Last Updated 16 Jun 2020

Compare Two Theories of First/Second Language Acquisition

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A3 Compare two theories of first/second language acquisition. The process by which humans acquire the capacity to distinguish properly as well as produce and use words to understand and communicate with others is known as first language acquisition. It focuses mainly on how infants pick up their native language, including syntax and some extensive vocabulary items, having so little input. We can distinguish many theoretical approaches towards the first language learning process.

Behaviourists, for instance, whose main motto is ‘Say what I say’ claim that learning of the language is the result of habit formation, imitation practice and feedback on success. Children naturally imitate what they hear in their environment, then if they receive positive reinforcement, they are able to form ‘habits’ of proper language use. On the other hand, a linguist Noam Chomsky holds that language development may be compared to the most basic biological functions such as an ability to walk as “every child will learn to walk as long as adequate nourishment and reasonable freedom of movement are provided” (Lightbown and Spada 1999:15).

Both theories emphasize the importance of the environment which plays a crucial role when stimulating child’s language development. Hence, in order to pick up the language in a proper way the child must be exposed to the language given. However, contradictory to the behaviourist theory, Chomsky claims that the language is, to some degree, confusing and the provided information is not sufficient for a child to learn the language only by imitating particular words and phrases.

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That is to say, the environment fails to provide all necessary information which the child needs. To sum up, the greatest difference between behaviourism and innatism is the opinion about child’s mind. Behaviourists claim that child should be, in some way, programmed by the environment, meaning child’s mind is a blank slate that has to be filled. However, Chomsky is of the opinion that every child comes to this world with a special ability to discover all language rules by itself. Bibliography: Lightbown, P. and Spada, N. 1999. How Languages are Learned. Oxford: OUP.

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