Theories Of First And Second Language Development English Language Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Noam Chomsky made the assertion that the human brain contains a limited set of rules for organizing language. Accordingly, there is an assumption that all languages have a common structural basis. This set of rules is known as Universal Grammar (UG).

Grammar is the logic of language, and by claiming that a Universal Grammar exists, Chomsky is drawing attention to the same problem that so worried Einstein. That is that the human mind appears somehow to have access to a non-personal and therefore universal reality.

Chomsky further maintains that the process of first language acquisition (L1) formulates from an innate, organic origin. The Language Acquisition Device (LAD) is a postulated "organ" of the brain that is supposed to function as a congenital device for learning symbolic language; i.e., language acquisition.

First proposed by Chomsky, the UG and LAD concept is a component of the "nativist" theory of language. This theory asserts that humans are born with an instinct or "innate facility" for acquiring language. In regards to LAD, Chomsky focuses this argument toward children who live in the same linguistic community who lack a variety of different experiences who, nonetheless arrive at comparable grammars. Chomsky explains that "all children share the same internal constraints which characterize narrowly the grammar they are going to construct." (Chomsky, 1977, p.98) Since we live in a biological world, "there is no reason for supposing the mental world to be an exception." (Chomsky, 1977, p.94)

Chomsky explains that the reason for this is "the ease with which children acquire their mother tongue." (Chomsky, 1977, p.94) He claims that it would be nothing "short of a miracle" if children learned their language in the same way that they learn mathematics or how to ride a bicycle. This, he says, is because children are rarely exposed to correctly formed language. When people speak, they usually interrupt themselves, change their minds, and make errors when they speak and so on. Nonetheless, children still manage to learn their language all the same. This claim is usually referred to as the Argument from Poverty of the Stimulus.

1.) The Natural Order Hypothesis: 'we acquire the rules of language in a predictable order.'

3.) The Monitor Hypothesis: 'conscious learning ... can only be used as a Monitor or an editor.'

4.) The Input Hypothesis: 'humans acquire language in only one way - by understanding messages or by receiving "comprehensible input."

5.) The Affective Filter Hypothesis: 'a mental block, caused by affective factors ... that prevents input from reaching the language acquisition device.'

James Asher

Total Physical Response (TPR) was developed by James Asher in 1982. TPR is a teaching strategy based on the idea that a new language can be learned through actions. This concept was designed primarily for students in the early stages of language acquisition. Because commands can be made comprehensible to students with very limited language, Asher used commands as the basis for TPR. Following a TPR format, the teacher gives a command, demonstrates the command, and then students respond physically to the command. While students are actively involved and not expected to repeat the command, anxiety is low, and student focus is on comprehension rather than production. Consequently, they demonstrate comprehension before their speaking skills emerge. The imperatives, such as "Bring me the book" or "Pass your paper to the right," bring the language alive by making it comprehensible and fun. TPR is a well-known beginning ESL method, but TPR-based activities can be adapted to almost any level and incorporated into mainstream or multi-level classes, particularly in areas where visible directions can be given. TPR also provides a base for literacy development in the second language as students learn to read the commands they followed.

The underlying concept of TPR is that the assimilation of information and skills can be accelerated through the use of the kinesthetic sensory system. TPR is extremely effective with kinesthetic learners, that is, people who learn best when they can participate in an activity.

Basic TPR Technique:

The teacher introduces the language through the use of commands (imperative sentences) and has students demonstrate their understanding through action responses.

Step 1 - The teacher says the command (sit down; turn the page; get your pen out; etc.) as he himself performs the action.

Step 2 - The teacher says the command as both the teacher and the students then perform the action.

Step 3 - The teacher says the command but only students perform the action

Step 4 - The teacher tells one student at a time to do commands

Step 5 - The roles of teacher and student are reversed. Students give commands to teacher and to other students.

Step 6 - The teacher and student allow for command expansion or produces new sentences.

While the initial instructions are simple, within a few minutes directions can be expanded in more complex terms such as:

Sit down.

Take your exercise book out.

Open the book on page 11.

John, please sit next to Mary.

Mary share your book with John, please.

Jim Cummins

ESL educators commonly refer to two types of English language proficiency: Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). These terms were coined by Jim Cummins in 1980. Cummins discovered that most students learned sufficient English to engage in social communication in about two years. However, students typically will have needed another five to seven years to acquire the type of language skills necessary for successful participation in content classrooms. Limited English proficient (LEP) students have language skills that are often informally assessed upon the ability of the student to comprehend and respond to conversational language. However, students who are proficient in social situations may not be prepared for the academic, context-reduced, and literacy demands of mainstream classrooms. Accessing a student's language proficiency based on oral and/or social language assessments becomes problematic when the student performs well in social conversations yet does poorly on academic tasks. The students may be incorrectly labeled as having learning deficits or may even be referred for learning disabled testing.

Many in the field of language acquisition feel that the terms BICS and CALP offer only imprecise, value-laden, simplified, and misused stereotyping of English language learners (Baker, 1993). Cummins, however addressed this problem in 1984 through a theoretical framework which embeds the CALP language proficiency concept within a larger theory of Common Underlying Proficiency (CUP).

Common Underlying Proficiency (CUP)

The CUP model of bilingualism can be pictorially represented in the form of two icebergs. The two icebergs are separate above the surface. That is, two languages are visibly different in outward conversation. Underneath the surface, the two icebergs are fused such that the two languages do not function separately. Both languages operate through the same central processing system.

(Central Operating System)

Language proficiency in itself should not be used to determine whether or not English language learners are ready to use their second language (L2) to learn with their grade level monolingual English-speaking peers. Previous schooling, academic knowledge, and literacy skills that second language learners have in their first language (L1) are also strong determiners (Cummins, 1984, Baker, 1993). Cummins' framework may be summarized as follows:

The language in which a person operates along with the thoughts that accompany talking, reading, writing, and listening originate from the same central engine. People who speak two or more languages have, nonetheless, one integrated source of thought. Bilingualism and multilingualism successfully occurs when people have the capacity to store two or more languages. There are a good many people who can function in two or more languages with relative ease.

Information processing skills and educational attainment can be achieved in two languages as well as in one. Cognitive functioning and educational achievement can either run through one monolingual channel or through two well developed language channels with equal success. Regardless, Cummins asserts that both channels are fed through the same central processor.

Any language that a student is using in the classroom needs to be sufficiently well developed to be able to process the cognitive challenges of the classroom. When a student speaks, listens, reads or writes in the first or the second language this will help the whole cognitive system to develop. However, when students are made to operate in an insufficiently developed second language, the system will not function well. When students are made to operate in the classroom in a poorly developed second language, the quality and quantity of what they learn from complex materials and produce in oral and written form will usually be relatively weak.


The Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA) is an instructional model for second and foreign language learners based on cognitive theory and research. CALLA was developed by Anna Uhl Chamot and J. Michael O'Malley. This instructional approach seeks to integrate instruction in priority topics from the content curriculum. Moreover, it is used in the development of the language skills needed for learning in school. In addition, it has been found to be effective when explicit instruction in using learning strategies for academic tasks occurs.

The major aim of CALLA is for students to learn essential academic content and language while becoming independent and self-regulated learners through their increasing command over a variety of strategies for learning in school.

CALLA can be used in ESL, EFL, bilingual, foreign language, and general education classrooms. CALLA's primary objectives are to aid students in:

1.) Valuing their own prior knowledge and cultural experiences, and relating this knowledge to academic learning in a new language and culture

2.) Learning the content knowledge and the language skills that are most important for their future academic success;

3.) Developing language awareness and critical literacy

4.) Selecting and using appropriate learning strategies and study skills that will develop academic knowledge and processes

5.) Developing abilities to work successfully with others in a social context

6.) Learning through hands-on, inquiry-based, and cooperative learning tasks

7.) Increasing motivation for academic learning and confidence in their ability to be successful in school

8.) Evaluating their own learning and planning how to become more effective and independent learners.

L1 (students' first language) use in the classroom

One of the first things that ELL students bring to the classroom is their primary language (L1). Richard Ruiz (1984) instructs us that we should view the primary language as a resource, not as a problem to be overcome. As a mainstream high school English teacher I was able to utilize my students' L1 in a manner that made content-area instruction in English much more comprehensible. Others in the field of Language Acquisition also agree with my findings (Wright, 2008). Krashen (1985) explains in his Comprehensible Input Hypothesis, that students acquire English when they can understand messages in that language. Consequently, the proper use of the L1 makes English language instruction much more comprehensible, and thus students can learn English much more quickly and effectively while at the same time mastering grade-level content. Using the students' L1 in this manner is called Primary Language Support (PLS). In states where they restrict bilingual education and require sheltered English immersion (SEI) such as in Arizona, federal law makes it clear that teachers may use PLS as needed. Moreover, PLS is a critical component of sheltered English instruction, this is further shown by its inclusion in the Sheltered English Observation Protocol (SIOP) (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2004).

L2 in the classroom

When students come into direct contact with the target language; i.e., their second language (L2) this is referred to as "input." When these same students process their L2 in a way that can contribute to learning, this is referred to as "intake."

The most effective L2 input occurs at a level slightly above that of the learner. Krashen labeled this concept "input + 1". Krashen uses an analogy of an English speaker trying to comprehend Spanish from a radio program to better explain this principle. People who have a beginner's ability to speak Spanish and who have listened to a Spanish radio broadcast know how frustrating (and incomprehensible) it can be to try to attend to input that is just too complex and that lacks a visible context from which we can deduce clues. Krashen explains that this level is too far beyond "input + 1."

The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) was developed to make content material more comprehensible to English Language Learners. This is but one major strategy developed by Jana Echevarria, Mary-Ellen Vogt and Deborah Short. This strategy provides teachers a means to improve their input in the second language.

The SIOP Model includes teacher preparation, instructional indicators such as comprehensible input and the building of background knowledge. It comprises strategies for classroom organization and delivery of instruction.

Teacher Preparation

1. Teachers write clearly defined content objectives on the board for students. These objectives are reviewed at the beginning of a lesson and students should state at the end of the lesson whether the objectives have been met.

2. Teachers should write clearly defined language objectives on the board for students at the beginning of a lesson. Students state at the end of the lesson whether the objectives have been met

3. Concepts taught should be appropriate for the age and educational background of students, Teachers must consider the students' L1 literacy, second language proficiency, and the reading level of the materials.

4. Supplementary materials are used to promote comprehension. These include charts, graphs, pictures, illustrations, regalia, math manipulatives, multimedia, and demonstrations by teacher and other students

5. Content must be adapted to ELL's needs through use of graphic organizers, outlines, labeling of pictures, study guides, adapted text, and highlighted text.

6. Meaningful activities integrate lesson concepts with language practice opportunities in listening. Speaking, reading, and writing.

Indicators of Instruction:

Building Background

1. Concepts should be directly linked to students' background experience. This experience can be personal, cultural or academic.

2. Links should be explicitly made between past learning and new concepts.

3. Key vocabulary is emphasized. New vocabulary is presented in context. The number of vocabulary items is limited.

Comprehensible Input

1. Use speech that is appropriate for students' language proficiency.

2. Make the explanation of the task clear using step-by-step manner with visuals.

3. Use of a variety of techniques to make content concepts clear. Teachers need to focus attention selectively on the most important information. Introduce new learning in context. Help students learn strategies such as predicting, summarizing.


1. Provide ample opportunities for students to use learning strategies. Learning strategies should be taught through explicit instruction. You want students to develop independence in self-monitoring.

2. Consistent use of scaffolding techniques throughout the lesson. Introduce a new concept using a lot of scaffolding and decrease support as time goes on. Restate a student's response or use think-aloud

3. Use of a variety of question types, including those that promote higher level thinking skills.


Provide the following for ELLs:

1. Frequent opportunities for interactions about lesson concepts which encourage higher level thinking skills.

2. grouping which supports language and content objectives. Cooperative groups, buddies, pairs, large and small groups

3. Ample wait time for responses

4. Opportunities for clarification in native language, if possible.


Lessons should include:

1. Hands-on materials or manipulatives for student practice.

2. Activities for students to apply content and language knowledge in the classroom.

3. Activities that integrate all language skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Lesson Delivery

1. Content objectives supported by lesson delivery.

2. Language objectives supported by lesson delivery.

3. Students engaged 90% to 100% of the period.

4. Pacing of the lesson appropriate to students' ability level.

Communicative language teaching (CLT)

CLT is the teaching of a second language that emphasizes interaction as both the means, as well as the ultimate goal of learning L2. It is also referred to as the "communicative approach to the teaching of a language" or simply the "communicative approach".

CLT is usually characterized as a broad approach to teaching, rather than as a teaching method with a clearly defined set of classroom practices. Often, it is usually defined as a list of general principles or features. One of the most recognized of these lists is David Nunan's (1991) five features of CLT:

An emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language.

The introduction of authentic texts into the learning situation.

The provision of opportunities for learners to focus, not only on language but also on the Learning Management process.

An enhancement of the learner's own personal experiences as important contributing elements to classroom learning.

An attempt to link classroom language learning with language activities outside the classroom.