The theory of Language acquisition and learning is one of the most impressive aspects of human development. It is an amazing feat, which has attracted the attention of linguists for generations. Language Acquisition (LA) and Language Learning (LL) have sometimes been treated as two distinct phenomena creating controversy due to their variability in terms of age and environment. Oxford (1990: 4) in distinguishing between LA and LL argues that the first arises from naturalistic and unconscious language use and in most cases leads to conversational fluency; whereas the latter represents the conscious knowledge of language that happens through formal instruction but does not necessarily lead to conversational fluency of language. Fillmore (1989:311) proposes that this definition seems too rigid because some elements of language use are at first conscious and then become unconscious or automatic through practice. In another point of view, Brown (1994: 48) argues that both learning and acquisition are necessary for communicative competence particularly at higher skill levels. For these reasons, it can be argued that a learning acquisition continuum is more accurate than a dichotomy in describing how language abilities are developed. Language acquisition is more efficient than language learning for attaining functional skill in a foreign language not only in childhood. Language learning is limited to a complementary role in the form of support lessons and study materials, and will be useful only for adult students that have an analytical and reflective learning style and make good use of the monitoring function.
The Behaviourist Approach
Children acquire their first language at an extraordinary speed and to a degree of proficiency beyond pure chance. While we are able to recognize the different stages, the process remains a mystery. According to Lightbown and Spada (2006, p.10) there are three main theoretical positions: the behaviourist, the innatist, and the cognitivist/developmental. The traditional procedure for this approach is; stimulus, response followed by reward. Consequently, imitation and exposure to positive reinforcement are major factors. As Brown (2007, p.26) mentions: ‘A behaviourist might consider effective language behaviour to be the production of correct responses to stimuli. If a particular response is reinforced, it then becomes habitual, or conditioned. Thus children produce linguistic responses that are reinforced.’ Essentially, traditional behaviourism is the personification of the metaphorical donkey and the carrot; the donkey is the child, the desired linguistic response is the cart and the reinforcement, is the carrot. This view however was challenged by Skinner, when he deemphasized the role of the stimulus believing it was the reinforcers Teaching approaches such as ALM and PPP have long been linked to behaviourist theory due to their dependence on habit formation and the role of practice in their classes (Shortall in Willis and Willis, 1996, p.31). Language development is viewed as the formation of habits and automated responses to pre-rehearsed dialogues hence teaching materials and teacher training emphasize mimicry and rote learning (Lightbown and Spada, 2006, p.34) that follow a response that increase the probability of recurrence and thus the possibility of habituation (Brown, 2007, p. 89).
Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis
In keeping with the then popular behaviourist theory, it was hypothesized that habits formed in the first language would interfere with the acquisition of the second target language (Lightbown and Spada, 2006, p.34). Essentially the CAH suggests that a first language can be contrasted with the target second language to predict the errors that a learner will make (Shortall in Willis and Willis, 1996, p.31). Robert Lado (1957) cited in Larsen-Freeman and Long (1991) ( in Willis, 1997, p.65) clarifies: ‘Those elements that are similar to the learner’s...
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