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Second Language Acquisition

By Carlos Antonio Fernando-Diaz Oct 14, 2013 2209 Words

According to Swain,
...producing the target language may be the trigger that forces the learner to pay attention to the means of expression needed in order to successfully convey his or her own intended meaning. (Swain 1985: 249)

In Swain's view, learners need not only input, but output: they need to use language in order to learn it. Krashen, however, as recently as 2009, stated that: Research done over the last three decades has shown that we acquire language by understanding what we hear and read. The ability to produce language is the result of language acquisition, not the cause.

Forcing students to speak English will not improve their ability to speak English. (Korea Times, 2009).

“Is it possible to reconcile these two seemingly opposite views as to what constitutes second language acquisition or ‘learning’, as Swain puts it? Or do the two views represent two extremes of both theory and practice?” Guidelines: To answer this question in essay form, you will need to refer to alternative concepts of acquisition and learning proposed by other theorists, judge them in relation to these two apparent extremes of input versus output, and then try to draw some conclusions. You must ensure that both Krashen and Swain are discussed within the broader framework of SLA theory, and thus demonstrate that you understand the general field.

Important: you have to write your personal details and the subject name on the cover (see the next page). The assignment that does not fulfil these conditions will not be corrected. You have to include the assignment index below the cover.

Numerous theories have been devised to account for second Language Acquisition. Larsen – Freeman and Long (1991, p.221) state that ‘at least 40 theories of SLA have been proposed’. These theories try to provide information about how people acquire their knowledge of the language and point out factors which will lead to successful language learning. The aim of Second Language Acquisition is to find out how learners internalize the linguistic system of another language and how they use that linguistic system during comprehension and speech production. Language acquisition will be tackled as ‘the way in which people learn a language other than their mother tongue, inside or outside a classroom, and ‘Second Language Acquisition’ (SLA) as the study of this (Ellis 1997, p.3) together with Gass and Selinker´s definition (2008, p.1) as ‘the study of how learners create a new language system’. In addition, the idea that SLA is the study of what is learned of a second language and what is not learned has been devised. The following pages will draw on insights gained since Pit Corder´s 1967 essay into SLA and discuss how these insights have influenced different linguists in key ways. Some of the most influential theories will be presented along with a brief inquiry into their theoretical assumptions related to the significance of key features of SLA: input and output. A considerable controversy at present is the issue of whether input and output are opposite views or rather should be reconciled. Strong views exist in support of both sides of this dichotomy, which implies that is worth examining both points of view before reaching any conclusions.

Input and Output are two key terms within SLA research. The former refers to language learners either hear or read in communicative contexts. ‘The samples of language to which a learner is exposed’ (Ellis 1997, p.5) While the latter – output – refers to language (written or oral) produced by learners for the purpose of communication. Input is considered a major source for the language of learner in most of the theories and approaches to SLA. Some theories of SLA recognize the importance of input and output, others consider them as inconsequential yet their interpretations vary. However, what is beyond dispute is the fact that children need to be at least exposed to a language in some sort of interaction to be able to acquire the language.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Behaviorism was applied to language learning. It is based on the proposal that behavior can be researched scientifically and it attempts to explain language as a set of patterns or habits. Thus, learning is based on mechanical pattern language practice. Language is acquired by imitating the language that is heard, receiving positive reinforcement and denying any independent significance of mind. Therefore, input for behaviorism involves stimuli (models of language) and feedback (positive reinforcement or correction) (Ellis, 1994). Larsen, Freeman and Long (1991, p.266) consider that S – R models offer ‘little promises as explanations of SLA, except for perhaps pronunciation and the rote-memorization of formulae’. This theory was questioned by Chomsky (1959) due to the mismatch between the kind of input received and the language produced – output. Acculturation model

It is another environmental – oriented theory proposed by Schumann (1978). SLA is the result of acculturation ‘the degree to which a learner acculturates to the target language group will control the degree to which he acquires the second language.” (Schuman 1978, p.34). Being a sociolinguistic model, output is how the learner mediates higher cognition. All internal knowledge comes from interaction. Innatism

In contrast, Chomsky´s innatist view was a direct challenge to the behaviorist theories, laying out an explanation of human language faculties. According to his theory, every child is biologically endowed with a language faculty, the language acquisition device –LAD- responsible for the initial state of language development. He believed that the input children receive was degenerate and an insufficient basis for language learning. Universal Grammar Hypothesis.

Chomsky´s theory of language acquisition is based on the hypothesis of innate knowledge in which UG is a system of principles and parameters which provide constraints on grammars in the course of L1 acquisition. A parallel task to that of L1 acquirers is faced by L2 learners. There is a need to arrive at a linguistic system which accounts for the L2 input, enabling the learner to speak and understand the second language. Despite the fact that UG provides constraints on possible grammars in the course of acquisition, it is not a theory of acquisition. It contributes to an explanation of how language is acquired and how learners come to know properties that go far beyond input. It does not deny the fundamental role of input but claims that ‘learners come to the task with innate principles regarding language that are not necessarily visible in the input. Thus, acquisition is the result of the interaction of data from the environment (input) and these principles, or better, the mechanisms that make use of these principles. (Van Patten and Benati 2010, p.36) UG serves as a trigger for innate principles of UG and to set language specific parameters.

This theory is viewed as an innatist perspective and it is one of the most controversial theoretical perspectives in SLA. Krashen first named it ‘Monitor Model’ (Krashen, 1978) being its focus the contrast between learning and acquisition, then he named it the ‘Input Hypothesis’ (Krashen, 1985) being data responsible for aiding acquisition and finally the ‘Comprehension Hypothesis’ (Krashen, 2004) focusing on the mental process as responsible for acquisition. It is based on the following five interrelated hypotheses: 1. The Acquisition/ Learning Hypothesis.

Acquisition is a subconscious process that leads to fluency. Whereas learning is a conscious process in which ‘learners attend to form, figure out rules, and are generally aware of their own process’ (Brown 2002, p. 278). 2. The Monitor Hypothesis.

The learned system acts as an editor or monitor, checking and polishing what the acquired system has produced. Three conditions are necessary for monitor use: sufficient time, focus on form and knowledge of rules (Lightbown and Spada 1995, p.27). 3. The Natural Order Hypothesis. This hypothesis states that rules of a language are acquired in a certain predictable order. In general, certain structures tend to be acquired early and others to be acquired late. (Krashen and Terrel 1983, p. 28). 4. The Input Hypothesis.

It asserts that the acquirer should understand language that is a bit beyond his current level of competence (I + 1). The language learners are exposed to should be just far enough beyond their current competence that they can understand most of it but still is challenged to make progress ( Brown 2002, p. 278). 5. The Affective Filter Hypothesis.

It claims that it is easier for a learner to acquire a language when tension, anger, anxiety or boredom is diminished. A low affective filter means that the performer is more open to the input language (Krashen and Terrel 1983, p. 38). By examining the idea of comprehensible input and its corollary: speaking is the result of acquisition, not its cause, learners´ increasing ability to comprehend input help develop speaking skills excluding the notion of direct instruction in this regard (Krashen, 1985). It can be said that comprehensive and right quantity input together with certain strategies (schematic knowledge, paralinguistic information, contextual clues, teacher talk) are the foundations for language learning following Krashen´s perspectives. Acquisition is viewed in a linear perspective that establishes a cause and effect relationship between input and acquisition. Thus, the success or failure of SLA relies on the condition whether or not it is comprehensible to learners.

Still, it may be said that Swain (1985 -1995) opposes Krashen´s radical position towards the role of input and claims that learners need not only input, but output in order to learn a language. ‘Sometimes, under some conditions, output facilitates second language learning in ways that are different from, or enhance, those of input’ (Swain and Lapkin 1995, p.371). Therefore, though comprehensible input plays an important role – as Krashen holds – it is not enough, since understanding is not the same as acquiring. That is the reason why through the Output Hypothesis, Swain emphasizes the role of outcome in SLA and argues that it is only when input becomes intake that SLA takes place. Schmidt (1983) states that learners need to notice input before they assimilate it into intake. They have the ability to understand a general meaning of input and the capacity to syntactically analyze input and produce comprehensible output. As a consequence, production, as opposed to comprehension, may force the learner to move from semantic processing to syntactic processing (Swain 1985, p.249). Swain highlights that noticing is essential to SLA and emphasizes that it is only when learners are pushed to use the target language, when there is a need to improve and develop the target language, output can contribute to language acquisition. According to the Input Hypothesis, this need can be helpful when the acquirer is ready to receive comprehensible input. If there is absence of comprehensible input, the need will not result in language acquisition. Thus, significant and comprehensible input will result in language acquisition whether need is present or not. Krashen claims that output plays little to no role in acquisition and asserts that it would be impossible for learners to test out production of every single feature of language during acquisition, were the Output Hypothesis correct. A further drawback of this hypothesis is the discomfort caused to learners when faced to the ‘pushed output’ due to the demanding condition of having to use structures they have not yet acquired. As Krashen´s work, Michael Long´s Interaction Hypothesis stresses the importance of comprehensible input as well, though claims that it is most effective when it is modified through the negotiation of meaning. According to Lightbown and Spada (1999, p.122), “…learners are compelled to ‘negotiate for meaning,’ that is, to express and clarify their intentions, thoughts, opinions, etc., in a way which allows them to arrive at a mutual understanding. Long and Robinson´s Interaction Hypothesis (Blake, 2000) suggests that when meaning is negotiated, input comprehensibility is generally increased and learners tend to focus on salient linguistic features. Cognizance of these language forms and structures is seen as advantageous to SLA. Although adherents to interactionist thought consider both input to, and input from the learner as important, output is often considered as secondary. To conclude, the second language acquisition theories reviewed throughout these pages have focused on different aspects of the second language acquisition process and have presented a brief inquiry into their theoretical assumptions related to the significance of key features of SLA: input and output. Behaviorism argues that stimuli involves (models of language) and feedback (positive reinforcement or correction). Being a socio linguistic theory, the Acculturation model holds that output is how the learner mediates higher cognition while Innatism claims that input children receive is insufficient for language learning and in addition to this UG does not deny the role of input. In contrast, the Interactionist model states that comprehensible input and output are necessary when learners interact and negotiate meaning. Krashen argues that output plays little to no role in acquisition and input is the foundation for language learning. Thus, his corollary: speaking is the result of acquisition, not its cause. However, Swain emphasizes the role of output in SLA. All theories considered, it can be inferred that the key features of SLA: input and output still remain a considerable controversy at present. Strong and radical views exist in support of both sides of this dichotomy, which implies that is worth continuing investigating the role of output in SLA, owing to the insufficient studies on it, before reaching any conclusions. So far, it seems to be not possible to reconcile these seemingly opposite views.

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