Theories Of Second Language Acquisition Essay

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Theories of Language Acquisition

The theories of language acquisition are essentially centred around the nature nurture argument.

The theory that children have an innate capacity for language was created by Noam Chomsky (1928- ) an American linguistic. This nativist approach states that learning language is part of the genetic makeup of human species and is nearly independent of any particular experience which may occur after birth. Once a childs brain has been exposed to speech for the very first time it will receive and make sense of these utterances, due to its particular programming. Chomsky believes that there is a language acquisition device somwehre in the brain which enables…show more content…

Another theory which is in direct contrast to Chomsky’s theory of innateness is the imitation theory by Skinner. This states that children acquire language by imitating the language structures they hear around them. Parents automatically reinforce and correct their children’s language, which forms the basis for a child’s knowledge of language (classical conditioning). Before criticising this view, it should be pointed out that language acquisition must involve a lot of memorising. Clearly, children must hear the words of their language in order to go about storing it in their brains and clearly English children learn English because they are receiving English input. So despite the fact that imitation is necessary for learning pronunciation and in acquiring vocabulary, children do not always pick up the correct forms from it. For example, with irregular verbs children can sometimes over generalise, not necessarily using the standard form which adults are heard using and producing many things not in the adult grammar. Children also produce and understand new sentences. If imitation is right, we'd predict that children would not produce sentences they had not already heard. If we assume that children are constructing grammar, however, this would be expected. They acquire the "rules" of their syntax and thus have a powerful device


ET990-2 Second Language Acquisition and Classroom Language Learning Student I/D: 1163612 1


There has been a paradigm shift in motivation research in respect of second language acquisition (SLA) over the last twenty years. In the early 1990s, there was a sense that the social-psychological tradition, which framed methods of enquiry, had run its course and that alternative perspectives were needed to revitalise and refocus the L2 motivation field (

(Dörnyei and Ushioda, 2011:46).

There was a subsequent phase, the cognitive-situated period, drawing on cognitive theories from educational psychology. Out of this came a process-oriented approach, focusing on changes in individual involvement over time. This, in turn, has evolved into (or perhaps merged with) a new socio-dynamic phase

(Dörnyei and Ushioda, 2011:69).

I will discuss several key empirical studies into L2 motivation, roughly arranged in order of whether they take a quantitative, qualitative or



 approach. It must, however, be noted that despite the obvious distinctions


 the preference to view these on a continuum

(Dörnyei, 2007:25)

, they have ideological differences, a contrast in categorization and a contrast in the perception of individual diversity which permeates the methodology used. I will follow this with my own commentary, the implications which can be drawn for my own research and in what ways I have reflected about SLA in the last few months.


Quantitative social research grew out of the d

esire to emulate the ‘objective’ procedures found in

the natural sciences.

The use of measurable, statistically based evidence, ‘a priori categorization’,

variables rather than cases, and standardized procedures seeks to eradicate researcher subjectivity. It is systematic and rigorous, and uses in-built cross-checking indices

(Dörnyei, 2007:32-34)


Language learners’ attitudes and motivation have traditionally been measured by means of

quantitative methods, typically using large-scale questionnaire surveys, to account for the attitudes of whole speech communities. Most empirical research up until the 1990s was dominated by a social-psychological approach initiated in bilingual Canada by Robert Gardner, Wallace Lambert and Richard Clément. This is understandable, according to Dörnyei



since learning the language of another community simply cannot be separated from the

learners’ social dispositions towards the speech community in question … the ‘students’ attitudes

towards the specific language group are bound to influence how successful they will be in incorporating aspects of that language (Gardner, 1985, in Dörnyei, 1998:122).

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