A critical analysis of Vygotsky and Piagets theory of language learning

Term Paper, 2013

17 Pages



1. Introduction

2. Literature Review

3. Vygostky’s Socio-Cultural Theory

4. Piaget’s Theory Of Cognitive

5. Conclusion

5. Bibliography / References


Linguists with the collaborations of Psychologists have presented various theories of cognitive development and language learning since the time unknown, these theories have influenced the learners’ learning behavior in a particular area over a specific time when a particular theory was in force. These theories were not only followed but many of them empirical tested and tried which finally allowed the Linguists and Psychologist to impose them, simultaneously some of them were not empirically tested (Krashen’s Monitor Model) but remained in the practice due to their immense worth and importance or reliability among the linguists and educators in the cognitive set up.

Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (1896 – 1934) and Jean Piaget (1896-1980) were 20th century contemporary philosophers and psychologists, they presented their theories for the child’s cognitive development, however their theories were entirely different and opposite to each other except very little agreement, they exert a tremendous influence over the schooling environment of children. These theories were not only practiced but also remained in force time to time. Vygostky was Russian psychologist who died earlier at the age of 38, due to tuberculoses but he has written more than 100 articles and books, Vygostky’s major work remained in Russian language (until its translations in 1960) but some of the translations are available now, Vygostky wrote about language and thought, cognitive and learning development, psychology of art and educating the students with special needs.

Vygostky’s Socio-cultural Theory emphasized the importance of culture and language on one’s cognitive development with scaffolding and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) while Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory suggests children’ progress through the stages of cognitive Development through maturation, assimilation and accommodations. Although they both believed in the cognitive development order among the children, children passes through progressive steps in their life to learn through dialogue and cultural tools (Vygotsky) and discovery methods and social transmissions (Piaget).

Some linguist investigators and educationists have challenged the theory of Piaget of cognitive stages or theory have been criticized for it was a failure by Piaget who could not better explain as to how children progress from one stage to another, at the other hand Vygotsky has also been criticized on the belief that cognitive development can possibly be best understood only when it could be view in cultural and social contexts.



Vygostky’s socio-cultural theory states that children learn through social interactions and their culture, it is the culture which shapes the cognitive development (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p.78), Vygostky believed that many of our human activities are shaped by the cultural settings, human can’t do anything without social interactions, Vygostky also believed that our mental approach and processes in human mind are can be traced through social interactions (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 79). These simple interactions shape the cognitive structures which regulate cognitive structure and thinking processes (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 79). Vygostky is of the opinion that the individuals mental functions can’t be derived from social interactions but particular processes and functions of the individuals can be traced to their interaction with others (Daniels , H.(2005) An introduction to Vygotsky (2nd Ed.), p. 290 ) Vygostky suggested: “The social dimensions of consciousness is primary in time and in fact. The individual dimensions of consciousness are derivative and secondary” (Vygostky 1978, Daniels , H. (2005) An introduction to Vygotsky (2nd Ed.), p. 290) According to Vygostky that the source of learning and cognitive development is triggered by the social interactions of the human rather than solely in the mind of the learners, the individual can’t be properly understood or studied in isolation but as man is social animal so an individual can properly be studied in social contexts and interactions, in a culture and in a society. (Swain, M. et al. (2011), Socio-cultural Theory in Second Language Education: An Introduction Through Narratives)

Socio-Cultural Theory stresses individual’s role in development of co-operative dialogues between the children and educated persons of the society which may be helping hand for effective input among the children by the individuals from the their own culture and society, in this way children also learn the culture of their own community, they would learn their own language, way of living, thinking and behaving through the interactions (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 79). Vygostky believed the language of certain tribe, group or community have clear signs and indications of its cultural beliefs and values, similarly the individual can show its cultural affiliation of a certain lifestyles of a particular tribe or community.

According to Vygostky, the most important part is to be played by the language in the cognitive development, Vygostky believes in the centrality of language as a tool for thought or a powerful means of mediation (Mitchell, R. & Myles, F. 2004, Second Language Learning Theories, 2nd Ed. London: Hodder Arnold, p. 194, 195) Vygostky further elaborated his socio-cultural theory by explaining the importance of Cultural Tools through mediation and language, Co-constructed process, self-regulation, scaffolding and Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

Cultural Tools: Vygostky gave the importance to cultural tools which also play a very effective role in cognitive development; according to Vygostky, the cultural tools may be technological or symbolical which supports in communication (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 80), these tools, according to Woolfolk (2004) can be real tools from day to day life which includes printing presses, rulers, abacus, (keeping in view the modern era computers, internet, and PDAs etc cab be the technological tools) and symbolic tools which are numbers and mathematical signs, maps, works of arts, codes and signs (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 80). Vygostky emphasizes cultural tools has a tremendous role to play in cognitive development, he stresses that these cultural tools supports thinking, he also believes that all higher mental processes such as thinking and reasoning are supported by these cultural tools which are mediated by the psychological tools (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 80) which promotes learning and learning It is mediated process, from the socio-cultural point of view, it mediates through control of mental tools (Mitchell, R. & Myles, F. 2004, Second Language Learning Theories, 2nd Ed. London: Hodder Arnold, p. 194, 195). These tools help students to improve their learning advancement which allow them to be better peer when they have interacted with their adults by exchanging their ideas and opinions. Children’s cognitive development progresses as they have taken the ideas by themselves according to their own culture or by interacting with more capable individuals of their own community or group (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 80).

Co-constructed process: According to Vygostky (1978), “Co-constructed process is a social process in which people interact or negotiate to create an understanding or to solve a problem” (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 80). Vygostky (1978) believed that every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first it is observed at social level and then at later stage at individuals, its first implication is among the people (Inter psychological) and then inside the child (Intra psychological). It means that high level mental process first functions among the people as they are co-constructed during shared activities (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 79), after receiving co-constructed help, children internalize the use of cultural tools and can easily and properly use the tools in the future on their own(Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 79).

Private Speech: According to Vygostky (1978), Private Speech is a self talk, which guides the thinking and action of the children. “Private Speech is considered to be self directed regulation and communication with the self, and becomes internalized after about nine years” (Woolfolk, A. 2004) Vygostky (1978) suggested that private talk or speech of the children enable them to plan their activities, monitor them and self-regulate them, it does not need the direction or guidance at the time of private muttering but that private talk or speech enable them to guide their own thinking and actions (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 82). Similarly children self-regulate them when they are first guided by the parents and they imitate this guidance in isolation and stop them doing the same thing which was prohibited by the parents once, they use their silent inner speech. Usually children use this private speech up to the age of 5 to 7 years of age and it goes and replaces just thinking and guiding speech in whispering at the age of 9 (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 82). According to Vygostky (1978), this private speech when transforms into inner silent speech, is the important and fundamental process in cognitive development (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 82). Vygostky (1978) believes that this private speech becomes or changes into inner speech, which is the use of language which regulates internal thoughts without any external verbalization (Mitchell, R. & Myles, F. 2004, Second Language Learning Theories, 2nd Ed. London: Hodder Arnold, p. 198).

Scaffolding: Scaffolding is considered one of the most important principles of Vygostky’s Socio-Cultural Theory. According to Vygostky (1978), Scaffolding is a kind of support or help which is rendered in problem solving; it provides the help, hints or clues for problem solving, it gives a better approach to the students to solve the problems in future (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 82). Vygostky (1978) believes that the learning can be seen when there is an interaction with adult or more capable members of the culture which provides the insight to the children, these more capable persons play the role of guides or teachers providing necessary guidance or support for the solution of problems (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 84). Children get sufficient information in order to discover the outer world through the support or guidance of socially interacted individuals, these individuals may be from the family of child or a teacher or peer. This support may be called as assisted scaffolding which enables children to build of concept or understanding in order to solve a particular problem in future (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 84). Vygostky (1978) also believes that a child can be taught any subject effectively just by giving scaffolding in his zone of proximal development (ZPD), the use of scaffolding in the ZPD helps children to build and construct a new knowledge (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 84).

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD): Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is another important principal in the Vygostky’s Socio-Cultural Theory. Vygostky (1978) believes that there are some problems which are out of reach of children which a child cannot solve by himself without effective scaffolding in a shape of proper direction and help, the children could solve a problem in the zone of proximal development and can perform better a challenging task if the scaffolding is given rightly. The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is an area where a child can’t solve a problem by himself alone but it needs adult guidance which leads him to success, or the child can reach to its destination by the help of more advancer peer (Woolfolk, A. 2004 p. 86). Vygostky (1978) further defines the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is the difference at the mental process that what a person can achieve alone and how the same person after getting efficient scaffolding from the cultural setting or social interaction or a guide/teacher who is at the advance level of learning can accomplish the same task with greater proficiency or accuracy (Lantolf, J. 2000 p.17). Vygostky’s ZPD is not any physical place in the mind but it’s a metaphor for understanding and observing that how mediated ways and means are internalized (Lantolf, J. 2000 p. 17). The ZPD is a domain where learning can take place and where learner can function independently and is not capable of producing effective results but can achieve the desired goal or outcome if relevant scaffolding is given (Mitchell, R. & Myles, F. 2004, Second Language Learning Theories, 2nd Ed. London: Hodder Arnold, p. 195). Vygotsky (1978) proposes “that an essential feature of learning is that it creates the zone of proximal development; that is, learning awakens a variety of internal developmental processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with people in his environment and in cooperation with his peers. Once these processes are internalized, they become part of the child’s independent developmental achievement” (Vygotsky 1978 p. 90). According to Vygostky (1978) that students must be taught within their ZPD so that they can develop a relationship with the knowledge taught with proper scaffolding, then the scaffolding must be taken out fully but gradually to form an independent understanding of learning.


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A critical analysis of Vygotsky and Piagets theory of language learning
University of Sindh  (Institute of English Language and Literature)
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This research study was approved by the Institute of English Language and Literature, University of Sindh, Jamshoro, Pakistan for the partial fulfillment of M.phill assignments.
vygotsky, piagets
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Masood Akhtar (Author), 2013, A critical analysis of Vygotsky and Piagets theory of language learning, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/268010


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