Learning Strategies in First and Second Language Acquisition

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

32 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Introduction

2. Learning Strategies
2.1. Formulaic Speech
2.2. From Formulaic Speech to Creative Speech
2.3. Creative Speech
2.3.1. Establishing Rules Hypothesis Formation Hypothesis Testing
2.3.2. Automatizing Process

3. Learning Strategies and First Language Acquisition
3.1. Theories of Language Acquisition
3.1.1. Behaviourism
3.1.2. Nativism
3.1.3. Cognitivism
3.2. Formulaic Speech
3.3. Creative Speech
3.3.1. Hypothesis Formation
3.3.2. Hypothesis testing

4. Concerning Research Data
4.1. Items to look for
4.1.1. Formulaic speech
4.1.2. Creative Speech
4.2. Data Representing Learning Strategies
4.2.1. Pattern imitation
4.2.2. Overgeneralization
4.2.3. Extralingual inferencing
4.2.4. Metalingual hypothesis testing

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography
6.1. Electronic Resources

1. Introduction

Language itself as a means of communication as well as a carrier for thoughts, ideas and art is one of the factors that determine us as human beings. It distinguishes humans from animals and gives us the opportunity to pass along knowledge and memories. At the same time language is one of the most complex things our human brain has to master. It consists of a general concept of language, specific words and rules to use them. Moreover, language – in most cases – has to make sense in a specific context, otherwise it cannot be understood. Furthermore, the articulation of sounds and their reception is another highly complex process.

As speaking and listening is so complicated it has to be learned from the early childhood on by every single person. At a certain age children begin to feel the need to communicate their wishes and insights they already gathered from this totally new world – at least from their point of view. This is what we call first language acquisition. Another area of language learning is the one of second language acquisition. This term describes the learning of a new language that is different from the mother tongue, i.e. the language that was learned in first language acquisition. It is also used when a person learns his third or fourth language to distinguish between the language learned as a native tongue and the one(s) learned as (a) foreign language(s).

In both areas people somehow learn to communicate in a new way. Babies switch from pointing or crying to speaking and children or adults switch from using one language to using another. Here the question arises how they do it. Do they just learn some vocabulary by heart? Do they imitate other people's utterances and hope that they convey the meaning they hoped for? Today we know, that learning a language means using various learning strategies. These strategies are the topic of this paper. They are going to be presented to the reader first within the scope of second language acquisition. Later on I want to give some thoughts to whether the learning strategies described before may apply to first language acquisition as well. Finally some data on children's utterances shall be used to consolidate the previous considerations on learning strategies in first language acquisition.

2. Learning Strategies

Before saying anything about learning strategies it is necessary to take a look at what learning itself is. Normally thought of as simply sitting down, trying to put as much knowledge into one's head as possible, the act of learning is quite underestimated. As it is a much more complex process, I want to provide some helpful information on language learning and its product – L(2) knowledge – before discussing the learning strategies in detail.

As we all know, the production of language depends on the facts whether the speaker knows what to say and how to say it, including vocabulary as well as grammar and, on a further level, pragmatic competence. The first type of L2 knowledge is called declarative knowledge which means that the learner knows what to say. It “consists of internalized L2 rules and memorized chunks of language“ (Ellis 1986, 164). The second type of L2 knowledge, which is called procedural knowledge, is the “knowing how“, meaning that the learner has employed a set of procedures and strategies to process data from the L2 for acquisition and use. This procedural knowledge is split up into social and cognitive components. The first one refers to the behavioural way of learning. The second component comprises different mental processes of internalizing and automatizing new L2 knowledge as well as using additional knowledge to communicate in the L2. Thus procedural knowledge itself is divided into learning the L2 and using the L2. Ellis continues to further distinguish subcategories of using L2 but I want to stop here as we arrived at the stage which is the most relevant for this paper: learning the L2.

When it comes to learning, the most important factor determining whether a person is able to learn is the shaping of the input. If comprehensible for the learner he may turn it into intake and acquire new knowledge for himself. As we also observed, learning aims at different kinds of achievable knowledge. Either by imitation (social procedural knowledge) or by elaboration (cognitive procedural knowledge) the learner may arrive at a stage where he builds up rules for the L2. Following the line of cognitive procedural knowledge I now want to examine the learning strategies known to be used in L2 acquisition.

Yet, before doing so, it is necessary to introduce one more basic distinction, namely between formulaic speech and creative speech. Both kinds of speech have their own learning strategies that will be dealt with in the following.

2.1. Formulaic Speech

Formulaic speech (FS) “consists of expressions which are learned as unanalysable wholes“ (Ellis 1986, 167), which means that a speaker may produce an utterance he learned, knowing its function without knowing anything about its structure. For example the Japanese expression “Hajimemashite!“ is used to express the pleasure of meeting somebody and can be translated as “Nice to meet you!“. I might use this formula to greet a Japanese person and be successful. At least if my pronunciation is correct. Still I may have no idea if some part of this “Hajimemashite“ contains a verb or a noun. It is possible that the Japanese language uses the vocative here – if it exists in Japanese. These questions cannot be answered if the only phrases a speaker knows from a language have to be categorized as belonging to FS. Expressions which are totally unanalysable are called routines.

Nevertheless it might be possible to learn formulae which are at least partially analysed thus providing empty slots the speaker may fill with other words he knows. If a learner of Norwegian knows that “Hvor er...?“ means “Where is...?“ he may insert several words at the end like “banken“ (bank) or “sykehus“ (hospital) to ask for the way to these different places. Such items of FS are called patterns.

FS is very closely connected with the (urgent) need to express a specific meaning. It can be found in the speech of both adult and child learners in naturalistic second language acquisition (SLA) and in classroom situations. If we ask why FS exists Ellis provides us with at least two different answers. First he quotes Krashen and Scarcella by saying that “learners develop formula[e] as a response to communicative pressure“ (Ellis 1986, 168) and “they memorize a number of ready-made expressions to compensate for lack of sufficient L2 rules to construct creative speech.” (ibid.) The second explanation again comes from Krashen as he later also says that the “learner is forced to speak before he is ready.“ (ibid.) What most people finally agree on is the fact that the use of FS is quite “common in early SLA because it reduces the learning burden while maximizing the communicative ability.“ (ibid.) As we know now what FS is and why it appears in SLA, we may turn to the learning strategies involved in acquiring FS.

Pattern Memorization

It may be an interesting consideration that there is a suggestion that FS involves the right hemisphere of the brain which is in charge of holistic learning as the learner perceives L2 patterns as a gestalt rather than its constituents. Thus the first strategy is called pattern memorization. The learner pays attention to input, thus gathering L2 intake. Then these items are stored in the right hemisphere of his brain together with the information on how they are pronounced and in which context they appear. Again, a learner of Japanese will be quite fluent in saying “Hajimemashite!“ if he keeps hearing it from Japanese who encounter him, say, in the elevator or office. This leads us to the aids provided for the learner to acquire FS: on the one hand patterns have to be frequent to be remembered easily and on the other hand they have to be linked to a communicative function the speaker wants to perform (cf. Ellis 1986, 168). As pattern memorization works subconsciously, it cannot be activated by the learner deliberately. In fact he does not have to. Thus pattern memorization is a powerful means of achieving knowledge with the help of routines and patterns.

Pattern Imitation

While seeming very similar to pattern memorization, the learning strategy of pattern imitation works on a behavioural basis. In contrast to the former the latter strategy can be observed quite easily as the learner deliberately repeats utterances he hears to train himself in the foreign language. This is very common in classrooms where the audiolingual method is used. Here pattern practice is one of the activities used to learn a language. In naturalistic SLA pattern imitation can also be found when a speaker “imitates the previous utterance of a native speaker irrespective of its communicative appropriateness.“ (Ellis 1986, 169)

2.2. From Formulaic Speech to Creative Speech

As soon as a speaker of an L2 realizes that the chunks of language he already knows consist of constituents he is well on the way to learn creative speech. As it is believed that formulaic speech is the basis for creative speech in both first and second language acquisition this fits well with several phenomena. First of all a learner may switch from the simple use of routines to patterns. Thus he combines chunks of language in an appropriate way, already obeying simple rules of the L2. In time he realizes that even more rules exist and that the constituents he knows can be rearranged in rule-bound ways to come up with totally new expressions or utterances. There are different attempts to describe this phenomenon. Ellis quotes two authors who come up with different explanations: Firstly Fillmore suggests that “in SLA, formula[e] are slowly submitted to an analytical process that releases constituent elements for use in 'slots' other than those they initially occupied.“ (Ellis 1986, 169) In other words: constituents become movable within utterances so that patterns are more or less dissolved. Another idea comes from Seliger who proposes “that patterns initially learnt through right hemisphere abilities are brought to the attention of left hemisphere abilities, which work on them in order to analyse out their parts.“ (ibid.) Which concept is the correct one cannot be said for certain. Still both ways also rely on the fact that the learner is aided by a subconscious comparison of similar utterances to work things out.

2.3. Creative Speech

While formulaic speech is an important factor in early SLA, creative speech (CS) is what you're after if learning a new language. In contrast to FS which provides only few variations of speech CS is what we all use in our mothertongue. It clearly has the wider scope and enables a speaker to produce entirely new sentences according to the situation, the topic and the communicative goal. CS is “the product of L2 rules“ (Ellis 1986, 170) which “constitute the learner's interlanguage system“ (ibid.).

A lot of strategies have been proposed to explain this rule system. Ellis refers to Faerch and Kasper who suggest a helpful framework which can be used to examine these rules systematically. They distinguish those strategies that deal with establishing interlanguage rules and those involved in automatizing interlanguage knowledge. Additionally the establishing of rules is split up into hypothesis formation and hypothesis testing.

2.3.1. Establishing Rules

When a learner starts learning a language and maybe has already acquired some items of FS he still needs to internalize rules. Unfortunately this does not mean that he learns the right rules and uses them in the next upcoming conversation. Whether by listening to L2 input or waiting for the left half of his brain to analyse FS intake, every learner builds up rules that are more or less correct – nothing more than that. He forms hypotheses which then have to be consolidated if they turn out to be correct. Thus establishing rules starts with hypothesis formation.


Excerpt out of 32 pages


Learning Strategies in First and Second Language Acquisition
Technical University of Braunschweig  (Englisches Seminar - Abteilung Englische Sprache und ihre Didaktik)
Child Discourse
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Today we know, that learning a language means using various learning strategies. They are the topic of this paper. They are going to be presented to the reader first within the scope of second language acquisition. Later on I want to give some thoughts to whether the learning strategies described before may apply to first language acquisition as well.
Learning, Strategies, First, Second, Language, Acquisition, Child, Discourse
Quote paper
Matthias Gebhardt (Author), 2006, Learning Strategies in First and Second Language Acquisition, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/66292


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