Language Learning vs. Acquisition Based Theory. Special Regards to the Age Factor

Term Paper, 2017

19 Pages, Grade: 1,7


1. Introduction

2. Similarities between second language acquisition and bilingualism

3. Acquisition versus learning

4. Differences between L1 and L2 acquisition

5. Interlanguage

6. Development stages concerning grammatical morphemes

7. The Age Factor

7.1. General assumptions

7.2. Arguments for and against the the younger the better position

7.2.1. The critical period hypothesis or the younger the better position

7.2.2. The the older the better position

7.2.3. The the younger the better in some respects position and the the younger the better in the long run position

8. Ziegésars' acquiring oriented method

10. Conclusion


1. Introduction


Second language acquisition[1] might be pursued for different reasons. In many European countries, and of course many other countries around the world, nowadays it is very common to learn at least two additional languages next to one's mother tongue. In Germany, for instance, students are taught English additionally to German at a very early age, sometimes as early as in kindergarten, which is ideally followed by a third language during secondary education, mostly Spanish or French, all in compliance with the European Commission. The European Commission aims at supporting language learning and thereby preserving and fostering linguistic diversity. As a European citizen one is encouraged to at least aspire multilingualism in order to:


– promote intercultural dialogue and a more inclusive society


– help the public to develop a sense of EU citizenship


– open up opportunities for young people to study and work abroad and


– open up new markets for EU businesses competing at the global level


Certainly this objective was set well-intentioned, and surely a great percentage of Europeans happen to be multilingual or at least bilingual, but most of them remain more on a, say, c´est la vie end of competence. This is due to English being the most taught foreign language, with its percentage exceeding 90% for lower secondary and general upper secondary education which of course only leaves a small percentage for the other European languages (Vassiliou, 2015).


Learning to speak is a natural part of a child's development, but how is it exactly acquired exactly and what are the differences (if they are any) between L1 and L2 acquisition?  Li Wei suggests to rephrase Chomsky's three basic questions for linguistics (1986) in accordance to Cook (1993) to accommodate the knowledge of more than one language to the following:


1) What is the nature of language or grammar in a bi- or multilingual person's mind, and how do different systems of language knowledge coexist and interact?


2) How is more than one grammatical system acquired, either simultaneously or sequential? In what respect does bi- or multilingual acquisition differ from monolingual acquisition?


3) How is the knowledge of two or more languages used by the same speaker in bilingual interaction?[2]   


In order to get a better understanding of SLA one firstly and inevitably has to answer the question what language acquisition entails and how exactly it relates to the effect of age. Therefore Linguistic theories will be made use of to help drawing lines between acquisition and learning as well as L1 and L2 acquisition. One of the main aims of this paper is to explain Ziegésar's acquisition based approach to teaching grammar and explore its possibilities. Keeping in mind that instructed SLA (or better: assisted?) takes place in a certain environment, the role of the foreign language classroom will be discussed and evaluated.


2. Similarities between second language acquisition and bilingualism


One language sets you in a corridor for life.


Two languages open every door along the way.


Frank Smith


As this paper will be concerned with the acquisition of more than one language – with a presumed students' intent to excel in the target language and gain a bilingual level of proficiency – a linguistic perspective on the bilingual or multilingual mind is suggested.


What does a bilingual or multilingual level of proficiency entail exactly? There are definitions, proposing that anyone who can communicate in more than one language, be it active or passive, can be actually considered multilingual (Li Wei, 2008: 4) or even shorter: “everyone is bilingual” (Edwards, 1994: 55), suggesting that there is no one in the world who does not know at least a few words in another language than his or her own. As it seems one could argue that someone, for example an English speaker, appears to have at least some 'command' of a foreign tongue, even if he or she says or just understands gracias or c´est la vie. These rather loose definitions devised by Li Wei and Edwards are in stark contrast to others such as Bloomfield's (1933) who demands nothing less than the mastery of two or more languages at a native like level for a person to be assigned the title 'bilingual'. Between these two extremes regarding the degree of competence in the acquired languages involved, more vague interpretations of bilingualism are in existence, as in Weinreich's (1953) simple  proposal of it being the alternate use of two languages or Haugen's (1953) proposal, derived from his study of Norwegian in America, that bilingualism begins with the ability to produce complete and meaningful utterances in the second language. As for trends in linguistics, there seems to be a tendency to use the term bilingual more loosely, maybe not to the extend of dubbing each and every person bilingual, but definitely more on the c´est la vie end of the continuum.


To elaborate a little bit more on the useful distinction between passive and active competence, which are also called receptive and productive competence respectively, the former is restricted to merely understanding the meaning of it, while the latter means that the bilingual person is able to understand and produce an utterance in the particular language. Persons who happen to use their receptive competence exclusively are also called semibilingual (Edwards, 1994: 58).


One can become a multilingual individual through different experiences: some acquire both or more languages simultaneously since birth, others might first acquire their first language L1, their native tongue and learn other languages later in life, either through formal language education in school or informal learning.


Whenever one wants to express an idea in his or her L2, does one think of the word first in one's L1 and then translate it into the L2, or think of the word first in one's L2, or is there yet another possibility? Following Weinreich (1953) with his psycholinguistic perspective on the cognitive processes involved in receiving and producing multilingual speech might help gaining a deeper understanding of the matter. He distinguishes three types of bilinguals, calling them coordinate, compound and subordinate bilinguals, depending on the relationship of the respective languages. If the speaker combines a linguistic sign from each language with a separate unit of semantic content then he or she belongs to the class of coordinate bilinguals, if one identifies two linguistic signs but views them as a single compound unit of semantic content the second class applies, and if a learner acquires a new language with the help of the earlier attained one, without a doubt he counts as a subordinate bilingual.


Since this paper is concerned with the acquisition of a second language in the foreign language classroom, the author of this paper opts for the level of proficiency as described by Haugen (1953), because students need to bring their competence to the point where they can perform meaningful utterances in order to make themselves understood and participate in conversations. But even more importantly as stated by Krashen: “the role of the second or foreign language classroom is to bring a student to a point where he can begin to use the outside world for further second language acquisition (1982: 160f).”


3. Acquisition versus learning


In order to gain a better understanding of the intricacies of language acquisition in comparison with language learning, and to find answers to such questions as whether learning a language would be more comparable to acquiring a skill such as riding a bike or playing a musical instrument. Would it be more comparable to gaining knowledge such as learning mathematical rules or historical facts, or could it actually be neither or both? Depending on the context of learning, it might be advisable to have a closer look at students learning a foreign language as a subject at school. The conscious learning process involved in memorizing facts about the target language, is oftentimes referred to as declarative knowledge or explicit knowledge. This can include facts about grammatical phenomena, such as adding the 'plural marker s' towards the end of an item, or tidbits about cultural knowledge, as in knowledge about 'beefeaters', or why people who go to gaol might be less inclined to fear that they might be given the needle than their American counterparts. Additionally, it is even more likely that language learners might gradually gain unconscious control over the target language by using it actively for functional and also communicative purposes. Correspondingly this results in unconscious knowledge oftentimes referred to as procedural knowledge or implicit knowledge. Some linguists claim that while both children and adults may learn a language, acquiring (a) language(s) is a feature exclusive to children before their puberty (Krashen, 1982: 10). Whether this holds any truth will be looked at more closely in the section: The Age Factor.


4. Differences between L1 and L2 acquisition


There are some significant differences between first and second language acquisition. One obvious factor seems to be the age, whereas L1 is usually acquired in the earliest stages of life and therefore at a time where most of the cognitive abilities still need to be developed, L2 learners have attained basic cognitive concepts, such as object permanence, means-end awareness and, of course, metalinguistic awareness. Therefore “L2 learners come to the language learning task equipped in a very different way from the L1 acquirer” (Hummel, 2014: 19). This might be one of the reasons, why L2 learners often seem to prefer to learn through explicit exposure to the grammatical rules of the target language, relying on their analytical minds and logic. Young children usually lack this ability. Another difference is the L2 learner's fully developed linguistics system on which they might rely on. This contributes to affective as well as emotional differences, i.e. whereas young children usually apply language to satisfy their basic needs for food, or other basic care and security, L2 learners' motivation might differ greatly from seeking education to understanding one's favourite singer/musician. Furthermore, it is possible that because deeply embedded feelings are already linked closely to one's L1, similar feelings might be less tightly linked to the target language. 


Other phenomena, which are closely linked to the L2 learner's having already a linguistic system to fall back on, are transfer and interference. Both occur when aspects, such as pronunciation, vocabulary, or grammar, of the first language are used in the target language. This might hinder as well as help L2 learners with their acquisition, depending on the similarity between both languages. Hummel (2014) also compares the social expectations of both learners, L1 and L2, and concludes that particularly for the adult L2 learner who is learning a language in a new country expectations are higher, even though there is considerable tolerance for second language learners. Still, an adult is expected to communicate accurately and fluently.

Excerpt out of 19 pages


Language Learning vs. Acquisition Based Theory. Special Regards to the Age Factor
Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel
Teaching Grammar – Approaches, Methods, Examples
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language, learning, acquisition, based, theory, special, regards, factor
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Sylwia Ekmann (Author), 2017, Language Learning vs. Acquisition Based Theory. Special Regards to the Age Factor, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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