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applied linguistics

The concern of language acquisition goes back to the eighteenth century specifically to the German
philosopher Tiedemann when he recorded his observation of the psychological and linguistic
development of his son. But the real beginning started in the second half of the twentieth century. The
deep interest in child language acquisition led language teachers and teacher trainers to study some of
the general findings of researches done in this field drawing comparisons between first and second
language acquisition.
Theories of First Language Acquisition (FLA ):
Ι - Behavioristic Approaches: 1- Behaviorists believe in the stimulus and responses as the way of
learning. If such response is reinforced then learning takes place.
2- Skinner focused on learning by Operant conditioning which refers to learning by reinforcing the good
response which results in increasing and keeping of what has been learnt. But Chomsky criticized this
3- Behaviorists proposed a modified theory called mediation theory in which meaning was accounted for
by the linguistic stimulus.
4- Osgood called it “representational mediation process “Which is about what is going on the learner's
II- The Nativist Approach:
1- The pioneers of this field believe that a child is born with a genetic capacity (innate ability) to perceive
any language exposed to. This Innateness hypotheses gained support from Eric Lenneberg (1967) who
proposed that language is a “species specific" behavior and that language-related mechanisms are
biologically determined.
2- According to Chomsky (1965) this innate knowledge is embodied in a “little black box" of sorts, a
language acquisition device (LAD).
3- Mc Neil (1966) described LAD as the ability to distinguish speech sound from other sounds, the ability
to organize linguistic data, knowledge that only a certain kind of linguistic system is possible, and the
ability to engage in constant evaluation of the developing linguistic system.
4- Researchers in the nativist tradition focused on what has come to be known as Universal Grammar
(UG) emphasizing that all human beings are genetically equipped with abilities that enable them to
acquire language.
5- The early grammars of child language were referred to as pivot grammars. It was observed that the
child’s first two-word utterances seemed to manifest two separate word classes, and not simply two
words thrown together at random.
6- Sentence à Pivot word + Open word e.g. My cap , That cat
7- Spolsky (1989) mentioned the parallel distributed processing (PDP) in which neurons in the brain are
said to form multiple connections, thus a child's linguistic performance is the consequence of many
levels of simultaneous neural interconnections.
III- Functional Approaches:
1- Two emphases have emerged:
A– Language was one manifestation of the cognitive and affective ability to deal with the world, with
others and with the self.
B– The generative rules were abstract, formal, explicit and quit logical even though dealt specifically
with the forms of language (morphemes, words, sentences, and the rules that govern them) and not
with the deeper functional levels of meaning constructed from social interaction.
2- Functions are the meaningful, interactive purposes within a social pragmatic context that we
accomplish with the forms.
Aspects of First Language Acquisition:
Cognition and Language Development:
- Lois Bloom (1971) criticized the Pivot Grammar in which the nativists believe that the relationship in
which words occur in pivot utterances are only superficially similar. She said that children learn
underlying structures, and not superficial word order. Depending on the social context “Mommy sock”
could mean a number of different things to a child.
- Piaget, Wanner as well as Bloom believe that what children learn about language is determined by
what they already know about the world (focus on the relationship of cognitive development to first
language acquisition).
- Dan Slobin (1971) demonstrated that in all languages, semantic learning depends on cognitive
development. He also mentioned the importance of semantic complexity over structure complexity.
- So Child Language researchers began to tackle the formulation of the rules of the functions of language
and the relationships of the forms of language to those functions.
Social Interaction and Language Development:
- Here we see the importance of interaction to develop the language.
- Holzman (1984) proposed “a reciprocal behavior system which focuses on a child's communication
with adults.
Issues in First Language Acquisition:
Competence and Performance:
- Competence refers to one's underlying knowledge of a system, event or fact. It is a non-observable
ability. It can be assessed by tests and examinations.
- In language, it is the underlying knowledge of the system of a language: its rules of grammar, its
vocabulary and all the pieces of language and how those pieces fit together.
- Performance is the overtly observable and concrete manifestation of competence. It is the actual doing
of something e.g. walking, singing and so on.
- In language it is the actual production (speaking, writing) or the comprehension (listening, reading) of
linguistic events.
Competence and Performance:
- Chomsky (1965) likened competence to an “idealized” speaker-hearer who does not display
performance variables.
- Chomsky's point is that the linguist should concentrate on competence to avoid performance variables
which are not reflective of the underlying linguistic ability of the speaker-hearer.
- Children are more superior in comprehension than in production. Children seem to understand more
than they actually produce.
- Miller (1963) mentioned his own experience with Lisa (3year-old child) as he uttered her name in a
wrong way.
- Gathercole (1988) reported that children could produce aspects of language they could not
- There should be a distinction between production competence and comprehension competence. The
four skills (speaking, listening, reading, and writing) are all separate modes (forms) of performance.
Nature or Nurture?
- Nativists contend that a child is born with an innate knowledge of language and that this property
(Language Acquisition Device ‘LAD’ or Universal Grammar ‘UG’) is universal in all human beings. This
innateness hypothesis contradicted the behavioristic idea that language is a set of habits that can be
acquired by a process of conditioning.
- Linguists also mentioned the importance of environmental factors (behaviors that are learned by
environmental exposure -- by “nurture”, by teaching).
- Derek Bickerton (1981) reported that human beings are “bio-programmed” to proceed from stage to
stage. People are programmed to release certain properties of language at certain developmental
- Language is universally acquired in the same manner and moreover, that the deep structure of
language at its deepest level is common to all languages.
- Slobin and others (1986, 1992) found interesting universals of pivot grammar and other telegraphese
(a style of writing or speaking distinguished by the omissions, abbreviations, and combinations) among
different languages.
- According to UG, languages cannot vary in an infinite number of ways. Parameters determine ways in
which languages can vary. For example, languages are either “head first” (the head of the phrase comes
first e.g. Tom broke the window) or “head last” (the head of the phrase comes at the end e.g. Japanese).
Systematicity and Variability:
- Children acquire language in a systematic way, but in the midst of all this systematicity, there is an
equally remarkable amount of variability in the process of learning. One of the major current research
problems is to account for all this variability, what is now variable can be systematic one day.
Language and Thought:
- There is a relationship between language and cognition.
- Language is a way of life; it interacts simultaneously with thoughts and feelings.
- There is influence of language on cognitive development and vice versa.
- The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic relativity claims that each language imposes on its speakers a
particular “world view” i.e. language affects thought.
- Imitation is one of the important strategies a child uses in the acquisition of a given language. Children
are excellent imitators.
- Behaviorists believe in surface structure imitation.
- There are two types of imitation:
1- Surface structure imitation where a person repeats or mimics the surface strings attending to a
phonological code rather than a semantic code.
2- The deeper structure level i.e. the meaningful semantic level. As children perceive the importance of
the semantic level of language they attend to the deeper structure of language, so they engage in deep
structure imitation. Children focus on meaning and they become poor imitators of surface structure.
Here, the attention is paid to deep feelings (meaning value) or it is called (truth value).
- Practice is usually thought of as referring to speaking only, but there is comprehension practice also.
- Children practice language constantly especially in the early stages of language acquisition.
- A behavioristic model of first language acquisition would claim that practice-repetition and associationis the key to the formation of habits by operant conditioning.
- Nativists claim that the relative frequency of stimuli is of little importance in language acquisition. But
frequency of meaningful occurrence may be more precise refinement to the notion of frequency.
- What a child receives from adults is mostly random and haphazard sample.
- The importance of the issue lies in the fact that it is clear that adult and peer input to the child is far
more important than what nativists earlier believed in.
- Children react to the deep structures and communicative functions of language and not to expressions
of grammatical corrections.
- The child learns not only how to initiate a conversation but how to respond to another's initiating
- Children learn the differences between assertions and challenges; they learn that utterances have both
literal and an intended meaning.
In the Classroom:
Gouin and Berlitz:
- Francois Gouin (1880) stated that language learning is primarily a matter of transforming perception
into conception. Children use the language to represent their conceptions. Language is a means of
thinking of representing the world to oneself. Gouin devised a teaching method called the Series
Method that taught learners directly (without translation) and conceptually (without grammatical rules
and explanations) a “series” of connected sentences that are easy to perceive.
- Charles Berlitz introduced what is called the Direct Method.
In the Classroom:
Gouin and Berlitz:
- The basic idea behind Berlitz’s method was that second langauge learning should be more like first
language learning:
- Lots of active oral interaction,
- Spontaneous use of language,
- No translation between first and second languages, and
- Little or no analysis of grammatical rules.
1- This method did not succeed in public education. It was criticized for its weak theoretical foundations.
2- By the end of the first quarter of the twentieth century its use declined in Europe and the United
States, but it returned in the middle of the 20th century with a new shape called the Audiolingual
For more evidence about the existence of this period and whether it is only accent-related critical
period, we should look at neurological, cognitive, affective, and linguistic considerations.
In this lecture, we will talk about the relationship between age and acquisition. Children acquire their
first language easily and perfectly while adults learning a second language meet great difficulty and
sometimes failure. So, what are the effects of age on language acquisition?
Disproving Myths about the Relationship between First and Second Language:
- Some people draw a direct comparison between first and second language learning. H. Stern (1970)
summarized this comparison in seven points:
1- In learning a foreign language, we must practice and practice. Children repeat things over and over
2 -Language learning is a matter of imitation. Small children imitate everything.
3- We should practice sounds, then words, then sentences. That is the natural order and it applies to
foreign language learning.
4- A child first listens, then he speaks. Therefore, this order should be followed in foreign language
Disproving Myths about the Relationship between First and Second Language:
- Some people draw a direct comparison between first and second language learning. H. Stern (1970)
summarized this comparison in seven points:
5- The natural order for first and second language learning is: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
6- Children learn their languages without translation, so foreign language learning should follow the
same procedure.
7- Children simply use language. It is unnecessary to use grammatical concepts when teaching a foreign
Criticism of this direct analogy of second language learning to first language acquisition:
1- The above statements represent the views of the Audiolingual Method (Behavioristic Theory) that
looks at first language acquisition as a process of rote practice, habit formation. They think that second
language learning involves the same procedures of the first language acquisition.
2- Ausubel , a cognitivist, (1964) issued the following warnings on drawing a direct analogy (comparison)
between first and second language acquisition without bearing in mind the physical, cognitive, and
affective differences between adults and children.
3- Rote learning practice of Audiolingual drills lacks meaningfulness.
4- Grammar is important since adults learning a foreign language could benefit from the deductive
5- The native language of the learner is not just an interfering factor. It can be facilitating.
6- The written form of the language could be beneficial.
7- Students could be overwhelmed by language spoken at its natural speed.
Neurological Considerations:
Hemispheric Lateralization:
- Lateralization means that: as the human brain matures, certain functions are assigned to the left
hemisphere (the intellectual, logical and analytic functions). And other functions such as the (emotional
and social needs) are assigned to the right hemisphere. Language functions appear to be controlled
mainly in the left hemisphere.
But, when and how lateralization takes place?
- As the child matures into adulthood, the left hemisphere becomes more dominant than the right
hemisphere. This dominance leads to overgeneralize and to be too intellectually centered on the task of
second language learning.
- Eric Lenneberg (1967) suggested that lateralization is a slow process that begins around the age of two
and ends around puberty.
- Scovel (1969) proposed a relationship between lateralization and second language learning. It is
difficult to acquire fluent control of a second language or an “authentic” (native-like) pronunciation of
the second language after lateralization is accomplished.
- This, in turn, supports that there is a critical period not only for first language but also for second
language acquisition.
Biological Timetables:
- The socio-biological critical period claims that accent is biologically preprogrammed in various species
and in human beings. It enables species to form an identity with their own community. This accent is
stabilized at puberty.
- Research supports the idea that persons beyond the age of puberty do not acquire “authentic” (nativelike) pronunciation of the second language.
Right-Hemispheric Participation:
- This is about the role of the right hemisphere in the acquisition of a second language.
- Obler (1981) stated that this participation is particularly active during the early stages of learning a
second language.
- This participation is defined as “strategies” of acquisition: for example:
The strategy of guessing at meanings.
The strategy of using formulaic utterances.
- This, also, supports the CPH (Critical Period Hypothesis).
Anthropological Evidence:
- Some adults have been known to overcome the neurological critical period effects and achieve a
perfect native-like pronunciation of a foreign language after the age of puberty. But, these cases are few
and far between. In many cases, native speakers of English were judged to be nonnative. This left the
strong CPH unchallenged.
The Significance of Accent:
- According to researches of age and accent acquisition, we are left with a powerful evidence of a critical
period for accent but, for accent only.
- It is important to remember that pronunciation of a language is not the sole criterion for acquisition
and not the most important one. Some people have less than perfect pronunciation but who have fluent
control of a second language that can exceed that of many native speakers.
- The acquisition of the communicative and functional purpose of a language is more important than a
perfect native accent.
Cognitive Considerations:
- Human cognition develops rapidly through the first 16 years of life and less rapidly thereafter. Some of
these cognitive changes are critical.
- According to the different outlines of the course of intellectual development in a child, there is a
critical stage of the effects of age on second language acquisition that appears in Piaget’s outline at
puberty (at this stage the person becomes capable of abstraction, formal thinking and direct
- Ausbel (1964) noted that at this stage, adults learning a second language could profit from certain
grammatical explanations and deductive thinking that obviously would be pointless for a child.
- Equilibration means that the cognition develops as a process of moving from states of doubt and
uncertainty (disequilibrium) to stages of resolution and certainty i.e. equilibrium then, back to further
doubt that is, in time, resolved and so the cycle continues till formal operations are finally organized and
equilibrium is reached at the age of 14 or 15.
- Thus, disequilibrium may provide significant motivation for language acquisition.
Neurological Considerations:
Rote or meaningful learning?
- It is impossible to avoid rote, mechanistic learning. We should relate items and experiences to
knowledge that exists in the cognitive framework.
- What children do, when acquiring their first language, is not a mere meaningless repetition. It is a very
meaningful and purposeful activity since it is done in a natural context.
- Foreign language classrooms should not use rote activities that are not in the context of a meaningful
communication. For more evidence about the existence of this Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) and
whether it is only accent-related critical period, we should look at affective and linguistic considerations.
Affective Considerations:
- Human beings are emotional creatures. Thought, meaning and action are emotion. We are influenced
by our emotions.
- What are the differences between first and second language acquisition in relation to affective
(emotional) factors?
- The affective domain includes many factors such as: empathy, self-esteem inhibition, extroversion,
imitation, attitudes and others which are in some way related to second language learning.
- At puberty, these factors undergo critical physical, cognitive, and emotional changes. Their egos are
affected not only in how they understand themselves but in how they reach out beyond themselves,
how they relate to others socially and how they use the communicative process to bring on affective
Language Ego:
- Alexander Guiora (1972) proposed the language ego to account for the identity a person develops in
reference to the language he speaks.
- Adults manifest a number of inhibitions such as embarrassment when acquiring a second language,
whereas younger children do not.
- The child’s ego is dynamic, growing and flexible to the age of puberty (children are less aware of the
language forms and mistakes that one must make in an attempt to communicate spontaneously).
Therefore, the new language at this stage does not pose an essential inhibition to the ego and the
adaptation is made relatively easily.
- So, when acquiring a new identity and a new language, ego is an enormous process for adults and it
requires mastering the necessary ego strengths to overcome inhibition and bridge this affective gap. It is
likely then that the necessity to communicate overrides these inhibitions.
- Attitudes are taught consciously or unconsciously by parents or by the society.
- Negative attitudes towards races, cultures and languages can affect success in language learning.
- Children who are not developed enough cognitively in attitudes are less affected than adults.
Peer Pressure:
- This is also another important variable in child-adult comparison. It means requiring the child to be like
the rest of the kids.
- The peer pressure extends to language especially in children who are more critics of one another’s
actions and words. Thus, providing a necessity and sufficient degree of mutual pressure affect the child’s
ability to learn the second language.
- Adults tend to tolerate linguistic differences more than children.
Linguistic considerations:
Here are some of the age-related questions about children’s second language acquisition:
- Children learning two languages simultaneously acquire them using similar strategies.
- People who learn second languages in separate contexts are described as coordinate bilinguals (they
have two meaning systems).
- People who have one meaning system for the two languages are described as compound bilinguals.
- Most bilinguals engage in code-switching (inserting words or phrases of one language into the other).
- The acquisition schedule in bilingual children is slower than the normal one for first language
acquisition (though it has a cognitive benefit).
Interference Between First and Second Languages:
- Research confirms that the linguistic and cognitive processes of second language acquisition in younger
children are in general similar to first language processes.
- Similar strategies and linguistic features are present in both first and second language learning in
children and most of the errors reflect normal development characteristics, that is, expected intralingual
strategies, not interference errors from the first language. The first language could be a facilitating
Interference in Adults:
- Adults’ second language is affected by the first language especially if the two events are farther apart.
- Adults appear to manifest more interference since they operate from the solid foundation of the first
language that is used to bridge the gaps that cannot be filled by generalization.
- It is noticed that second language learners manifest some of the same errors types found in children
learning their first language.
Order of Acquisition:
- Dulay and Burt (1976) claimed that Children learning a second language use a creative construction
process, just as they do in their first language.
- They found a common order of acquisition (of eleven English morphemes) among children of several
native language backgrounds, an order which is similar to that found by R. Brown (1973) using the same
morphemes but for children acquiring English as their first language.
- Adults have been shown to be superior second language learners than children since they can choose
between alternatives. They can overcome any disadvantages except one i.e. accent which is not
important for effective communication
In the Classroom: The Audiolingual Method (ALM):
- The Audiolingual Method emerged in America during World War II due to the need for Americans to be
proficient in both their allies’ and enemies’ languages. It was called “The Army Method”.
- The Audiolingual Method was grounded in linguistic theory (structural-scientific descriptive analysis of
languages) and on psychological theory (behavioristic) of conditioning and habit formation models of
Characteristics of the ALM:
1- Leaning a language is a habit formation through conditioning.
2- New material is presented in dialogue form.
There is dependence on mimicry and memorization of set phrases.
Structures are sequenced by means of contrastive analysis and taught one at a time.
Structural patterns are taught using repetitive drills.
There is little or no grammatical explanation (grammar is taught inductively).
Vocabulary is strictly limited and learned in context.
There is much use of tapes, language labs, and visual aids. (aural/oral skills).
Great importance is attached to pronunciation (listen and repeat = practice makes perfect).
Very little use of the mother tongue by teachers.
11There is a great effort to get students to produce error-free utterances and successful responses
are immediately reinforced hoping to form good language habits
There is tendency to manipulate language and disregard content.
Criticism of the Audiolingual Method:
It failed to teach long-term communicative proficiency.
Learning a language is farther than the formation of habits. It is something creative/innovative.
3Students are not exposed to real language since this method emphasizes on surface structure
rather than on the deep structure of the language.
This method is suitable for beginners.
The "Designer" methods of the 1970s:
The age of audiolingualism and its emphasis on surface structure and on the rote practice of
scientifically produced patterns, began to wane (disappear) when the chomskyan revolution in
linguistics turned linguists and language teachers toward the "deep structure" of language and when the
psychologists began to recognize the fundamentally affective and interpersonal nature of all learning.
On this basis, certain teaching methods came into vogue (became fashion).
1-Community Language Learning (CLL):
The founder: Charles Curran
Methodology: Students and teacher join together to facilitate learning in a context of valuing and prizing
each individual in the group. In such a surrounding, each person lowers the defenses that prevent open,
interpersonal communication. The anxiety caused by the educational context is lessened by means of
supportive community. The teacher's presence is not perceived as a "threat" imposing limits and
boundaries; rather as a "counselor" centering the attention on the student's needs. (counseling
Advantage(s): It lowers learners' anxiety, creates as much of a supportive group in classrooms as
possible, allows students to initiate language, and points learners toward autonomous learning.
Practical problem(s): Counselor-teacher can be too nondirective. This method can be successful later
when the learner has more independence i.e. not good for beginners.
The founder: Lozanov
Methodology: In applications of suggestopedia to foreign language learning, Lozanov experimented with
the presentation of vocabulary, readings, dialogues, role-plays, drama, and a variety of typical classroom
adjectives. In addition, classical music was carried on in the background, students sitting in soft,
comfortable seats in relaxed states of consciousness. Students were encouraged to be as "childlike" as
possible, assuming the roles (names) of native speakers of the foreign language. Students then became
Advantage(s): We can adapt certain aspects of suggestopedia in our classrooms without "buying into"
the whole method; a relaxed unanxious mind, achieved through music and/or any means, is helpful to
build confidence.
Practical problem(s): the unavailability of the requirements of this method. The issue of the place of
memorization in language learning is also a serious issue.
3-The Silent Way:
The founder: Caleb Gattengo
Methodology: Silent Way was characterized by a problem-solving approach to learning.
1. Learning is facilitated if the learner discovers or creates rather than remembers and repeats what is to
be learned. Students can
work out certain things themselves (Discovery Learning).
2. Learning is facilitated by accompanying physical objects.
3. Learning is facilitated by problem-solving involving the material to be learned. Learners should
develop dependence, autonomy, and
responsibility. At the same time, learners must cooperate with each other in the progress of solving
language problems. The teacher – a stimulator – is silent much of the time.
Advantage(s): discovery learning, innovation, exposure to new thoughts.
Practical problem(s): In the silent way method, the teacher is too distant. Much time is spent with a
concept that could be easily clarified by the teacher's direct guidance. In addition, it doesn’t work with
lower students.
4- Total Physical Response (TPR):
The founder: James Asher
Methodology: He noted that children, in learning their first language, appear to do a lot of listening
before they speak, and their listening is accompanied by physical responses (teaching, grabbing, moving,
…). According to him, motor activity is a right-brain function that should precede left-brain language
processing. Therefore, a typical TPR utilizes the imperative mood. Commands are an easy way to get
learners to move about and loosen up. No verbal responses are necessary and even more complex
syntax is incorporated into the imperative.
Advantage(s): It is especially effective in the beginning levels. TPR can be used as a type of classroom
activity in which students do a great deal of listening and activity
Practical problem(s): It is too limited and loses its distinctiveness as learners advance in their
5- The Natural Approach:
The founder: Stephen Krashen
Methodology: The Natural Approach aimed at basic interpersonal communication skills, that is,
everyday language situations – conversations, shopping, listening to the radio, and the like. The initial
task of the teacher is to provide comprehensible spoken input. Learners do not need to say anything
during the "silent period" until they feel ready to do so. The teacher is the source of input and the
creator of classroom activities.
Advantage(s): It lessens the responsibility and anxiety of risk-taking oral production. It gives learners
enough time to gain insight and develop their intuition.
Practical problem(s): The delay of oral production can be pushed too far, and it is important to
encourage students to talk at an early stage. This method ignores the fact that language learning is an
interactive process.