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1. Introduction p. 2
2. Native-like competence p. 2
3. Psycholinguistic reasons for failure p. 3
3.1 Interlanguage p. 3
3.2 Universal Grammar p. 3
3.3 The Monitor Model p. 4
3.4 The Output Hypothesis p. 4
4. Discourse Analysis: reasons for failure p. 5
4.1 The variable competence p. 5
4.2 Interactionist Theory p. 5
4.3 Discourse Theory p. 6
5. Sociolinguistic reasons for failure p. 6
6. Conclusions p. 7
Bibliography p. 8

Mercedes Viola Deambrosis


“English has become the world’s second language, the world’s lingua franca. In fact, it is safe to
say that it is difficult in today’s world to be active and successful in international business,
politics, scholarship, or science without considerable competence in English.” (Krashen 2006,
pg. 1)

Many countries have started implementing new language policies concerning the study of
English and many people have embarked on studying English. But, do students achieve native-
like competence? Is it necessary to master the language as a native speaker or being able to
communicate quite successfully is enough? What is native like competence, anyway?

The aim of this assignment is, after examining the concept of native-like competence, give
some explanations for the possible failure of EFL students to achieve native-like competence in
a second language. In order to do so, I will consider three different fields of second language
acquisition: Psycholinguistics, Discourse and Sociolinguistics.


The notion of the native speaker is self-explanatory and understood until it is examined in detail
(Ellis, 1993).
Many linguists and researchers state that a native speaker is someone who:
 acquired the language in early childhood (Davies, 1991),
 has intuitive knowledge of the language (Davies, 1991; Stern, 1983),
 is communicatively competent (Davies, 1991; Medgyes, 1992),
 is capable of producing fluent, spontaneous discourse that is characterized by creativity
(Davies, 1991; Medgyes, 1992),
 does not have a foreign accent (Medgyes, 1992)
 identifies with a language community (Davies, 1991)
Stern (1983) details some characteristics that native speakers share: subconscious knowledge
of rules, intuitive grasp of meanings, ability to communicate within social settings, range of
language skills, and creativity of language use.
However, the concept of “the native speaker” is quite questionable. This concept suggests the
idea of a single register of the target language despite the fact that there are many different
English speech communities with different styles, pronunciation and cultural implications. It can
also be added, that English has become the world‟s lingua franca and according to Barbara

Seidlhofer (2005, p.339) “English is being shaped at least as much by its non-native speakers
as by its native speakers”.


“Psycholinguistics is the branch of cognitive psychology that studies the psychological basis of
linguistic competence and performance.” Princeton University "About WordNet." WordNet.
Princeton University. 2010.
Psycholinguistics is the study of the psychological and neurobiological factors that enable
humans to acquire, use, and understand language. In this field there are different theories of
first language acquisition and various explanations on how the first language is present and
manifested in second language learning.
I will discuss those issues within this field that could explain some of the reason for the failure of
EFL students to achieve native-like competence in a second language.

3.1 Interlanguage
Interlanguage is the student‟s version of the language at a given stage in his second language
development; it is a transitional system that reflects the student‟s current knowledge of the
second language. This concept was first coined by Selinker in 1972. Research on students‟
production has shown that their interlanguage is characterized by two types of errors:
interference and developmental errors.
Interference errors are caused by the influence of the aspects of the L1 that are different from
the L2. (Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis)
Developmental errors are those that occur naturally as learners gain more insight into the
language system. They are part of the natural acquisition process.

Students are expected to progress along the learning continuum and their interlanguage
approaches the target language model. However, some non-target forms may become fixed in
their Interlanguage preventing students reaching native-like competence in the second
language. This phenomenon is known as fossilization. “Fossilizable linguistic phenomena are
linguistic items, rules and subsystems which speakers of a particular native language will tend
to keep in their interlanguage relative to a particular target language, no matter what the age of
the learner or amount of explanation and instruction he receives in the target language.”
(Selinker, 1972)

3.2 Universal Grammar (UG)

Chomsky proposes a universal grammar, which is a genetic capacity for language with certain
principles and parameters that shape language acquisition. He states that there is a set of

principles that govern all languages as well as a series of parameters that may vary across
There are different hypothesis that explain to what extent UG constrains second language
 No-Access hypothesis: no aspect of UG is available to the L2 learner.
 Partial-Access hypothesis: only L1-instantiated principles and L1-instantiated parameter-
values of UG are available to the learner.
 Full-Access hypothesis, UG in its entirety constrains L2 acquisition.

3.3 The Monitor Model

"What theory implies, quite simply, is that language acquisition, first or second, occurs when
comprehension of real messages occurs, and when the acquirer is not 'on the defensive'...
Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does
not require tedious drill. It does not occur overnight, however. Real language acquisition
develops slowly, and speaking skills emerge significantly later than listening skills, even when
conditions are perfect. The best methods are therefore those that supply 'comprehensible input'
in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods
do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they
are 'ready', recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and
comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production." (Krashen, 1981 p 6-7)
This quote captures the essence of Krashen‟s ideas. He proposes five key hypotheses about
second language acquisition: The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis, The Natural Order
Hypothesis, The Monitor Hypothesis, The Input Hypothesis, and The Affective Filter Hypothesis.
Based on these theories, some possible drawbacks leading to learner failure could be identified:
learners with little motivation, lack of self-confidence and a high level of anxiety possess a high
affective filter, which will impede the reception of input; learners may not succeed in achieving
native-like competence when the input provided is not comprehensible enough; learners who
overuse their Monitor may end up "so concerned with correctness that they cannot speak with
any real fluency." (Krashen, 1983)

3.4 The Output Hypothesis

“It seems to me that the importance of output to learning could be that output pushes learners
to process language more deeply – with more mental effort- than does input. With output, the
learner is in control.... To produce, learners need to do something. They need to create
linguistic form and meaning, and in so doing, discover what they can and cannot do. Output
may stimulate learners to mover form the semantic, open-ended, strategic processing prevalent
in comprehension to the complete grammatical processing needed for accurate production.
Students‟ meaningful production of language –output- would thus seem to have a potentially
significant role in language development.” (Swain, 2000)

When learners are not being pushed to produce and interact meaningfully they are not
their SL successfully preventing them from reaching native-like competence in the target

“Negotiating meaning needs to incorporate the notion of being pushed toward the delivery of a
message that is not only conveyed, but that is conveyed precisely, coherently, and
appropriately. Being „pushed‟ in output…is a concept parallel to that of the i +1 of
comprehensible input. Indeed, one might call this the „comprehensible output‟ hypothesis.”
(Swain, 1985, 248-9).


"Discourse: a continuous stretch of (especially spoken) language larger than a sentence, often
constituting a coherent unit such as a sermon, argument, joke, or narrative" (Crystal 1992:25).
Discourse analysis examines the use of language functions along with its forms, produced both
orally and in writing. It identifies linguistic qualities of various genres together with cultural and
social aspects which support its comprehension. It is the branch of applied linguistics dealing
with the examination of discourse that attempts to find patterns in communicative products as
well as and their correlation with the circumstances in which they occur, which are not
explainable at the grammatical level (Carter 1993:23).

4.1 The variable competence model (Ellis 1984; Tarone 1983; Widdowson 1979;
Bialystok 1978)
“This theory claims that the way a language is learned is really a reflection of the way it is used.
The product of language is said to comprise a continuum of discourse types ranging from
entirely unplanned (spontaneous, lacks preparation) to entirely planned (carefully thought out).”

According to this, native-like competence develops through participation in various types of

discourse. Many second language learners do not have enough participation in a discourse-rich
environment leading to a failure in achieving that desired competence.

4.2 Interactionist Theory

Social interactionist theory stresses the importance of the environment and the context in which
the language is being learned. Some interactionists believe that interaction is the means
through which learners obtain data for learning (Ellis, 1999). They claim that “modified
interaction” is necessary for making language comprehensible.
Speakers make use of different strategies in order to avoid communication breakdowns;
comprehension checks, clarification requests or confirmation, self-repetition.
The use of this negotiated interaction, either in the form of “foreign-talk” or “teacher-talk” has the
main purpose of leading to comprehensible input. Pica, Young and Doughty (1987) stated that
different kinds of interactions led to improvements in comprehension.

Failure to achieve native-like competence may be due to classroom contexts where most of the
time grammatical structures are practised instead of being contexts where interactions are
carefully designed and learners are stimulated to create their own language in a socially
constructed process.

4.3 Discourse Theory

Hatch believes that the natural route to SLA is the result of learning how to hold conversations;
the main ideas behind the discourse theory is that successful language learning can actually be
achieved through negotiation of meaning to hold conversations.
This is not always encouraged in many teaching-learning contexts.


Sociolinguistics is the study of the effect of any and all aspects of society on the way language
is used, and the effects of language use on society.

Schumann (1978) in his Acculturation model and Andersen in his Nativisation Model (1979)
refer to pidginisation. Pidgin language is a simplified one developed at the first stages of SLA. If
this persists then learning fossilizes preventing students from progressing in their language

The Accommodation Theory developed by Giles and Byrne (1982) explains some of the
cognitive reasons for code-switching and other changes in speech as individuals seek to
emphasize or minimize the social differences between themselves and their interlocutors.

They state that when speakers (ingroup) seek approval in a social situation they are likely to
converge their speech to that of their interlocutor (outgroup). However, if they want to
emphasize the social distance their speech diverges, using linguistic features characteristic of
their own group.

For the success or failure to achieve native-like competence when learning a second language,
“as Selinker and Lamendella (1978) conclude there is probably no single cause; both internal
and external factors play a role. Ideally, we need to specify the differential contribution of the
various factors and how they interact, but we are a long way from being able to do so.” Ellis
(1994, p 824)

However, nowadays, people need to be able to communicate effectively in order to succeed in

their personal and professional lives. Many people may not reach native-like competence in 2L,
but are able to communicate effectively, that is, “they can exchange and negotiate information
through the use of verbal and non verbal symbols, oral or written modes and production and
comprehension processes.” Fallabela (2010)


Carter, R. 1993. Introducing applied linguistics. Harlow: Penguin.

Crystal, D. 1992. Introducing linguistics. Harlow: Penguin.
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Ellis, J. M. (1993). Language, thought, and logic. Evanston: Northwestern University
Ellis, R. (1985). Understanding second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ellis, R. (1994). The Study of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Ellis, R. (1999). Learning a second language through interaction Amsterdam: John Benjamins
Publishing Company.
Fallabela, M.E. (2010, October 22) Second Language Acquisition Mesg. 57944. Message
posted to
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Krashen, S. D. (2006). English Fever. Taiwan: Crane Publishing Co., Ltd.
Medgyes, P. (1992). Native or non-native: Who’s worth more? ELT Journal, 46(4)
Pica, T., Young, R. & Doughty, C. (1987): "The Impact of Interaction on Comprehension".
TESOL Quarterly 21: 737-59.
Seidlhofer, B. (2005). English as a lingua franca. ELT Journal Volume 59/4 October 2005, (339-
Selinker, L. (1972). Interlanguage. IRAL, 10, (3), 209-231
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Swain, M. (1985) Communicative competence: Some roles of comprehensible input and
comprehensible output in its development. In Gass, S. and Madden, C. (Eds.), Input in Second
Language Acquisition. New York: Newbury House.
Swain, M. (2000). The output hypothesis and beyond: Mediating acquisition through
collaborative dialogue. In J. P. Lantolf (Ed.) Sociocultural theory and second language learning.
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