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Language Acquisition Theories

Exploring the behaviourist perspective, the innatist perspective, and the interactionist perspective

Andrea Clarkson

on 1 November 2012

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Transcript of Language Acquisition Theories

Language Acquisition Theories Behaviourist Perspective Proponents of
Principles of
the theory Problems and
associated with
the theory
The relationship with second language
theory Implications for language teaching (form focused vs. content based)

Behaviourism is very form focused; it focuses on the development of form and language patterns found in the English language
The form focused formation
of language habits and memorization may provide second language learners with a basic knowledge, however, teaching language in isolation, without real context or meaning leaves the learning forming child-like sentences and limits their learning
While second language learners draw on what they know, there is no real formula to predict behaviour and success It was believed that forms similar to those of their first or primary language would be easier to connect; however, we have learned that this is something we cannot always predict accuraltely based on first language patterns The rejection of this
theory, or the search for a
more adequate explanation, leaves us with the thought that form-focused teaching may not be enough for second language learners - they need content based instruction with context and meaning rather than rote memorization and form
B.F. Skinner, focused on primary language
Well-known, with respect to second language learning and behaviourism:
Nelson Brooks and Robert Lado
Young children imitate
or mimic the sounds and language patterns heard around them
This mimicry
elicits 'positive reinforcements' which could take the form of praise, or simply successful

Children continue to repeat and practice these sounds and patterns in order to form 'habits' of language

The environment a child lives in is very important for this theory The quality and
quantity of exposure
to language and
consistency of reinforcement shape
the child's language development and
What we choose to imitate may be determined by something within the child rather than
within the environment

Not all children
imitate, additionally
many of the things that children say reflect that they are using language creatively rather than simply imitating
Imitation and practice alone cannot explain children's language development

Children pick out patterns and generalize ideas and structures Behaviourism is not a sufficient explanation of children's more complex language acquisition, such as
complex grammar Powerful relationship between second language acquisition and the behaviourist approach
The theory was believed to create a solid foundation
for second language learners and their acquisition of English as a second language
Behviourism was linked
with a belief in the
audiolingual approach; as
with primary language learners, behaviourism for second language acquisition focuses on forming habits of language through repeating, practicing and phrases they hear, as well as the memorization of
sentence patterns
Behaviourism was linked with the contrastive analysis hypothesis (CAH); the idea that second language learners will more easily pick up language patterns similar to those they have experienced in their own language

Behaviourism suggests that second language learners, if appropriately exposed to the language and allowed opportunity for practice, will acquire the second language the same way they acquired their first After the 1970s, researchers began to believe the behaviourist approach was not adequate;
learners needed more than just isolated memorization and mimicking. Innatist Perspective Implications for language teaching (form focused vs. content based) √Proponents of
perspective Problems and
associated with
the theory The relationship with second language
theory Principles of
the theory Interactionist Perspective Implications for language teaching (form focused vs. content based) √Proponents of
perspective Problems and
associated with
the theory The relationship with second language
theory Principles of
the theory Main:
Noam Chomsky, focused on primary language
learners Well-known, with respect to second language learning and innatism:
Lydia White Chomsky believes that language is innate; children are biologically programmed for language and it develops the same as any other biological function Like Skinner, Chomsky still attributes values to the environment, however basic, in the form of availability of people who speak to the child Chomsky claims children
could not develop such
complex knowledge of a language, such as being able to distinguish between sentences that are grammatically correct and those that are not, simply by the examples of those around us; especially with the slang
that people use with
improper or unfinished sentences Therefore, children are born
with innate knowledge of language principals - universal grammar - all they need to do is learn how to apply these principles The innatist perspective is paired with the critical period hypothesis, in which there is a specific time frame allotted to the genetic acquisition or development of certain skills, such as language; therefore, Chomsky believes that after a specific age, while individuals may develop socially or develop cognitive functions (language is separate from other forms of cognitive development), it is not possible to develop language There is controversy about innatist theory and second language learners who have passed the critical period; what is the explanation that allows these individuals to learn past their critical period? Innatist perspective is criticized for putting too much emphasis on the product at the end of the acquisition process rather than paying attention to the process itself There are limited examples to contrast the critical period hypothesis. Of the two examples readily available, there is no way to determine if there are other underlying factors that may have affected these individuals, such as brain damage before their isolation from language Innatism has no concrete
answer to its connection with second language acquisition, but there is a lot of speculation and there are a lot theories One theory is that UG
(universal grammar) is
available to individuals for both their primary language, as well as second language learners-- Some believe the UG is exactly the same as with the first language, whereas others believe it exists for second language learners, but
has been altered Secondary language
development depends on the availability of the language in the learner's natural environment, however at times, may need explicit information Researchers are very
interested in the developed learners, and their ability to determine complex grammar
and other complex language syntax to further develop a connection Chomsky, as well as those who followed him in developing ideas based on his innatist theory, such as Stephen Krashen are content-based They focus on immersion rather than direct instruction in order to allow learners to develop complex abilities and develop an understanding of complex facets of the language, such as grammar rules It is important to note that while these theories primarily focus on content-based learning rather than form learning, for second language acquisition it may be important at times to explicitly teach second language learners certain skills or rules Main:
Jean Piaget, focused on primary language
learners Main:
Lev Vygotsky, focused on primary language
learners Language acquisition is developed through the interaction of an individual and their environment/the people within it Language acquisition
is thought of as
similar to and affected
by the acquisition of other cognitive skills, rather than language being separate from other cognitive
functions Piaget believed that language is used to represent the knowledge that children have gained through interacting with their environment Vygotsky believed that language and knowledge were interchangeable - thoughts or knowledge is internal language, and language is expressed in social situations, such as conversation - conversations are the origin of thought
and language Both believed that interactions with the environment, objects, and people were important to development Interpersonal sources of language such as TV and radio are not sufficient Well-known, with respect to second language learning and interactionism:
Norman Segalowitz
J.R Anderson
Robert DeKeyser Second language
learning is described in this theory as the build up of knowledge, through practice, exposure, and interaction, which can eventually be relied on for speaking and understanding – first this development takes time and cognitive focus until development of the language allows recall to become automatic Second language learners
go through skill learning, first understanding and being able to engage in lower order thinking (declarative knowledge), and through practice and interaction, slowing building their way to be able to understand and engage in higher order thinking (procedural knowledge) This may be seen in a second language learner as a gradual build up of fluency, for example, moving from being able to only read the words of a sentence, to being able to understand and analyze the meaning Restructuring is a term interactionists use when no
new learning occurs, but suddenly everything seems to come together and make sense – it also accounts for some backslides if a learner generalizes a rule they have learned to certain words
which are 'exceptions' Not all cultures
have the same parent-child relationships and interactions as we do in North America, where interactionism was initially studied – while all environments allow children to hear language that is meaningful to them, they may be lacking interaction with people Overall, the interactionist perspective seems very well thought out an logical - there is not a lot of criticism directed toward the perspective Like innatists, interactionist beliefs thrive through content-based teaching Interactionists believe
that you need to hear, and practice language through interaction rather than tests, in fact, if an individual in a test situation is focusing so hard on reading and understanding the words, they may forget the proper grammar or word order when attempting to
respond Second language learners should be immersed in the language – interact with their peers, group work is great, perform skits or oral presentations of knowledge rather than pieces of writing right away
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