The Theories Of Second Language Acquisition English Language Essay

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In this chapter, we proceed towards attempting to explicate the various techniques of learning and teaching of a language as well as the four language skills such as listening, speaking, reading and writing. One needs to have a widespread knowledge of these theories and the language skills for a better examination and interpretation of the data gathered as part of the study conducted among first year college student of Tamilnadu with reference to their competence in English language. Hence, first let us look at the theories of second language acquisition and its features.

2.1 Theories of Second Language Acquisition

Human beings are gifted with the skill of acquiring various languages. The innate potency helps us to learn and master any existing language under the sun. There are multifarious distinct theories about acquiring a language. Each of such theory is based on one or the other feature of language acquisition. However, none of them can provide a complete or comprehensive perfect illustration of how one acquires the first language or a second language. The effectiveness or our innate ability to acquire a language is actualized through many and contradicting methods. The underlying principle mentioned here is that human beings are not able to understand themselves completely. Hence, not a single theory can sufficiently explain how the adults and the children acquire a language. Nevertheless it is important to analyze various theoretical views and assumptions about language acquisition.

2.2 Five Elements of Second Language Acquisition Theory

There are five important elements of Krashen's theory. Each of the element states a different aspect of the language learning process. The five elements are as follows:

The Acquisition Learning Hypothesis

The Monitor Hypothesis

The Natural Order Hypothesis

The Input Hypothesis

The Affective Filter Hypothesis

The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis:

This acquisition hypothesis actually combines two fundamental theories of how individuals learn languages. Krashen explains that there are two systems of language acquisition, which are independent but related: the learned system and the acquired system.

The acquired system is related to the unconscious aspect of language acquisition. When people learn their first language by speaking the language naturally through day to day interaction with others who speak their native language, the acquired system is at work. In this system, speakers are less worried with the structure of their utterances than with the act of communicating the proper meaning. Krashen prefers the acquired system over the learned system.

The learned system is related to formal instruction where learners engage in formal study to acquire knowledge about the target language. For instance, studying the rules of syntax is part of the learned system.

The Monitor Hypothesis:

The monitor hypothesis attempts to elucidate how the acquired system is influenced by the learned system. When second language learners observe their speech, they are applying their understanding of learned grammar to plan, edit, and initiate their communication. This action can only happen when speakers have sufficient time to think about the form and structure of their sentences.

The amount of monitoring happens on a continuum. Some language students over-monitor and some employ very little of their learned knowledge and are believed to under-monitor. Preferably, speakers strike a balance and monitor at a level where they exercise their knowledge but are not excessively inhibited by it.

The Natural Order Hypothesis:

This natural order hypothesis states that there is a natural order to the way second language learners acquire their target language. Research advocates that this natural order appears to transcend age, the learner's target language, the native language, and the conditions under which the second language is being acquired. The order that the learners follow has four steps:

They utter single words.

They string words together based on meaning and not syntax.

They start to identify rudiments that begin and end sentences.

They begin to identify various elements within sentences and can rearrange them to construct questions.

The Input Hypothesis

This hypothesis aims to explain how second languages are acquired. In its most vital form, the input hypothesis argues that learners progress along the natural order only when they come across second language input that is one step further than where they are in the natural order. For that reason, if a learner is at step one from the above list; they will only continue along the natural order when they come across input that is at the second step.

The Affective Filter Hypothesis:

This hypothesis illustrates the external factors that can act as a filter that obstructs acquisition. These elements include self- confidence, anxiety and motivation.

For instance, if a learner has lacks in proper motivation, or if he or she is very low self-confidence, and a high level of anxiety, the affective filter leads into place and inhibits the learner from acquiring the new language. Learners who are motivated, relaxed and confident, about learning the target language have much more victory acquiring a second language than those who are attempting to learn with the affective filter in place. Behavirourist Theory:

The Behavirourist Theory is also acknowledged as Stimulus-response Theory. It stands among the most important theoretical perspectives within the area of first language acquisition. It started as a response against the introspective psychology of the late 19th and early 20th century and subjugated the study of learning throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Although its superiority was blurred by the advent of the Innate Theory in the mid 20th century, still today a great deal language learning programmes decisively stands on the foundation laid by the Behaviourist Theory.

The Important Theoretical Assumptions:

The theoretical assumptions underlying the Behaviourist Theory are as follows:

Language learning is a habit formation similar to the formation of other habits. In other words, Language is learned in the way in which other habits are learned.

Language learning is nothing more than the acquisition of new behaviour or knowledge. It happens when experience or practice produces a change in a person's knowledge or behaviour.

Language learning is an external event or action, since it involves an observable change in behaviour obtained about by the stimuli coming from the environment. It does not engage any unobservable change in mental knowledge. All behaviours can be elucidated without the need to consider internal mental states or consciousness.

Only human beings have the capability for language learning. They acquire a language as distinct units of habits, independently trained, not as an integrated system. Theory of Innateness:

The innateness hypothesis is another linguistic theory of language acquisition which was originated by Noam Chomsky. According to him, human beings have the capacity to acquire language, because there exists in our brain certain intuitive ability to recognize the rules of the language. Chomsky called this biological ability of the brain the 'Language Acquisition Device' (LAD). This LAD is not something like an organ our body.

"It is not like the kidney; we can't just open up the brain, remove and dissect it and explain the function of the tissues and muscle. Rather the LAD is an integrated part of the human brain, aspects of which are spread through out the brain though concentrated in the left hemisphere, as studies have shown" (Winkler 39)

According Noam Chomsky, human brain is 'hard wired' for language acquisition i.e., the ability to acquire a language is just like any other ability that human beings possess. The child's LAD receives the input from its parents or caretakers and constructs its own rules of language. So language can be said to be a product of the interaction between the LAD and child's environment. The Cognitive Theory:

The Cognitive theory is a learning theory of psychology that tries to explain human behavior by understanding the thought processes. The assumption is that the human beings are logical beings that make the choices that make the most sense to them. "Information processing" is a generally used description of the mental process, comparing the human mind to a computer.

The pure cognitive theory mostly discards behaviorism on the basis that behaviorism minimizes complex human behavior to simple cause and effect. Nevertheless, the tendency in past decades has been towards amalgamation of the two into a comprehensive cognitive-behavioral theory. This allows therapists to utilize techniques from both schools of thought to help clients accomplish their goals.

The Social cognitive theory is a compartment of cognitive theory. Firstly focused on the ways in which we learn to model the behavior of others, social cognitive theory can be considered in advertising campaigns and peer pressure circumstances. It is also helpful in the treatment of psychological disorders including phobias. Social Interactionist Theory:

The social interactionist is an approach to language acquisition that emphasizes the environment and the context in which the language is being learned or acquired. It focuses on the pragmatics of language rather than grammar, which should come later on. In this process, the beginning speaker and the experienced speaker--be they child and adult or second-language learner and efficient speaker--exist in a negotiated arrangement where response is always possible.

The important appeal of this approach is the significance it places on the home and the cultural environment in early-childhood language acquisition. Language, according to this theory, is not an innate ability. Instead, it develops in negotiating your environment. Hence, vocabulary is bound by context--or, alternatively, by the culture within which speech is necessary and understandable.

According to Jerome Bruner, the chief proponent of this theory, when the language behaviour of an adult interacts with the children, which is generally known as 'child directed speech or CDS' functions as an aid to the complex process of language acquisition. This support is what Bruner called 'scaffolding' for the children to learn the language. Thus in order to make his point clear, coined a term i.e. 'Language Acquisition Support System'.

The complex process of language acquisition involves certain language skills. A skill can be understood as the acquired ability that is mechanical, impersonal and exact which is obtained through practice or training. A learner of English language must first and foremost aims to master the skills of language namely listening, speaking, reading and writing. The most excellent way to acquire language skills is to practice them under the guidance of an expert in the particular language.

2.2.1 Language Teaching:

"Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied. Even the interpretation and use of words involves a process of free creation."

- Noam Chomsky

Teaching a language is an art. People need to know English as a second language in the present scenario because of the globalization and the relationship between countries and states. People with more language acquaintance are considered to be more efficient in their respective fields. Hence it requires lot of soft and hard skills to teach a language. Teaching a subject is entirely different from teaching a language. Either it includes the learner's mastery over his or her own mother tongue or a different language. Usually learning or teaching a language refers to second language acquisition. Language teaching primarily requires proper knowledge of the language. The other important aspects of teaching are pedagogical techniques, material designing, testing and evaluation and so on. Let us look at some of the teaching strategies in the following paragraphs.

2.3.1 Language Teaching Strategies:

Language teaching strategies comprise of different techniques such as activity based teaching, collaborative or cooperative learning, critical thinking, discussion strategies, experimental learning, games or experiments or stimulations, humor in the class room, learner centered teaching, lecture strategies, team-based learning and so on. Language teaching is to be acquired as well as learned. The teacher has to learn to teach and he or she should find out the suitable method or process to be followed as applicable with reference to the learners. There are other strategies brought out for language teaching and they are as follows:

Blended Learning:

Blended learning is a combination of face-to-face teaching with distance education, frequently carried out through computer or web-based communication. It has been a most important growth point in the Language Teaching industry over the years.

Skills teaching

While talking about language skills, there are four basic factors: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Nevertheless, other, more socially-based skills have been acknowledged more recently such as summarizing, describing and narrating etc. In addition to the mentioned skills, we need general learning skills such as study skills and knowing skills. The four basic skills were generally taught in separation in a very firm order, such as listening before speaking in the past. However, since then, it has been accepted that we usually employ more than one skill at a time, leading to more incorporated exercises. Speaking is a skill that often is underrepresented in the conventional classroom. The reason could be due to the fact that it is regarded a less-academic skill than writing. Hence it is difficult to assess and teach through rote imitation.

Recent textbooks constantly stress on the importance of students working with other students in pairs and groups, sometimes the entire class. Group and pair work give opportunities for more students to participate enthusiastically. Supervision of groups and pairs is important to make sure that everyone participates as equally as possible. Such activities also present opportunities for peer teaching, where slow learners can find help from their classmates.

Sandwich technique

In foreign language teaching, the sandwich technique is the oral inclusion of an idiomatic translation in the mother tongue between an unknown phrase in the learned language and its repetition. This is meant to convey meaning as quickly and completely as possible. The mother tongue equivalent can be used almost as an aside, with a slight break in the flow of speech to point it as an intruder.

While modeling a dialogue sentence for students to repeat, the teacher not only provides an oral mother tongue equivalent for unknown phrases or words, but repeats the foreign language phrase before students imitate them.

For instance, a German teacher of English might engage in the following exchange with the students:

Teacher: "Let me try - lass mich mal versuchen - let me try."

Students: "Let me try."

Mother tongue mirroring

Mother tongue mirroring technique is the adaptation of the time-honoured technique of literal translation or word-for word translation for educational purposes. The primary motive is to make foreign constructions significant and transparent to learners and, in most of the cases, spare them the technical jargon of grammatical study. It varies from literal translation and interlinear text as utilized in the past since it takes into account what progress learners have done and only focuses upon a specific structure at a time. As a didactic device, it can only be used to the extent that it remains comprehensible to the learner, unless it is combined with a normal idiomatic translation.


Back-chaining is a technique that is used in teaching oral language skills, particularly with polysyllabic or difficult words. The teacher pronounces the last syllable, the student repeats, and then the teacher continue, working backwards from the end of the word to the beginning.

For example, to teach the name 'Mussorgsky' a teacher will pronounce the last syllable: -sky, and have the student repeat it. Then the teacher will repeat it with -sorg- attached before: -sorg-sky, and all that remains is the first syllable: Mus-sorg-sky.