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Second Language Acquisition Research: Staking out the Territory Author(s): Diane Larsen-Freeman Reviewed work(s): Source: TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Summer, 1991), pp. 315-350 Published by: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL) Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3587466 . Accessed: 14/03/2012 04:45
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TESOL QUARTERLY, 25, No. 2, Summer 1991 Vol.

Second Language Acquisition Research: Staking Out the Territory
DIANE LARSEN-FREEMAN School for International Training

Since its emergence some 20 years ago, the field of second language acquisitionresearchhas focused on two areas:the nature of the language acquisitionprocess and the factors which affect language learners. Initial research was essentially descriptive. More recently, researchershave been attempting to explain how acquisition occurs and how learner factors lead to differential success among learners.The focus has alternatelybroadened as researchersbecame more aware of the complexity of the issues and narrowed as greater depth of analysis was required. The paper suggests that the next phase of researchwill be characterized by a union of these two focal areas:learningand the learner. It also recommends that more research attention be given to tutored acquisition. One could argue that the launching of the TESOL Quarterly 25 years ago predated the emergence of second language acquisition (SLA) research as an identifiable field. Accordingly, my task should have been easier than that of my colleagues writing for these commemorative issues of the Quarterly. This was small comfort, however, when faced with the daunting challenge of doing justice to all that has transpired since the early 1970s.1 What has occurred since then, of course, is a veritable explosion of research focusing first upon the acquisition/learning process and second upon the language learner.2 This review will be organized around these two foci and around two subthemes: the alternate broadening and
some important studies of language learning were conducted prior to this (see, for example, some of the early studies compiled in Hatch, 1978), but these did not constitute a field of investigation as was to emerge in the 1970s. 2 It is beyond the scope of this article to treat either of these comprehensively. Interested readers may wish to consult overviews by Ellis (1985), and Larsen-Freeman and Long (1991) for more detail. I have especially drawn upon the latter in writing this review. I will also be unable to deal with matters concerning research methodology in this article. Interested readers should see J. D. Brown (1988), Hatch and Lazaraton (1991), Kasper and Grotjahn (1991), and Seliger & Shohamy (1989).


narrowingof perspective on the focus of inquiryand the movement from description (or what learnersdo) to explanation(or how they learn to do it).

Before the emergence of SLA as a field, researchersconducted contrastiveanalysesbetween the learners'L1 and L2 in order to anticipate areas of divergence which were likely to cause the learners difficulty and those of convergence where one could expect positive transfer.This practicewas consistentwith the then prevailingbehaviorist view of language acquisition:learningby conditioning.It was thought that if materials could be prepared which would help learnersovercome the conditionedhabitsof theirL1 while they were imitatingthe new patternsof the L2, language acquisitionwould be facilitated. Errorsthat might result from interferencefrom the L1 were to be prevented or at least held to a minimum. Ironically, it was learners'errors, so threateningto behaviorists, which were to lead to the shift in awarenessthat spawned the SLA field. Overgeneralization errors (*I eated it) typical of first language acquirers were discovered in the oral production of L2 learners.Since such errorscould not have resulted from imitationof target language (TL) speech, the errors were taken as support for Chomsky'sproposal that the acquisitionprocess was essentiallyone of rule formation, not habit formation. Learnerswere seen to play an active role in forming and testing hypotheses in an effort to induce the TL rules from the TL speech to which they were exposed. With the ascribing of an active role to the language learner, the SLA field was born. (See, for example, Oiler & Richards,1973;Schumann& Stenson, 1974). Learner errors became a major focus of study. Certainly interferenceerrorswere detected, but so were errorsresultingfrom overgeneralization, redundancy reduction, and communicative strategies. Errors were also analyzed to see if they reflected the underlying system that Corder (1967) claimed learnersused. Error analysesdeterminedthis indeed to be the case, and Selinker's(1972) term interlanguage (IL) was embraced to signify that learners' approximationsof the TL were separate linguistic systems in their own right, not governed by the same rules as either the learners'L1 or L2 (Adjemian,1976).
3 The sequence described in this section follows from Hakuta and Cancino (1977), and van Els, Bongaerts, Extra, van Os, and Janssen-van Dieten (1984). 316 TESOL QUARTERLY

accordingto the rules they construct to understandand generatesentences"(p.Since the intermediatestages in the developmentalsequences looked like neither the L1 nor L2. Rosansky. Chief among these was that a focus on errorsneglected learners'actualsuccesses. 276).they asserted. Among the earliest performance analyses were the morpheme studies. namely the analysis of the speech data of learners collected at regularintervalsfor a period of at least several months.Developmental sequences were identified for English interrogatives (Cazden. and was therefore thought to be imperviousto L1 influence. since learnerscould sometimes avoid making errorsin the L2 by not attempting to produce difficult structures. but rather that learners were creatively constructing the L2 through a process of gradual complexification. and a variety of other English structures(Johnston. & Schumann. German word order (Meisel.These findings also underscoredthe need for researchersto examine the learners'IL in its own right in order to understandthe acquisition process rather SECOND LANGUAGEACQUISITION RESEARCH 317 . These studies also.1974). error analyses did not even account for all sources of learner difficulty (Schachter. In 1974. 1981). Data collected longitudinally enabled researchers to see that learnersof all types passed throughcommon developmental stages in their acquisitionof certain structures. negation (Schumann.and Krashen (1982) thus referred to the SLA process as "creative construction: the subconscious process by which language learnersgraduallyorganize the language they hear. they reinforced the observation that learnerswere not merely reshapingtheir Lls to conform to the L2s. mostly for their methodology and claims of minimalL1 interference. 1985). 1979). Furthermore. Clahsen.1977). Burt. In addition. 1967). Dulay.Wode. error analysis alone was deemed an incomplete perspective for a number of reasons (Schachter& Celce-Murcia.the acquisitionorder held for both Chinese and Spanish-speakingchildren. 1986).1984). came under attack. This and other early who welcomed the new view morpheme studiesexcited researchers of language acquisition and the empirical support of an innate or learner-generated built-in syllabus (Corder.Englishrelativeclauses (Pavesi. 1975.While the study of learner errors continued to be illuminating. Dulay and Burt claimed that they had found evidence of an English morpheme order of acquisitionbased upon ESL learners' relative use of eleven morphemes in obligatory contexts. Cancino. 1978). & Pienemann.These limitationsof erroranalysiswere remedied in a type of analysis which took the learner'sperformance (errors and well-formed utterances)as the focus of inquiry. Anothertype of performance analysiswas also being conducted at the time. however. Swedish relativeclauses (Hyltenstam.

Notwithstanding the insights yielded. namely discourse analysis (Larsen-Freeman. After the decade of broadening perspective. 1985). Indeed. much research has been conducted under the rubric of discourse analysis: the study of the acquisition of speech acts (Blum-Kulka & Olshtain. often there was backsliding or forgetting when new forms were introduced. This observed acquisition process was not a linear one. there came also a recognition of the need for a deeper examination of specific issues raised during the 1970s: specifically. but also of rotelearned formulaic utterances. but with greater awareness of a necessary breadth of inquiry. to name a few. 409). Moreover. Hatch has been the SLA researcher who has most promoted the value of examining what learners could be learning when engaged in collaborative discourse. learners were freely making use not only of rule-governed utterances. 1988. ESL learner Homer's (WagnerGough. Hatch (1978) writes: "One learns how to interact verbally. 1976). Each type of analysis subsumed without replacing its predecessor. not all stages in a sequence were traversed. Sometimes. as with the error analyses that preceded it. Chaudron. Time and research were required to discover what in hindsight seems obvious: Performance analysis alone could not account for the whole picture. and out of this interaction. too. leading some investigators to suggest that rule-governed language developed from formulaic speech. This brief historical review of the SLA field demonstrates a progressive broadening of perspective. Rather than the usual view that learners build up to conversational competence after gaining gradual control of lexical items and syntactic structures. Recognition of the need to examine not only the learner's performance but also the input to the learner. both routines and patterns (Hakuta. introduced a whole new area of inquiry. 318 TESOL QUARTERLY . leading to arrested development or fossilized forms. van Lier. 1983) and classroom discourse analysis (Allwright. resulting in a learning curve that was more U-shaped than smoothly ascending (Kellerman. 1976). syntactic structures are developed" (p. 1983). each type of analysis continues to be conducted. Since Hatch's observation. which was later analyzed by the learner (Wong Fillmore. 1980). 1988). was found to be too narrow. 1975) utterances such as *what is this is truck could only be understood by expanding the focus of investigation to include what was being said to Homer prior to his response. communicative strategies (Faerch & Kasper. For Hatch. a significant vehicle for acquisition is interaction with other speakers. 1984). a focus on learner performance. 1988.than seeing the IL as an incomplete version of the TL (BleyVroman.

difficulty would not arise. Indeed. learners would experience more difficulty. was precisely what effect transfer had on learners' ILs. First. reliance on prior L1 knowledge" (p. but the L2 was not more marked than the L1. the 1980s saw a narrowing of focus so that each of these could be explored more fully. Where the L2 was more marked than the L1. which stimulated much research during the decade. This principle is significant in two respects. We have already seen how it was responsible for errors as well as positive transfer and underproduction or avoidance 4 In fact. 1989. furthermore. The fact that four books were published during the 1980s on the theme of transfer in SLA is testament to the vitality of this line of research (Dechert & Raupach. each of these areas was the theme of at least one conference. for example. and IL variation. the contrastive analysis hypothesis.. Odlin. Kellerman (1984) noticed that learners' perceptions of the distance between the L1 and L2 would affect the degree to which learners would transfer forms. The series of three applied linguistics conferences at the University of Michigan during the decade. and variation (1987). input to learners.4 Thus. A second question concerning transfer. Narrowing the Perspective: LanguageTransfer We have already seen that all errors could no longer be traced to L1 interference. Where the two languages were different. was refuted by research that indicated that it was often the similarities between the two languages which caused confusion.L1 transfer." work by Eckman and by Kellerman contributed to our understanding of when transfer occurs. addressed language transfer (1982). 1986. Wode (1978) framed this observation as a principle: "Only if L1 and L2 have structures meeting a crucial similarity measure will there be interference. In addition to Wode's claim that there had to be a "crucial similarity. the relative degree of difficulty would correspond to the relative degree of markedness. The following is a summary of what was learned. What was noteworthy here was the extent to which the idea of transfer as a deliberate cognitive strategy had taken hold. Gass & Selinker. it foreshadowed what was to occupy researchers throughout the next decade: specifying precisely when transfer would occur. input (1983). 116). Second.e. SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION RESEARCH 319 . Eckman (1985) suggested that the markedness difference between the L1 and L2 would play a role. 1975). it reflects the growing view that transfer could be seen as a cognitive strategy: Learners rely on what they know (Taylor. In fact. which stated that those areas of the TL which were most dissimilar to the learners' L1 would cause the most difficulty. i. Kellerman & Sharwood Smith. 1989). 1983.

1985. Narrowingthe Perspective: Input Recall that by the end of the 1970sresearchers had become aware of the need to examine the raw material or input with which the learners had to work. 1989) Clearly. of course. 320 TESOL QUARTERLY . Substitution(use of L1 form in the L2) (Odlin.longer pauses.) With regard to the quantity of the input. Prolongingthe use of a developmental form when it is similarto an L1 structure(potentiallyresultingin fossilization)(Zobl.1983) 4. Manystudiesinvestigated the link between input and output (Gass & Madden. Studies of input also focused on conversations between native (NSs) and nonnative speakers (NNSs) and those between NNSs. but not all. although not without challenge.1979) 2. 1983) 5. a recurringfinding was the correlationbetween the frequency of certain forms in the input and their appearance in learners'ILs. semantic complexity.for a synopsis of these studies. (I have drawn from Larsen-Freeman. instructional sequence) and some aspect of the learners' output. researchers adduced evidence in support of the hypothesis that learners who have the opportunity to use the L2 regularly or to receive the most input will exhibit the greatest proficiency. 1985). Again. syntactic complexity. Some of the modifications (termed foreigner talk [FT]) which NSs make to accommodate NNSs' level of comprehension are slower rate of speech. many. comparingboth to a baseline of NS-NS interactions(see Day. that not all input would become intake (Corder. Constraining the nature of hypotheses that language learners make (Schachter. Inhibiting or accelerating passage through a developmental sequence (Zobl. frequency of occurrence. 1982) 3. Hypercorrection(overreactionto a particularinfluence from the L1) (Odlin. recognizing. 1986). fewer false starts. Other research demonstrated that transfer manifested itself in the following ways: 1. louder volume (!).1967). 1989) 6.of certain structures. Overproduction of a particular TL form (Schachter & Rutherford. Research in the area of input quality searched for a link between certain characteristicsof the input (perceptual saliency. transfer is a much more pervasive phenomenon in SLA than was once thought.

Swain suggested that the learners also needed practice producing comprehensible output. shorter length. NSs are continuously readjusting their speech based on their ongoing assessment of their NNS interlocutors' comprehension (Gass & Varonis.more restricted vocabulary. Doing so may force learners to move from semantic to syntactic processing. requests for clarification. SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION RESEARCH 321 . Synchronic variability was too obvious to be ignored for long. Narrowing the Perspective: Variation As are all natural languages. greater use of gestures. more deliberate enunciation. These students received abundant comprehensible input but had not yet fully acquired grammatical competence in French. varies according to the proficiency of the students (Gaies. Krashen (1982) called comprehensible input in the presence of a low affective filter the only causal variable in SLA. and simpler syntax (Hatch. however. 1983). etc. Since the learners could understand the input without fully analyzing its syntactic structure. that this variability was overlooked in the early days of research given that most attention was focused on the systematicity of IL. ILs are variable.These modificationsare not made by all native speakers. 1977). repetition. to revert to an erroneous form when a new challenge presents itself. In recent years. considered the case of the students in the Canadian French Immersion Program. Swain (1985).. more concrete lexicon. 1985)."for example. nor are they static. which are the result of the negotiation of meaning between the learners and their conversational partners. The degree of modification of "teachertalk. confirmation checks. however. As teachers can readily attest. Strong proposals have been put forth about the role of input in SLA. it is not uncommon for students who appear to have mastered a particular item. The latter include such phenomena as comprehension checks. expansions. the number of books devoted to variation demonstrates the significance of this topic in SLA circles (Adamson. Long (1980) made an importantdistinctionbetween the linguistic modificationsof FT and those made to the interactionalstructureof conversations between NSs and NNSs. self-repetition. few would agree that comprehensible input alone is sufficient. Similarly. It is not surprising. For instance. While most researchers accept the need for learners to comprehend the input (in order for it to become intake and not just noise). It was shown that these interactional or elaborative modifications may enhance NNSs' comprehension even more than linguistic alterations. for example.

1989) What seems to be accepted at the moment is that what appears at first to be random variation can often be accounted for with variable (or probabilistic) rules.. With the least attention being given to form. Adjustmentof one's speech towards one's interlocutor(convergence) or away from one's interlocutor(divergence) (Beebe & Zuengler. 1985). linguistic environment. Sociolinguisticfactors (Beebe. and is therefore the most variable. I shall returnto the theme of variationbelow. while preserving the notion of an IL system (Huebner. Discourse domains (Selinker& Douglas..Ellis.Gass. One explanationproffered for the synchronicvariability found in learners'performance on taskshas been the sociolinguistic construct of speech style. a style which shows the greatest systematicity (Labov. What is not clear. 1985) 5. where style is defined in terms of the amount of attention given to form in the language. Most of the research has attempted to explain variability. When learners are carefully attending to form. The notion of systematicity in IL.) In addition to attention to form as a reason for variable performance. Learners' monitoring their performance (Krashen. 1988). The amount of planningtime learnershave (Crookes. 1989.Eisenstein. 1985) 6. 1969). other explanationshave been: 1.e. Tarone (1979) hypothesized that at any point in time a learner'sIL is really a continuum of speech styles. 1977) 2. 1985. 1980) 3. 1989b. & Selinker. Linguisticor situationalcontext of use (Ellis. however. A combination of factors: stage of acquisition.Preston. Learners' of other-regulatedor self-regulatedspeech (Lantolf & Ahmed. 1983) 4.1988) use 8.1988. is just what kind of system it is. therefore.communicative redundancy (Young.Burmeister& Rounds. i. This has been accomplished by maintaining that variability itself is systematic. it should be remembered that a subtheme of this article is the shift 322 TESOL QUARTERLY . 1990. This style is more permeable. the style they exhibit is at the other end of the continuum. before doing so. learnersrely on a vernacularspeech style. more open to influence from other languages.e. (But see Sato. leaving only a portion as nonsystematic free variation. Madden. 1989a. or least systematic. 1987. i.Tarone. What is certainis that being systematicdoes not mean simply governed by categoricalrules.1989. remains intact. 1989) 7. explicable with appeal to certain linguistic and contextual factors. Preston.

) THE LEARNINGPROCESS: EXPLANATION of an explanation embedded in it" (Long. and interactionist(both internaland externalprocesses are responsible).children 5 Some of the more prominent among these being Krashen's monitor model (1985). (Of course.from description to explanation. 1990b) and that We have already seen with regard to description how the SLA field has moved from a narrow focus on erroranalysisto a broader one on discourseanalysisand back to a narrowfocus on the areasof transfer. Hatch and Hawkins' experiential approach (1985). specialized innate capacity for language acquisition).A major assumption Chomsky makes is that the linguistic input to children acquiring their first language underdetermines or is insufficient to account for language acquisition.Since the latter half of the 1980s.Withthe advent of Chomsky'sgovernmentbinding theory.I will illustrateeach category with one theoretical perspective in SLA research.Moreover. for example. we find a more or less narrow approach being taken with theory construction as well. linguists operating within the tradition of generative grammar have taken as their primary objective a description of the knowledge or competence of the ideal speakerlistenerof the language.5 Nativist: Universal Grammar (UG) For many years. 1987. more attention has been concentrated on the question of how the competence of the native speakeris attained. While the early days of SLA research were appropriately consumed by descriptions of what learnersdo (and still much more is needed at all levels of language). the multidimensional model (Pienemann & Johnston. and the functionalist perspective (Tomlin. SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION RESEARCH 323 . and variation. I will adopt a threefold classificationschema for theoreticalperspectives in the SLA field: nativist (learningdepends upon a significant. Following Ellis (1985) and Larsen-Freeman and Long (1991). McLaughlin's cognitive theory (1987). recognizing that through my selectivity I will have unavoidably slighted many others. Clahsen. 1987). 1985). behaviorist/environmentalist (the learner'sexperience is more important than innate capacity). by the mid-1980scalls were being made for theory constructionand explanations of the acquisition process (see. it should be acknowledged that the questions posed and data collected in describinganythinghas "thebeginning explanationis a complementaryextensionof description. Long.input. Andersen's cognitive interactionist model (1988). Bialystok and Ryan's knowledge and control dimensions (1985). 1990).

they do through their knowledge of their L1 (Clahsen & Muysken. White points out that the adult second language learner is faced with the same challenge as is a child first language learner: trying to learn a language from degenerate and limited input. & van Buren. Bley-Vroman (1989). Some researchers maintain (Felix. 1983. One example which has often been cited as a principle in UG is the TESOL QUARTERLY . Mazurkewich. (Although just how degenerate the data are is a matter of some debate [cf.) that it is not likely that UG is present in its entirety in postpubescent learners. 1990). 1990. there are no transfer effects or fossilization. that if language learners do not have direct access to UG. at most. but not S (White. 1989. These researchers have argued that the results of the SLA process differ so dramatically from first language acquisition (where native speaker competence is always achieved. 1990). It is possible. 1985. 1991]. White. The UG consists of a number of fixed abstract principles which predispose children to organize the language they hear in certain ways (White. which limits movement of constituents within sentences so that. 1985. What counts as a bounding node. Thus. is determined by a parametric setting triggered by exposure to a given language.subjacency principle. Larsen-Freeman & Long.) Felix adds that sequences of development and paucity of input data suggest that there is good reason to expect that UG may continue to operate even after puberty. Clahsen and Muysken (1986). Sharwood Smith. Flynn & O'Neill. 1986. 1988. 1990) that UG is in fact still available to second language learners such that their resulting grammar is shaped by its principles. The impact of Chomsky's theory on SLA can be measured by the number of books that have been published of late dealing with the application of UG to SLA (Flynn. Flynn. Another possibility is that L2 learners initially adopt L1 parameter settings but. The principles. 1988) have arrived at somewhat different conclusions. 1987. in English the bounding nodes are S and NP. if necessary. however. Hilles. etc. Tomaselli & Schwartz. As Schachter (1990) reports. Since the input is supposedly inadequate. Pankhurst. and Schachter (1988) (see also Jordens. however. one boundary can be crossed at a time. 1988. White. whereas in Italian and French NP and S' are bounding nodes. it is assumed that the children possess an innate UG which constrains their grammaticaldevelopment. have parameters associated with them which differ from language to language. Gass & Schachter. 1989). Zobl. This principle is held to apply to all languages. at 324 do not receive negative evidence (they are not told that a given utterance is ungrammatical)and thus must learn from the positive evidence instantiated in the input alone. 1988). in turn. 1988.

some are incorrect due to overgeneralizations).McClelland. "One possibility is that L2 learningmay be associativein the connectionist sense.the computer is presented with a novel set of items to see how it generalizes beyond what it has received as input (Sokolik. the question of UG accessibility in SLA is still unresolved.Sokolik.There is evidence that thereis at least some accessibility through the learners'L1. although the access may be only partial (Felix & Weigl. but which is simply a reflection of the connections formed on the basis of the relative frequency of patterns in the input. reset the parameters to the values inherentin the L2 (Hulk.at least. 1988). the computerreorganizesitself to reflect the new statistical relationships present in the input. 1991). 1991). In any event. Spolsky. these researchersare increasinglyconcerned with the initial state of the networks they have constructed).1989. some of the errorsare not plausible from a human standpoint [Pinker& Prince. what is new is the attempt to build connectionist models to test their explanatory power in a number of different fields. 358). The strengthof theirconnectionsor their weight is determined by the frequency of patternsin the input. PDP theorists(Rumelhart. Interestingly. Environmentalist: Connectionism/Parallel DistributedProcessing(PDP) AlthoughPDP/connectionist models are fairly new to the field. 1989). As the input is encoded. however. that some of the computer output is not consonant with the performanceof child LI learners(i.1990.. Sokolik points out that connectionistprinciples are by no means new. It has also been pointed out.certain points in their development. and because some researchers. whereasL1 acquisitionmay be more rule driven in the generative sense"(Sokolik. a model that learns withoutrules and which will accountfor at least "someperformance SECO)NI) LANGUAGE ACQUISITION RESEARCHI 325 . 1986a. 1988]). as Gasserpoints out. After being presented with a number of correctly matched input and output patterns.what resultsis performancethat looks like rulegoverned behavior (some forms are produced correctly. For now. I have chosen to discuss them because of their strikingcontrastto the UG approach. PDP theorists assume no innate endowment (although. 1990. 1986b) have built computer models of human cognition based on what is known about the structureof the human brain.e.p.Learningis held to consist of the strengthening of connections in complex neuralnetworks.& the PDP Research Group. believe that they have much to offer the SLA field (Gasser.

the new forms are in free variation with existing forms. the new and the old coexisting without definably separate functions. he believes. Rather than viewing variability in the data at best as an inconvenience. Tarone (1983) argued.. 326 TESOL QUARTERLY . 227) clearly has the potential to force us to rethinkearlierassumptions.and nontargetlike forms. and Tarone maintains that the proper data for the study of this capability is natural speech. 1989. Ellis (1985) is in substantial agreement with this position. which assumes that there is a homogeneous competence of an ideal speaker-learner available for inspection through intuitional data. (But see Preston. 1990b) or Andersen's (1984) one-to-one principle. Interlanguage data. Instead. a second phase follows. takes on a particular range of target. Therefore. 1985).p. learners seek to make maximum communicative use of the L2 resources they have by mapping one form onto one function. Tarone (1990) suggests that they may enter the learner's IL due to conversational interactions with native speakers or possibly due to social convergence or Sloblin's (1973) operating principles. which is systematic and which is composed of a range of styles. During this replacement phase.) New forms. Interactionist: Variable Competence Model Another theoretical perspective which would require a reexamination of the performance/competence distinctionis a model which attempts to account for the external and internal processes responsible for SLA (Ellis. determining what subsequently happens to newly acquired items. Recall that Tarone (1979) hypothesized that learners control a continuum of styles ranging from a superordinate style produced when the speaker pays the most attention to form. contradict what is called the "homogeneous competence" model of Chomsky. Once the learner starts using them. i. free variability is the force driving development. In Ellis' model. first enter the learner's IL in the careful style of speech when learners are attending to form. Ellis places variability at the heart of his model. In the variable competence model. 1989. to a vernacular style produced when the least attention to form is given. Ellis hypothesizes that free variation is crucial because it serves as the impetus for development. Because this state is in violation of the efficiency principle (Ellis.without postulatingcompetence" (Spolsky. systematic variability then comes into play. Tarone interprets the IL data to suggest that learners develop heterogeneous capability.e. each form in a pair is gradually restricted in use.

.A Broader View? The variable competence model rejects the customary distinction between competence and performance that is held to be axiomatic by UG researchers. therefore. 1988). it will continue in the years to come. 1989. 129). UG principles keep changing. (For example. It is an argumentabout what needs to be explained and what facts need explaining. p. and we have not yet agreed upon criteria by which to evaluate them ( Beretta. extant theories are not always complementary. there is reason to be circumspect in this regard: Despite the value of multiple perspectives (see. Some undoubtedlyare and will need to be explained in terms of abstractlinguisticprinciples. Clearly. The variationists seek to explain how knowledge gets realized as use. especially since not all theories can be expected to do everything (Bialystok. Tarone (1990) rebuts Gregg's criticism. who notes that it is important for the vitality of the SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION RESEARCH 327 . best fits the facts is an old one. unsatisfactory. Schumann.mentalist or functional. therefore. However. 390) Certainly I would concur that multiple perspectives on acquisition are useful. "not the ability to do anything" (Widdowson. not merely describe the speaker's output. 379). 1990b. both perspectives (and others) are welcome. whereas those who prefer a UG approach take as their objective an explanation of competence or grammatical knowledge. when we borrow perspective from other fields. Further. Doubtlessly. 1990b). still early stage in SLA research.) Moreover. Gregg insists that a theory of acquisition should explain the acquisition of a speaker's knowledge. Any explanationthat ignores what language is primarily for-communication-is incomplete and. and within linguistics the theoretical status of variable rules is under debate. acquisition research from the two perspectives has different objectives. for example.p. arguing that research on the acquisition of competence has not been particularly elucidating as so much of what is acquired is attributed to an innate capacity. at the current.Do we really need to engage in arguments about the relative merits of formal and functional explanations of language? Can we not accept that both are needed? (Ellis. Long. need to be assessed in terms of their purpose (Ellis.. therefore. Beebe. 1983). The argument as to what kind of explanation. It is this rejection that has led Gregg (1990) to assert that "variation . 1990b). we inherit their problems as well. in press. agree with Gass (1989). Tarone contends. Theoretical perspectives. I would also. 1990. But this does not mean that thereare no aspects of languagethat are purely formal. is not the duty of an acquisition theorist to explain" (p.

it seems to me that definitionalissues are what these past two decades of researchhave been about: stakingout the territory. a theory must include a much broader scope of research than that centered on two modules-syntax and phonology. (1990). 1988). syntax. p. each module explaining different domains of language (Lightbown & White. 1987). morphology. In this section I will deal with the matterof age first. according to Hatch et al. lacks face validity" (Long. Some have suggested we need a general theory to encompass a wider area than our theories to date (Spolsky. Thus. given the complexity of language. Indeed. Sato. THE LEARNER: DESCRIPTION The question of differential success is one of the major conundrums of SLA: Why is it that all individuals with normal faculties successfully acquire their first language but meet with different degrees of success when they attempt to master an L2? A related issue is indeed whether complete success in acquiringan L2 is even possible when study is begun beyond a so-called criticalage. Shirai. conversationalstructure..) will sometimes condition its occurrence in other subsystems. Pennington.field that we establish some common ground regarding the intellectual basis and goals of the field. why should we expect an 1991)? explanationof its acquisitionto be simple (Larsen-Freeman.comprehensible input. and Fantuzzi (1990) have called for an integrated theory of acquisition. but for now we shouldconsider to the othermajorfocus in SLAresearch date:the focus on the learner.less commonly. 1987.. 1990b. etc. phonology. Although we have yet to achieve complete consensus on these. It follows. Others have suggested that we may have to accept that a theory of SLA will be modular. followed by a brief look at the other major factors which have been hypothesized 328 TESOL QUARTERLY . see Ioup & Weinberger. Hatch. or the workings of an innate LAD [languageacquisition device]) .event scripts and rhetoricalorganization. then. 661). 1989). To cite just one example of the problem. Nunan. the dilemma is that everyone recognizes that the domains are interrelated (Eisenstein. & Madden. Odlin (1989) observes that transfer in one subsystem of language (lexis. 1982. 1987).but it must do so in a way that integratesthe modules on the one hand and also allows them to be viewed separately. 1990. We will returnto this theme later. "that an attempt to explain acquisition by recourse to a single factor (for example motivation. It must also include semantics. Bailey. While researchersmust of necessity restrictthe scope of theirinvestigation and usually do so to one domain (most often it has been morphosyntax.

input differences. even their very existence is controversial. Aptitude Obvious to the casual observer is the fact that individuals learn at different rates. cognitive maturation. & Long. 1981). is whether or not there is a special language learning aptitude which is the source of the difference. A solution to the dispute may lie in the distinction Cummins (1980) makes between cognitive/academic language proficiency (CALP) and basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS). Some researchers.social-psychological variables. 260). 1989). reports evidence showing older learners are faster than younger ones). 1991. The third position holds that older learners enjoy an advantage over younger learners (Harley.) The three books published in the last few years which explore the link between age and SLA will serve to illustrate the controversy. Krashen. the issue of agerelated effects in SLA is a contested one-in fact. cognitivestyle and learning Age As with so much in the fledgling SLA field. and in fact there are several major tests which are commonly employed to measure it (Carroll. It SECOND LANGUAGEACQUISITION RESEARCH 329 . "with the exception of some fuzziness in the area of phonology" (p. chapter 6. 1986. Opinion also varies about the scope of the alleged effects (only accent or other domains as well?) and the causes of such effects (affective factors. however. can attain native-like pronunciation in the L2 (Scovel. Scarcella. 1988a). neurological causes?).to explainthe facts of differentialsuccess:aptitude. 1990a. not adults. (My sources for this section are primarily Long. According to Long (1990a). however. younger learners outperform older learners in the long run. Early on.personality. 1979). Not so obvious to even the careful observer. despite the fact that numerous studies have been conducted since this early conclusion. 1982) reviewed the literature on age differences in second language acquisition and came to the conclusion that older learners are initially faster than younger learners when it comes to the acquisition of morphosyntax. strategies. and Larsen-Freeman & Long. Certainly it has long been presumed that there is such a thing as language aptitude. The first position is that only children. identity. however. the second finds that the data are ambiguous or mixed (Singleton. the generalization seems to hold. and Scarcella (1979) (see also Krashen. Long. have questioned the existence of an innate linguistic aptitude (Neufeld.

Gardner. In a more recent account of aptitude. attitudes of peers. This is essentially Krashen's(1981) position when he proposes that aptitude relates only to learning. The fact that so much schoolwork involves CALP could explain the predictive power of aptitude tests on foreign language achievement. Since Gardner and Lambert's pioneering research. others are more memory oriented. Just in the area of attitudes alone. and one's attitudes towards one's ethnicity were all studied for their influence on SLA. In the area of motivation. which in turn affects SLA. Factors: Attitudeand Motivation Social-Psychological Along with aptitude. not to acquisition. Wesche (1981)has shown how matchinglearners'aptitude with methodology can lead to success. In 1959 Gardnerand Lambert were able to identify two factors which were responsible for the French proficiency of Anglophone students of French in Montreal: aptitude and a constellationof attitudestowards French Canadians including motivational intensity and integrative motivation. however.some learners possess an analytic aptitude. in 330 TESOL QUARTERLY . learners' attitudes toward theirlearningsituation. learners'parents' attitudes towards speakers of the TL. for example. Clearly more research is needed on the different influences on motivation. Skehan (1989) argues that aptitude plays a role in both informal and formal acquisition environments. For Gardner and Lambert (cf. He also proposes that there are different profiles of language aptitude. 1979). while mismatchingcan have deleterious effects. but not a particularly good measure of BICS. perhaps the only reliable finding is that the intensity of the motivation is more importantthan the type. an innate capacity.teachers'attitudestowards their students. there is actually an indirect relationshipbetween attitudeand successful SLA.For example.may be that aptitude tests are a good measure of CALP. or an individual'sability to deal with decontextualizedlanguage (Skehan. much work has been done on refining the relationshipamong the constructs. the social-psychological factors of attitude and motivation have long been thought to have an important bearing on languagelearningsuccess. 1982). Different researchers have reached different conclusions about hypothesized correlations depending upon the learner context. which is a learned ability.Attitudes affect motivation. the strengthof learners'instrumental(a utilitarianmotive for learning an L2) versus integrative (identification with L2 group) motivation has been measured to test predictions of their differential effect on L2 learning outcomes.

In actual fact. MacIntyre & Gardner. category width. 1989).e. & Genesee. 1979). Some of these traits have correlated positively with success in SLA. and empathy has SECOND LANGUAGEACQUISITION RESEARCH 331 . & Dull. The children in his study who met with success became more motivated to continue their study than those who were less successful. extroversion (Busch. A cognitive style is the preferred way in which individuals process information or approach a task (Willing. often it appears that the optimal personality "setting" is a point midway between the two extremes. aural/visual. moderate risk taking is linked with achievement (Beebe. 1983). Hansen & Stansfield. Frohlich. sensitivity to rejection (Naiman. moderate anxiety can be facilitating (Scovel. Stern. Hamayan. i... humans more commonly exhibit a tendency toward one pole or the other. 1983. other findings have been inconclusive. reaction to anxiety (Bailey. A few cognitive styles have been investigated for their SLA implications: field independence/dependence. 1981. Cognitive Style Closely aligned with personality attributes is work on cognitive styles. 1986). Although there no doubt exist some fairly consistent personality traits. risk taking (Ely. field independence has most consistently shown a significant positive correlation with language learning achievement (Chapelle & Roberts. it was concluded that motivation does not necessarily promote acquisition. but rather stems from it. and analytic/gestalt. 1976). and tolerance of ambiguity (Chapelle & Roberts. 1986. Personality Various personality traits have been thought to facilitate or inhibit SLA: self-esteem (Heyde. Brannon. it is difficult to predict an individual's behavior in a particular situation based on a global trait measurement. Tucker. 1978). Cognitive styles are often presented in this fashion-as polarities. more attention must be given to the relation between states and traits. First. 1978).a study conducted by Strong (1984)on the acquisitionof Englishby Spanish-speaking children living in the United States. Of the cognitive styles which have been studied. 1986). 1972). empathy (Guiora. Second. inhibition (Guiora et al. & Todesco. One puzzling consequence of this finding is that field dependence is often linked with empathy. 1972). 1988). 1982). Two generalizations can be drawn from a review of the literature. reflectivity/ impulsivity.

Stevick. we can look to the number of books that have been published as one sign of the vitality of this area (H. 1989. task difficulty. and monitor their own and others' speech. 1990. D. As d'Anglejan and Renaud (1985) point out. This is problematic for the same reason that studying one subsystem of language cannot fully illuminate interrelatedacquisition processes. 1990. Rubin (1975) used the term learning strategies to refer to "the techniques or devices which a learner may use to acquire knowledge" (p.) Exacerbatingthe problem is our awareness that some of these variables may affect language proficiency only indirectly as has been postulated by Gardnerwith respect to attitudesand L2 learning. 1987).It seems that the performance of students tutored in strategies is superior to the performance of students with no such training. (See. A Broadening Perspective: Factors of Learner Most of the research just reviewed involves simple correlations between a single individualvariable and learnerproficiency. Oxford. we are likely getting a distorted picture if we study one factor in isolation from others. H. More powerful multivariateanalysesexist and should be employed to examine the relationship among learner factors. For example. 1990.A second focus of the researchhas been on determiningthe effect of strategytraining. whereas field dependence and empathy may be more beneficial in an untutored language learningsituation. O'Malley & Chamot. and the level of support for strategy transfer. much of the research has focused upon identifying and classifyinglearningstrategies. the results are not straightforward.Wenden & Rubin. attend to both form and meaning. Brown (1977) offers a solution:He observes field independence may be more important to classroom learning. the degree to which the training has been effective depends on the task. Thus. Again. Gradman& Hanania. 332 TESOL QUARTERLY . Learning Strategies The last learnerfactor to be discussedis one which has stimulated much interest recently.1991. 1991. good language learners are willing to guess when they aren'tsure. D. Following Rubin's initiative.also been found to be correlated with language learning success. Rubin compiled a list of strategies employed by good language learners. for example.As we have seen in other areas. 43). however. Cohen. Brown. learner variables inevitably overlap and interact.

attitudes. Psychological distance is a constructinvolving four factors operatingat the level of the individual:language shock.a central feature of Gardner's SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION RESEARCH 333 .integrationpatterns. FACTORS: EXPLANATION LEARNER The Acculturation/Pidginization Model Perhaps the earliest model to award centralityto learnerfactors model (1978a. Due to his limited contact with English by speakers.Schumannexplained Alberto'slimited acquisition of Englishby pointingto Alberto'ssocial and psychologicaldistance from speakers of the TL. Social distance comprises eight grouplevel phenomena:social dominance. motivation. it is not surprisingthat Alberto was not a very successful language learner.a 33-year-old. Noting the similarities which existed between the social and psychological dimensions of Alberto's learning context and the conditions associated with pidginization. Schumann summarized his position by suggesting that SLA is one aspect of acculturation and thus the degree to which the learner acculturatesto the TL group will control the degree to which the learneracquiresthe L2. 1978b). size. 37).enclosure. This is precisely what some theorists like Schumannand Gardnerhave attempted to do. cultural congruence. The Socioeducational Model What Schumannlabels acculturationis similar in many ways to Gardner'snotion of integrativeness. "whilemany characteristics related correlationally to language achievement. and ego permeability.have been As Seliger (1984)contends. was Schumann'sacculturation/pidginization The model developed from Schumann's observation of the untutoredacquisitionof Englishby Alberto. Alberto lived in a neighborhoodand worked in a factory staffed Portuguese-speaking NNSs of English. culture shock. we have no mechanism for deciding which of the phenomena described or reported to be carried out by the learnerare in fact those that lead to language acquisition" (p.workingclass Costa Rican living in the Boston area. and intended length of residence. cohesiveness. Perhaps if our sights were set higher-aspiring to explain how learnerfactors play a causalrole in the acquisition process-we would be able to identify the truly important factors. With acculturation (social and psychological proximity). the IL elaborates and develops much as in creolization. Schumann claimed that the processes underlying pidginization and the early stages of naturalistic SLA were analogous.

with some culturalcommunity . Also.. the socioeducationalmodel was not intended to explain all of second language learning. Gardner'smodel also confers a high status on learner factors-attitudes and motivation. apart p. If it withstands the test of time.The use of plural markersby low-proficiency learnerswas influenced by the markers' phonological environments. like Schumann. furtherexpansion is desirable-and we are beginning to see signs of it in the SLA field.. The performance of highproficiency learnerswas more likely to be affected by the learners' degree of convergence (adjustmentof speech toward) and identification with theirinterlocutor.Gardneremphasizes the social dimension of language acquisition:"The acquisitionof a language involves social adjustment. will have to account for individual differences in some way. Languagesare acquired in order to facilitate communication. the what I Likewise. social variables (learner) replaced linguistic ones (learning)as the more powerful influences on variation. 434) To cite one example in support of my observation on the interdependence of variables.(1985) socioeducationalmodel.) Also implicit in this finding is the dynamic 334 TESOL QUARTERLY . BROADENING STILL Despite the broadening in perspective that has occurred within our two foci..(1985. it will certainly help to broaden our perspective on learnerfactors. At the Xth University of Michigan Conference on Applied Linguisticsin 1983. It purports to account for a significantand meaningful proportionof the variance in second language achievement. Like the other models examined here. I said: shouldnot be I believe that [questions aboutlearning the learner] and addressed astheyhavebeen. in particular. 125).who choose to deal with linguistic factors only.We can see how intertwinedare social and linguistic factors! (Even UG researchers...either active or passive. thinkwe cannot fullyunderstand influences learner from his or her engagementin the processof learning. Emotional adjustments are involved and these are socially based" (p. Scarcella's(1990) review of Young's (1988) work highlights their independence: As L2 proficiency increased. Language acquisition is not only a linguistic phenomenon.I thinkit willnotbe thecase independently of thatwe will come to some understanding the SLAprocessand then introducelearnervariablesand calculatetheir effect on the process..

1989. which is why a researchagenda is needed for pedagogicalconcerns 1990.1990.althoughI realizethat the "relevance residesin the individual" Brown. 1984.Lightbown. 156). I list ten here and suggest some pedagogical implicationsfor each. 1991. SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION RESEARCH 335 . 1981) and some. researchersshould not limit their goals to specifying what is minimally necessary for untutored SLA to occur. 1985).1985). of should. Tarone.Hatch. we have reason now to believe that tutored and untutored acquisition are more similar than different. Krashen. SLA researchhas not directly answeredquestionsabout teaching. Shirai. Most of the researchto date has dealt with natural or untutored acquisition. Pienemann. I predict that increasing numbers of researchers will accept the challenge of integratingthese two foci: learningand the learner.Ellis. Nevertheless. Broadeningour perspective to include tutored acquisitionwould also be desirable.continueto offer enhancedunderstanding the learningprocess and learners (Cohen. for example. any more than learner factors can be included after we have deciphered the learning process. they do not apply continuously. recognized the need to take both learning (the acquisition/learning distinction) and learner (the affective filter) factors into account.in his monitor model. & 1986. 1983. common error types (Felix & Simmet.quality of the influential factors.Besides. 1990a.& Fantuzzi. Cook. Wode. More recent evidence of this trend is Schumann's (1990) attempt to introduce a cognitive dimension to his acculturationmodel and Sokolik's(1990) appeal to PDP models to explainlearnerdifferences due to age. as researchershave operated under the tacit assumption that instructionwas a variable (see.Pica. Larsen-Freeman. Schumann. While it is common practice when faced with complex systems to deal with one definable part at a time (Spolsky. at least in terms of exhibiting common developmental sequences (Ellis. The next section will distill from the researchto date observations which shouldbe relevantto teachers.1985). 1981.work with teachers in a collaborative manner to help define what is maximallyeffective in tutored acquisition. (G. and (Larsen-Freeman. ISSUESOF RELEVANCE TEACHERS TO There are general characteristicsof the learning process and of language learners that teachers should be aware of. Lightbown.p.1990) and provide explanatorysupportfor accepted teachingpractices(Lightbown. but rather. but ratheraffect learnersat different points in their development. 1988). I do not think that instructioncan be factored in later. by no means all.it has. Thus. 1978c) which could be factored in after we arrived at some understanding of the natural process.

first mastering one and then turning to another. 2. presumably due to an underlying restructuring (McLaughlin. A conservative estimate of the number of hours young first language learners spend "acquiring" their first language is 12. Even if they start using the form soon thereafter.evident throughout this review. The process is nonlinear. 383). As Gleick (1987) put it: "The act of playing the game has a way of changing the rules" (quoted in Diller. In a pedagogical situation. The process is dynamic. Acquisition is a gradual process involving the mapping of form. 4. it is not uncommon to find backsliding occurring when new forms are introduced. Teachers should not despair when such behavior is exhibited by their students. 1985). (This is why good language teachers are and always have been eclectic .g.000-15.000 (Lightbown.. and that some ways work with some students in some circumstances and fail with others. There are many complex elements in the SLA puzzle. As has been . The learning/acquisition process is complex. Learners do not tackle structures one at a time. and use. therefore. Even when learners appear to have mastered a particular form. but should rather expect well-formedness to be restored eventually. A corollary to this is the acknowledgment that language learning takes time. meaning. it makes sense to recycle the presentations of forms (e.)" (p. 3. The process is gradual. 238). As Spolsky (1988) has written: "Any intelligent and disinterested observer knows that there are many ways to learn languages and many ways to teach them. . 1990. the function for which they use it might not coincide with its TL use. our expectations of second language learning should be realistic. It is probable that acquisition/learning is not monolithic and that there are multiple subprocesses. Teachers should know that what works for learners at one level of proficiency may not do so when learners are at a later stage of proficiency. multiple routes.. The factors that influence the learner and the cognitive strategies the learner adopts change over time. grammar structures) so that learners will have ample opportunity to work out formfunction correspondences. I would not expect them in the future. and multiple causes. 336 TESOL QUARTERLY 1. p. simple solutions have evaded researchers for more than 20 years. . 1990) which is taking place. Form/functional correspondences do not simply appear in the IL fully formed and error-free. Teachers. Learners do not master forms with their first encounter. cannot seek simplistic solutions.

1988. 1991). 9. Learners learn when they are ready to do so. however. there appears to be a physiologically determined critical period for pronunciation. who demonstrated that developmental sequences arise from speech processing constraints. at least (Lightbown & Spada. It is not clear from researchfindings what the role of negative evidence is in helping learners to reject erroneous hypotheses they are currently entertaining (Carroll & Swain. 6. of course. 8. for most. One empirically supported explanation was offered by Pienemann (1985).5. Learners rely on the knowledge and experience they have. There is tremendous individual variation among language learners. some aspects of their IL will likely fossilize before acquisitionis complete. to believe that learners can make use of such feedback when it is judicious and they are ready and have time to digest it (Birdsong. 1987). SECOND LANGUAGEACQUISITION RESEARCH 337 . 1990). 1991). p. It is intuitively appealing. complete mastery of the L2 may be impossible. For most adult learners. They rely on what they know (their L1 or other languages they have mastered. They then test these against the input to which they are exposed. Teachers obviously should encourage learnersto go as far as they are capable of going in the L2. but teachersshould also be realisticin theirexpectations. 7. or at least thatpart of it that they notice (Schmidt. The sequences themselves do not appear to be alterable through instruction. and for all (nearly all?). 1989. Anothertentative conclusion which can be drawn is that a deliberate focus on the formal properties of language or "consciousnessraising"(Rutherford& Sharwood Smith. at any rate. so it may not be realistic for teachers to expect students to master aspects of the language which are too far beyond their current stage of development (Brindley. Schachter. 3) does seem to promote accuracy. Second language learnersare active participantsin the learning process. 1990). Learnerscan get very good. and a few may even be indistinguishablefrom native speakers in their command of the L2. What evidence exists suggests that learnerswill only acquirethat for which they are prepared. or what they know of the TL) to formulate hypotheses. Teachers need to take into account these differences and learn to work with them in the classroom-herein lies the interpretiveartistryof teaching.

338 TESOL QUARTERLY . If I may be permitted to extend the analogy once again. however. What is important is that teachers integrate these and any other generalizationsdistilled from researchinto their own experiential framework in guiding their decisions as teachers (Scovel. we must also remember the responsibility which accompanies privilege. As I have indicated above.nor are they precise enough to be prescriptive. Learninga languageis a social phenomenon.Much of what happens in the classroom.10.Prahbu. while simultaneouslyholding the whole. A FINAL REMARK In an editorialI wrote for LanguageLearningin 1980. Forced to adopt a narrow perspective in our research due to practical constraints. Mattersof identity should no longer be of central concern. In 1985 I wrote in the same journal that SLA had arrived at older adolescence-surer of itself as a separate discipline while still enjoying the vigor of youth. is attributable to the social needs of the participants. What I hope researchers will be able to achieve is what teachers must also accomplish: preserving a detailed focus on the particular or individual. They might fit more into the category of expanding awareness or affirming customarypractice. we need to acknowledge the limitations of our points of view.Most (althoughby no means all) learners seek to acquire a second language in order to communicate with members of the TL group or to participate in their institutions. too. 1988b). ACKNOWLEDGMENT I am grateful to the skillful editing of Sandra Silberstein. 1985. As the field enjoys the privileges of adulthood.I described the field of SLA in transitionfrom infancy to adolescence. none of these generalizations should be startlingto teachers. 1991). I would have to say that developmentally SLA has entered young adulthood.both students and teachers (Breen.

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