very young language learners begin first language acquisition without the
cognitive maturity or metalinguistic awareness that older second language
o Use of these skills—can actually interfere with language acquisition.
o Besides cognitive differences, there are attitudinal and cultural differences
between children and adults.
o Even very young children differ in their willingness to speak a language they do
not know well.
o Younger learners are usually allowed to be silent until they are ready to speak.
o Older learners are often forced to speak (classroom setting etc.)
o Young children in informal settings are usually exposed to sevond language for
many hours every day.
o Older learners receive limited exposure to second language (smaller range of
o Classroom learners are taught language that is somewhat formal.
o For young children, parents tend to respond to their children’s language in terms
of its meaning rather than in terms of its grammatical accuracy.
o For adults, it is unlikely that second language speaker would be told that
something had gone wrong unless in the classroom setting.
o Exposure to modified or adapted input seems to be relatively equal among age
groups…also called foreigner talk/teacher talk: the intuitive sense of what
adjustments need to be made to help learners understand.
o Cognitivist theories emphasize the way the mind receives, retains, organizes, and
o Behaviorist theory explained learning in terms of imitation, practice,
reinforcement, and habit formation.
Second language applications: mimicry and memorization
o Because language development was viewed as formation of habits, it was assumed that learning a second language would start off with habits formed in
first language and that these habits would interfere with new ones needed for
o CAH (contrastive analysis hypothesis: first language and target language are
similarlearners should acquire target language structures with ease; where there
are differences, learners should have difficulty.
o Instead, many of their actual errors are not predictable on basis of their first
o First language influence may become more apparent as more is learned about the
Innatist perspective: Universal grammar
o Chomsky argues that UG (universal grammar) permits all children to acquire the
language of their environment during a critical period of their development.
o Vivian Cook: even though many learners fail to achieve complete mastery of the
target language, there is still a ‘logical problem’ of second language acquisition.
o Lydia White et al believe the nature of UG is altered by acquisition of the first
language suggest that second language learners may sometimes need explicit
information about what is not grammatical in the second language.
Second language application: Krashen’s ‘monitor model’
o Described in terms of 5 hypotheses
o Acqusitionlearning hypothesis: we acquire as we are exposed to samples of the
second language we understand in much the same way that children pick up their
first language—with no conscious attention to language form.
o Monitor hypothesis—acquired system initiates a speaker’s utterances and is
responsible for spontaneous language use.
o Monitoring takes place only when the speaker/writer has plenty of time, is
concerned about producing correct language, and has learned the relevant rules.
o Natural order hypothesis: as in first language acqusition, second language
acquisition unfolds in predictable sequences.
o Language features that are easiest to state are not necessarily the first to be
o Input hypothesis: occurs when one is exposed to language that is comprehensible
and that contains I +1. I represents language already acquire, +1 metaphor for
language that is just a step beyond that level.
o Affective filter hypothesis: metaphorical barrier that prevents learners from
acquiring language even when appropriate input is available.
o A learner who is tense, anxious, or bored may ‘filter out’ input, making it
unavailable for acquisition.
Curren psychological theories: the cognitivist/developmental perspective
o No need to hypothesize that humans have a language specific module in the brain
or that ‘acquisition’ and ‘learning’ are distinct mental processes. Information processing
o ‘pay attention’ in this context is accepted to mean using cognitive resources to
o when proficient listeners hear a familiar word, even for a split second, they cannot
help but understand it.
o Such automatic responses do not use up the kind of resources needed for
processing new information.
o Declarative knowledge: referred to as knowledge that.
o Procedural knowledge: knowledge how.
o With practice declarative knowledge may become procedural knowledge: i.e. in
the classroom where rule learning is followed by practice.
o Sometimes changes in language behavior seem to be based on some qualitative
change in the learner’s knowledge.
o According to ‘transfer appropriate processing’, information is best retrieves in
situations that are similar to t