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Running head: SLA EXAM 1

Second Language Acquisition Take-Home Exam

Lauren Porter

Colorado State University



This exam was completed for E527 Theories of Second Language Acquisition.

The work in this exam demonstrates my knowledge on different theories of second

language acquisition, negotiation of meaning for second language learners, non-linguistic

factors that are relevant to second language acquisition, and understanding of research in

second language acquisition.


1. Please describe the theoretical basis, as well as weaknesses and goals, for the

following three theories of second language acquisition: Contrastive Analysis

Hypothesis, Universal Grammar, and Individual Differences

a. Theoretical basis

Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis: Based on the assumption that L2 acquisition is highly

dependent on L1. The main idea is that everything that is most different from the L1 will

be the most difficult to acquire in the L2. Based on the theory that language is a habit;

therefore learning a new language requires establishing a new set of habits (Gass, 2013).

Universal Grammar: Not based on/dependent on the L1. All languages consist of a set

of abstract principles (universals), motivated by the need to explain quick acquisition of

language by children. All languages have the invariable principles. Parameters vary

language to language (Gass, 2013).

Non-Linguistic Influences- Individual Differences: Associated with psychology, this

theory examines individual factors including: age, aptitude, anxiety, motivation, and

personality that can influence SLA. These factors are not attributed to the L1, but to the

individual, as the name suggests. One popular theory within individual differences is the

acculturation model, which suggests that an individual needs to acculturate (assimilate) to

the TL culture in order to learn the language.

b. Weaknesses

Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis: Relies too much on the influence of L1. Doesnt take

into consideration the amount of input, individual differences, etc. For example, a learner

in an ESL setting who has large amounts of exposure to a target structure that is different

from their L1 may not necessarily struggle with that structure.

Universal Grammar: Too theoretical. Cant provide enough concrete evidence. Not

falsifiable, meaning you cant make observations to declare it false. Because languages

vary greatly and are present across the world, it is not plausible that universal grammar

rules exist.

Non-linguistic influences- individual differences: examines L2 acquisition based on

individual differences, not on linguistic elements. There are so many individual factors

present that it is hard to study them and operationalize studies to target just one individual

difference. If there are concrete findings, it is hard to attribute them to a single individual


c. Goals

Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis: Examine differences in L1 and L2 in order to

determine potential errors that learners will make. Influence pedagogy by highlighting

what structures will need more attention than others, based on the L1 and L2 (Gass,


Universal Grammar: Goal is to explain the generally successful and speedy ability of

children to acquire language (Gass, 2013). Attempts to fill in the gaps when questions

arise of how children can acquire language where there is insufficient input, or when

children are not explicitly taught certain structures.

Individual Differences: Take a more holistic approach to SLA by taking into

consideration factors that are not related to linguistics. Attempt to understand why some

people are more successful at learning language than others, even in a similar setting. For

example, consider non-linguistic factors that can impact second language acquisition,

including: anxiety, aptitude, stress, motivation, etc.

2. Please describe the interaction hypothesis, and describe a hypothetical study to

test the hypothesis.

The interaction hypothesis (IH) states that negotiation for meaning during

interaction can trigger adjustments in the learner and facilitate acquisition because it

connects input, internal capacities, and output (Gass, 2013). IH has evolved from looking

at meaningful input and pushed output to include re-casts, stimulated recall to confirm

hypothesis testing, implicit feedback, explicit feedback, and metalinguistic awareness.

There are numerous examples in the Gass textbook of conversations involving recasts

and negotiation. For example, (12-49) shows how NNS2 recasts the correct pronunciation

of cup during a conversation with NNS1 (Gass, 2013). After several turns, the NNS1

correctly pronounces cup, after mispronouncing it several times before. Using negotiation

in conversation to elicit certain structures can be used to support claims of the interaction


To examine and test the interaction hypothesis, I would design a study with a NS

and NNS. I would operationalize interaction by defining learning as the correct

production of simple past tense by the NNS. I would measure this and test it through

conversation analysis. I would ask the research question, Does explicit feedback in the

form of the correct recast help NNS learn the simple past tense of verbs? For this study,

I would target high-beginner to intermediate learners who would be familiar with simple

past tense but who may not have mastered it yet. I would do this is an ESL setting with

one (always the same) NS meeting with each NNS individually. They would all receive

the same strip sentence story when they met with the NS, who would first run through the

story giving a brief description of the events using the simple past. This would be an

indirect clue as to what the target structure is and to elicit use of the simple past. I would

use a strip story with pictures of scenes that would incorporate vocabulary already known

to the NNS. After the NS briefly describes the story (in the same way for each learner), I

would have the NS elicit the targeted structure (simple past tense) by asking What

happened in the story? The NS would ask about different parts of the strip story one by

one, and re-cast the correct past tense form when the NNS used them incorrectly. For


NS: What did he do in this picture?

NNS: He walk to the park.

NS: Oh, he walked to the park? Why do you think he walked to the park?

NNS: He walked to the park to find his lost dog.


The conversations would be recorded so that each one could be analyzed later.

There would be a time limit of 20 minutes for each participant to try to keep some


3.Please describe non-linguistic factors of second language acquisition, as well as

possible challenges to identifying and studying these factors.

The goal of investigating non-linguistic factors and their relationship with L2

acquisition is to examine SLA in a more holistic fashion, and to answer questions about

why some learners are more successful than others in SLA, as well as why learners

fossilize at different stages. If research was only centered on linguistic variables, it would

be difficult to answer these questions because, for example, in a certain class (which

learners are assigned to based on their level), learners are exposed to the same structures

of language at the same speed and with the same mode of instruction. However, at the

end of a class, some learners are more successful than others. Additionally, some learners

will fossilize in stages that other learners will not. If the control variables of linguistics

have been constant, there must be other factors at play. There are methodological

challenges associated with examining non-linguistic variables; one example is that it is

very difficult to isolate, or attribute problems in acquisition, to one non-linguistic factor.

For example, how would you know if a student is not acquiring the language because of

aptitude? Or motivation? Or anxiety? Oftentimes, these factors are intangible, and they

are interconnected. This makes it hard to prove, and also disprove (or falsify) some

claims. Additionally, if, for example, a student struggles with anxiety, it is hard to design

a study to test their knowledge in an environment that rids them of anxiety. How do you

prove that they no longer have anxiety? A lot of research on non-linguistic factors uses

self-reports to measure these variables. Self-reports are not concrete, 100% reliable, or

the most sound way to collect data.

5.Please describe Krashens hypothesis and its influence on second language

acquisition research.

Krashens hypotheses include the Acquisition-Learning hypothesis, Monitor

hypothesis, Natural Order hypothesis, Input hypothesis, Affective Filter hypothesis, and

Reading Hypothesis (Gass, 2013). Although Krashens hypotheses have been largely

criticized and thought to be outdated, his influence continues in some psycholinguistic

approaches, more specifically when examining input processing.

One specific example is Nel De Jongs 2005 study, Can Second Language

Grammar be Learned Through Listening? An Experimental Study. The study examined

if second language grammar could be taught through listening. The research studied the

idea of the Input Hypothesis as proposed by Krashen, which states that acquisition occurs

when learners receive comprehensible input (i+1). Comprehensible input denotes that the

input students are receiving is slightly above their current level. Pedagogically speaking,

and related to the study, this means that speech emerges as a result of comprehensible

input. In other words, perhaps structures can be taught implicitly solely through input.

The idea is that if enough of the input is understood by the students, grammar will


The target structure in De Jongs research was the noun-adjective gender

agreement in Spanish. He divided the participants into three groups; one group received

receptive training (comprehensible input, i +1), one received receptive (i+1) and

productive training, and the last group was a control group that received no training, but

only received an explicit explanation of the target structure (no i+1).

A criticism of this study is that it was performed over a short period of time. I

believe it is difficult to isolate the differences between implicit and explicit knowledge in

a short period of time. It would be more pertinent to do a longitudinal study. Additionally,

it is hard to say that the type of instruction was the main factor for either comprehension,

or no comprehension. Perhaps there are other factors that impeded learning.

Krashens Affective Filter Hypothesis can still be seen in more recent research on

non-linguistic influences. The Affective Filter hypothesis states that when people are

receiving input, some learners have a filter that is up. This filter includes factors like

anxiety, motivation, and self-confidence. This idea of a filter was one way to try to

understand why some students do not learn when others do (Gass, 2013). Today, non-

linguistic influences include the same as mentioned above, and also include aptitude, age,

and personality. However, it is very hard to conduct studies that can pin point one of these

factors as a source for impeding knowledge. As stated earlier, many of these studies also

rely on self-reports, which do not stand to be as accountable as other methods of

collecting data.


De Jong, N. (2005). Can second language grammar be learned through listening? An

experimental study. SSLA, 27, 205-234.

Gass, S.M., Behney, J., & Plonsky, L . (2013). Second language acquisition: An

Introductory course (4th ed.). New York, NY: Taylor and Francis.