Theories of first and second language acquisition

Topics: Second language acquisition, Linguistics, Language acquisition Pages: 5 (1540 words) Published: January 12, 2014


Theories of First and Second Language Acquisition
There are various theories that have been put forward to describe first and second language acquisition. This paper outlines similarities and difference between first and second language acquisition. Additionally key theoretical points on second language acquisition have been identified. Finally, an explanation of how I intend to use my understanding of language acquisition theory to inform my teaching practice will also be included. Similarities of First and Second Language Acquisition

Rod Elis (1984) examined the concept of developmental sequences. Studies have revealed that both first and second language learners follow a pattern of development, which is mainly followed despite exceptions. Elis outlined three developmental stages: the silent period, formulaic speech, and structural and semantic simplification. Both L1 and L2 learners go through the silent stage. In this stage, children acquiring a first language will go through a period of listening to the language that they are being exposed to. This period is used to discover what language is. Second language learners usually opt to remain silent for a period when immediate production is not required of them. The usefulness of the silent stage in second language acquisition is not agreed upon by researchers. Gibbons (1985 , as cited by Ellis, 1994)argues that this is a stage of incomprehension while Krashen (1982) argues that it builds competence in learners via listening. The second stage identified is formulaic speech. It is defined as expressions which are learnt as “unanalyzable wholes and employed on particular occasions (Lyons, 1968, cited in Ellis, 1994). According Krashen (1982), these expression can have the form of whole utterances learned as memorized chunks (e.g. I don’t know) and partially unanalyzed utterances with one or more slots (e.g. Where are the______?). The expressions can also consist of entire scripts such as greetings (Ellis, 1994). In the third stage, the first and second language learners apply structural and semantic simplifications to their language. For instance, they may omit articles and other grammatical forms as is the case with structural simplifications. Semantic simplifications take the form of omitting content words (e.g. nouns).These simplifications occur because learners may not have yet acquired the necessary linguistic forms. Another reason is that they are unable to access linguistic forms during production. In both first and second language acquisition there are particular structures that are acquired in a set order. Research shows that a learner’s first language has an effect on acquistional sequences which either slows their development or modifies it (McLaughlin, 1987).Individual variation in how individuals acquire language (such as communication strategies) may mask acquisitional sequences for certain constructions (Mclaughlin, 1987). Based on the morpheme studies in L2 acquisition, Krashen (1982) put forward the Natural Order Hypothesis which claims that the rules of language are acquired in a predictable order. This acquisition order is not determined by simplicity or the order of rules taught in the class. It seems that there exists an order of acquisition in both first and second language acquisition. In both first and second language acquisition, learners may over generalize vocabulary or rules, using them in contexts broader than those in which they should be used. For instance, a child may say ‘eated’ instead of saying ‘ate’ for past tense of ‘eat’, and same thing may happen in second language acquisition an adult may say ‘holded’ instead of ‘held’ for the past tense of ‘hold’.

Differences between First and Second Language Acquisition
Nearly everyone acquires a first language but this is not the case with second languages. Acquiring a first language happens naturally, while acquiring a second language often requires conscious effort on the part...

References: Ellis, R. (1994). The study of second language acquisition. China: Oxford University Press.
Krashen, S. (1982). Theory versus practice in language training. In R. W. Blair (Ed.), Innovative approaches to language teaching (pp. 15-24). Rowley, MA: Newburry House Publishers.
Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N. (2006). How languages are learned (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
McLaughlin, B. (1991). Theories of second-language learning. Great Britain: Arnold.
Murray, D. E., & Christison, M. (2011a). What English language teachers need to know: Volume I: Understanding learning. New York, NY: Routledge.
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