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second Language Learning Theories Chapter One

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Second Language Learning Theories
Prof. Zeddari
Source: Mitchell, R., and F. Myles (2004). Second Language Learning Theories. London:
Hodder Arnold.
Chapter One: Second language learning: key concepts and issues
Table of Contents
Chapter One : Second language learning: key concepts and issues....................................... 1
Introduction: ......................................................................................................................... 1
Second Language Learning/acquisition: ............................................................................ 2
What makes for a good theory? .......................................................................................... 3
Views on the nature of language: ........................................................................................ 3
Competence Performance: .................................................................................................. 4
The language learning process ............................................................................................ 4
Modularity: ........................................................................................................................... 4
'Systematicity' and variability in SLL ................................................................................ 5
Creativity and routines in SLL ........................................................................................... 6
Incomplete success and fossilization ................................................................................... 6
Cross-linguistic influences in SLL ...................................................................................... 7
The relationship between second language use and second language learning .............. 7
Views of the language learner ............................................................................................. 8
The language learner as a language processor .............................................................. 8
Differences between individual learners ........................................................................ 8
The learner as a social being ............................................................................................ 9
Links with social practice .................................................................................................. 10
Conclusion ........................................................................................................................... 10
Further References: ........................................................................................................... 10
Chapter One : Second language learning: key concepts and issues
Introduction:
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offer introductory definitions of a range of key terms
compare the goals and claims of particular theories with one another
Summarize key issues
1.2 What makes for a 'good' explanation or theory
1.3 Views on the nature of language
1.4 Views of the language learning process
1.5 Views of the language learner
1.6 Links between language learning theory and social practice.
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Second Language Learning Theories
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Second Language Learning/acquisition:
 Second Language Acquisition (SLA) refers both to the study of individuals and groups
who are learning a language subsequent to learning their first one as young children,
and to the process of learning that language.

learning of any language, to any level, provided only that the learning of the 'second'
language takes place some time later than the acquisition of the first language
 the underlying learning processes are essentially the same for more local and for more
remote target languages
Scope: No distinction between formal, conscious learning and informal, unconscious
acquisition
SLA has emerged as a field of study primarily from within linguistics and psychology (and
their subfields of applied linguistics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, and social
psychology)
(1) What exactly does the L2 learner come to know?
(2) How does the learner acquire this knowledge?
(3) Why are some learners more successful than others?
To answer these questions:
 Linguists emphasize the characteristics of the differences and similarities in the
languages that are being learned, and the linguistic competence (underlying
knowledge) and linguistic performance (actual production) of learners at various
stages of acquisition.
 Psychologists and psycholinguists emphasize the mental or cognitive processes
involved in acquisition, and the representation of language(s) in the brain.
 Sociolinguists emphasize variability in learner linguistic performance, and extend the
scope of study to communicative competence (underlying knowledge that additionally
accounts for language use, or pragmatic competence).
 Social psychologists emphasize group-related phenomena, such as identity and social
motivation, and the interactional and larger social contexts of learning.
SLA AND LANGUAGE TEACHING
the implications of theory and research for teaching second languages
The distinction between second and foreign Language:
 A second language is typically an official or societally dominant language needed for
education, employment, and other basic purposes. It is often acquired by minority
group members or immigrants who speak another language natively. In this more
restricted sense, the term is contrasted with other terms in this list.
 A foreign language is one not widely used in the learners’ immediate social context
which might be used for future travel or other crosscultural communication situations,
or studied as a curricular requirement or elective in school, but with no immediate or
necessary practical application.
 first language, native language, primary language, and mother tongue:
languages which are acquired during early childhood – normally beginning before the age of
about three years – and that they are learned as part of growing up among people who speak
them
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Second Language Learning Theories
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What makes for a good theory?
Why Study SLL?
Because improved knowledge in this particular domain is interesting in itself can also
contribute to more general understanding about the nature of language, of human learning and
of intercultural communication, and thus about the human mind itself the knowledge will be
useful
A theory is a more or less abstract set of claims about the units that are significant within the
phenomenon under study, the relationships that exist between them and the processes that
bring about change description and explanation
a property theory will be primarily concerned with modelling the nature of the language
system that is to be acquired
a transition theory will be primarily concerned with modelling the change or developmental
processes of language acquisition.
Systematic enquiry: the claims of the theory are assessed against some kind of evidence or
data.
a process of hypothesis testing through formal experiment
ecological procedures: naturally occurring data are analysed and interpreted theory building
is reflexive
a 'general theory of second language learning'
(For fuller discussion of evaluation criteria, see McLaughlin 1987, pp. 12-18; Long, 1993;
Gregg, 2003.)
McLaughlin, B. 1987: Theories of second language learning. London: Edward Arnold.
Long, M.H. 1993: Assessment strategies for SLA theories. Applied Linguistics 14, 225-49.
Gregg, K. 2003: SLA theory: construction and assessment. In Doughty, CJ. And Long, M.H.
(eds), The handbook of second language acquisition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 831-65.
Questions to consider:
 What does the theory cover?
 What does it try to account for?
 Is the theory testable and falsifiable?
 Descriptive and explanantory adequacy criteria?
 How does it account for what other theories already account for? How is it superior to
them?
Views on the nature of language:
Levels of language:
phonology, syntax, morphology, semantics and lexis3 pragmatics, and discourse
Chomsky 1957 'grammar is autonomous and independent of meaning'
Firth 'there is no boundary between lexis and grammar: lexis and grammar are
interdependent'
Different sla researchers take into account various levels to varying degrees
Questions:
1. Does language-learning start with words, or with discourse?
2. What is the degree of separation or integration between the different levels?
the control of syntax and morphology is commonly seen as somehow 'central' to language
learning
SLL-oriented studies of pragmatics and of lexical development are semiautonoumous
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Competence Performance:
We need to take account of the extent to which a competence or performance distinction is
assumed to understand SLA research.
What is the main focus of Linguistics?
 analysis of actual attested samples of language in use
 underlying principles and rules that govern language behaviour
Competence: the abstract and hidden representation of language knowledge held inside our
minds, with its potential to create and understand original utterances in a given language
Performance:
 imperfect reflections of competence
 the infinite creativity of the underlying system can never adequately be reflected in a
finite data sample
 Indirectly test for competence through grammaticality judgments
Firth
 the only option for linguists is to study language in use
 corpus linguistics/ very large corpora comprising millions of words of running text
can be stored electronically and analysed with a growing range of software tools, has
revitalized the writing of'observationbased grammars'
 In Sla learner language corpora can be analyzed to find patterns or test for hypotheses
The language learning process
Nature nurture debate:
How much of human learning derives from innate predispositions, that is, some form of
genetic pre-programming, and how much of it derives from social and cultural experiences
that influence us as we grow up?
The behaviourist/nativist debate
Child language specialists nowgenerally accept the basic notion of an innate predisposition to
language.
This cannot account for all aspects of language development, which results from an
interaction between innate and environmental factors. That is, complementary mechanisms,
including active involvement in language use, are equally essential for the development of
communicative competence
How does the nature-nurture debate affect SLL theories?
Should we be aiming to reproduce the 'natural' circumstances of first-language learning as far
as possible for the SLL student?
NO 'environmental'factors seem to influence SLL
Modularity:
 Is the human mind modular or unitary?
 should we see the mind as a single, flexible organism, with one general set of
procedures for learning and storing different kinds of knowledge and skills?
 Or, is it more helpfully understood as a bundle of modules, with distinctive
mechanisms relevant to different types of knowledge
Johnson (1996)
Piaget:
 argued that language was simply one manifestation of the more general skill of
symbolic representation,
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Second Language Learning Theories
Prof. Zeddari

acquired as a stage in general cognitive development; no special mechanism was
therefore required to account for first language acquisition.
Chomsky:
 Poverty of the stimulus: too complex to be learnt from environmental exposure
 Too distinctive to be learnt by general learning procedures
 A distinct learning mechanism: parameter setting
The modularity of linguistic competence:
language competence itself is modular, with different aspects of language knowledge being
stored and accessed in distinctive ways
Is there a specialist language module that accounts for FLA and SLA
1. If there is such a module, it will continue to operate during SLL, and make key aspects
of SLL possible, in the same way that they make first-language learning possible.
Krashen
2. After the acquisition of the first language in early childhood, these mechanisms cease
to be operable, and second languages must be learnt by other means.
McLaughlin (1987, pp. 133-53) COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY Ansderson on learning as
information processing
Applications:(O'Malley and Chamot, 1990 learning strategies;Towell and Hawkins, 1994;
Johnson, 1996).
Towell and Hawkins in particular tried to integrate information- processing with Universal
Grammar
behaviourist (associative) theories of learning : 'connectionism' models SLL processes in
computer simulations (N.C. Ellis, 2003).
Ellis, N.C. 2003: Constructions, chunking, and connectionism: the emergence of second
language structure. In Doughty, C. and Long, M. (eds), The handbook of second language
acquisition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 63-103.
3. The mechanisms themselves are no longer operable, but the first language provides a model
of a natural language and how it works, which can be 'copied' in some way when learning a
second language.
4. Distinctive learning mechanisms for language remain available, but only in part, and must
be supplemented by other means. (From a Universal Grammar point of view, this would mean
that Universal
Grammar was itself modular, with some modules still available and others not.)
Sharwood Smith (1994): SLA IS MODULAR
Smith, N.V. andTsimpli, I-M. 1995: The mind of a savant: Language learning and modularity.
Oxford: Blackwell.
'Systematicity' and variability in SLL
 Two central features of learner interlanguage that SLL theories have to explain
Mistakes as viewed by teachers
Mistakes in behaviourism
 though learners' second-language utterances may be deviant by comparison with target
language norms, they are by no means lacking in system
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Second Language Learning Theories
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 L 2 learners go through Developmental stages
 their language productions can be described by a set of underlying rules
Negation:
learners Start off by tacking a negative particle of some kind on to the beginning or the end of
an utterance (no you are playing here). Next, they learn to insert a negative particle of some
kind into the verb phrase (Mariana not coming today) and, finally, they learn to manipulate
modifications to auxiliaries and other details of negation morphology
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L2 learners follow the same route of acquisition but at varying rates
FLA and SLA follow the same route of acquisition: Why?
Interlanguage systems are also characterized by variability
Learners seem liable to switch between a range of correct and incorrect forms over
lengthy periods of time: no look my card, don't look my card
variability is also found in child language development
Creativity and routines in SLL
How come that L2 Learners may produce creative target -like structures and non-target like
structures at the same time?
Generativists:
 Learner language is generative, creative and original
 their rule system can generate utterances appropriate to a given context, which the
learner has never heard before
Corpus Linguistics oriented research:
 L2 learners also rely on formulas or prefabricated chunks
 first-language utterances are a complex mix of creativity and prefabrication (Sinclair,
1991) Usage based theories of FLA documented the the use of unanalysed chunks by
young children h (Wray, 2002;Tomasello, 2003).
Tomasello, M. 2003: Constructing a language: a usage-based theory of language acquisition.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Wray, A. 2002: Formulaic language and the lexicon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wray, A. and Perkins, M. 2000: The functions of formulaic language: an integrated model.
Language and Communication 20, 1-28.
The use of prefabricated routines can be an aid to SLA
FLA : processing constraints
SLA: memory is an aid
Incomplete success and fossilization
Any SLA theory must explain why
while some learners go on learning, and arrive very close to the target language norm, others
seem to cease to make any visible progress, no matter how many language classes they attend,
or how actively they continue to use their second language for communicative purposes
Fossilization: A learner's second language system seems to 'freeze', or become stuck, at
some more or less deviant stage.
Psycholinguistic accounts:
 language-specific learning mechanisms available to the young child simply cease to
work for older learners
Sociolinguistic accounts:
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Second Language Learning Theories
Prof. Zeddari

older second language learners do not have the social opportunities, or the motivation,
to identify completely with the native speaker community, but may instead value their
distinctive identity as learners or as members of an identifiable minority group
Cross-linguistic influences in SLL
Language transfer: the effect of the L1 on the L2
what exactly is being transferred?
Behaviourist theorists viewed language transfer as an important source of error and
interference in SLL
Early generativists tried to discover universal patterns and developmental sequences
downplaying the role of L1 transfer
Contemporary theorists agree that crosslinguistic influences play an important role in SLL.
They disagree, however, on its nature and extent
1. At what level do student transfer?
2. What do learners transfer?
3. Does transfer affect the developmental route and rate of acquisition
Within the UG framework:
 Is access to universal grammar direct or indirect?
 The relationship between second language use and SLL
 What is the relationship that exists between using a second language and learning that
same language?
The relationship between second language use and second language learning



Performance involves both speaking and understanding the language.
SLA theorizing needs to reveal the role of both input and output on L2 development.
theorists hold different views on the contribution both of language input and language
output to language learning.
Consensus:
 It is necessary to interpret and to process incoming language data in some form, for
normal language development to take place
 language input of some kind is essential for normal language learning
The comprehensible input hypothesis:
input (at the right level of difficulty) was all that was necessary for second language
acquisition to take place (Krashen, 1982, 1985)
Other theoretical viewpoints support in some form the commonsense view that speaking a
language is helpful for learning
Behaviourist learning theory saw regular (oral) practice as helpful in forming correct
language 'habits'
More recently
Practicing the language leads to fluency development and control of an emergent language
system
 information-processing theorists commonly argue that language competence
consists of both a knowledge component ('knowing that') and a skill component
('knowing how')
 They disagree on the source of this knowledge: is it UG or instruction
 Second language use or performance helps develop the skill component
The comprehensible output hypothesis (Swain, 1985; Swain and Lapkin, 1995):
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Second Language Learning Theories
Prof. Zeddari
The act of speaking forces us to try out our ideas about how the target grammar actually
works, and of course gives us the chance of getting some feedback from interlocutors who
may fail to understand our efforts.
Two major perspectives on interaction are apparent:
Psycholinguistic Accounts:
The interaction Hypothesis
Second language interaction is mainly interesting because of the opportunities it seems to
offer to individual second language learners, to fine-tune the language input they are receiving
through negotiation of meaning (Long, 1996)
Interaction also allows for negative feedback provision whose role is debatable in the
linguistics literature.
Negative feedback ranges from a formal correction offered by a teacher, to a more informal
rephrasing of a learner's second language utterance, offered by a native-speaking
conversational partner.
The controversy:
 correction often seems ineffective
 useful only when they relate to 'hot spots' currently being restructured in the learner's
emerging second language system
 the learner is viewed as operating and developing a relatively autonomous second
language system, and they see interaction as a way of feeding that system with more
or less fine-tuned input data
Sociolinguistic Accounts:
 the language learning process is viewed as essentially social
 both the identity of the learner, and his or her language knowledge, are collaboratively
constructed and reconstructed in the course of interaction
Views of the language learner
 second language' research generally deals with learners who embark on the learning of
an additional language, at least some years after they have started to acquire their first
language
 Formal systematic learning in a classroom setting
 Informal social contact/ work, migration
 the linguistic perspective is concerned with modelling language structures and
processes within the mind
 the social psychological perspective is concerned with modelling individual
differences among learners, and their implications for eventual learning success
 the socio-cultural perspective is concerned with learners as social beings and
members of social groups and networks.
The language learner as a language processor
 Linguists and psycholinguists attempt to model the inner mental mechanisms available
to the learner for processings learning and storing new language knowledge.
 They attempt to document and explain the developmental route along which learners
travel
 minimize or disregard social and contextual differences among learners
 Divided on the critical period hypothesis: Do child and adult second language learners
learn in essentially similar ways?
Differences between individual learners
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Second Language Learning Theories
Prof. Zeddari
L2 learners differ greatly in the degree of success that they achieve
Social psychologists
 have argued consistently that these differences in learning outcomes must be due to
individual differences among learners
(For a review see Gardner and Maclntyre,1992, 1993)
Gardner, R.C. and Maclntyre, P.D. 1992: A student's contributions to second language
learning. Part I: cognitive variables. Language Teaching 25, 211-20.
Gardner, R.C. and Maclntyre, P.D. 1993: A student's contributions to second language
learning. Part II: affective variables. Language Teaching 26, 1-11.
Cognitive differences
Intelligence
there is clear evidence that second-language students who are above average on formal
measures of intelligence or general academic attainment tend to do well in SLL
Language aptitude
 sub-skills believed to be predictive of SLL success: (a) phonetic coding ability; (b)
grammatical sensitivity; (c) memory abilities; and (d) inductive language learning
ability.
 Language learning strategies:
 do more successful language learners set about the task in some distinctive way?
 Do they have at their disposal some special repertoire of ways of learning, or
strategies?
 Can we teach these strategies to less successful students?
 Research tried to describe and categorize learning strategies
 (Oxford and Crookall, 1989)
Affective differences
Language attitude:
Do L2 learners attitudes affect their attainment?
Motivation
 the motivated individual 'is one who wants to achieve a particular goal, devotes
considerable effort to achieve this goal, and experiences satisfaction in the activities
 consistent relationships have been demonstrated between language attitudes,
motivation and second-language achievement associated with achieving this goal'.
 Process model of motivation Dorneyi : Motivation changes over time
 Language anxiety and willingness to communicate
 language anxiety 'is seen as a stable personality trait referring to the propensity for an
individual to react in a nervous manner when speaking . . . in the second language'
 'willingness to communicate' has been proposed as a mediating factor in secondlanguage use and SLL (Maclntyre et al., 2002)
 This construct includes anxiety and confidence alongside a range of other variables
which together produce 'readiness to enter into discourse at a particular time with a
specific person or persons, using a L2'
The learner as a social being
 Another appraoch that takes learner differences into consideration
 the second language learner is essentially a social being, taking part in structured
social networks and social practices
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Second Language Learning Theories
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Prof. Zeddari
This research redresses the balance between the psycholinguistic and individualistic
appraoch to learner differences
The social context that students are involved in allows for the restructuring of their
learning opportunities
concern with a range of socially constructed elements in learners' identities, and their
relationship with learning - so social class, power, ethnicity and gender
the relationship between the individual learner and the social context of learning is
viewed as dynamic, reflexive and constantly changing.
Individual differences are not fixed traits but constantly reconstructed through
experience and interaction
Links with social practice
1. Is SLA theory useful? Or does it have to be?
2. Does it have any immediate practical applications in the real world?
Theorists have been and remain divided on this point
 Beretta and colleagues (1993) argued for 'pure' theory
 Van Lier (1994), Rampton (1995b) and others have argued for a socially engaged
perspective, where theoretical development is rooted in, and responsive to, social
practice and language education, in particular
 Others have argued that second language teaching in particular should be guided
systematically by SLL research findings
 the emergence of 'instructed language learning'
Conclusion
Further References:
Alosh, M. (1991). Arabic diglossia and its impact on teaching Arabic as a foreign language. In
G. L. Ervin (Ed.), International perspectives on foreign language teaching (pp. 121-137).
Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company.
Alhawary, M. T. (2003). Processability theory: Counter-evidence from Arabic second
language acquisition data. Al-‘arabiyya, 36, 107-166.
Alhawary, M. T. (2005). L2 acquisition of Arabic morphosyntactic features:
Temporary or permanent impairment? In M. T. Alhawary & E. benmamoun
(eds.), Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics, 17-18, 273-312. Amsterdam: John
Benjamins.
Balcom, P., A. (2001). Review article: Minimalism and beyond: Second language
acquisition for the twenty-first century. Second Language Research, 17(3),
306-322.
Bolotin, N. (1996). Arabic speakers’ resetting of parameters. Perspectives on Arabic
Linguistics VIII; papers from the eighth annual Symposium on Arabic
Linguistics, 135-157.
Kassabgy, N. & Hassan, M., K. (2000). Relativization in English and Arabic: A
bidirectional study. Diversity in Language: Contrastive Studies in English and
Arabic Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. In Z. Ibrahim, N. Kassabgy, and S.
Aydelott (eds.). The American University in Cairo Press.
Mansouri, F. (2000). Grammaticality Markedness and Information Processing of
Arabic L2. Muenchen, Germany: Lincom Europa.
Information processing:
Anderson, J. and Fincham, J. 1994: Acquisition of procedural skill from examples. Journal of
Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition 20, 1322-40
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Second Language Learning Theories
Prof. Zeddari
Anderson, J. 1985: Cognitive psychology and its implications (2nd edn). New York, NY:
Freeman.
Andersen, R. 1990: Models, processes, principles and strategies: second language acquisition
inside and outside of the classroom. In Van Patten, B. and Lee, J. (eds), Second language
acquisition - foreign language learning. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 45-68.
Johnson, K. 1996: Language teaching and skill learning. Oxford: Blackwell.
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Second Language Learning Theories
Prof. Zeddari
(1) What exactly does the L2 learner know?
(2) How does the learner acquire this knowledge?
(3) Why are some learners more successful than others?
Framework: linguistic, psychological, and social
Linguistic
Internal focus: generative grammar
External focus: functionalism
Psychological
Language and the brain:The location and representation of language in the brain
Learning processes:
Explanations of SLA phenomena
based on this framework involve assumptions that L2 is a highly complex
skill, and that learning L2 is not essentially unlike learning other highly complex skills.
Processing itself (of language or any other domain)
is believed to cause learning
Connectionism: acquisition result from increasing strength of associations (connections)
between stimuli and responses
Learner differences:
This framework calls for consideration of emotional involvement in learning, such as
affective factors of attitude, motivation, and anxiety level
Social frameworks:
Microsocial focus
Variation theory and accomodation theory
the microsocial focus relate to language acquisition and use in immediate social contexts of
production, interpretation, and interaction.
Macrosocial frameworks:
The concerns of the macrosocial focus relate language acquisition and use to broader
ecological contexts, including cultural, political, and educational
Settings
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Second Language Learning Theories
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