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Second Language acquisition

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Generally people have one mother tongue. They speak one native language (L1-Source language) throughout their lives. However, with globalization affecting all aspects of life, more and more people are learning two languages. Second Language acquisition is the process of learning a second language (L2) by any human being.

SLA researchers develop various research methodologies. The research paper will seek to explain some of the most relevant and recognized theories in the development of SLA.

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Further, the paper will explain what how learners can be successful in their classroom goals and how SLA can be passed on effectively.

The implications of each theory discussed initially will be elaborated to form detailed discussions on the impact of the theories on effective second language teaching. Krashen’s theory of Second language: One of the major theories to have developed SLA was that forwarded by Krashen.

His theory consists of 5 main hypotheses in order of placement as given below (Freeman, 2001):

  • The acquisition learning hypothesis
  • The monitor hypothesis
  • The Natural Order hypothesis
  • The Input Hypothesis
  • The Active filter hypothesis According to Krashen, there are two independent systems of SLA; the acquired system and the learned system.

When a child is young and is part of the initial socialization process, the language he learns, he or she does so subconsciously (Robinson, 2001). That is similar to the acquired system. The learned system involves a conscious process which involved the learner being actively involved and participating in learning about the knowledge.

For example; the learning of grammar rules. According to Krashen, learning is less important than acquisition (Freeman, 2001). The second hypothesis is the monitor hypothesis. This hypothesis explains relationship of the earlier hypothesis and defines the influence of the latter on the former.

The monitoring function can be seen as a practical result of the learned grammar. According to Krashen, the acquisition system acts as the initiator of all linguistic activities. The learned system has a defined role of that as a “monitor” meaning that it corrects the mistakes, plans the conversation and edits as the person speaks (Freeman, 2001).

For this to occur, Krashen mentioned three claims that must be satisfied for this hypothesis to work:

1. SLA learner must have sufficient time at their disposal.

2. They must think about form of correction.

3. They have the grammatical understanding.

Krashen suggests that differences based on the personalities of individuals learning a second language also determine the variance at which they use the monitor system (Freeman, 2001). According to Krashen, some people use the monitor a lot more than others (Over-users), some use it far less (Under users), and others use an optimal level(Optimal Users) (Mitchell, 2004).

An example that follows the claim is that introverts and perfectionist tend to be over users than extroverts who under use the system. In part, the confidence of an individual determines how far he or she will use the monitor system (Freeman, 2001).

The natural order hypothesis on the other hand claims that all language and grammar sequences follow a pattern and are predictable (Robinson, 2001). For a given language, some grammatical structures are acquired earlier than others.

Krashen argues that the main claim should be language acquisition rather than grammatical sequencing (Freeman, 2001). Step by step learning is the main issues here. Grammatical errors and corrections are placed in a natural order. So students who pass through this stage follow a set pattern. The input hypothesis goes on to explain how the learner actually acquires the second language.

Based on the input hypothesis, stress is only given to acquisition and not learning (Cook, 2008). The main concept of this theory is that a learner improves and progresses over time with the “natural order” when they receive a second order input a step beyond his current linguistic abilities (Freeman, 2001).

The implications are clear in this hypothesis. Students learn more and more with time as input increases. The level of input is generally higher than the first level. this change in input develops a challenging atmosphere where students learn more. The last hypothesis in this theory is the affective filter hypothesis.

The claim here is on external factors effecting language acquisition. According to Krashan, external factors such as low motivation, low self esteem, and deliberating anxiety raises the affective filter and can raise the mental block which prevents learners from increasing their linguistic abilities (Freeman, 2001).

These mental blocks inhibit a student from absorbing more information and inevitably, learning more. With mental blocks in place, teaching techniques are rendered ineffective. The first four stages hold no meaning if a particular learner is in an atmosphere where he or she cannot absorb the information being handed down to them.

Continuum of learning: Another theory assumes that linguistic learning takes place in a predictable and sequential stage of linguistic development. Second language acquisition takes places through a series of stages.

Each learner passes through the stages one by one, gaining more experience, knowledge and information as time progresses. Understanding of these stages results in effective learning and teaching. According to the theory, there are 5 distinct stages of second language development (Robinson, 2001).

Stage 1: The silent/receptive or production stage.

Stage 2: the early production stage.

Stage 3: The Speech Emergence.

Stage Stage 4: The intermediate Language Proficiency Stage.

Stage 5: The Advanced Language Proficiency Stage.

The first stage lasts for 10 hours to six months. The student spends time silently observing the situation. Simple gestures to responses such as pointing lead the student to understand new words that are made comprehensible to them (Cook, 2008). The second stage of early production lasts an additional 6 months after the initial stage.

By this time a receptive word limit of 1000 words has been established in the learner’s sphere of comprehension. Students begin to speak two or three word phrases and can demonstrate comprehension of new materials (Robinson, 2001).

The third stage of speech emergence comes about after the learner has accumulated a word comprehension limit of 3000 words. Students begin to use dialogues and also start asking questionings. The fourth stage deals with intermediate language proficiency. This stage involves the formation of complex statements by learners and vocabulary base of 6,000 words exists.

Learners begin to state opinions, ask clarifications and argue with contradicting statements of others (Gass, 2008). The final stage of advanced language proficiency takes 5 to 7 years to develop. At this point, absolute fluency of language develops and the learner can converse as if the second language is their mother tongue (Robinson, 2001). Jim Cummins distinction between BICS and CALP: Jim Cullin further describes SLA through his distinction of basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) and cognitive academic language proficiency.

According to research, students develop reasonably good interpersonal communication skills within 2-5 years. However, when it comes to fluency in technical language and academia, the process can go up to 7 years (Gass, 2008).

Jim Cullins described this to be attributed to context embedded communication which takes the use of gestures, objects and vocal inflections to make information more comprehensible. Visual props speed the learning process (Cook, 2008). Context reduced communication provides fewer communication clues to develop a more comprehensive learning technique.

Learners find it more difficult and experience fluency after a long time (Robinson, 2001). He further distinguished his theory in the light of cognitive abilities. Simple yes or no questions involve little cognitive abilities (Gass, 2008).

They are termed as cognitively undemanding communication. Some situations, such as lectures and academic sessions require students to be constantly involved in critical thinking. These are cognitively demanding communication (Gass, 2008). Socio-cultural theory: Another theory that seeks to understand second language acquisition is the socio-cultural theory.

The basis of this theory is regarding communication competence as social, cultural and historical artifacts rather than describing a human being as the main processor interacting with linguistic rules and grammar. The theory values learner’s cultural and historical backgrounds. Each learner is seen to have an individualistic behavioral pattern and personality. Humans are unique and the way they learn is also unique. The main claim of the theory is that social as well as cultural factors determine how a person learns another language and successfully applies it.

The pace of the learning and the comprehension level are based on socio-cultural factors. Meaning, the way an individual will interact with society will determine his learning abilities(Lantolf 2000).. Some of the conditions attached to the theory are:

1. Zone of proximal development.

2. Transition from other regulation to self regulation

3. Mediation using symbolic and physical tools.

The first condition of zone of proximal development refers to the idea that people learn more when they are with others than they do when they are alone (Lantolf 2000).

The second condition states that one person who knows more takes a leading role and thus advances the learning of the person who is not in the leadership role (Lantolf 2000). Finally, the third condition states that human beings use tools and symbols to interact with the world.

They never interact with the world directly and therefore, these symbols and tools should be given utmost importance (Lantolf 2000). Physical tools involve shovels, glasses, etc, whereas the symbolic tool involves gestures, mathematics, etc. Effective SLA teaching:

The theories discussed above have deep understanding for teachers who teach second languages. Based upon the above researches, many scholars have pointed out effective techniques to encourage students to achieve second language acquisition at a faster and more comprehensive rate.

Implications for Krashen Theory: Krashen identified the input hypothesis which claims that when students are given inputs a little higher than their level, they develop more comprehensive second language acquisition. This implication has had and is currently developing further improvements in teaching all over the world (Robinson, 2001).

Now, teachers give students slight challenges as they excel in their academic realm. A young student is taught by creating an initial base, which acts like a foundation. Further improvements in the form of general sentence complication and slightly harder grammar is added to curriculum, to challenge the intelligence of students.

These inputs act as foundations to the base that was already created (Robinson, 2001). However, the abilities and prior knowledge of students must be kept in mind when developing inputs further than their level of understanding.

If the input is far above their current level of understanding, it will go un-received resulting in ineffective teaching. Teachers should focus on consistent, comprehensible input that is familiar to the student. Furthermore, the theory lays claims to the affective filter hypothesis.

Krashen argued that there are external filters than stop a student from learning further. These include topics of motivation, self esteem and anxiety. Classrooms should be channeled in a very open environment (Spolsky, 1989). They should be non-threatening and engaging at the same time.

They should focus on student motivation and should keep in mind the cultural and social backgrounds students come from (Brown, 1988). Without trying to minimize the external factors mentioned, the mental block created by the affective filters cause’s students to learn at a very slow pace. Often, not developing second language acquisition at all. Implications for continuum of learning: This theory argues that students pass through a series of stages of developing SLA. In such circumstance, research has shown that it is essential that the teaching figure take this into account when passing on information to students.

The underlying basis is that teachers should educate children or second language learners in the same sequential way as the stages ordain. This way, students will not be given information above their learning level or below (Lantolf, 2000).

This achieves efficiency and effectiveness in teaching second languages in classrooms (Lantolf, 2000). Finally, teachers should also be concerned above helping their students’ progress to the next stage. Knowing which stage a student is at, it is extremely helpful in determining how to develop the Childs learning curve so that he or she can progress further (Spolsky, 1989).

By having such profound information at hand, teachers can speed up the learning process and second language acquisition can take place faster than normal rates. Implications for Jim Cullins theory: The main context this theory approaches is context based learning.

Research has shown that visual cues such as gestures, objects and graphics help a child learn faster than normal. In such circumstances, and in light of the theory provided by Jim Cullins, teachers should move towards developing cognitively demanding, context embedded teaching material.

The instructional strategies and guides that teachers create should revolve around these aspects if they are to help students learn faster (Spolsky, 1989). Teachers must realize that mainstreaming students into second language acquisition will require them to transform their entire teaching methodology to incorporate context embedded information (Spolsky, 1989).

This means, normal lectures and teaching assignments should be visually demanding and challenging for the students critical thinking abilities (Lantolf, 2000). Without such transformations, students will learn at a much slower pace than usual.

Implications of the Socio-Cultural Theory: According to the socio cultural theory, the first condition of proximal development leads us to safely assume that until and unless people are given a chance to interact with others, their learning curves will not be as productive as otherwise (Lantolf 2000).

Therefore, teachers are required to provide children and second language learners with interactive sessions and integrative atmospheres. The second condition of self regulation involves the ordainment of a leadership role to one of the participants.

This not only increases the abilities and confidence of the leader, but also develops the subordinates who get guidance, advice and developmental advice from the leader (Lantolf 2000). This helps in developing people so they are more receptive towards, second language acquisition.

The third and final implication, where the use of symbols and tools are involved, is that teachers should use such models for teaching. The use of symbols and tools are very relevant in learning because they speed up the process of learning itself.

Since human beings do not interact with the world directly, indirect circumstances must be channeled effectively. Therefore, teachers should focus on teaching using common tools and symbols to help students relate to the task at hand and learn faster as a consequence (Lantolf 2000).

Refrences:

Freeman, David (2001). Between Worlds: Access to Second Language Acquisition.

Heinemann Robinson, Peter (2001). Cognition and Second Language Instruction.

Cambridge University Press Mitchell, Rosamond (2004). Second Language Learning Theories. A Hodder Arnold Publication.

Cook, Vivian (2008). Second Language Learning and Language Teaching.

Oxford University Press. Gass, Susan (2008). Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course.

Routledge. Brown, James (1988). Understanding Research in Second Language Learning: A Teacher’s Guide to Statistics and Research Design.

Oxford University Press. Spolsky, Bernard (1989). Conditions for Second Language Learning.

Oxford University Press. Lantolf, James (2000). Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Learning. Oxford University Press.

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