Second Language Acquisition

By Elizabeth Gregory

Just a quick comment about Michele's blog from yesterday…those of you who are unable to travel abroad to try these soft drinks can also try many of them and more at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta. When I was there, I got a tasting cup and could go to a ton of different fountains to drink my Coke product of choice from around the world. This aspect alone was well worth the price of admission.

Anyway…next week I will be writing about classroom language learning versus the immersion experience. So, I thought it might be a good idea for everyone to give a little thought to second language acquisition (SLA) in general. (OK, some of you are yawning). In all honesty though, it is a very fascinating field of study. I will spare you all of the research studies that I know about, but for those of you who know or speak a second language, did you ever stop to think about how you learned that language? I'm not talking about how many years of classes, etc., rather, the actual way you processed that information to learn it. I've given a very brief and partial explanation of some theories and research on second language acquisition below. (Yes, I wrote it). However, there is way too much information in this field to write about in one blog entry. If you're interested in learning more, I highly recommend the following books: Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course by Susan M. Gass & Larry Selinker and The Study of Second Language Acquisition by Rod Ellis. Happy reading!

Many SLA scholars agree that the forms that second language (L2) learners produce are systematic (Corder 1967) and that L2 learners internalize a series of rule systems, which may be separate from both the native language (NL) and the target language (TL) (Selinker 1972). It is now well-known that second language errors cannot be predicted simply from a contrastive analysis of the native and target language features as Lado (1957) proposed. In phonology, syllabification errors have been used to test a competing hypothesis that L2 errors are also influenced by general learning constraints that apply across languages. Final consonants are assumed to be more difficult to acquire than initial consonants although the reason for this is still unclear.

A major focus in SLA studies has been the role that universal factors play in acquisition. Prior to then, the influence of transfer had been well documented, since the early work of Lado (1957). However, in 1971 Nemser reported that Hungarian learners of English used substitutions that occurred in neither native English nor Hungarian; likewise, Johansson (1973) noted that L2 learners of Swedish produced sounds that occurred in neither Swedish nor the native languages. These nontransfer substitutions have been termed universal developmental variants (part of Universal Grammar, UG) because they are similar or identical to those occurring in L1 acquisition. Although these substitutions had been well documented, there was no attempt to describe the interrelationship of transfer and developmental factors until Major (1987) proposed the Ontogeny Model to describe a relationship of these two factors for both chronology and style. This model described a strict hierarchical interrelationship between language-specific transfer factors and non-language specific universal developmental factors (which can be viewed as part of universal grammar). The model claims that transfer processes decrease over time, whereas developmental processes are at first infrequent, then increase, and finally decrease.

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