Theories of language learning: key issues, central topics and basic approaches

MA. Program of Language education Wu Heping Tel: 7972101 Email: Course site:

Theories of language learning: an outline 

Historical background Basic concepts Key issues Approaches Current thinking and future trend


Disillusionment of the search for the ³best language teaching method´ From practice-oriented to theory-oriented  

2 phases 

To adduce implications for language teaching from the then-current behaviorist thinking in experimental psychology and American structuralism To study the nature of L2 development; independent discipline for its own sake 

The development of the neighouring science. 

Applied linguistics Linguistics Psycholinguistics Cognitive Science 

Error Analysis and Contrastrive Analysis. Etc. 

S. P. Corder: The best teaching method is the one that facilitate, rather than impede the natural language learning process.

foreign language Language learning and acquisition .Basic concepts    Language First language. second language.

. Language is essentially human. Language is a set of arbitrary symbols.The basics of human language         Language is systematic and generative. Language is acquired by all people in much the same way---language and language learning both have universal characteristics. but may also be visual. although possibly not limited to humans. The symbols have conventionalized meanings to which they refer. Language is used for communication. Those symbols are primarily vocal. Language operates in a speech community or culture.

. grammar=form+function The form and function of a linguistic structure is usually acquired unconsciously in first language acquisition.Language: what needs to be learnt by language acquirers? An easy answer: a second language learner needs to learn the µgrammar¶ of the target language.

L2 and FL Learning and acquisition Competence and performance .Basic concepts of language learning    L1.

Besides.  . full or perfect command of the language. the L1 terms signal a characteristic level of proficiency in the language. The L2 terms may indicate a lower level of proficiency in the language in comparison with the primary language. second language.  The concept of L2 (nonnative language. foreign language)implies the prior availability to the individual of an L1. in other words some form of bilingualism.L1 and L2  L1  L2   The L1 terms are used to indicate that a person has acquired the languages in infancy and early childhood and generally within the family. native-like. They suggest an intuitive.

Discussion: what other differences can you see between L1 and L2 L1 acquisition L2 acquisition Goal Success Variation Error correction Affective factor Others Input .

pass an examination.e. communication with native speaker. it is needed for full participation in the political and economic life of the nation. Non-native language learnt and used outside the speech community where the language is used.  FL  Since the second language  is frequently the official language or one of two or more recognized languages. i.L2 and FL  L2   non-native language learnt and used within the speech community where the language is used. travel abroad. . reading of a foreign language. etc. find a decent job. Foreign language learning is often undertaken with a variety of different purposes in mind.

Classroom Discussion  To become aware of the complexity of the interaction of different factors involved in different types of non-native language. . please compare the following five acquisitional settings and try to find factors that that are different from these settings.

acquisition The term of acquisition in preferred by some theorists because they believe that the process of language acquisition was viewed as a biological process of growth and maturation rather than is one of social learning through experience.learning. acquisition   learning vs. . environmental influence or deliberate teaching.

that is µnaturally¶.Learning vs. and µlearning¶ as conscious language development particularly in formal school-like settings. acquisition  Krashen uses the term acquisition to describe second language learning which is analogous to the way in which a child acquires his first language. . without focus on linguistic form.

However. performance    Competence consists of the mental representation of linguistic rules which constitute the speaker-hearer¶s internalized grammar. it has been necessary to examine how the learner permforms.  . Language acquisition studies are interested in how competence is developed.Competence vs. because the rules the learner has internalized are not open to direct inspection. Performance consists of the comprehension and production of language. mainly in production. One of the major problems of SLA research has been precisely to what extent competence is inferred from performance.

acquisition Competence vs. performance The role of first language The role of input The role of formal instruction Factors involved in language learning . First language . second language & foreign language Learning vs.Key issues in language learning theories        Language.

Llarge proportion of grammatical errors could not be explained by L1 interference. Tranfer is then positively perceived as a learning strategy. L1 may contribute to learning in entirely different ways. i. As a result of such studies. This hypothesis was put under challenge in the late 1960s. A role of the L1 was played down. the role of the L1 becomes one of the key issues in SLA studies. .The role of first language    Between the post-war years and 1960s.e. there was a strong assumption that most of the difficulties facing the L2 learner were imposed by his or her first language. Difference=difficulties.

emphasized the importance of the input.The role of input   The input constitutes the language to which the learner is exposed. The whole process of learning could be controlled by presenting the L2 in the right-sized doses and ensuring that the learner continued to practise until each feature is overlearned. based on the behaviourist notion of of habit formation through practice and reinforcement. . Early theories of SLA. Learning L2 was just like any other kind of learning via building stimulus-response links. It serves as the data which the learner must use to determine the rules of the target languages.

Behaviorist Account of Learning Positive Reinforcement Input Response Negative Reinforcement .

The role of input (II)   This view of learning was challenged in the 1960. As mentalist view of language learning emphasized what he called the learner¶s he observed that the was no match between the learner¶s input and output. Example: input: went-----output goed. . Chomsky¶s µlangauge acquisition devide¶ and played down the role of the linguistic input. notably by Chomsky. which is merely a trigger to activate the device.

Mentalist Account of Language Learning Input (Language Data) Language Acquistion Device (LAD) Output (Language Produced by the Learner. .

The role of input (III)    The input that the learners are exposed to is not adequate for them to make generalizations in the target language. . Krashen¶s comprehensible input: language learning takes place if the learners are provided with the input that they can understand. Now it is assumed that it is not so much µinput¶ as interaction that is important.

. but it does change the rate of language acquisition.The role of formal instruction  It is now believed that formal instruction can not greatly change the route of language development.

Approaches to SLA     Linguistic approach Functional-typological approach Information processing (cognitive) approach Socio-cultural approach .

The basic assumption is the language is acquired in the way that it is represented in the mind of human beings. .Linguistic approach   Investigating the relationship between the general principles of linguistic structure and language acquisition.

* John likes not Mary. Jean regarde souvent la television. Mes amis uiment tous Marie. (2) a. * John watches often television. my friends all like Marie . Aime -t-elle Jean? Does she like John? (3) a. John does not like Mary. * Marie souvent regurde television. c.(1) a. b. * Likes she John? b. Jean (n¶)aime pas Marie. b. Mary often watches television. d. d. c. * Mes amis tous uiment Marie. (4) a. b. * My friends like all Mary. My friends all like Mary.

The functional-typographical framework  Linguistic research within this tradition seeks universal empirical generalizations about the structure of human language. Explanations of these generalizations are then sought in functional and ormal features of the elements involved. .

Within relative clauses.Noun Phrase Accessibility Hierarchy (NPAH)   Subject > Direct Object > Indirect Object > Object of a Preposition >Genitive > Object of a Comparative The NPAH is the basis for a number of empirical generalizations about the languages of the world. if a language can extract a noun phrase in a given grammatical function in the hierarchy. then it can extract a noun phrase in any grammatical function higher in the hierarchy (though not necessarily conversely). .

such as playing chess or mathmatical problem solving. nonlinguistic skills. SLA is viewed as the development of a highly complex skill-like attainment of other. What implications does this approach have on our understanding of language acquisition? .Information-processing (cognitive) approach   Under this approach.

thevariability of structural features in speech production is studied with the purpose of determining the linguistic. . social psychological and psychological basis for that variability. psycholinguistic.Variationist (socio-cultural) approach   Under this approach. This general approach was developed in the 1960s primarily by William Labov for the main purpose of investigating correlations between quantitative properties of the speech of individuals on one hand and a number of other variables on the other.

underlie changes in the capacity for language acquisition across the life span of the individual? . if any.Current issues in SLA    What cognitive structures and abilities underlie the L2 learner¶s use of his or her L2? What properties of the linguistic input to the L2 learner are relevant to acquisition? What is the nature of the L2 learner¶s capacity for attaining the cognitive structure and abilities?     What¶s the nature of the L2 learner¶s overall capacity for language acquisition? How is that capacity deployed in real time to determine the course of SLA? How are the L2 user¶s two (or more) languages represented in the brain? What changes in brain structure.

1996. 1995). Ritchie and Tej K. Handbook of Second Language Acquisition. in Ritchie and Bhatia (eds). San Diego: Academic Press. Larsen-Freeman & Long (2000). Foundations and overview´. Gass and Selinker (2001) Further reading:  William C. .Assignment for this session   The introduction chapters in Ellis (1984. Bhatia ³Second Language Acquisition: Introduction.

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