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For the purposes of this paper, language acquisition will refer to the process of natural assimilation of a language,

involving intuition and subconscious learning. Since it is regarded as a natural process, it is assumed that language
is an ability that all children can acquire because humans have the capacity to learn language (Brown, 1994).
Language acquisition is the product of real interactions between people where the learner is an active participant.
Language acquisition, even among adults, is akin to the way children learn their native tongue. It is a process that
produces functional skill in the spoken language without theoretical knowledge. The process of language
acquisition requires good models of the language that is to be learned and immersion in its use and function.
Language learning on the other hand, is defined in this paper as the process used by learners when languages are
added to their linguistic repertoire. Therefore, language learning, in the context of this paper will refer to second
or third language acquisition and thus falls in the purview of bilingualism.

Language Acquisition
the way children learn their mother tongue
the process of natural assimilation of a language
requires good models of the language that is to be learned and immersion in its use and function.
all children can acquire language ability because humans have the capacity to learn language (Brown,
Language Learning
The process used by learners when languages are added to their linguistic repertoire
Refers to second, third, nth language learned by a person
Can be learned (or not learned) well by
Structuralist or Formalist
Communicative competence

1. Learning as habit formation
Pattern practice (drills, etc.)
2. Learner as passive receiver of information
Earliest scientific theory of learning (beginning of 20th century) - Pavlov -> Skinner. Input-output model.
If you can control what goes in, you can control what comes out (learning).
Method of doing so = Stimulus, Response, Reinforcement: e.g., tell dog sit, dog sits, dog gets pat. Repeating
this process often enough was seen as resulting in learning, as led to formation of correct habits.
In LT, led to language laboratory drills, e.g.,
Is this a pen?
No it isnt.
Is this a pencil?
Yes it is. (etc.)
Based on view of learner as tabula rasa. Responsible for views in LT such as all errors must be
avoided/immediately corrected, translations should be avoided, etc., as otherwise inappropriate habits will
Although this theory now looks very old-fashioned, better to see it as an oversimplification rather than
completely wrong: mistake was to see input and repetition as whole picture, instead of only part of it.

Behaviourism eventually challenged because seen as unable to account for the creativity involved in everyday,
basic aspects of language.
Parrot joke illustrates this well. What shows is that parrot wouldnt have been able to say what it said if
behaviourism was all that there was to language learning.
As you know, even very young children in their mother tongue routinely produce utterances that they have
not been exposed to - how can this be possible, unless there is something more to learning than input?
Also, everyday L1 language learning is creative in the sense that not only is the language learned, but also the
system of the language as well - I.e., the grammar of the language is unconsciously internalized at the same
time. Not in sense of being able to state the rules of course, but in sense of being able to show a working
knowledge of them by e.g., judging whether an utterance is grammatical or not.
In both cases, clear that language learning involves a considerable amount of going beyond the information
The main attack on the behaviourist position from this perspective came form Chomsky. Argued that what
was missing from the behaviorist concept of learning was a theory of mind - a mentalist perspective, in other
words. The mind was seen to possess a set of deep-seated ways of processing language data that lead to the
unconscious discovery of the grammar of the language - learning as a rule-governed activity.
Thus the input the learner was exposed to needs to be seen in a very different way - not so much a means of
forming habits but a trigger for pattern-seeking.
This can be illustrated via our list or words:
write down what can recall
how many?
show -> which ones?
-> pattern/familiar
-> individual connections
pattern seeking process takes form of hypothesis testing -> see h/o
past tense = V + ed
past tense = V + ed, except

The cognitive theory
1. Learning as a thinking process.
2. Learner as an active processor of information.
3. Problem-solving tasks, learning strategies, etc.
Mentalist position led to view that learning is a thinking (i.e., cognitive) process (cf. Descartes - I think,
therefore I am).
Picture of learner opposite to that of behaviourism - seen as active meaning-maker, at heart of learning
process. Learners therefore need to be given the chance to use their thinking abilities in the learning
Led to idea of using techniques for learning such as problem solving, and learning strategies (thinking
consciously about ways of learning, e.g., inferring meaning of unknown words, etc.)

Affective theory
1. Learning as an emotional process
2. The cognitive-affective interconnection
3. Motivation
Language, learner and learning situation levels framework (Dornyei 2001: 18)
Process model (ibid: 19 - 23)
4. Authentic texts/tasks, small group-work, etc.

Cognitive theory also came to be seen as insufficient, however, as doesnt take into account the way that
feelings also influence learning. So also need an affective theory of learning (affect = technical term for
emotions, beliefs, attitudes, etc. - not to be confused with effective!).
Cognitive-affective interaction: can help to see two sides of learning as interconnected, with affective
aspect primary (see handout)
Leads into question of motivation and its vital importance in learning. Have already touched on this in
session 2, re language learner variables. Dornyei text, esp. Ch. 1, a key text in this regard. As points out,
need to see motivation in terms of language level (integrative vs instrumental motivations), but also
learners own psychology (e.g., self-confidence, need for achievement, etc.), and learning situation levels
(made of course-, teacher- and group-related variables).
Also has process model, which has three main stages - generating, maintaining and retrospecting - similar
to cognitive-affective cycle diagram in some ways - but key point is that different kinds of motivation
involved in each of these phases, not a monolithic matter form this perspective. Motivation thus v.
complex and important learning factor, esp. in lang. learning.
In terms of learning activities, the affective theory has lent support to the use of authenticity (real-life) in
LT, on grounds that likely to create greater interest -> motivation, and, e.g., group work, as caters to
learners working with friends, more positive emotional climate than being always under beady eye of
teacher, etc.

Learning vs. acquisition (Krashen)
1. Learning as an unconscious process
2. i + 1 (comprehensible input)
Finally, learning can also be seen as conscious or unconscious process. Krashen has argued that formal,
conscious learning of grammar rules etc. not much use because they are too complicated to use in
practice most of the time, especially spoken communication. Therefore, better to think of L2 language
learning being mainly a non-conscious, informal acquisition process, like learning of L1.
Basic idea is that learners need to be exposed to input + 1, so-called comprehensible input, i.e., at next
stage up from current level. As a result of grappling with trying to understand, the necessary learning
processes will be stimulated, and the language knowledge will be acquired.
Probably best to assume, however, that while some language learning can occur this way, conscious
language learning also useful (see e.g., Johnson Ch. 7 and Littlewood 92 Ch 5 esp.).

The nature vs. nurture debate extends to the topic of language acquisition. Today, most researchers acknowledge
that both nature and nurture play a role in language acquisition. However, some researchers emphasize the
influences of learning on language acquisition, while others emphasize the biological influences.
Receptive Language before Expressive Language
Childrens ability to understand language develops faster than their ability to speak it. Receptive language is the
ability to understand language, and expressive language is the ability to use language to communicate. If a mother
tells her fifteen-month-old child to put the toy back in the toy chest, he may follow her instructions even though he
cant repeat them himself.
Environmental Influences on Language Acquisition
A major proponent of the idea that language depends largely on environment was the behaviorist B. F. Skinner (see
pages 145 and 276 for more information on Skinner). He believed that language is acquired through principles of
conditioning, including association, imitation, and reinforcement.
According to this view, children learn words by associating sounds with objects, actions, and events. They also learn
words and syntax by imitating others. Adults enable children to learn words and syntax by reinforcing correct
Critics of this idea argue that a behaviorist explanation is inadequate. They maintain several arguments:
Learning cannot account for the rapid rate at which children acquire language.
There can be an infinite number of sentences in a language. All these sentences cannot be learned by
Children make errors, such as overregularizing verbs. For example, a child may say Billy hitted me,
incorrectly adding the usual past tense suffix -ed to hit. Errors like these cant result from imitation, since
adults generally use correct verb forms.
Children acquire language skills even though adults do not consistently correct their syntax.
Neural Networks
Some cognitive neuroscientists have created neural networks, or computer models, that can acquire some aspects of
language. These neural networks are not preprogrammed with any rules. Instead, they are exposed to many
examples of a language. Using these examples, the neural networks have been able to learn the languages statistical
structure and accurately make the past tense forms of verbs. The developers of these networks speculate that
children may acquire language in a similar way, through exposure to multiple examples.
Biological Influences on Language Acquisition
The main proponent of the view that biological influences bring about language development is the well-known
linguist Noam Chomsky. Chomsky argues that human brains have a language acquisition device (LAD), an innate
mechanism or process that allows children to develop language skills. According to this view, all children are born
with a universal grammar, which makes them receptive to the common features of all languages. Because of this
hard-wired background in grammar, children easily pick up a language when they are exposed to its particular
Evidence for an innate human capacity to acquire language skills comes from the following observations:
The stages of language development occur at about the same ages in most children, even though different
children experience very different environments.
Childrens language development follows a similar pattern across cultures.
Children generally acquire language skills quickly and effortlessly.
Deaf children who have not been exposed to a language may make up their own language. These new
languages resemble each other in sentence structure, even when they are created in different cultures.
Biology and Environment
Some researchers have proposed theories that emphasize the importance of both nature and nurture in language
acquisition. These theorists believe that humans do have an innate capacity for acquiring the rules of language.
However, they believe that children develop language skills through interaction with others rather than acquire the
knowledge automatically.
Language, Culture, and Thought
Researchers have differing views about the extent to which language and culture influence the way people think. In
the 1950s, Benjamin Lee Whorf proposed the linguistic relativity hypothesis. He said language determines the
way people think. For example, Whorf said that Eskimo people and English-speaking people think about snow
differently because the Eskimo language has many more words for snow than the English language does.
Most subsequent research has not supported Whorfs hypothesis. Researchers do acknowledge, however, that
language can influence thought in subtle ways. For example, the use of sexist terminology may influence how
people think about women. Two ways that people commonly use language to influence thinking are semantic
slanting and name calling.
Semantic Slanting
Semantic slanting is a way of making statements so that they will evoke specific emotional responses.
Example: Military personnel use the term preemptive counterattack rather than invasion, since invasion is
likely to produce more negative feelings in people.
Name Calling
Name calling is a strategy of labeling people in order to influence their thinking. In anticipatory name calling, it is
implied that if someone thinks in a particular way, he or she will receive an unfavorable label.
Example: On the day a student buys a new desk, he might say, Only a slob would pile junk on a desk like this.
This might help ensure that his roommate keeps it free of junk.
Although people sometimes assume that bilingualism impairs childrens language development, there is no evidence
to support this assumption. Bilingual children develop language at the same rate as children who speak only one
language. In general, people who begin learning a new language in childhood master it more quickly and thoroughly
than do people who learn a language in adulthood.