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Just the Tip of the Iceberg!

Second Language Acquisition Theories.

Compiled by Deborah Coker Revised for this in-service

Our Motivation
As the nations population has become inundated with immigrants from many different nations speaking many different languages and dialects, educators have sought instructional practices that will expedite English Language acquisition in a practical, efficient, and meaningful manner. A plethora of theories have evolved and they can be broken down into four major categories:
1. 2. 3. 4. Behaviorist Cognitivist Humanistic Constructivist (Postmodern Techniques of Knowledge)

(Diaz-Rico, 2008)

Schools of Thought:
Behaviorist (p. 37) Use behavioral training for accurate pronunciation and rote memory of information such as object and motor vocabulary. Cognitivist (p.41) Align learning with the brain and its natural ways of knowledge acquisition. Postmodern Techniques of Knowledge: Constructivist (p.65) Leave behind one-size-fits-all methods and negotiate activities and objectives based on the needs of the learner, using knowledge of learning styles and multiple intelligences, and encouraging meta-cognition and self-reflection in order to increase students self knowledge and capacity for making conscious meaning.

Humanistic (p.51) Reduce tension and support a positive emotional state in the learner.

(Diaz-Rico, 2008)

Behaviorist Approach
Major strategies used in the behaviorist approach: B.F.Skinners Experimental Behaviorism: Actions followed by an
immediate positive effect (reward) tend to be repeated, and actions followed by an immediate negative effect (punishment) tend to be discontinued. (p.38)

The Audio-lingual Method: Students developed correct language habits by

repetitious training, often using technology such as tape recordings in language laboratories. (p.38)

Ashers Total Physical Response: Based on the association between

language and body movement.(p.39)There is a shaping of response and external rewards are faded. Great for those at the non-verbal stage of language acquisition.
emphasizes explicit instructional objectives for students and promotes the learning of facts, sequenced steps, or rules. (p. 39)

Direct Teaching and Mastery Learning:" This type of learning

(Diaz-Rico, p.38-39)

Cognitive Approach
*Provided the theoretical basis for the Natural Approach.

Major strategies used in the Cognitive approach include: Chomskys Generative Grammar: Language is learned through

reinforcement and an active language processor, the language acquisition device (LAD) which generates rules through the unconscious acquisition of grammar.(p.41)

Krashens Monitor Model: Krashen considered acquisition (an unconscious Information-Processing Theories: The sensory register

process that occurs when language is used for real communication) more important that learning (which involves knowing about language and its rules) in achieving fluency, and deemphasized direct instruction of syntax rules. (p.41)

(input/recognition), short-term memory (information encoding), and long-term memory (storage) work together during learning. (p.43)Perception is the process by which the sensory register receives and briefly holds environmental stimuli, either as images or sound patterns, and selects input for further processing. (p. 43)

Alternative Theories of Mental Functioning: As information

is received, the brain creates a pattern across the net, adjusted over time by repeated exposure. (p.45)

(Diaz-Rico, p.41-48)

Other Universal Grammar Theories

1. The Competition Model by Felix (1985): Childrens learning process follows a Language-Specific Cognitive System while adults use a Problem Solving System. The challenge arises when the two systems compete in an adult who is trying to master a new language. Dulay and Burts Creative Construction Theory (1974): Children learn as they apply universal innate mechanisms. These mechanisms allow them to reconstruct rules for the new language as they hear it used. After listening for an extended period of time, students are then able to apply what they have been studying.


(Overview of Second Language Acquisition Theory, May, 2003

Krashens Monitor Model

1. The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis (1981): This idea is similar to Chomskys LAD. He
thought acquisition outweighed learning when it comes to achieving fluency and he de-emphasize direct instruction of syntax rules.


The Natural Order Hypothesis: Language rules are acquired in a predictable order, and certain grammatical
rules of the language tend to be acquired before the others.(p.42)

The Monitor Hypothesis: The mind employs an editor, the monitor, which scans utterances for accuracy in order to
make corrections (p.42) This can only happen if enough wait time is allowed by the instructor


The Input Hypothesis: Learners acquire language by intaking and understanding language that is a little beyond
their current level of competence. (Krashen, 1981) (p. 2)


The Affective Filter Hypothesis: An individuals emotions can directly interfere or assist in the learning of a

new languageSpeaking out in a new language can result in anxiety, embarrassment, or anger. These negative emotions can create a kind of filter that blocks the learners ability to process new or difficult words.( p.3)

(Overview of Second Language Acquisition Theory, May, 2003)

Continuum of Learning
*Krashen continued

A dominant philosophy shared by many theorists, specifically those in the Naturalist Approach, is that language is acquired through predictable and sequential stages of language development.

Stage I: The Silent/Receptive or Preproduction Stage

Stage II: The Early Production Stage Stage III: The Speech Emergence Stage Stage IV: The intermediate Language Proficiency Stage Stage V: The Advanced Language Proficiency

(Overview of Second Language Acquisition Theory, May, 2003)& (Diaz-Rico, p.43)

Information Processing Theory in Action:

State the purpose Short-Term Memory (STM) receives patterns of images and sounds Enhance STM by playing short-term memory games Long-Term Memory (LTM) is boosted by using a schema (structure for organizing information or concepts) combined with scripts (which stores a common behavioral sequence).
(Diaz-Rico, p.44)

Ways to Enhance Students Perception:

Variation in properties of written or spoken words: intensity, pitch, size, color, or novelty

Practices for Teachers

Use various colored markers on the board; teach words that have an unusual sound; use volume change-up (soft, soft, loud, soft)

Manipulating posture, gestures, and movements

Use of emotion: vivid mental images, metaphors Use of incongruity

Use accompanying gestures to teach action words.

Use reading material that quickens the pulse. The only person at the scene missing was the policeman.

(Diaz-Rico, p.44)

Ways to Enhance Storage and Retrieval of Information from Long Term Memory:
Prioritizing Elaboration Organization Context Repetition, Review Logic, cues, and connected knowledge Reconstruction
(Diaz-Rico, p. 45)

Separating essential from non-essential details and focusing on meaning

Adding meaning to new information by connecting new with existing knowledge to increase retrieval cues Placing new information in a structure that serves as a guide for retrieval Learning physical or emotional cues connected with information to enhance retrieval cues Repeated acts of storage and retrieval Adding structure to information to assist recall

Using structure to enhance recall rather than rote memory

Alternative Theories of Mental Functioning:

Brain Compatible Learning is a descriptor that encompasses several additional theories. It helps to reconceptualize teaching by taking into consideration how the brain learns. (DArcangelo, 1998; Jensen, 1998; Wolfe & Sorgen,

Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner (1983): There are eight different

intelligences (linguistic, musical, spatial, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and natural) when used help to lower affective filters.

Emotional Intelligence by Salovey and Mayer (1990) and popularized Goleman (1998): Made up of five competencies: self awareness, self regulation, motivation,
social skills, and empathy.

Suggestopedia by Lozanov (1982): Pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar are

assimilated and learned intuitively. (p. 47) After relaxed and supportive instruction make connections through what Lozanov calls elaborations. These are things like reading dialogues, singing songs, playing games, and having conversations.

(Diaz-Rico, p. 47)

Behaviorist vs. Cognitivist

Component of Learning
Belief about the mind:

The mind is a blank slate. All minds are basically alike.

The mind is an active organizer Brains vary, with multiple intelligences and learning styles Students participate in planning and goal setting. Learning is a motivator. Teacher teaches with variety; no one best way. Students are taught what and how. Students are actively involved in peer and self-assessment. Product and process are important. Culture is the basis for social interaction patterns: learning results from social interaction.

Goal Setting: Motivation: Teaching Styles: Content of Curriculum: Assessment: who does it? Assessment: what is evaluated? Role of Culture:

Teacher plans and sets goals. Reward is motivator. Teacher teaches his/her way; one best way. Students are taught what. Teacher assesses. Product is important. Culture is irrelevant.

(Diaz-Rico, p.49)

Humanistic Approach
Here we see theories of language acquisition evolve once again, this time, to combine cognitive and affective learning philosophies.

Emotions to foster: Self-Esteem Risk-Taking Empathy

Emotions to defuse: Anxiety Inhibition Poor learning attitude

Positive emotional factors such as self-esteem, motivation, and proactive attitudes help language acquisition take place. (p. 51)


(Diaz-Rico, p. 51-57)

Implementation of the Humanistic Approach

Ways to Reduce Student Anxiety:
(Adapted from Woolfolk, 2007)

Monitor activities to reduce undue pressure. Give students in competitive tasks a reasonable chance to succeed. Avoid making anxious students perform in front of large groups. Give examples or models of how the task is done when starting a new type of task. Teach skills explicitly and provide study guides. Vary assignments over different modes of language learning. Energize students by giving them a chance to be physically active.

(Diaz-Rico, p. 55)

Postmodern Techniques of Knowledge

This is the latest incarnation of Language Acquisition Theory!
There are four different components that make up the postmodern techniques of knowledge acquisition (constructivism, intercultural positioning, metarational thinking, and creation of meaning) . This model is interactive. In addition to adding cooperative and engaging activities, instructors create mindful and cultureful learning. (p.65) The primary language and culture of our students will become imbedded in our instruction to engage learners and facilitate their acquisition of new knowledge. Using this as our foundation, our students will construct new meanings, connections, and applications for their learning!
(Diaz-Rico, p.65)

The Path of Inter-Cultural Educators!

Learner Strategies Strategies influenced by institution Strategies influenced by socio-cultural context

Time to Process
Now, please turn to your neighbor and share any ah-has that may have occurred to you which approach do you find you have leaned toward most? what processing strategies are you most likely to implement?

How can you create real world situations to create the need for your students to actively communicate?

Looking back over the different theories it becomes abundantly clear that our current practices are a composite, a mosaic reminiscent of the many cultures we see in our classrooms.. We have definitely left the behaviorist techniques in the past in favor of those that include cognition. These methodologies were many and varied, creating a wealth of strategies to teach not just ESL students, but all students. Jensons arguments in favor of emotional intelligence are validated by the humanist approach. May we all be lucky enough to be nurtured by those who build us up and believe in us.

And finally, we step into the 21st century with our Postmodern Techniques of Knowledge. By empowering our second language learners with language and pride and ownership of their primary culture we are truly becoming a global community.

Butler-Pascoe, M. & Wiburg, K.(2003). Technology and teaching english language learners, Boston: Pearson Education, Inc. Diaz-Rico, L.(2008). Strategies for teaching english learners, (Second Ed.) Boston: Pearson Education, Inc. Gitsaki, C. (n.d.).Second language acquisition theories: Overview and evaluation. Retrieved May 17th, 2008, from Web site: SL%20Theories.pdf Greenberg, L.J.(2004). Language acquisition. Retrieved May 17th , 2008, from Web site: Overview of second language acquisition theory (2003). Retrieved May 17th,2008, from Web site: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. (2004). Standards and other initiatives, Retrieved October 11, 2004, from Web Site: