Second Language Acquisition vs. Second Language Learning

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2010

20 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Definition of Terms and Abbreviations

3 Distinction between Second Language Acquisition and Learning

4 Acquisition
4.1 Ste phen Krashen
4.1.1 Acquisition-Learning Hypotheses
4.1.2 Monitor Hypotheses
4.1.3 In put Hypotheses
4.1.4 Influence of the first language/Transfer.
4.2 Differences Child/Adult SLA
4.3 Universal Grammar/Instinct

5 Learning
5.1 Robert De Keyser
5.1.1 Implicit learning
5.1.2 Arguments for Explicit Learning
5.2 Instructed SLA

6 Implications for Teaching

7 Conclusion

1 Introduction

Though neurological science, linguistics and neurolinguistics advance rapidly and gain new insights currently, one of human life's greatest mysteries still remains rather secret: New born children manage to acquire first steps of language really fast and almost gain perfection in complex grammatical abilities within a couple of years without someone instructing them about these features of language . In Contrast, adults undergo more or less great difficulties by learning a second language, additionally to their mother language and almost never attain perfection though spending a big effort. The question which automatically arises is the one concerning the differences between the two processes .

Dealing with this topic, two terms regularly appear: Acquisition, which means a more or less unconscious process of absorbing language, and learning, which most of the time means a conscious process of getting the ability to perform a second language . The first of the named terms is closely linked to children's abilities of acquiring their mother tongue knowledge unconsciously. Acquisition however is not a term only used for children . Some researchers take in the opinion that adults can absorb a second language in a similar way. Learning mostly aims on older children (students) or adults since it has to happen more or less consciously. With the hope of enhancing the possibilities for adults to learn a second language, researchers strive to analyze the different forms of language attainment to find the differences between acquisition and learning and to discover possible links between the processes . This paper wants to examine the two processes of acquisition and learning, compare them to find differences and possible similarities and try to find ways to make use of the processes by taking influence on them through intelligent teaching . The field contains multiple approaches and positions among the different researchers . Within this paper, I want to accentuate only two main notions of the research . One of them considers acquisition to be the only effective way to gain language knowledge, the other argues for learning . As representatives of the respective stream, I want to highlight Stephen Krashen's research for the acquisition position and Robert DeKeyser and Catherine J . Doughty on the learning side . Finally, I want to try to derive a couple of possible implications from the research which could enhance second language teaching for the future, before ending with a conclusion containing future prospects for the topic .

2 Definition of terms and abbreviations

Since the research on the mentioned field contains a great deal of terminology which sometimes overlap in the way that two or more different terms stand for one meaning or the other way round, it seems to be absolutely essential to define a standard terminology for this paper and to explain a couple of frequent abbreviations .

Most frequently used are the terms learning and acquisition . Learning, as mentioned before means a conscious process of trying to acquire a second language . Acquisition means an unconscious process . Second language acquisition means the unconscious or incidental acquisition of a foreign language, additionally to the mother tongue . Second language Acquisition can be abbreviated SLA throughout this paper while First language acquisition can be called FLA . The mother tongue or first language can be termed L1, while the second language will be denoted with L2 . If research has to be considered which uses a terminology contradictory to the mentioned one - especially regarding learning and acquisition, this will be mentioned explicitly.

3 Distinction between Second Language Acquisition and Learning

The basic main differences between SLA and learning have already been mentioned before and will be characterized more detailed later. But before a clear division shall be drawn via the contradictory streams favoring either SLA or teaching, a short excursion will show that the discussion is not limited to these two views . Some researchers namely don't want to differentiate between acquisition and learning at all . Watson-Gegeo and Nielsen for example adopt the position of Language Socialization and claim that a dichotomous distinction of acquisition and learning is completely wrong . Their main critique goes against Stephen Krashen and his theories of discrimination between the two processes . With their argumentation, Watson-Gegeo and Nielsen support other researchers like Borasch and Vaughan James (1994) which are “rejecting the idea that acquisition occurs almost exclusively in “naturalistic” (non-school) settings and learning in “formal” (classroom) settings [...] . ” (Watson-Gegeo/Nielsen 2003: 162) . Center of this Language Socialization view is the statement, that “all cognitive development is constructed in and profoundly shaped by sociocultural contexts, whether they be home, community, or school . ” {ibid.:162). This means that the classroom is an inherent part of social life in most cultures and therefore classroom teaching or learning is only one part of adopting a language within a big social context in which no clear separator can be drawn between learning and acquisition . “Language is siin as integrated into sociocultural behavior. ” {ibid.:163). The statements of the distinction opponents are backed up by several arguments from existing research like Ellis {1989) who comes to the result that “naturalistic and classroom learning results are identical” or Long {1988), who finds that “instruction even accelerates learning” . With the last argument, Watson-Gegeo and Nielsen once more aim against Krashen's pro acquisition point of view. In my opinion, this is not entirely consistent regarding the holistic socialization position because after all they distinct in person between learning and acquisition to confute Krashen . Another study to back the anti distinction sight is the one by Rivers {1994:73) who examined students in a Canadian French immersion program who, though sojourning in an optimal natural second language environment over years, weren't able to acquire the language nativelike, what should again refute Krashen's preference for acquisition . A last argument doesn't completely condemn acquisition, but rather states, that according to other studies like Willet {1997) child SLA and classroom speech show similar effects {Watson-Gegeo and Nielsen 2003:163) .

There might be truth in the contra distinction view in the sense that in real life there cannot always be drawn a clear border and that many social factors play together as a whole to enable language performance . But a research which wants to examine the problems of adult SLA to offer possible proposal for solution or improvement has to separate single factors of language acquirement to achieve some results at all . This is why our reflection proceeds with the separate view onto the individual processes of acquisition and learning .

4 Acquisition

4.1 Stephen Krashen

Stephen Krashen is an American Linguist . He was born in Chicago in 1941. Krashen studied for his PhD at the University of California in Los Angeles until 1972, later went to the USC School of Education and works as a Professor of Linguistics at the CUNY Graduate Center and the Linguistics Department of the University of Southern California . Krashen published over 350 papers and books concerning mostly linguistic topics . Krashen's main research centers on language acquisition for which he positioned several important theories . A couple of his hypotheses concerning Language acquisition or learning will be introduced in the following .

4.1.1 Acquisition-Learning Hypotheses

The central statement of Krashen's Acquisition-Learning Hypotheses is the one which is criticized most by other researchers like Watson-Gegeo and Nielsen mentioned in chapter 3 . Krashen strictly distinguishes acquisition and learning as two “different and independent ways of developing ability in a second language . ” (Krashen 1983:136) . Krashen directly links Second Language Acquisition to the process which children undergo when they learn their first language . Within the Acquisition-Learning Hypotheses, Krashen right away explains the basic function of acquisition, namely the input and storage of language and language knowledge . According to Krashen, acquisition happens unconsciously. This means that the person who is acquiring language does not know that she or he is acquiring language at this moment . For this reason, the typical acquisition situations do not take place in school, because normally, the intentional aim of going to school is learning (what doesn't mean that every gain in knowledge which happens in the classroom has to happen consciously - but this will be regarded more detailed later in this paper) . Examples for situations in which acquisition typically takes place are simple everyday life situations like “conversing, reading a book, listening to the radio” (Krashen 1983:136) or watching TV, while learning takes place consciously as a intended process with the deliberate aim of gaining language knowledge. So, reading a book, mentioned by Krashen as a typical acquisition process can also be a learning process if it happens with the intention of learning the particular language . Other typical learning situations are of course language classes in school or university etc. Krashen not only distinguishes learning and acquisition within the process of input. He claims that the knowledge which results out of the different input processes is stored in different ways within the human brain . According to his theory, knowledge which is gained through conscious learning, sometimes also called explicit or declarative knowledge (Odlin 2003:476) which is stored consciously as well . This means that we are aware that we have access to this particular learned knowledge at the time we need it . The logical correspondent to the conscious storing of learned knowledge is of course the unconscious or subconscious representation of acquired knowledge - the implicit k or procedural knowledge (ibid.) is there, but we don't know that it's there . The logical question which is resulting out of this statement is: Which utility can a acquired knowledge bring, if we don't even know that we hold it? Krashen responds to this question with the last step of his rule of three in the Acquisition­Learning Hypotheses which concerns the output of acquired and learned knowledge . Like input and storage, the output of acquired knowledge takes place unconsciously, too . Like a child can reproduce grammatically correct sentences in his L1 without knowing something about grammar, L2 acquirers also perform right by the help of a kind of automatism, which selects the matching subconsciously stored L2 knowledge . Learned knowledge on the other hand, has to be released consciously, meaning the L2 performer has to contemplate first, which of his consciously represented L2 knowledge he might need for the forthcoming situation (Krashen 1983:136)

4.1.2 Monitor Hypotheses

As mentioned before, Stephen Krashen is a representative of the view which prefers Second Language Acquisition before learning . Anyway, he doesn't deny the right to exist for learning . Which - admittedly restricted - roles and functions he assigns to learning is expressed within the Monitor Hypotheses . This hypotheses claims that the main system to gain fluency in L2 is the acquisition system . Learning respectively learned knowledge takes in the role of a so called Monitor, in Krashen's point of view merely a kind of auxiliary system for acquisition . The function of this Monitor is to sort of checking the output which is produced via acquired language knowledge . This function is restricted directly by Krashen with three limitations which make the work of the Monitor seem relatively ineffective in the end .


Excerpt out of 20 pages


Second Language Acquisition vs. Second Language Learning
University of Stuttgart  (Institut für Linguistik: Anglistik)
Hauptseminar: Language Contact
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
573 KB
second, language, acquisition, learning
Quote paper
Matthias Dorsch (Author), 2010, Second Language Acquisition vs. Second Language Learning, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Second Language Acquisition vs. Second Language Learning

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free