Second-Language Acquisition: Aspects and Research


The notion of interlanguage (IL) refers to the study of a foreign language that is subject to interference from the side of a learner’s native language, yet it does not contain any elements of the native language or the studied language. Corder (1967) proposes the hypothesis of continuous and progressive nature of a learner’s ideas about the foreign language. Based on the analysis of students’ errors, the author writes about the transition stages that may be the foundation for a learner’s knowledge about the object or the importance of the study.

In this regard, one can note that there is a shift from the target language to its idealized representation that the student is to master. Figuratively speaking, it is possible to state that the language study process moves from the library to the classroom. Being the founders of the term of IL, Lakshmanan and Selinker (2001) claim that it can be regarded as the product of a learner’s structured knowledge that is partially wrong, partially adequate, and observable through the speech. In other words, IL is the language system that develops in the process of language learning and reflects individual possibilities of evolution of a learner. Being an unstable acquisition system, it can be defined as the specific activity of the transition, adjustment, and mixing between the individual cognitive-linguistic areas (Learning vocabulary in another language 2001). Thus, the study of IL phenomenon can provide a researcher or a teacher with valuable information including the native language of a learner, previous IL systems, and the target language.

Speaking of implications of IL theory, it is essential to pinpoint a range of components that compose the so-called fossilization. In particular, the mentioned term refers to phonological, syntactic, and morphological peculiarities of the second language (L2) learner (Lakshmanan & Selinker 2001). These features are beneficial in understanding language learning as they provide insights into the core concepts and attitude of a learner. At the same time, another implication of IL is the fact that it connects different disciplines such as transformational grammar, structural linguistics, and others.

Developing the above idea, Ellis (1998, p. 638) discusses emergentism and connectionism issues related to the Second-Language Acquisition (SLA) where the first can be understood as “interactions occurring at all levels, from genes to environment, give rise to emergent forms and behavior”, and the latter assumes that even though the language is rule-like, it is not rule-governed. This means that IL helps to reveal not only a learner’s perception of language learning but also certain rules guiding the process of the foreign language acquisition that is adopted by certain L2 learners.

Furthermore, some scholars such as Peirce (1995) reflect on the relationships between language learning and the social context. Using the evidence-based data, the author argues that it is the post-cultural conception that is to be considered as the leading one. In other words, SLA and an L2 learner are interconnected and interdependent. To understand language learning, it is crucial to pay attention to the social context and consider these two issues in conjunction. The social identity of a learner also matters as it can change with time, under some social events, and other factors. For instance, Peirce (1995) pinpoints that the woman employed an opportunity to practice a foreign language with her co-workers. In effect, she started to believe that she is a multicultural person. This occurred due to investment, in particular, due to her desire to address her self-appraisal of an immigrant. Thus, the discussed theory of the social context and SLA emphasizes the integral nature of their relationships.

The value of grammar instruction in the framework of IL can be considered through the lenses of Universal Grammar (UG) introduced by Chomsky (Saville-Troike 2006). This term presents the notion of linguistic competence that assumes an innate capability of a learner to acquire the second language that is called a language faculty. Children tend to repeat certain grammatical patterns of the foreign language when they hear them from others, thus becoming closer to the representatives of that language. At this point, it is more difficult for adults to learn a specific language as they usually have the established principles and parameters that determine their perception and interpretation of a language (Saville-Troike 2006).

This theory explains why children can learn foreign languages more rapidly and effectively. The grammar instructions associated with the development of IL are also helpful to understand the acquisition of grammatical structures. Although IL follows the rules, its development is not always linear (Larsen-Freeman 1991). In particular, the process of second language learning can depend on others’ language competence or individual characteristics. At this point, it is essential to note that the paramount value of the grammar instructions is that they provide grounds for revealing the meaning.

Second-Language Acquisition Research

The process of language learning is considered by different scholars from different perspectives. One of them can take into account the grammatical aspect of learning while others study the social context that affects the effectiveness of learning. Ortega (2009) distinguishes between two approaches, focusing on general cognitive and formal linguistic. The general cognitive approach suggests the learning of skills and contains three stages: comprehension of grammar, application of this grammar in different settings, including both communicative and non-communicative ones, and promotion of its accurate and automatic use (Ortega 2013).

The formal linguistic approach entails insights into the development of language knowledge under UG. In general, Ortega (2009) states that “SLA investigates the human capacity to learn additional languages during late childhood, adolescence, or adulthood, once the L1 have been acquired” (p. 94). This viewpoint explores the language acquisition process, paying attention to the capacity of a learner of acquiring knowledge.

At the same time, other scholars offer several salient perspectives as well. For example, Marinova-Todd, Marshall, and Snow (2000) investigate the theme through the impact of the age of a learner. As a result of a series of investigations, they reckon that the learners who start to acquire a new language in childhood have more opportunities to speak better, yet adults are also can succeed due to their motivation and continuous development. In her turn, Larsen-Freeman (2015) reflects on the second language development (SLD) compared to SLA. The scholar believes that language is an ever-developing element that cannot be completely acquired, thus making a learner elaborate on his or her language knowledge throughout a prolonged period. In this connection, it is possible to note that the mentioned approach concerns the understanding of the language learning process.

Drawing from the evidence presented by the authors that were discussed above, it is possible to conclude that there are different ways in which they understand the language along with its learning. Some scholars prefer the broad perspective, embracing SLA in general and enlightening core concepts. At the same time, others select the narrowed perspective and study only one aspect of language acquisition. It seems appropriate to emphasize that both perspectives are valuable as they contribute to the theoretical and practical enhancement of language learning procedures. They reflect various philosophical and theoretical positions such as behaviorism, cognitivism, sociocultural, and merged theories. Each of these positions can significantly affect a learner.

The article by Mu (2014) explores how Chinese Australian adults aged between 18 and 35 years communicate their national resources. The author claims that habitus and capital are related to each other in the context of Bourdieu’s theoretical triad. In particular, this means that the L2 learners tend to make language choices, depending on the volume of resources that refer to capital and individual dispositions that, in turn, can be understood as habitus. The first research question identified by Mu (2014) is the following: do investment capital and/or the so-called habitus of ‘Chineseness’ affect Chinese Heritage Language proficiency. The second research question can be specified as follows: how Chinese Australians percept Chinese Heritage Language learning in the context of linguistic capital. The mentioned statements were proved in the course of the mixed research design that focused on both qualitative and quantitative approaches.

The data types that were collected involve years of learning, self-labeling, frequency of visits in China, and several others. A range of questionnaires, production tasks, and interviews composes the elicitation procedures. The acquired data were analyzed and interpreted in the framework of mixed analysis design. In particular, the initial part of the quantitative data analysis was interpreted with the use of Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) and regression (Mu 2014). This section revealed that capital and habitus were essential for Chinese Heritage Language proficiency. The subsequent qualitative data analysis showed that the Chinese Heritage Language provides benefits for Chinese Australian adults by offering the production of capital as well as habitus capture. Both quantitative and qualitative analysis methods proved the hypothesis that was stated initially (Mu 2014). Thus, the study design is based on explanatory mixed methods that make the research reliable and valid.

It is arguable that very few if any, contemporary language learning issues are everlastingly limited to national boundaries. However, it should be stressed that successful language learning is to be directed to the improvement of the individual capacity, the creation of self-learning ability, and comprehension of new knowledge (Block 2007). To achieve the desired outcomes, it seems necessary to select the most appropriate models and accommodation principles, taking into account the individual peculiarities of a learner. The paramount objective of learning is to engage a learner in the thinking process. Thus, the language learning process can be seen as the continuous awareness of the learning activity that reflects the dynamics of consciousness such as state of awareness and activity each of which can be represented as systematic integrity of the components of consciousness: needs, internal rules, and the ability to acquire knowledge.

In this regard, it is possible to note that the concepts of habitus, field, and capital that were discussed by Mu (2014) are essential to understanding the process of language learning. They allow a researcher to penetrate the language world and investigate it inside. The theory by Bourdieu seems to be useful to analyze language learning tendencies, occurring among immigrants or people who live outside their native country. The results of this study promote an in-depth understanding of Chinese Australians’ Chinese Heritage Language.

It is also should be emphasized that the timeliness of this research cannot be overestimated as it contributes to the awareness of Chinese Australians of their own culture and social identity. In particular, knowing both Chinese and Australian cultures, they would be able to enhance Australia’s social, political, and economic spheres by addressing current challenges. Therefore, it seems appropriate to conclude that the analyzed study is rather beneficial and relevant research related to modern issues in the field of the language learning process.

Focus Question

Nowadays in the framework of ever-expanding multilateral international contacts among the challenges facing modern language learning, the age factor in SLA is of paramount importance. The various components of foreign language acquisition illustrate age dynamics development. The success of the acquisition of a foreign language at different age stages is determined by the dominance of different elements related to skills and knowledge (Ellis 1994). Thus, at the initial stage of learning, the successful mastery of a foreign language in children is primarily caused by the prevalence of personal parameters of a learner, while cognitive and psycho-physiological indicators identify the effective language learning in adults.

For instance, the volume of verbal memory and the role played by the figurative meaningful memorization grows with age due to the establishment of causal relationships and creative thinking. However, age has not only positive points but also the adverse impact that is expressed in reducing figurative involuntary memorization and some slowdown in the overall creativity. The analysis of age manifestation that is associated with the ability to assimilate SLA shows that the initial stage of learning lacks cognitive and physiological parameters, and the middle and senior levels are short of personal factors.

The successful learning of an L2 at primary school level is determined by the presence of the adaptive qualities of a learner’s personality, his or her ability to adapt to the requirements of a teacher, and the ability to capture his or her mood and emotional state. Furthermore, cognitive and physiological factors determine the successful mastery of a foreign language at the middle level (Flege, Yeni-Komshian, & Liu 1999). Here, one can note the involvement of various aspects such as communicative methods or traditional ones. According to the communicative approach, learning is characterized by the ability to display language knowledge through verbal fluency, a high volume of auditory and visual memory, and the increased overall efficiency of operations. The traditional approach demonstrates a focus on consistency development.

Children can take hold of the plethora of opportunities from SLA in childhood. Precisely speaking, at 4-5, the child already has sufficient vocabulary and familiar with the structure of his or her native language. However, classes should not be too long, and children are to be offered to enroll in groups of 8-10 people so that a teacher can find an individual approach to every child. Some scholars also notice the fact that learning a second language at an early age promotes the development of children’s brains and helps them to start talking earlier.

Adults’ learning success is more affected by the dominance of primary cognitive and psycho-physiological indicators. The successful acquisition of the second language is related to the dominance of the overall productivity activities based on auditory memory, logical thinking, and cognitive or linguistic ability to deduce a rule. During SLA, age manifests itself in various individual characteristics of learners, thus it can be concluded that there are two types of L2 acquisition such as cognitive-linguistic and communicative. Compared with young students, the process of acquisition of a foreign language for adults is more intense, interesting, and even exciting (Bialystok 1997). Also, young learners are not always able to overcome difficulties and often do not understand why they need to learn a foreign language. At this point, adults are more motivated as they know how to apply the techniques and methods that they experienced.

From the above observations, it becomes evident that methods of learning should be flexible enough to take into account, on the one hand, the age characteristics of the learners and, on the other hand, note individual features of language acquisition.

Motivation Role

One of the most influential models of learning motivation in the modern scientific paradigm is offered by Zoltán Dörnyei, a professor of psycholinguistics at Nottingham University and author of numerous publications on learning motivation the most famous of which are Teaching and Researching Motivation and Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom. The scholar emphasizes the connection between motivation and the social context (Dörnyei 2000). For instance, let us consider the cultural conditionality that can influence the learning motivation in two ways: positively when a learner becomes passionate about the culture of the country in which people speak the target language, and negatively when this culture is rejected.

An example of the negative impact is noted by Dörnyei (2000) who reflects his experience of studying the Russian language at schools where the subject was mandatory, but he barely mastered the alphabet for ten years of training. The rejection of a foreign language is regarded as quite a common phenomenon, and it is theoretically justified by psychologists and educators. The reason is in the social nature of language because, with the help of a language, a person identifies himself or herself with the others or opposes to them

Dörnyei (2001) determines motivation as the intensity of action, the desire to learn the language, and attitude towards the process of learning the language. At this point he stresses the importance of the process-oriented conceptualization that takes into account all the peculiarities of the language learning process, focusing on details. The scholar distinguishes between three levels of SLA. The first level of language includes various components associated with aspects such as culture, society (integrative motivational subsystem), and the intellectual and pragmatic values ​​associated with it (instrumental motivational subsystem). The second level of learner level consists of the individual characteristics that affect the learning process, for example, self-confidence. The level of learning situation is associated with the motives that are caused by the educational process such as the personality of a teacher, group peculiarities, and others. All these levels are interrelated and closely intertwined.

There can be seven basic components of motivation: integrativeness, instrumentality, the vitality of the L2 community, attitudes toward the L2 speakers or community, cultural interest, linguistic self-confidence, and milieu (Dörnyei 2001). These components should be considered as a complex system of learning motivation because they have a fairly complex structure and suggest the presence of components. According to Dörnyei and Ushioda (2011), integrativeness can involve cultural interest and attitude towards native speakers.

In its turn, instrumentality as a set of expected benefits does not have to be limited only to the pragmatic benefits such as higher wages but also includes increased self-esteem and personal growth. Milieu as a set of elements includes the attitudes of parents, teachers, peers, and the study of foreign languages ​​in general (Waninge, Dörnyei, & de Bot 2014). Moreover, the position of a foreign language among other disciplines, the identity of a teacher, the psychological climate in the classroom – all this can be attributed to a component of the complex environment. In this connection, it becomes evident that motivation depends on various factors that can either increase or reduce it.

The identified system of learning motivation provides insights into the complex factors that determine the dynamics and effectiveness of the process of learning a foreign language. If some of the elements are absent or expressed weakly, inherent human cognitive capabilities can be insufficient for stable and productive work on the study of the second language. In conclusion, it should be stressed that all the components of motivation are to be considered comprehensively.

Reference List

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