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SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION THEORIES
THEME: THE VARIABLE COMPETENCE MODEL
TEACHER: Esmeralda Montero
STUDENT: Viviana Jimenez
I QUARTER 2011
To summarize briefly. 2.e. communicative competence). But he argues that even this broader view of competence does not account for the language user's ability µto create meanings by exploiting the potential inherent in the language for continual modification«¶ (Widdowson 1984: 8). The Model is based on two distinctions²one of which refers to the process of language use.e. the language user makes his knowledge of linguistic rules work by exploiting them in relationship to both the situational and linguistic context. 1984). a variable competence. 1983). unplanned discourse is discourse that lacks forethought and preparation. variable application of procedures for actualizing knowledge in discourse. and the other to the product. The Variable Competence Model of SLA claims that both (1) and (2) occur. The theory also proposes to account for SLA within a framework of language use. and Bialystok (1982). . The product of language use comprises a continuum of discourse types ranged from entirely unplanned to entirely planned.g. it claims that the way a language is learnt is a reflection the way it is used. It is for this reason that he adds the term capacity. the user possesses a heterogeneous rule system. Widdowson points out that the narrow concept of linguistic competence has been widened to include appropriate use as well as correct use (i. Planned discourse is discourse that is thought out prior to expression. The planned-unplanned continuum has already been discussed in Chapter 4. i. Here I shall summarize the Variable Competence theory proposed by Ellis (1984a).The Variable Competence Model The case for viewing the learner's knowledge of the L2 in terms of variable competence has already been made in Chapter 4. the different types of discourse) is the result of either or both of the following: 1. It follows from this view of the process of language use that the product (i. The language user possesses procedures far realizing the meaning potential of rules in context in other words. Examples are a prepared lecture or careful writing. It is associated with spontaneous communication. everyday conversation or brainstorming in writing. Widdowson (1979. e. This draws on and extends the work of Tarone (1982. Widdowson (1984) refers to a knowledge of rules as competence and to a knowledge of the procedures involved in using rules to construct discourse as capacity. The process of language use is to be understood in terms of the distinction between linguistic knowledge (or rules) and the ability to make use of this knowledge (procedures). In other words. He actualizes his abstract knowledge of sentences to create utterances in discourse.e. It requires conscious thought and the opportunity to wo rk out content and expression.
it claims that they are related. They draw on knowledge that is relatively unanalysed and automatic.e. in that we are usually not aware of the way in which our knowledge is structured. They account for the variability of language-learner language by positing that both different types of knowledge and .Furthermore. mime). Primary and secondary processes account for how L2 learners actualize their linguistic knowledge in discourse. The first distinction concerns the relative access that the learner has to L2 knowledge. cit. Knowledge that takes time and effort to retrieve is non-automatic. (c) Eliminate redundant elements and elements for which no lexical item is available. 183). Procedures for actualizing knowledge are of two types. An example of a primary process is semantic simplification (i. semantic amplification can be accounted for as follows: Discourse process: Simplify the semantic structure of a message by omitting meaning elements that are communicatively redundant or that can be realized by a non-verbal device (e. Each set of processes has an external and internal representation. Cognitive process: (a) Construct an underlying conceptual structure of a message. Bialystok points out that unanalysed knowledge is the general form in which we know most things. Primary processes are responsible for engaging in unplanned discourse. The variability of the learner's rule system is described with reference to Bialystok's (1982) dual distinction between automatic/non-automatic and analytic/unanalytic (see Chapter 9). An example of what is meant by discourse and cognitive processes. Both the automatic/non-automatic and the analysed/unanalysed distinctions represent continua rather than dichotomies. The second distinction concerns the extent to which the learner possesses a 'prepositional mental representation which makes clear the structure of the knowledge and its relationship to other aspects of knowledge¶ (op. the editing of language performance).e.. An example of a secondary process is monitoring (i. There are degrees of automatic and analyzed knowledge.g. (b) Compare this structure with the frame of reference shared with an interlocutor. the omission of dements from a proposition in production). which Ellis (1984a) refers to as primary and secondary processes. Knowledge that can be retrieved easily and quickly is automatic. referred to as discourse and cognitive processes respectively. Secondary processes come into play in planned discourse and draw on knowledge towards the analysed end of the continuum.
language acquisition is the result of our capacity to make sense. are characteristic of later SLA. In other words. for instance. Thus. their prominence in SLA coincides with different stages of development. such as those used to reduce reliance on shared knowledge and non-verbal devices. not only does the language user utilize his existing linguistic knowledge but he also. To summarize. We do not simply measure discourse up against our knowledge of pre-existing rules. 2 The learner possesses a capacity for language use which consists of primary and secondary discourse and cognitive processes. 3 L2 performance is variable as a result of whether primary processes employing unanalysed L2 rules are utilized in unplanned discourse. New rules are created when we endeavour to use existing knowledge in relation to the linguistic and situational context in order to create shared frames of reference. or secondary processes employing analysed L2 rules are utilized in planned discourse. They also account for acquisition. Also knowledge that to begin with is available only for use via secondary processes (because it exists only in analysed form) can eventually be accessed by means of primary processes and so used in unplanned as well as planned discourse. creates new linguistic rules. To explain how. Ellis (1984a) goes one step further and suggests that SLA follows the sequence that it does because the processes that the learner calls on to participate in discourse are themselves developmental. it is necessary to return to what Widdowson has to say about rules and procedures. early SLA is characterized by the heavy use of semantic simplification.e. we create discourse and commonly bring new rules into existence by so doing. by making explicit the relationship between one proposition and another and between each proposition and its situational context (see Widdowson (1984: 67ff).different procedures are involved in the construction of different discourse types. Widdowson argues that through using procedures. new rules originate in the application of procedural knowledge). All competence is transitional in this sense. A theory of language use is the matrix of a theory of language acquisition. That is. because this is a procedure that requires little L2 knowledge. the Variable Competence Model proposes: 1 There is a single knowledge store containing variable interlanguage rules according to how automatic and how analyzed the rules are. Later procedures. potentially at least. . 4 Development occurs as a result of (a) acquisition of new L2 rules through participation in various types of discourse (i. As Widdowson (1979: 62) puts it: We draw upon our knowledge of rules to make sense.
3 Variable Competence of SLA Evaluation The Variable Competence Model of SLA attempts to account for (1) the variability of language-learner language.(b) activation of L2 rules which initially exist in either a non-automatic unanalysed form or in an analysed form so they can be used in unplanned discourse. It incorporates within the same framework a theory of language use and a theory of SLA. it needs to incorporate the role of input into the overall framework. These proposals are shown in Figure 103. the Model is in need of development in two directions. As it stands at the moment. Figure 10. Second. Learners do not construct discourse in isolation (at least not in face-to-face interaction). so how input is negotiated must be considered. First it needs to provide a more detailed analysis of the primary and secondary processes responsible for use and acquisition. and (2) the external and internal processes responsible for SLA. . SLA is the result of the exchange of linguistic information which occurs in the process of discourse construction involving both the learner and an interlocutor.
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