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issues considered in the broad framework of Applied Linguistics. This field of study has been defined as
“…the study of second and foreign language learning and teaching..” and “ … the study of language and linguistics in relation to practical problems, such as lexicography, translation, speech pathology, etc. Applied Linguistics uses information from sociology, psychology, anthropology, and information theory, as well as from linguistics (…), and then uses this information and theory in practical areas such as syllabus design, speech therapy, language planning, stylistics, etc.” (Richards and Schmidt 1985: 28)
In other words, Applied Linguistics is the field of study that provides researchers with the necessary tools to bridge the gap between the theoretical framework and the practical world of language learning. Within the field of Applied Linguistics, controversy has arisen between two different terminologies used by linguists: acquisition and learning. As the applied linguist Rod Ellis stated:
“The term ‘acquisition’ is used to refer to picking up a second language through exposure, whereas the term ‘learning’ is used to refer to the conscious study of a second language.” (Ellis 1985: 06)
Likewise, the American applied linguist, Stephen Krashen, made a similar suggestion regarding the acquisition / learning difference. He emphasized the idea that language that is acquired is language that can be used spontaneously, since it is ready to be used when needed. On the other hand, language that is learned, that is to say, language that is studied through grammar rules and vocabulary cannot be used in spontaneous conversation, as its only function is to act as a monitor of spontaneous communication. Nevertheless, Ellis made reference to the fact that these two terms can be used interchangeably, disregarding whether conscious or unconscious processes are involved. In the following paper, the two terms will be applied according to Ellis’ view. Moreover, linguists have made a distinction concerning the meanings of first and second language. The former refers to “…a person’s mother tongue or the language
acquired first.” The latter, is defined as “…a language that plays a major role in a particular
how human beings acquire / learn language. it is possible to place the theories of first language acquisition. many people have embarked on the study of a second language. Learning a second language demands from the students not only knowledge of its grammatical and semantic rules. transactional and interactional aspects of the target language.e. In recent years. like Bloom and Selinker. Sociolinguistics studies the language in relation to social factors. Sociolinguistics and Discourse. Nativists. which leads to the formation of a habit. as well as.” (Richards and Schmidt 1985: 202 / 472) Linguists have distinguished between these two terms to show that the study of second language acquisition started with an insight into first language acquisition (FLA). In order to do so. argue that humans’ ability to acquire a language depends on an innate linguistic capacity. educational level and type of education. Psycholinguistics studies the mental processes a person uses in producing and understanding language. social class. sex. this process. Rod Ellis has considered a learner’s first language. and learner differences as key issues in ESL research. ethnic origin. The purpose of the following essay is to account for the possible failure of EFL students to achieve nativelike competence in a second language. like Skinner. we will provide a detailed account of a number of issues related to those fields of study which help to explain the purpose of this paper. Developmentalists. but also an assimilation of the cultural. linguists . state that language acquisition is the result of the response to a stimulus. Behaviorist. Under this field.country or region though it may not be the first language of the people who use it. The study of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) has led to the consideration of which factors influence. students may find it really complicated to accomplish native-like proficiency. first we will define three fields of study: Psycholinguistics. Consequently. However. age. i. Second. directly and / or indirectly. social / situational factors. and Developmental theories have provided an explanation of how a first language is acquired and how it affects the acquisition of a second language. etc. linguistic input. Behaviorists. like Chomsky. Nativist. How a second language can be acquired and whether it is possible for learners to achieve native-like competence have been two key questions. claim that language development is linked to internal personal processes and the interaction between the linguistic and world experience each child gathers.
which account for EFL students’ lack of success in achieving native-like competence. I. such as the age factor. interlanguage is the learner’s version of the language at a given stage of development. That is to say: “…when incorrect linguistic features. Discourse issues center upon the study of language which results from an act of communication. whether in spoken or written form. According to Selinker: “An ‘interlanguage’ may be linguistically described using as data the observable output resulting from a speaker’s attempt to produce a foreign norm. As pointed out by Lightbown and Spada. this field deals with the role of participants. One of them is the process of fossilization. Some of the observable data collected from students’ production of a second language reveals that their interlanguage is characterized by two kinds of errors: interference and developmental errors. some aspects. or Discourse). both his errors and his non-errors…” (Selinker 1969: 71 in Spolsky: 1989: 32) In other words. the outstanding roles of input. we will be focusing on those issues within the fields previously mentioned. Furthermore. such as aspects of pronunciation. That is why. .have opposing views as regards which of the aspects mentioned before should be included under this field of study. Sociolinguistics. It has a direct impact on students’ interlanguage and affects the so-called “interlanguage continuum”. vocabulary usage and grammar become fixed or a permanent part of the way a person speaks or writes a language…” (Richards and Schmidt 1985: 202 / 472) This process occurs in most language learners and cannot be overcome through instruction. the relationship between utterances in actual conversation. which is continually improved as he advances in the process of achieving command of a second language. interaction and formal instruction and the importance of the learner’s output and intake.e. are so closely related to other factors that it is really impossible to separate them completely. it is not feasible to label them under one single category or another (Psycholinguistic. After presenting these three main fields of study.
the Spanish speaker may well use the dental sounds instead of the alveolar ones when saying “doctor”.Interference errors refer to the moment when L1 and L2 come into contact with each other. evidence of learner-internal processing. they are dental sounds in Spanish. As a result. This term implies the consistent “use of recognizable .” (Corder 1967 in Ellis 1985: 47) Nevertheless. a native Spanish speaker learning English as a second language might produce a L1 interference error when saying: “I have twenty years”. and vocabulary. but that have completely distinct meanings in each). the error made shows the incorrect use of “have” in the place of the verb “to be”. Developmental errors are mainly part of the natural acquisition process and common among language learners. which students confuse with “embarazada”. words that have the same or very similar form in two languages. He saw the making of errors as a strategy.e. confusions as regards word usage are made evident with the presence of the so-called “false friends” (i. instead of “went” and “broke”. They can be defined as overgeneralizations of a new rule that has been subconsciously learned. since learners have learned the rule for the regular past tense and then. at the grammar level. For example. Likewise. but in fact. This is so. in learning verbs in the simple past tense in English. it means “sensato”. This refers to the concept known as fossilization mentioned before. an error can be found in the oral production of the consonant sounds /t/ and /d/ in the case of a Spanish speaker trying to pronounce the word “doctor” in English. they have associated it to all verbs. Corder suggested that: “…both L1 and L2 learners make errors in order to test out certain hypotheses about the nature of the language they are learning. In this case. Making errors is usually seen as a drawback for language development. The difference lies in the position of the tongue. producing confusions which cause errors in the learner’s actual use of the language. Whereas /t/ and /d/ are alveolar sounds in English. Such is the case of words like “embarrassed”. sounds. For instance. many second language learners get stuck in the interlanguage continuum as they use a “fixed system of linguistic forms that do not match the target language model” (Allwright and Bailey 1987: 93). Similarly. or “sensible”. whose Spanish counterpart is: “Tengo veinte años”. These are evidenced at the level of grammar. first and second language learners sometimes produce verb forms such as “goed” and “breaked”. However. which they associate with “sensible”.
According to this view. even though some other researchers differ over when this period ends and whether it really impedes SLA. External factors such as lack of identification with the target language culture. It is generally considered to be one of the primary causes of success and failure in SLA. . Motivation is a complex phenomenon which can be defined in terms of two elements: learners’ communicative needs and their attitudes towards the second language community. In general children do succeed in achieving native-like mastery as they do not make conscious exercise of the language. students fail to achieve native-like competence in the target language. according to Mentalists (Chomsky and Lenneberg). according to Lenneberg’s view. The relationship between a learner’s age and his / her natural skill in second language acquisition is conditioned by the so-called Critical Period Hypothesis. As a consequence of fossilized structures. in which language input begins to be processed differently.e. Other factors like motivation. social identity and conditions for learning are closely related to the age factor discussed above. adults who do not make use of what Chomsky and others coined as “language acquisition device” (an innate mental module which provides a person with the capacity to direct the process of acquisition) do not attain a native-like competence of a second language. societal expectations. However. Another determining characteristic in the EFL’s unsuccessful accomplishment of native-like competence in a second language is the age factor. (Ellis 1985). thus it is not possible to consider them independently from one another. parental pressure. age is of paramount importance when acquiring a second language since this process takes place naturally and effortlessly until the critical age. i. (Lightbown and Spada 1993). conscious learning arises. This hypothesis suggests that: “…there is a time in human development when the brain is predisposed for success in language learning. So. language learning which occurs after the end of the critical period may not be based on the innate structures believed to contribute to first language acquisition or second language acquisition in early childhood…” (Lightbown and Spada 1993: 42) Lenneberg argues that the human innate capacity for acquiring a language is lost once puberty has been reached. Developmental changes in the brain change the nature of second language acquisition.erroneous forms” (ibid: 93).
as the lack of native-like competence in it. introversion. he will adopt a negative attitude in the process of learning that language. learning a second language can be a source of enrichment or a source of resentment. as a consequence. not matter how difficult he may find language learning. has aroused controversy among language specialists for two main reasons. which will impede the reception of input. a learner who shows evidence of little motivation. Secondly. which will manifest itself. if someone does not perceive the importance of speaking a L2 and does not feel identified with the speakers of that language. research has shown that in some cases. On the contrary. an anxious learner will not be a good student. he will appreciate the importance of communicating in a L2 and. and the impression of the L2 linguistic difficulty may minimize motivation and generate negative attitudes towards SLA. The factors discussed above (motivation and personality) are closely associated with the Affective Filter Hypothesis stated by Stephen Krashen. will be motivated to acquire proficiency in it. . personality plays an outstanding role in terms of promoting or demoting native-like linguistic outcomes.academic requirements. a student who is not eager to get involved in language activities which demand taking risks and playing with the language may not succeed in reaching target language competence. are thought to influence the second language acquisition process negatively. lack of self-confidence and a high level of anxiety possesses a high affective filter. Therefore. and what the consequences of their influence are. there has been trouble identifying how intelligence and aptitude affect second language acquisition. intelligence and aptitude. and with low proficient second language learner’s fear of being forced to communicate in the target language. Negative personality factors such as lack of self-esteem. if someone needs to speak a L2 due to professional achievements. in the long term. First of all. anxiety. For example. Within the affective domain. listening and examinations. as he does not make use of available learning opportunities. The distinction between two other learner factors.” (Lightbown and Spada 1993: 40) For instance. “Depending on the learner’s attitudes. This hypothesis deals with the role of affective factors in SLA which control the amount of input the learner is exposed to and how much of it is transformed into intake. Moreover. So. Anxiety is most often associated with speaking. the two features have not been clearly distinguished from each other yet. inhibition. and fear of risk-taking.
this process could not possibly happen. research has proved that many adults fail to reach native-like proficiency in a second language. school. such as general intelligence or personality.Research has shown that if a student lacked some minimum capacity for second language learning. Aptitute is seen as responsible for influencing the rate of acquisition.” (1993: 38) The issue of aptitude has also been related to the age factor discussed before. either the family home. it is hard for non-native speakers to choose the forms appropriate to certain situations. That is to say. Therefore. the result of a person’s failure to “…take on the beliefs. The aforementioned factors play a crucial role in the acquisition of a second language. values. all human beings exhibit a range of aptitude for learning a second language. rules of usage as regards when. speaker must assimilate the L2 roles. speakers should acculturate to the target language community. due to the influence or interference of their own cultural norms. Rod 1985: 113).” (Richards and Schmidt 1985: 6) Acculturation denotes “social and . how. or community. values and culture of a new group. For instance. In order to do so. The process of SLA takes place in social contexts. political correctness. creating an interactive model for SLA. it is possible to assert that all these components work together. “particularly where formal classroom learning is concerned” (Ellis. These backgrounds pave the way for opportunities to use and practise the language. As stated by Lightbown and Spada: “…many of the behaviors associated with aptitude may just as easily be associated with another learner characteristic. Lack of native-like competence in a second language is. Nevertheless. either though formal instruction or informal immersion (Lightbown and Spada 1993). The abilities that constitute aptitude have not been clearly identified yet. a person who has been born with a high level of aptitude can learn at a faster and easier rate than a person with a low language aptitude (Richards and Schmidt 1985: 285). In other words. That is why. Adult learners do not seem to have the same innate languagespecific capability or propensity as children for acquiring fluency and an ability to speak the language in a natural way. as well as its degree of appropriateness in different social contexts. then.
” (Ellis 1985: 257) When social and psychological distances are of considerable importance the learner fails to make progress in his learning. This leads to the pidginisation process by which students make use of very basic grammatical structures. For example. as indicated by Krashen’s “I + 1” formula. fossilization occurs. First. due to social restrictions and feelings of inferiority these immigrants show social and psychological distance towards the American community. it must be slightly beyond the learner’s actual level of competence. Giles explains that: “People are continually modifying their speech with others so as to reduce or accentuate the linguistic and social difference between them depending on their perceptions of the interactive situation. When pidginisation persists. Then. The input that learners are exposed to may take place either in natural or formal settings. motivation is the determining factor of L2 proficiency. . In this way. whether the learner succeeds in formal language contexts will depend instead on intelligence and aptitude. In many instances. The role of input also affects the process of SLA. this might be the case of Latin-Americans living in the U. as stated by Ellis: “when motivation is low as a consequence of unfavourable socio-psychological attitudes. it must be comprehensible so that learners can understand the sentences they see or hear. the learner could store and handle this input for future production.” (Giles 1977 in Ellis 1985: 257) According to Giles.S. Moreover. which is reflected in their actual use of the rules of the community target language. in spoken or written form. input should have three main characteristics. Therefore. Second. particular features of his mother tongue will become evident. According to Stephen Krashen’s Input Hypothesis. because he is less likely to take advantage of informal acquisition contexts. if a student is negatively motivated towards the second language community.A. accommodation also affects the overall learner’s level of proficiency attained in SLA.psychological distance between the learner and the target culture.” (Quoted in the subject Second Language Acquisition: 43) Likewise. it has to match the student’s needs and expectations.
First. fostering acquisition. In this way. make use of different devices in order to avoid communication breakdowns. and they make use of paralinguistic features. they adapt the language the use. It has been argued that: “…when learners have to make efforts to ensure that their messages are communicated (pushed-output) this puts them in a better position to notice the gap between their productions and those of proficient speakers. Speakers. The use of this negotiated interaction. formal instruction has also been questioned as regards up to what extent it accounts for students’ failure to attain native-like proficiency in a second language. due to the fact that communication is blocked as consequence of lack of negotiation between the interlocutors.e. that part of input that has been assimilated by the learner. the language produced by the learner. whether in natural or classroom settings. Last but not least. involves learner’s noticing language features in the input. i. it is of extreme importance to remember that the role played by . However. the nature and role of input can be analysed in relation to the interaction between the learner’s mental processes and the linguistic environment in which acquisition takes place. Second. absorbing them into their short-term memories and comparing them to features produced as output. Spoken or written data is not sufficient to ensure successful acquisition of a L2. The second stage is one in which intake is absorbed into the learner’s interlanguage system and changes to this system only occur when language features become part of learner’s long-term memory. avoiding turns. to name a few.” stated before (Ellis 1985: 12) Current theories of L2 acquisition state that two main stages are seen to be involved in the process of input becoming output. as input is not comprehensible enough. The first stage.e. (Ellis 1997). It is precisely this kind of input that serves as “a trigger to activate the (language acquisition) device. As a result. either in the form of “foreign-talk” or “teacher-talk” has the main purpose of leading to comprehensible input. in which input becomes intake.From another perspective. failure to achieve native-like mastery of a second language may be experienced because of three main reasons. pausing. paraphrasing ideas.” (Richards and Schmidt 1985:379) Finally. It is the discourse which interlocutors negotiate and create which guarantees that successful acquisition will take place. i. for example by using simple structures. as the language produced by a learner cannot be understood by other speakers of the L2.
they are expected to achieve an intermediate level rapidly. So. For instance. In this way. formal instruction does not successfully affect the developmental rate of acquisition. it is necessary to separate out the effects that formal instruction has on the route of SLA and on the rate / success of SLA” (Ellis 1985: 245) The effects of formal instruction upon the natural route of development point out that the natural stages learners go through cannot be changed. Thus. it is in the outside world where the learners will have access to a great quantity of input. differing views which have tried to provide an account of classroom SLA claim that formal instruction provides an opportunity for either accelerating or slowing the acquisition process. “Thus classroom SLA appears to involve the same processing strategies as naturalistic SLA”. age. there is no certain answer as to whether it is formal instruction by itself or other factors related to the learners (motivation. First.this kind of instruction has attracted some support as well as criticism.” (Ellis 1985: 231) . “In order to investigate the role of instruction in SLA. “…although the outside world may supply more input to the learner. For example. This “natural” route reflects a particular type of language use (free. they are better at doing so in the classroom. the classroom is better equipped to ensure that the right kind of qualitative input needed for ‘acquisition’ is available. interaction among them) which are responsible for influencing the acquisition process successfully. (Ellis 1985: 245) However. There are several views which have tried to provide the reasons why some second language learners do not achieve native-like competence. However. Krashen has forwarded the idea that adult beginners may have a certain level of difficulty obtaining comprehensible input in natural situations. as it will be their most suitable source of comprehensible input. it will not ensure the right kind exposure needed for success in acquisition. As a result. spontaneous conversation). Formal instruction may not influence this type of language use. individual differences. according to Krashen’s non-interface position. Conversely. learners may not succeed in achieving native-like competence when the input provided by the teacher-talk is not comprehensible enough. if the classroom is not well-equipped in terms of the kind of input it should supply the learners with.
the weaker partner gains experience in negotiating meaning. speech or writing that makes demands on learners for correct and appropriate use of the L2) in order to develop certain grammatical features that do not appear to be acquired purely on the basis of comprehending input…” (Ellis 1985: 27) Moreover. states that “learned or explicit knowledge can turn into acquired or implicit knowledge if there is enough practice” (Ellis 1985:245) . In connection with this. presumably. Krashen explains the powerless role of formal instruction in the natural sequence of language development. it is possible to state that in classroom contexts. As highlighted by Lynch: “The more proficient learner gets practice in producing comprehensible output. since students in classroom situations may learn rules.Regarding the route of acquisition.” (Ellis 1985:231) In other words. This view. Swain’s Comprehensible Output Hypothesis states that: “Learners need opportunities for “pushed output” (i. As a result. they cannot possibly acquire a L2 optimally. but it is not until they get involved in natural communicative settings that it can be said that they have acquired the rules. acquisition and learning are considered as two distinct processes. p 3) Learners may also fail to become proficient in a second language due to a lack of practice. Krashen claims that: “…formal instruction fails to have any substantial effect on the route of SLA. maintained by Stevick. it can be said that when students do not interact meaningfully not only among them but also with the teacher. This idea is highly supported by the interface position to SLA. This route is a reflection of acquisition (…) Formal instruction is directed as consciousness-raising and so. The main reason for this lies on the fact that learners lack opportunities to negotiate and share meaning with other interlocutors. in this way developing new structures. an aspect which is considered to be crucial for the actual acquisition of the target language. Therefore. it is both strong and weak learners who benefit from this playing with the language. successful production also takes place when learner have opportunities for meaningful use of their linguistic resources and when they construct discourse collaboratively with an interlocutor. affects only learning.” (Lynch 1996: 115 quoted in the subject Classroom Management.e.
lack accessible comprehensible input and output. personality traits. Sociolinguistics and Discourse. N. (1985): Second Language Acquisition. Each one of these areas has proposed different factors influencing SLA. References: Allwright. to a great extent. Oxford University Press Lightbown. age. in turn. there is no sufficient evidence as regards the role of formal instruction in the SLA process. Cambrigde University Press Ellis. K. D and Bailey. P and Spada. What is more. whether and. if so. (1987) Focus on the Language Classroom: An Introduction To Classroom Reasearch for Language Teachers. For example. motivation. learners may be unsuccessful in attaining ultimate levels of proficiency in a L2 as a result of not having access to different knowledge types.In addition. despite some inconclusive results. associated with Tarone and Bialystok. In conclusion.” (Ellis 1985: 238) As stated above. Oxford University . Some of these factors are fossilization. researchers have tried to account for the failure and success of second language learners in achieving nativelike competence. intelligence and aptitude. who state that: “In order to acquire the necessary linguistic knowledge to perform one kind of activity does not guarantee the ability to perform a different kind of activity. the effects of practice may be specific to the kind of activity that is being exercised. (1993) How Languages are Learned. how instruction affects second language acquisition will depend. which have contributed to create an interactive model where most of its components work or go together. on the specific approach to second language teaching adopted and the type of instruction used. lack identification with the target language community. from achieving native-like mastery in a second language. and practice in a classroom context. R. Three main fields have been considered to provide a plausible explanation: Psycholinguistics. It can be seen that the differences among researchers are significant. This research has attempted to clarify how the absence of these factors prevents a learner from acquiring a L2 and. as stated by the variability position.
Jack C. Longman Spolsky. Richard. B. .Press. and Schmidt. Richards. (1989) Conditions for Second Language Learning. (2002): Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. Oxford University Press.
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