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Comniunicative Com{'ctence

1991 is tll'ailable in 1his nrticle, ye! tl!1other {!/ the 1v1y accessihle

str1te-r!/-!he-art s1111unaries i11 Language Teaching.

l)rcsser, Norine. 1996. ,\fullicultu ral Jlunners: i\letu Rules
a C!Janging Socet)~ Nc\v York:John \Viley & Sons.

o.t f:.'tquette _for

f<'rJr c1 popular treat1ne1tf (d. the topic (!/ 1101uY.:r!Jo/ conu11uncaliun.

nresser:., guide 1\ i1?/(JJ11u11l1e eo.1~)' rerulinp,.


[Note: See pages 18 and 19 of Chap[er l for general gukleiines for \Vriting

a journal on a previous or concurrent language learning experience.]

In your foreign language, would yvu say you are "con1n1unicatively co111petent"? Defend your response using son1e of the categories discussed in
the first part of this chapter.
Jviake two lists: activities your teacher uses (used) to pron1ote (a) C.r\LP
and (b) BICS. Do you agree with rhe proporrion of one to thc other,gJyen
the purposes of your class?
Are you satisfied with your progress in acquiring son1e of rhe discourse
features, conversation rules, and prag1natic conventions of your foreign
language? Describe what you think you can "<lo," in your language, in
t bese do1nains.
Is your foreign language gender-loaded in any 'i-vay? Desi.:ribe.
!)escribe the verbal and nonverbal n1aniJestations of differenr sryles
(frorn intin1ate to oratorical) in your forcign language.
I)oes your teacher engage in CI:r? EYaluate the n1ethodology of your
class on the basis of the four principles of CLT.

HE PRINCIPAL purf,ose of this book is to offer teachers an<l furure

teachers inforn1ation for developing an ntegrated unc!erstanc!ing of the

principies of second language acquistion (SLA) that underlie the pedagogicat proces.S' 111at purpost> has nccessarily inYohed tbenretical considerations. ,-\ theury, as I noted in the first chapter, is an extended definition.\'re
have cxanlined essential components of an extended definition of SLA.That
is, \\re ha ve ane1npted to ansvver the perplexing question "\-X11at is SI~A.?",-\_nd
~ve have seen th:u SLA is, among other things, not unlike firsc l:u1gu;ige
acqusition, is a subset of general hun1an learning, in-..olves cognitive \":triations, is closely related to one's personaliry rype, is inte.rwoven V>'ith seconJ
culture le:trning, and involves interference. the creation of nev linguistic
syste111s, and the learning of discoursc and con1m11nic;1iive function.s of language. Ali of lhese categories and the many subcategu:ies ~ub~~1.1~dc.::l uuder
then1 fc)rn1 rhe basis for structuring an integrated rheory of SL\.
Is there sucb :tn inlegraled, unifed theory of SLA, a ~tand;1rd set of constn1cts to \Vhich large ntunbers of researchers and teachers predominantl)
subscribe? The ans\\'er is, not exacrly. As surely as con1petin~ n1odels are
typical of all disciplines that atteinpr to give explan:lt'.Jf}' power ro con1plex
phenon1ena, so this field has its fair share of clain1s and hypotheses. each
vying for credibility and Y'.11irlity. \\..e can be quite content with this sr:ne of
affairs, for ir reflects the ini-ricacy of the acqui.;:ition process itself and the
variability of individuals and contexts. ()n the other hand, 'i-Ve havc disc1)vered agrear. deal about SL\ in many contexts, across proficicncy levcls. ;ind
withio n1any specit1c purposes.\Xie need not be apo!ogcric, rhercfore. ,1bour




CN/\PTEI? 10

Theories of Second Language Acquisi11on

the remaining unanswercd qucstions, for many of the questions poscd in

the last, say, five decades, have been effectiveiy answere<l.
In this chapter we will critically examine a nurnber uf current generalizations, hypotheses, and n1odels of SLA. Rcmember that such "opinion"
:.1.bout Sl.t\ n1ay represent one view of that metaphorical mountain of factors we talkcd about in Chapter 1. From such varied perspectives \VC
should be able to place a large number of variables (\vhich have been
clefined and_cliscusscd in this book) into a rcasonably consistent tapestry of
tactors. That seu:.constructed systen1 of variables is one's theory of SLA.

1. Age

-~~y~''r- ....,.....~v-~


{ CtJnlr'1Jt><;.il

L NJtve lJoguage

l(J say that second language learning is a complex process is obviously
trite. The pages of this book alone bear testimony to that co1nplexity. But
con1plexity means that there are so many separate hut interrelated factors
within one intricate entity that it is exceedingly difficult to brng order and
simplicity to that "chaos" (Larsen-Free1nan 1997). We n1ust nevertheless
pursue the task of theory building (Long 1990a; Spolsky 1988). Consider,
for a few n1on1ents, sorne of the domains and generalizations that describe
the skeletal structure of a theory.


f,,,ei;n lagudg(" Env;""'""~"I

{ Sec"nd Ldng~<1ge Em"'""'>l'H\

ll.l1nguJI trivn1Hlfn~"DI

Pl.ic"."' 1..,,1..ming

{ Ctmte.<t oiTeJtrin~

Free Le;irner

T>pe oi L.;!'\;>JJge Contac!

{ f<<nh L1r.guagl' Em:runmenl
f'~l'' lJn~ud;;c fC\v,runnwnt
T, e oi lft,uction

4. Input


lm1rucwd l"amer

{ Con(ext tJI Leammg

{ lk<ive
{ ln1,1rn;il

ni lmm.iction

Pl,1u_. qi lnstruct>o11

Nunob<ef oiYe;irs
{ Number nf Contact Ho"rs

Domains and Gcncrallzations

,\\a:er:JI ui lnstrunon

First, take a look at a ta..xono1ny that was proposed severa! decades ago
(Yorio 1976), rcpresented in Figure 10.1.This list of factors begins to give
you an idea of the man y different don1ains of nquiry that must be included
in a theory of SLA.
Certain factors subsumed in the chapter topics of this book are also a
set of dorr1Jins of con::;idcration in a theory of SLA:

Sourc<? of lnsttunion

Soc>o~col<"'ol focfoe>

S..i\ffe~fe Dom.in

1. A theory of SlA includes an understanding, in general, of what language i:;, \Vhat learning is, and for classroom contexts, what teaching
2. Knowledge of children's learning of their first language provdes
e~:;ential insights to an understan<ling of SLA.
3. I-Io-...vever, a ntunbcr of important differences between a<lult and
child learning and bet\-veen first and second language acquisition
must he carcfuily accounted for.
4. Second language learning is a part of and adheres to general principies of hurnan learning and ini-clligence.
5. There is trcn1cndous variation across learners in cognitive style
and \vithin a learner in strategy choice.

Ego<;entrK factqrs

f<.>reign l anguJge [rw:10n,,,er,~

Se<::ond L.1"guage Envm.HlnHmt
fl,nguJI f.wiwnrm~nl

Grade<l Materi,ol_ { Sn1u~rn r.;;:

Ungraded Matenal


{ Te;icher { Trammg

t\tti1ude Toward Native Cultur<'

Nt~tude To"..td Second L,1ng.._Jge Culture
AtMude Toward Native People
Attlt"de Toward S<?cond Language 1-'eople


Ego Perrneabihl;





6. [ducoilional !fatkgrnlmd

Numbet 01 Years
Non.Pro. ie,;sion~



{ PI

S d
ace " 1 (U \'

Gementary l~'Vel
S<.'c.on<lary 1evel
College Leve!

{ At11tude Towa1d fducatinn

!;dut;;it;onal Syst<?m

Education.ll System
{ held oi Study

{ Swcialization

Figure 10.1. Classification of learner varic1.bles (Yorio 1976: 61)




rrR 1O


7heories of Second l. angu,igc Acruisiffi)n

Jhconc> n!Secood Languaw1Acq1n"tino


3. Tbere are predictahle sequences in acqnisition so that certain

structures have to be acquircd before others can he integrated.

6. Personality, the way people vie\.v then1selves and reYeal then1selves in con1munication, will affect both the quantity and quality
of second language learning.
7. Learning a seconU culture is often intricately intert\vined wirh
learning a second !anguage.
8. The linguistic contrasts between the native and target language
fonn one source of difficulty in learning a second 1.1.nguage. But the
creative process of fonning an interlanguage system involves the
learner in utilizing 1nany tJcilitative sources and resources.
Inevitable aspects of this process are errors, fron1 \\"hich learners
an<l teachers can gain furtht"r insight.
9. Coinmunicative co1npetence, \.vith ali of its subcategories, is the ultin1ate goal of leamers as they de~tl \.Vith ftu1ction, discourse, register,
;u1d nonverbal t1spects of hun1an inter.tction and linguisric negotiation.

4. Practice does not nake perfcct.

5. Knovving a language rule <loes not mean one will be 3.ble to use
it in co111nn1nlcative interaction.
6. lsolatcd explicit err~)f correction is usually ineffective in
changing langu'age bchavior.
7. F()f n1ost adult learners, acquisilion stops-'fossilizes"-before
the learner has achie\cd nativelike n1a::>tcry of the target language.
8. ()ne cannot achieve n:tti\elike (or near-nativelike) con1mand of a
~econd language in one hour a day.
9. The learner's task is enonnous because L1nguage is enonnously
10. A learner's abiliry to understan(j language in a meaningful conte.x:t exceeds his or her ahility to comprchend decontextualized
language an<l to produce language of comparahle coinplexity and

Ilowever general those nine staten1ents are, they, along \\ith taxonon1ies
such as Yorio's, conscitute a framcwork for a theory of SLA. That framework
has had substance built into it in the course of each chapter of this book.
111e inte1relationships within that framework have been <lealt with. One
cannot, for example, engage in contrastive analysis and dr;l'i\.' implications
fron1 it without knowledge of the place of nterference in hun1an learning
in general. In comparing and contr.isting first and second !anguage acqui+
sition, it is impossible to ignore affective and cultural variables and differences between adult and child cognition. Detennining the source of a
secon<l language learner's error inevitably involves consider..ltion of cognitive strategies and styles, group dynamics, and even the Yalidiry of clatagathering procedures. No single component of this 'theory .. is sufficient
alone: the interaction an<l interdependence of the other con1ponents are

A sin1ilar set of statements was made by Lightho;yn and Spada (1993)

outlining son1e myths about Sl..A-\vhat one should not conclude to be
necessarily a correct generalization. Certain claims about SLA demand caution; our response to them n1ight be prefaced with a \Vell, it depends .. sort
of caveat. Following are son1e of those "pop11hr idc;is" that may not be supportec! by research (Lightbown & Spada 1993: l 11-116):
1. Languages are learned n1ainly through ilnitation.
2. Parents usual1y correct young children when they make errors.
3. People \Vith high IQs ar.e good hnguage !earners.
4. The earlier a second language is introduced in school progran1s,
the greater the likclihood of success in le'.1.rning.
5. "(l.lnst of the m1st3.kes that second langnage learners n1ake are due
to interference fron1 thelr firs1 language.
6. Learners' errors ~hould be correcrecl as soon as they are n1ade in
order to prevent the fonnation of bad bahits.

A theory of SLA is really an interrelate<l set of hypotheses and/or clain1s

about how people bet'o1ne proficient in a second Janguage. In a sun1ma.ry
of research findings on SL\, Lightbown (1985: 176-180) n1ade the follo\ving claims:

\\le havc seen in this book that the above staten1ents-if they are nor do~'11
right t:1Jse-require considerable expansion, contextualization, and 1nodiJi-

l. Adults and adolescents can "acquire" a second language.

2. 1'he lea.roer creates a systematic interlanguage that is often characterized by the san1e sys1en1atic errors as [thosc otl the child
le:1rning the same language as the fir.st language, as \Ycll as others
that appear to be based on the learner's O\.Vn nati\'e language.

cation bcftne \.Ve can clan1 their Vt'.racity.

Unlike Yorio's (1976) list and the nine items that synopsized the
chapter to pies of thb book, most of Lightbo\vn 's gener:!lizatiuns and 1ny1hs
do more than define a don1ain. They hypothesize direction~llity ~:vitln a
do1nain. and are thercfore the subject of debate. Jte1n 6 in tht first





11woe> of Second Lrnguage Acqui;dion


Theories of Second LanguJge Acquisition


lf a theory avoi<ls just these four pitfalls, thcn perhaps it is on its way to
achieving adequacy.
- ;\'lichael Long (1990a: 659-660) also tackle<l the problen1 of theory
building in a number of suggestions about "the leasf' a theory of SLA needs
to explain. He offered eighr criteria for a con1prehensive theory of SL-\:

(Lightbo\vn 1985) list, for example, sten1s from stu<lies that fail to sho\v that
explicit error (:rrcction causes a per1nancnt change in language production. Such a claim, ho\vcvtT, may be rnitigatcd by 1nany teachers who have
gathered observJ.lionai evidence of the positivc effects of error treatment
in the clas::.roon1. Ncvertheless, all such claims are the beginnings of theory
building. As "\VC ca.refuHy ex:innc each claim, add others to it, and then

l. Account for universals.

2. i\ccount for environmcntal factors.
3. Account for variability in age, acquisltion rate, antl proficiency
leve l.
4. Explain both cognitive and affcctive factors.
5. Account for form-focused learning, not just subconscious acquisition.
6. Account for othcr variables besides exposure and input.
7. i\ccount for cognitive/innate factors 'vhich explain interlanguage
8. Recognize that acquisition is not a steady accumulation of generalizations.

refine thetn into sets of tenable hypotheses, we begin to build a theory.

Criteria for a Viable 'fheory

IIow do we know if we have thc appropriate components of a theory of
SLA? One ans-\ver to this question rnay lie in an exatninaton of
chaos/complcxitr th.eory. Diane LarsenFreeman (1997), outlining similarities between chaos theory and SL.A, argued that SLA is as much a
<lynanc, cornplex, nunlinear syste1n as are physics, biology, and other sciences. 'fhc path)ay that one learner takes in or<ler to achievc success is
Jiffcrent, and sornctirucs rnarkedly so, from another's. Like predicting the
patterns of 11ocking birds or the course of droplets of water in a waterfall,
certain laws are axlomatic, but the sheer number and co1nplexity of the
Yari.J.bles involved n1~cke SIA exceedingly clifficult to predict a priori.
Larsen-Freeman (1997) suggested several lessons fron1 chaos theory
that can hclp us to designa theory ofSLA. I have synthesized her com1nents

Thc process of theory building n1ay be best illustrated in the forn1 of

several models of SLA that have appeared in recent history. These correspond to the schools of thought introduced in Chapter 1 and reintroduced
throughout the book. While there is no viable behaYioristic nlodel of SLA
(it would be far too limiting), 've can identify a major innatist model, nvo
cogn1tive models, and a social constructivist theory. As you rcad on, look
back at Larsen-Freen1an's an<l Longs Usts here and decide for yourself the
extent to which each model fulfills the criteria. \Ve begin with Kr.tshen 's
innatist, or creative construction, model of SLA.

l. Beware of fabe <lichoto1nies. Look for co1nph'.'.1nentarity, inclusiveness, and L'1terface. We ha ve examined a nun1ber of continua in
this bouk; it is important to see them just as that, and not as
2. Beware of linear, causal approaches to theorizing. The "butterfiy
eftect" in chaos thcory reminds us that the fluttering wing of a
butterfly in the An1azonian forcst can have a chain of reactions
ar,d inttrrcactlons th<H extend 1Jl rhe way to the P'Hh of a ht1rricanc in Ilav\/a: . SIA is so complex -vvith so n1any interacting factors that to state that there is a single cause for a SLA effect is to


TIS'f MODEL: KRASHEN~""".,, /jo

HYPO'fHESIS "'---/-~ .Ji


()ne of thc inost ~~~ntroversial theoretical per<ipective:; i11 'LA~~ il"!. i:he las~
quarter of the twentieth century \\'<lS offered by Stephen Krashef1. (1977,
1981. 1982, 1985, 1992, 1993, 1997) in a host of articles arre! books.
Krashen s hypotheses ha ve had a number of different names. In the earlier
years the "Monitor Model" and the i\cquisition-Learning I-Iypothesis'' \vere
n1ore popular ter1ns; in recent years the ''.~.~H?l.l~ JiypotlJi,:::,sis'.: has come to
identify \\hat is really a set of t1ve interrelate hypotht:ses., These five
hypotheses are surnmarzed belo\\.

go too far.
3- Beware of ove:rgencralization. Pay attention to details. The
smallest, apparently most insignificant of factors in learning a
seconJ language 1nay turn out to be in1portant1 But on the other
4. Beware of reductionist thinking. It is very tempting, vvith any
chaotic, co1nplcx system, to ovcr:;ilnplify by taking sorne little part
of the -..vholc and extracting it fron1 the '"'holc system.

l. The AcquJs,!ti91:1,:~~?:!J.ng,"liY:P. Q.tb.~si.s; Krashen clairned that

adu!t sccond language learners ha.-e two mcans for internalizing the target



' J":"'f

Theories oi Second Lan,i;uag' Ac1uisirion


_)ob' \S Jo CV'\'--'- +v= ' ~"" f'""~

. \::o.eec\ """ ~\+s n:>.+\.oer ~""' en ~""'-"'\ed\;:ie .,,~


i 00\"''"'-

c~~eie\y r-.

language. Thc first is acquisition,'.' a subcon~ci us and\intuitive ~rocess of

constructing the systen1 of a language, not unlike the process used by a
child to ''pickup" a language.'fhe secon<l n1eans is a conscious 'Jearning"
process in which learners attend to forn1, figure out rules, and are generally
;1"\vare of their own process. According to Krashen, ''fluency in second language perfonnance is due to \vhar we have acquired, not \Vhat \Ve have
Jearned" (198la: 99) ..t\dults shoukl, therefore, do as much acquiring as pos~
sible in order to achieve communicative ftuency; othenvise, they ~rill get
bogged down n rule learning and too much conscious attenrion to the
fonns of ianguage an<l to \vatching th1:ir own progress.
JVforeover, for Krashen (1982), our conscious learning processes and
our subconscious acquisition proccsses are mutually exclusive: learning
cannot "becon1e'' acquisition.This clan of"no interface" between acquisition and learning is used to strengthen rhe argun1ent for recon1mcnding
large doses of acquisition activity in the classroom, with only a very n1inor
role assigned to learning.

D-fAl-'Tfl\ JO


1\-Iy own bias ... is to avoid use of the tern1s conscious and unconscious in secon<l language theory. I believe that these tern1s are
too laden with surplus n1eaning and too difficult to define empirically to be useful theoretically: Hence, my critique of Krashen's
distincrion betv.reen learning and acq11isJtion~a distinction that
assumes that it is possible to differentiate 'vhat is conscious fr9n1
v.that is unconscious.
In l\'[cl.au:;hlin's view, then, a la;igu::ge acqui:-:ition theory that appeals to
conscious/subconscious d.stinctions is gre<ltly weakened by our inability to
identify just v-rhat that distinction is.
A second criticisn1 of Krashen's views ;,irn_se 01n of the claim tbat there
is no interface~no overlap-bet'\Yeen :icquisltion ;ind learning. \"Ve have
already secn over ancl over again in this bonk th::it :'o-calle(] dichotonlies in
hun1an beh;-ivior almost always define the endpoints of a continuun1, and
not nn1nully exclusive categories. As Gregg (1984: 82) pointed out,

An in1portant pa1:t of the Input I-Iypothesis is Krashen's rcco1n1nendation that speaking not he taught direcrly or very early in the language classroon1. Speech wil! "e111erge" once the acquirer has built up enough
co1nprehensible input (i + 1), as \-Ve saw in Chaptcr 4 in a discussion of the
Natural Approach.

c1.o 0 'r


Kra.shen plays fast and loose \,:irh his de-finitions

. If unconscious kno~v1edge is capable of bcing brought to consciousness,

~fec:\- r=' \,,,,,,\. ,,~ cuC-- 1

-rl>o.t yc0 V\a'-'e -TheV>-->

wl1ere the

The- first tv10 of Krashen's hypotheses have intuitive appeal to

teachers in the field. \Vho can deny that we shonld have less "learning" in
our cl;1ssn1on1s th;in traditional l:ingu,tge progr:-tms offer? V/ho in their right
mind \vou!J refute the irnportance of learners engaging in some\vhat
u111nonitored 1neaningfu communicarion in the cL1ssroom? And the natural
order hypothesis is, after ali, supportcd in sorne research (Larsen-Freeman
& long 1991). Finally, the effectiveness of providing a reasnnable ch;iUenge
(i + 1) ro students in a supportive. low-anxiety envirnnment can hardly be
denied by any teacher.
It is ur1.fnrtunate that SLA- is not as simply defined as Krashen \voul<l
claitn, and therefore his assumptions have been hotly dispute<l (e.g., de Bot
1996; Swain & Lapkin 1995; Brumfit 1992; Whitc 1987; Gregg 1984;
ivicLaughlin 1978, to nan1e but a few). McLaughlin (1978, 1990a), a psychologist, sharply criticized Krashen s rather fuzzy distincrion bct\veen sub
conscious (acquisition) and conscious (leaming) proces'>es. Psychologists
are still in wide disagreement in their definitions of "the notoriously slip
pery notion" (Ocllin 1986: 138) of consciousne._s_ lVIcLanghlin (1990a: 627)

4. The Input Hypothesis. The Input Hypothesis cJaims that an,

ilnportant "~9Il.9.!:ttQn for langnage acqui.sition to 9-S~~tr is that the acquirer /
ll:?!flcrstc;__n<l (via hearing or reading) it?J?.l!.Ll~ng:n;J.ge__ tJ_1~1_L~onta!~_1s structu~e
'a bit beyond' his_or __he.r current level q_f_(,:'on1pet_e;_fl~!'.- ... If an acquirer is at
stage or level i, the input he or she understands shoukl contain i + 1"
(Krashen 1981; 100). In other words, the language that learners are exposed
to should be just far enough beyond their current con1perence th;1t they
can understand n1ost of it but still be challenged to make progres~. 'fhe
corollary to this is that input should neither be so far beyond their reach
rhat they are overwhelme (this n1ight be, sa}~ i + 2), nor so close to their
current stage that they are not challenged ar ali (i + 0).


-Hypothesis. Kr:1shen has further clain1ed

whCre .anxiet_y_ __~__ 10,w

~d_"_~,E!~~1~_!XS?H.t;,)'.J!1?,.~n~-- S)_fi_ !!!... ~~~):~:~?_'~

""1't<:s1:iyi;, .fi!ter''.L' l ()W.

3 .. '.fh~~Natu:ral 0:rJl~r"!~Y1!_Qth~siS. Following the earlier n1orpheme

order stu<lies of l)ulay and Burt (1974b, 1976) and others, Kra.shen has
claimed that we acquire language rules in a predictable or natural" order.


T~~__ AfJ~e:tive--Filttr'


that rhe-tt~stJ~_cq1sJxJnn ___wH.Lq_i;:;_~1ii;IU::en:v:ir.onn1ents_

2. !!J-~::~.Mpnitor Hypotp__~siS-, The monitor" i~ involved in learning,

not in acquisition. It is a devicc for"watchdogging" one's output, for editing
and making alterations or corrections as they are consciously perceived.
C)nly once fluency is establishecl should an optimal an1ount of monitoring,
or editing, be en1ployed by the learner (Krashen 1981a).

""- \-. ~ V\ ycu '"''Vid

Theurie5 of Second Language Acquis1ti0n




Theories of Second Language Ac4usit1on


and if conscious knowledge is capable of becorning unconscious-and this secn1s to be a rcason~tblc a:-.suinption-then
there is no rca;;on TI'hatever to acccpt Krashen 's claini, in thc
abscnce of eviUcncc. And there is an absence of evidence.

Theories o Sccond Language Acquisiton


Such studies, coupled with a great <leal of intuitive observation of successful learners, suggest that Krashen 's comprehensible input must ar the
very least be complemented by a significant a1nount of output that gives
credit to the role of the learners production. While Krashen (1997: 7)
staun~hly maintainetl that in the L.1nguage classroom "output is too scarce
to n1ake any important impact on language development," Swain and
Lapkin (1995) offered convincing evidence that their Output Hypothesis
was ar lea.<;t as significant as input. if not n1ore so, in cxplaning learner success. ln a revie>:v of the ()utput Hypothesis, de Bot (1996: 529) argued that
"output serves an mportant role in second langUage acquisition ... because
it generates highly specific input the cognitive systcm nee<ls to build up a
coherent set of knowledge."
Finally, it is important to note that the notion of i + J is nothing ne-'iv.
lt is a reitera.tion of a general principle of learning that we have already discussed in this book (Chapter 4). >'leaningfulness, or "subsumability" in
Ausubel's terrns, is that which is relatable ro existing cognitive structures,
neither too far beyond the structures (i + 2), nor the existing strucrures
themselves ( + O).J3ut Krashen presents the i + 1 formula as ifwe are acn1ally able to define i ami J, and we are not, as Gregg (1984),White (1987),
and others have pointcd out. Furthermore, the notion that speech will
"emerge" in a context of comprehensible input sounds promi~ing, an<l for
sorne learners (bright, highly n1orivated, outgoing learners), speech "\vill
in<leed emerge. But we are left with no sgnificant information from
Krashen's theories on what to do about the other half (or rore) of our language students for Whom speech does not "en1erge" and for >vhon1 the
"silent period" 1night last forever.
Krashen 's innatist model of SL\ has ha<l wide appeal to teachers ~ho
cry for something sirnple and concrete on which to base their methodology. lt is easy to see its appeal since, on the surface, thc clain1s that are
made scem to reflect accepted principies of SLA. But in their oYersimplicity, the claims havc been exaggerated. Nevertheless, in the final analysis,
oddly enough, I feel we owe a debt of gratitude to Krashen for his bold, if
brash. insights. They havc spurrect many a resear<.:her to look very carefully
at what we do know, what the research vidence is. and then in the process
of refutation to propose plausible alternativcs. We continue now >vith severa! of these alternative theoretical perspectives.

Second language learning clearly is a process in which varying degrees

of learning and of acquisition can both be beneficia}, depending upon rhe
learner's own styles and strategics_ Swain (1998), Doughty and Willan1s
(1998), Buczowska and Webt (1991), Doughty (1991), Ellis (1990b),
Lightbown and Spada 1990, and Long (1983, 1988) have ali shown, in a
nun1ber of empirical research studics, that Krasben's "zero option" (<lon't
evcr teach gra1nn1ar) (see Ellis 1997: 47) b not supported in the literature.
Instruction in conscious rule learning and other types of fonn-focused
instniction, as we saw in (]1apter 8, can indeed aid in the attaininent of successful Coffilnunicative c01npctence in a second language.
A thirJ difficulty in Krashcn 's Input :tirpothesis is ibund in bis explicit
clain1 (1986: 62) that "con1prchensible input is the only causative variable
n second language acquisition." In other words, success in a foreign Ianguage can be attributed to input alone. Such a theory ascribes little credit
to lcarners and their O\.vn active engage1nent in the process. Moreover, it is
in1portant to istingui,:,h bet,vcen input and intake. 1~he latter is the subsct
of all input that J.i..::tually gets assigne<l to our Jong-ter1n n1emory store.Just
in1agine, for e:xample, realling a book, listening to a conversation, or
watching a movie-in any language. This is your input. But your ntake is
"\Vhat you take v.ith you over a perio<l of time and can later remen1ber.
Krashen (1983) did suggest that input gets converted to intake through a
learner's process of linking forms to n1eaning and noticing 'gaps" hetvveen
the learncr's current internalized rule syste111 and the ne\\' input. Others
bave noted, however, that these processes "are not clearly operationalized
or consistently proposed" (:\litchell & J\'lylc;s 1998: 126). So. \Ve are still left
\.vith a theory that paints a picture of learners at the n1ercy of the input that
others oftCr.
Seliger (198:)) offcred a much broa<lcr conceptua!ization of the role of
input that gives learncrs more credit (and bian1e) for eventual suct:ess.
Certain learners are .what he called High Input Generators (I-IIGs),
people who are gooJ at initiating and sqslaining interaction, or "gencrating" input from tca(;hers, fcllow learners, and uthers. Low Input
Ge11crators (LIGs) are more pa:,sve learners who do little to stick their
necks out to get input dirccted tovvanJ the1n. In two studies of secon<l language lcarners, Scligct found that "learners \Vho maiutained high level.s of
interaction [I-IIGs] in the second language, both in the classn)on1 and outsie, progressed ata fasLcr rate t:han learncrs who interacted littlc [l.IGs] in
the classroorn" (p. 262).

It is quite tempting, with Krashen. to conccptualize SLA in terms of conscious and subconscious processes. In explaining the ditference benveen a
child's andan adult's second language acquisition, our first appeal is to chil-


CHAl'TfR 70

e; !:\l'Tfl.: !O

Theories of Second Languag(o Acquisition

of the net. Everything else ahour the gan1e is far too cornplcx for your

capacity-lin1ited ahility.
Automatic processes, on the othcr hand, refer to processing in a more
accomplished ski!l, \'\rbere the .. hard Orive" (to borro\V a con1puter
n1etaphor) of your brain can n1anage hundrcds and thousands of bits of
inforn1ation sin11ittaneously. The auton1atizing of tbis mnltiplicily of data is
accon1plished by a process of restructuring CVlcLeod & :\'lcLaughlin 1986:
NicLaugblin 1987, 1990b) in \Vhich "the cornponents of a task are coordinated, integrated, t)r reorganized into ne\v units, thercby al!owing the ... old
components to be replaced hy a more efficicnt procedure" (i\-1cLaughlin
1990b: 118). Restructuring is conceptually synonyn10us with Aut:-ubel's
construct of subsumption discussed in Chapter 4.
Doth ends of this continuun1 of processing can occur with eithcr focal
or peripheral auention to the task at band; that is, focusing atrention
either cenrrally or si1nply on the periphery. Ir is easy to fall into the ten1p
tation of thinking of focal attention as 'conscious" atrenrion, htlt such a pitfall 1nusr be avoided. Both focal an<l peripheral attention to sorne task may
be quite conscious (I--Iulstijn 1990): \Vhen you are driving a car, for
example, your focal attention n1ay center on cars directly in front of you as
you move fon:vard; but your peripheral attention to cars beside you and
behind you, to potential hazards. ;ind of course to the other thoughts .. running through your 1ninct: is 211 -.;;ery n111ch \Vithin your conscious J\\'Jreness.
\V'hile many controlle<l processes are focaL snn1e, likc child first language Iearning or tbe Iearning of skills \Vithout any insrrucrion, can be
peripheral. Sin1ilarly, inany auton1atic processcs are peripherai, but son1e
can be focal, as io the case of an accomplished pi:1nist perfonning in a concert or an experienced driver paying particular attention to the road on a
foggy night. It is very nportant to note that in Yirtua!l~, cvery act of perforn1ing something, focal and peripheral attention actual!y occur sinn1ltaneously, and the question is: \'>;'hat, specifically, occupies a person s focal
and peripher.I! attention? :)o, for e_\.ample, a very y0ung child who say,; to a
parent 'Nobody don't like me" is undoubteclly focally anending to conyeying en1.otion, n1ental anguish.or loneliness,and peripherally attending to
\vonJs and rnorphen1es that underlie the central n1eaning, <Jthl'.r t'.1ctors
that garner attentin somewhere in between centrally focal and extren1e!y
peripheral may be reading the p~trent's facial fearures, 1nenral recall of an
uncotnfortable incident of rejection, awarencs.-; of a sibling overhearing the
con1n1unication, and even such peripheral nonlinguistic, noncognitiYe factors as the ternperature in the room at the mo111ent, a ligln in the hackgrouncL the sn1ell of dinner cooking, or the vvarn1lh of the parenr's ar111s

"<oLaughlin's Attention-Processing Model ..

So, if we rule out a consciousness continuum in constructing a viable
theory of SL\, and we do not hold child first language acquisition up as the
ideal n1odel of language acquisition, we must look else\.vhere for the foundation stones of a theory. A more sound heuristic for conceptualizing the
JanguJ.ge acquisition process, one that <lid indeed avoid any direct appeal
to a consciousness continuum, was proposed by Barry l':lcLaugh1i1rand his
colleagues (McLaughlin 1978; ~lcLaughlin, Rossman, & ~1cLeod 1983;
McLeod & l'v1cLaughlin 1986; l'vlcLaughlin 1987, 1990b). Tber 111odel juxtapo.se.s processing mechanisms ( controlled ahd automatic) and categories
of attentiori to form tour cells. (see Table 10.1).
Controlled processes are "capacity limited and ten1porary1" and aut()n1atic processes are a relative.ly permanen(" (l\Jclaughlin et Jl. 1983: 142).
\Ve can think of controlled processing as typical of anyone learning a brand
new skill in which only a very few elements of the skill can be retained.
\Vhen you first learn to play tennis, for example, you can only manage
the elements of, say, making contact between ball and racquet, gctting the

Table l 0.1. Possib!e second language performance as a function of intormation-.

processing procedures and attention to formal properiies of language (1Vlclaughl1n et
al. 1983)




(Cell /.,\
Perormnce bzised on
formal rule learning
(Cell Cl
Performance basi?d on
ii:iplicit learning or analogic

(Cell B!
Periormance in a test


hall over the net, and hining the ball into the green space on the orber side

dren's "knack" for "picking up" a language, \Vhich, in everyday rern1s,

appears to refer to what we thini} of as subconscious. But there are tv.'o
problems with such an appeal: (a) a:s both Mclaughlin (1990a) and Schmidt
(1990) agreed, "consciousness" is a tr_icky term, and (1)) younger (child lan~
guage acquisition) is not necessarily better (Scovel 1999).


Thcnries nf Second Language Acruislirm


(Cell Dl
Pcrtorrnance in




o-rAPTE:R 7O

Theories o Second Language Acquisitioo



the chikL Ali of these perceptions, from highly focal to very

penpheral, are . \Yithin the awareness of the chiltl. McLaughlin ( l 990a)
noted that the htcrature in experin1ental psychology indicates that therc is
no long-term learning ( of new material) without awareness, an observation
well ~oct.tmente.d by Loew ( 1997) and Sclunidt (1990) for second Ianguage
learn1ng 111 particular. A cognitive perspective of SLA entirely obvia tes the
neecl to distinguish con:,t.:ious and subconscious processing.
How <loes ivicLauglin 's modcl apply to practica! aspects of Iearning a
second languagc? I have atten1pted to "de111ystify" sume of the rather complex constructs of the at.tention~pro~essing mo<lel in 1'able 10.2. It is important to not~ that these cells are described in terms of ones processing of
and attentJon to language forms (grammatical, phonological, discourse
rules and categorie.s, lexical choices. etc.). If, for exa1nple, peripheral attention is give~1 to_ langage forn1s in a more advanced language classroom,
focal atten~1on is no doubt being given to n1eaning, function, purpose, or
per:on. Chtld second language learning rnay consist a1n1ost exclusively of
per1pheral ( cells C an<l D) attention to language forms. Most adult second
language lear.ning of language forms in the classroom involves a moven1ent

Another set of constructs for conceptualizing the varied processe.s of

sccond language learning is foun<l in models that make a distinction
between explicit and implicit linguistic knowledge. In the e.xplicit_ category are the facts that a person knows about language and the abity to
articulate those facts in son1e ,,;ay. Explicit processing differs from
McLaughlin's focal attcntion in that explicit signals one's knowledge about
language. Inlplicit kn(Y~vledge is information that is automatically and
spontaneously use-d in language tasks-~Children in1plicitly learn phonological, syntactic, sen1antic, an<l pragn1ati<..: rules for language, but do not have
access to an explanation, explicitly, of those rules. Implicit processes enable
a learner to perform language but not necessarily to cite rules governing
the performance.
Atnong those ,.vho have proposed n1odels of SLA using the
itnplicit/explicit distinction are Ellen Bialystok (1978, 1982, 1990a), Ro<l

Ellis (1994a, 1997),and Nick Ellis (1994a). Bialystok's (1978) diagmmmatic

conception of SLA (see Figure 10.2) featured a flow chart sho,ving implicit
and explicit processing as central ro the total act of learning a second language. Bialystok later (1982: 183) equated in1plicit and explicit '\-Vith the

Peripheral, aut01natk: attention-processing of the bits and pieces of language is thus an ultirnate cornmunicative goal for language learners.
Table 10.2. Practic::d ;:ip!icJtions oi Mclaughln's attenticn-processing model


A "'grJrnn1atical expL:inZltion of a
specific point
"' vvorcl tlefinitlon
.. copy a written mode!
the..~ stages of "memorizing"


e "'

sirnple greeting:;


"keeplng an eye out" for










--.... __






0 scanning
" editing, peer-ed!ting


\ Practking

talking or writng

prcfabricat.::d patterns
VJrious discrete-point

the later slages o "memorizing"

a da!og
"'TPR/Natura! Approach
"' ne\v L2 learner successful!y
c01npieles a hrief convcrsJ.~ion

--------- Functional Practicing


l Formal

"' advanced L2 !earner

focuses on inodals, clause
fonnation, etc.
" ntonitoring oncself while

a c.a1og



well trained, practiced
skill capacity is relatively


Implicit and Explicit Models

from cell A througb a combination of C and B, to D (DeKeyser 1997).

new skiil, capacity limited

Theuries of Second Language Acquisition


open-endcd group

"' rapid re;;ding, skimming

" free writes
" norm.:il conversational
exchanges of sorne length

- - - Processes
--------- Strategies

Figure l 0.2. fvkicie! of seconci language !earning (adapted from Bialystok 1978: 71 \


n-1,\P!U? 1O

CJ--P.PTEI?. 10

Theories o{ Stconrl Langu,1gc Acruisition

Theories of Second LanguageAcquisition


nature of the interplay between learners and their peers and their teachers
and others with whom they interact. The interper~nnal context in --~vhich
a le:irner operares takes on great significance, and therefore, the interaction
betV\.'een learners and others is the focus of observation ancl explanation.
One of the most widely discusscd social constructivist positions in the
field emerged frorr: the wurk of ;\lichael Long (1985, 1996). Taking up
where in a sense Krashen left off, Long posits, in what has come to be
cailed the :interact:i.on hypothesis, that comprehensihJe input is the result
of modified inte:raction. The latter is defined as the v:1ri0us n1ndifications
that native speakers and other interlocutors creare in order to render their
input comprehensible to learners. As we saw in Chapter 2, in first language
contexts parents modify their speech to childre11 ('"1nther to b:1hy:";\lo1nmy
go bye bye now"). Native speakers often slow do-...vn speech to second language learners, speaking more deliberately. ;\1odific:Itions also include con1prehension checks: "Go down to the subway-do you know the \Vord
'subway'?"; clarification/repair requests: "Did you say 'to the right'?"; or par
aphrase;;: "I went to a NewYear's Eve party, you know,january lst, I mean.
Decemher 3 lst, the night befare the first day of the ne-w year...
In Long's view, interaction and input are t'iVO m'1j0r pl::iyers in the
process of acquisition. In a radical departure from an old paradigm in
whch second language classrooms might have been seen as contexts for
"practicing" grammatical stn1ctures and other langu:Jge forn1s, conversation
and other interactive communlcation are, according to Long, the basis for
the development of linguistic nlles. \Vhile Gass :-nd V~u:onis (1994) ably
pointed out that such a view is not suhscribed to by ali, nevertheless a
number of studies have supported the link between inreraction and acquisition (S\vain & Lapkin 1998; Gass, Mackey, & Pica 1998; van Lier 1996:
Jordens 1996; Loschky 1994; Gass & Varonis 1994: Pica 1987). In a strong
endorsement of the power of interaction in the language curriculun1, van
Lier (1996: 188) devoted a whole book to "the curricuh1111 as interaction:
llere, principles of awareness, autonomy, and authenticity lead the learner
into Vygoi-sk;l's (1978) zone of proximal devel0pment (ZPD) (see
Chapter 2), V\-here learners constn1ct the ne\v l:1ng11age through socially
mediated interaction.
Lest you assun1e that this genre of research and teaching possesses
unquestionably final answers to di1cmn1as of ho\v best to teach and learn
second lang1i:-tges, a word of precaution is in order: lnteractionist research
has just begun, an<l it has begun mostly in the context of \Vestern cultural
settings. The studies that are so far avaibble are fragn1entary with regard to
pinpointing specific linguistic fearures, stages of learner develnpn1ent, pragmatic contexts, and pedagogic:il sertings. And, as aln'":1ys, one side of rhe
second language mnuntain of research must be con1p:ired \Vith orher perspectives. A broaclly basecl theory of SL\. inust encon1pa~s 1nodels nf

synonyn1ous terms unanalyzed an<l analyzed kno\-vle<lge: "Unanalyzed

kno\-vlc-Jgc;: is the general form in which \Ve know n1ost tlngs vvithout
heing aware of the structure of that kno\vledge"; on the other hand,
lcarntTs are overtly aware of the structurc of analyzed knowledgc. For
example, at the unanalyzed extre_n1e of this knowledge Jimension, \earners
have little a\van:ness of language rules, but at the analyzed end, learners can
verbalize coinplex rules governing language.
These san1e n1odels feature a distinction bet\-veen auton1atic and
non-automatic processing, building on l\.1cLaughlin 's conception of auton1aticity. Auto1naticity refers to the learner's relative access to the kno\vledge. Knowlcdge that can be retrieved easily an<l quickly is auton1atic.
J(nowledge that takes tin1e and effort to retrieve i.s non-auton1atic. As \Vas
true_ for the Mcl.~n1ghlin 1noel, hoth forn1s of attention can be either analyzed or unanalyzed. An important din1ension of this distinction is tinle.
Processing tin1e is a significant factor in second l:tnguagc perforn1ance, one
that has pcdagogical salience in the classroon1.1'he length of tin1e that a
learner takes before oral production perforn1ance, for example, can be
indicative of the perceived complexity of certain langu:ige forms in a task.
J'vlehnert (1998) found that planning time had a significant effect on the
accuracy and fluency of second language learners production.
The constructs of auto1naticity/nonauton1aticity and of explicit/implicit
ki10\vledge have dra\vn the attention of numerous researchers over rhe past
decade or so. ()n the one hand, argu1nents \Vere raised about the identificarion 0f just \\'hat we mean by in1plicit and explict (Hulstijn 1990;
Robnson 1994, 1995, 1997), and responses offered (sce Bialystok l 990b,
for exa1nple). ()n the other hand, sotne usefnl applications have en1erged in
Rod Ellis's (199"'-i, 1997: l 07-133; 1-Ian & Ellis 1998) proposals of a theory of
c!assroo1n instruction using implicit/explicir continua. I-Iere, we are given
~otne suggestions for gratnm;ir consciousness raising, for exan1ple, in \Vhich
soJ11e explicit attention to language fonn is blended wirh implicit con1municave tasks.


The preceding t\-VO general thcoretcal positions, Krashen's Input
flypothesis and the cognitive n1o<lels of SLA, both focus to a considerable
extent on the learner. As such, they reprCsent \\'hat Firth and \Vagner
( 1997: 288) calle<l "SL\'s general preoccupation \Yith the lear11er, al the
expense of other potcutially relevant social identities." The social constructivist pcrspectives that are assoclated \Vith 1nore current approachcs
to bnth first and second langu:tge acquisition en1phasize thc dynan1ic




Iheories of Second LanuJge Acquisition

U IM'1ER ! O

learner~internal processing (such as thosc previously discus.sed) as well as

thc socially constructed <lynanlics nf interpersonal con11nunication. (See
Table 10.3 tVr a su1n1nJ.ry ofthe previously discussed perspectives.)
The othei si(_i.e of the story is that Long's Interaction IIypothesis has
pushe<l pe<lagogical research on SLA into a new frontier. It centers us on
t~1e language classruo111 not just as a place where learners of varyng ahili~
tics and stylcs and ba<.:kgruunds n1ingle, but as a place where the contexts
far interaction are carcfully designed. lt focuses Jnaterials and curriculum
developers on creating the 0pli111al environ1nents and tasks for input and
interaction such that thc learner will be stimulated to create his or her ovvn
learner language in a socially con!)tructed. process. Further, it reminds us
that the rnany variables at work in an in1:eractive classroom should prin1
teachers to expect the unexpected and to anticipare the novel creations of
learners c11gaged in the process of discovery.


The field of secon language learning and teaching has for man,.- <lecades
novv bcen plagucd by JcbaLes about the relationship between tl;eory ancl
practice. Peo!c n1ig1H say, "\'\/ell, how <lo I apply so-and-so's theory in my
c~assroom?" Or,as Kra0he11(1983:261) once saiJ,"When \Ve [Krashen] prov1de theory, we proviJe tben1 [teachers] with the underlying rationale for
meLhodology in general." Typically, theories ;ire constn1cte<l by professors
an<l researchers "1.Vho spcn<l lots of ti.tne hypothesizing, describing, measuring,
and concluding things about learners and leai11ing. Just as rypically, practit!ner.s ~re thought of as tcachers who are out there in cL1.ssroont.., every day
stunttl..'ltmg, encouraging, obsening, and a_<.;sessing real-live learners.

Table 10.3. Theories and mode!s of SLA

subconscious acLui:,ition
superior to ,_ie;nning"
anJ "n1onitu1
con1prchcnsible inpu(


low affective filter

natura! arder of
"zero option" fo1
gramnrn.r instructon

[iV\cLaugh li n/B ia lysto kj
control led/automatc
processing (1\icl)

attentlon (Mcl)
restructuring (Mcl)
linplicil vs. explicit (B)
e unanalyzed vs. analyzed
knowledgc 18}
form-focused instruction


ntake through social
o outul hyothesis
\$\-\ J.in)



1'he last century of language teaching history, operating within this

theory-practice, researcher-teacher <lichotomy, has not been completely
<levoi<l of dialog betv;een the t~vo sides. Thc cycles that are represented in
the ln the Classroorn vignettes throughout this book were the resu!t of the
interplay bet~veeu in-class practice: and beyond-class research.We moved in
and out of paradigms (Kuhn 19'70) a.s inadequacies of the ol<l ways of doing
things were replace<l by better "'ays. These trends in language teaching
were partly the result of teachcrs and researchers con1municating with
each other. A.;; pc<lagogical approaches and techniques were conceiYed
and tlevelopcd, essential data \Vere provitle<l for the stimulation of
research, v,rhich in turn suggested more effective \vays of teaching and
le~rning, and the intenlepen<lent cyclc continue<l.
'fhese historical n1ileposts notv.rithstanding, the custom of leaving
theory to researchers and praCtice to teachers has beco1nc, in Clarke's
(1994) wortls, "dysfunctional." 1"he unnecessary stratification of laborers in
the san1e vineyard, a <lysfunction that has been perpen1ated by both sides,
has accorded higher status to a researcher/theorist than to a practitioner/te:acher. Thc latter is 1nade to feel that he or she is the recipient of
the former's findings and prognostications, with little to offer in return.
W'hat is becoming clearer in this profession now is the importance of
vie\ving the process of language instruction as a cooperative dialog an1ong
many technicians, each endO\\'Cd with special skills. Technicians' skills vary
Vvidely: progratn cleveloping, textbook ~vriHng, observing, measuring variables of acquisition, tcacher educating, syntheszing others' findings, in-class
facilitating, designing expcriments, assessin;, applying technology to
teaching, counseling, and the list goes on. There is no set of technical skills
herc that gets uniquely co1nmissioned to create theory or another set allocated to "practicing" something.
\Ve are ail practitioners and wc are all theorists. We are all charged
with developing a broadly based conceptualization of the process of language learning and tcaching. \XC are all responsible for un<lerst:inding as
much as we can how to create contexts for optima\ acquisition a1nong
learners. Whenever tnat un<le;.-;;:.;:nding c::!1ls for putting together diverse
bits and pieces of kno\\'lcdge, you are doing son1e theory building. Let's saj
you have son1e thoughts about the relevance of age factors, cognitive style
Vttriations, intercultural communication, and stiwJ.tegic co1npetence to a set
of learners and tasks; then you are co11structing theory. Or, if you have
observed son1e learners in classroon1s and you discern common threads of
process an1ong them, you have created a theory. And \vhenever you, in the
role of a teacher, ask pertinent questions about SLA, you are beginning the
process of research that can lead to a theoretical statement.
So, the ages-old theory-practice debate can be put aside. lnstead, all
technicans in the various subfields of SLA are called upon to assun1e the


Theories u Second Langua~e Acquisition

H!Gs \Se!iger)


C/-IAf'TER l O

Theories of Second Langoage .1\cquisition

n-nr>in: 1O

responsibility for synthesizing the myria<l findings an<l clairns an<l

hypotheses-and, yes, the would-be theories-into a coherent understotnding of vvhat SLA is and how learners can be successful in fulfilling
their classroon1 goals. This rneans you, perhaps as a novice in this field, can
in<leed forn1uL1te an integrated understanding of SLA. You can take the
infOrmation that has been presented in this hook and create a rationale f'Or
language teaching. In due course of time, as you engage in professional discourse with your teamn1ates in the field, you will be a part of a community
of theory builders that talk \Vith each other in pursuit of a better theory.
I-Iow do you begin to jon this corun1unity of theory builders? I-Iere are

Theuries oi Second Languagc Acqui~itinn


bypothesis ("the younger the belter"), you n1ight first play the believing
g::une by etnbracing thc state1nent in a genuine cli;_;_log \:Vith the claimant.
After a discussion of conrext, learner variables, methodology, and other factors, it is quire !ikely tbat both of you will become clearer ahout the claim
and \Vill reach a rnore halanced perspective. Thc alternative of quickly disn1ssing the clain1 as so much balderda.sh teaves little roon1 open for an
intelligent exchange.

2. Appreciate both tbe art aud science of SLA.

so1ne suggesrions:

Not unrelated to balancing believing gan1es and douhting ga1nes is the

noton that SLA can he seen as both an art and a science. Severa! di:cades
ago, Ochsner (1979) 1nade a plea for a "poetics" of SLA research in \vbich
we use t~vo research tra<litions to <lraw conclu.sions. One tracltion is a
nomotl1etic tradition of en1piricism, scienrific n1ethodology, and predic
tion; this is the bchaYioristic school of thought referred to in Chapter L On
rhe other hand, a hermeneutic ( or, in Chapter 1, the cogniti,e/rationalistic) tra<lition provides us \Vith a n1eans for inte11)retation and under
standing in which we do not look for absolutc la~vs. "A poetics of second
language acqui:;;ion lets us shift our perspectivcs," according to Ochsner
(p. 71), \Vho sounde<l very much like he had been reading Peter E!how~
Schu1nann (1982a) a<lopted a sitnilar point of vicw in recomn1ening
that we see both the "art" and the '"science' of SLA research. Noting that
Krashen and J\'IcI.aughlin have had t\\'O different experiences then1selYes in
learning a second language, Schutn<'!nn suggests that "Kra~hen\ and
?vlcLaughlin's vie\vs can coexist as t\VO different raintings of the language
learning experience-as reality sy1nbolized in nvo different ways" (p. 113).
His concluding re1narks, however. lean to\\Tarc! vie,Ying our research as art.
act"vantageous hecause such a vie\\' reduces the neeJ of closure and allovs
us to see our '\vork in a larger perspective vvith less dogn1atisn1 and ego
involven1ent. In short, frees us to play thc believing gan1e n1ore ardently
and 1nore fruitfully.
111e artfui sicle ot theory building v.ill surely invdlve us in rhe creatiYe
use of n1etaphor as we seek to descrbe that \Vhich cannot al"\vays be en1pirically <lefined. Son1e scholars caution against using n1etaphur in describing
SL\ beca use it gives us "lcense to take ones clans as ~nmerhng less than
serious hypotheses" (Gregg 199.3: 291). But Lantou (1996) n1ade a plea for
the Jegitin1acy of n1etaphor in SL.\ theory bnilciing. l\.-luch of our ordinary
language is 111etaphorical, \vhether we realize it. or not, and a goocl n1any of
our theorctical statements utilize metaphor. Think of sotne of the tern1s
used in this book: transfer, <listance. filter, n1oniror. eqnilibration. :1uton1atic,
device. l"O\V '\Vuld vve describe SLA without sucll tern1s? (I h~rve pushed

.'a:J both tbe believing game and tbe doubting game.

Throughout this book, we have seen that truth is neither unitary nor unidin1ensional. \Ve have seen 1at definitions an<l extended definitions are
never sin1ple. Just as a photographer caplures 1nany facets of the same
mountain by circling around it, truth presents itself to us in n1any forrns,
and sometimes those forrus seen1 to conflict.
1'his elusive nature of truth was addressed by Peter Elbow (1973), \\.rho
noted that ruost scholarly traditions are too myopically involved in what he
called the "doubting garue" of truth-seeking: trying to find soruething \.Vrong
\Vith son1eone's claim or hypothesis. The doubting game is seen, incorrectly, as rigorous, disciplined, rational, and tough-nndecl. But ElbO'\V contended that \VC need to turn such conceptions upsi<le <lown, to look at the
other end of the continuum and recognize the itnportaoce of what he
called the "believing gan1e." In the believing game you try to find truths, not
errors; you make acts of self-insertion and selfinvolvement, not selfextrication. "It helps to think of it as trying to get inside the head of
someone \Vho saw things this \Vay Perhaps cven constructing such a
person for yourself. Try to have the experience of someone \Vho made this
assertion" (Elbow 1973: 149). Elbow was careful to note the interdependence of the believing garue and the doubting gan1e. "The t~vo gan1es are
.The two gan1es are only ha!ves of a full cycle of
thinking' (p. 190).
If you "-.rere to try to unify '1r ro integrate everyrhing that every second
language researcht'r concluded, or even everything Usted in the previous
sections, you could not do so through the doubting gan1e. But by balancing
your perspective wth a belicvlng attitude toward those clen1ents that are
not categoricaHy rule out, you can maintain a sense of perspective. lf
someone "\Vere to tell you, for example, that your clas:, of adult learncrs v.rill
\Vithout questiou experience difficulty because of the critica! perio<l





Theories of Second Lcmgua;e Acquisition


thc metaphorical envelope in the vignctte at the end of this chapter.) It

would appear that as long as one recognizes thc Hntations of metaphors,
then they have the po,ver to n1aintain the vibrancr of theory.

Theories ofSccond /_anguageAcquisition


ations where one has neither an answer nor an algorithn1 for obtaining it'"
(Baldwin 1966: 84), fills the voi<l.
There is an1ple evi<lence that good language teachers have cle,elope<l
good intuition. In an informal stucly of cognitive styles among ESL learners
a few yearS ago, l asked their teachers to predict theTOEFL score that each
of their students would attain when they sat for the TOEFL the follo\ving
week.The teachers had been with their students for only one sen1ester. yct
their predicte<l seores an<l the at:tual TOEFL results yielded the highest
( +.90) correlations in the whole study.
Ho\V do you "lcarn intuition? rhere is n simple answer to thb question, yet so1ne ingredients of a rationale are apparcnt:

3. Trust (to so1ne extent) your inluition.

Teachers p,enerally \Vant to "kno\v" that a method s "right," that it \Vill '>\od;:
successfully. We want finely tuned progra1ns that n1ap the path,vays to successful learning. In other words, we tend to be born doubters. But the
believing gan1e provides us \Vith a contrasting principie. intuition.
Psychologcal research on cognitivc srylcs has sho,vn us that people tend
to favor either an intuitivc approach or an analytical approach to a
probletn. Ewing (1977: 69) noted that a.nalytical or "systen1atic thinkers
"generJ.lly excel in problen1s th:it call for planning au.1 organization, as
\-vhen one set of nu111bers n1usr be worked out before another can be analyzed." ()n the other hand, he vvent on,"intuitive thinh.ers are likely to excel
if the problem is elusive an<l difficult to define. 'fhey kcep coming up with
different possibililics, follo~ their hunches, and don't con1nlit thetnselves

l. First, you need to internalize essential theoretical foundations like

those we have been grappling V.'ith throughout this book.
Intuition is not <levelope<l in a vacuun1. It is the pro<luct, in parr,
of a firm grounding in what is kno\.-vn, in analytical tern1s. about
how people learn languages an<l why sorne people do not learn
2. Second 1 there is no substitute for the experience of standing on
your own tv.'o feet ( or sitting down!) in thc presence of real
learners in the real world. Intuitions are forn1ed at the crossroads
of knowledge and experience. As you face thosc day-by-day, or
even minute-by-minute, struggles of finding out \vho your learners
are, deciding what to teach thein, and designing ways to teach,
you learn by trial, by error, and by success. ''{ou cannot be a
master teacher the first tne you teach a class. Your failures. near
failures, partial successes. an<l successe.s all teach you intution.
They teach you to sense what \vill work and \-vhat -;vill not 'vork.
3_ A third principie of intuition learning follo,vs from the sccond.
You must be a willing risk-taker yourself. Let thc creativt juices
within you flow freely. The wildest and craziest ideas should be
entertained openly and Yalued positively In so doing, intuition
will be allowed to -gern1inate and to grow to full fruition.

too soon." Stembcrg and Davidson (1982) found that "insight" -making
inductive leaps beyond the given data-is an indispensable factor of vvhat
we call "intelligence," much of which is tr.1ditionally detined in tern1s of
AH this suggests that intuition forms an essential con1ponent of our
total intellectual endeavor. In looking at the contrastng role of intuition
and anal y sis in eJucatiunal systems in general, Bruncr and Clinchy ( 1966:
71) said, "Intuition is less rigorous with respect to proof, more visual or
'iconic,' more oricntc<l to the whole problen1 than to particuhir parts, Iess
verbalized with respect to justification, ancl based on a confidence in one's
ubility to operate \vith insufficient data."
One of the ilnpurtant characteristics of intuition is its nonverbalizability; often, pcrsons are notable to give much verbal explanation of vvhy
they have n1ade a particular decision or solution. 1'he in1plicatio11s fo~
teachiug are clear. We daily face problems in language teaching that have
no ready analysis, no available language or mctalanguage to capture the
essence ofwhr a particular decision was rnade. iVIany good teachers cannot
verba!ize why they do ~hat they do, in a specific and analytical way, yet
they re1nain good teachers.
Intuition invoives a certain kind of risk-taking. As \Ve s<tvv in Chapter
6, language lcarners need to take risks ~TiHingly. L1nguagc teachers 1nust be
willing to risk techniques or assessments that have tbeir roots in a "gut
fecling;' a hunch, that they are right. In our universe of co1nple.x theorv, \Ve
still perceive vast black hules of unans\verablc questions about ho\v p~ople
be.st learn second languages. lntuition, "the n1aking of ~ood guesses in situ-

Our search for an adequate theory of SLA can becon1e thwarted by

overzealous attempts to find analytical solutions. We may be looking too
hard to find the ultimate systern.As Schumann (1982a) said, at tin1es ''-'e
need to feel, ironically, that our own ideas are unimportant. That \Vay \ve
avoid the panich.1 feeling that \\hat we do today in class is son--:eh<l\V going
to be permanently etchecl in the annals of foreign langu-age history. The relevance of theory can be percei\-ccl by adopting an cssenlial attude of sea:


rNAl'TU< 10

Theories o/ Seconrl L1ngu,1ge Acquisiton

confidence in our ability to forn1 hunches that will prohably be "right" We

teachers are hutnan. \\'e are not fai!-safe, prepr(Jgran1111cd robots. \\?e therefore need to beco111e ..;villing risk-takers.


-o t:


Out on a limb:
The Ecology of Language Acquisition





i E" ;'

"- 'l:

~~ j

JO >Un.J.L

This fina! end-of-chapter vfgnette is not directed, in the usual

fashion, toward classroom methodology. Rather, it ls simply the
product of sorne of my right-brain musings as I have struggled o_ver
the years with the complexities of the knds of models of SLA that
have been descr!bed in this chapter. Such models, in their graphic
or flow chart forrn (Balystok's model in Figure 10.2 on page 285,
for example), always appear to be so n1echanical. Son1e of them
more c!osely resemb!e the wiring diagrams pasted on the back of
electric stoves than what I !ike to imagne the human brain must
''look" like. Or certainly than the way our organc world operates!
So, heeding my sometimes rebel!ious spirit, I was moved one
day in a SLA class I was teaching to create a different "pcture" of
language acquisition: one that responded not so much to rules of
log,c, mathematics, and physics, as to botany and ecology. The germination (pun intended) of my picture was the metaphor once used
by Derek Bickerton in a !ecture at the University of Hawali about hls
contention that human beings are "bloprogrammed" far language
(see Bickerton's [1981] The Roots of Language), perhaps not unlike
the bioprogram of a flower seed, whose genet!c makeup predisposes it to de!iver, in successive stages, roots, stem, branches,
!eaves, and flowers. In a burst of wild artistic energy, I went out on
a limb to extend the flower-seed metaphor to language acquisltion.
My picture of the "ecology" of language acquisltion is in Flgure 10.3.
At the risk of overstating what may already be obvous, I wil!
nevertheless lndulge in a fevv comments. The rain clouds of input
stimu!ate seeds of predisposition (lnnate, genetically transmitted
processes). But the potency of that input is dependent on the
appropriate styles and strategies that a person puts into action
(here represented as so!!). Upan the germinat.ion of language abilities (notice not ali the seeds of predisposition are effectively activated), networks of competence (which, like underground roots,
cannot be observed from above the ground) build and grow
stronger as the organism actively engages in comprehenslon and
production of !anguage. The resulting root system (inferred competence) is what we commonly call intake. Notice that several factors
distinguish Input from intake. Through the use of further strategies
and affective abilities, coupled with the feedback we rece!ve from
others (note the tree trunk), we ultimate!y develop full-flowerng
communicative abilities. The fruit of our performance (ar output) is of





o o.
o:: o


o t:


.. ::~:~
. .






s:.uapnis ..1a4'.JO




Theories of Second Lantju.1ge Acquisition


course conditioned by the climate of innumerable contextual variables.

At any point the horticulturist (teacher) can irrigate to create
better input, apply fertilizers for richer soil, encourage the use of
effective strategies and affective enhancers, and, in the greenhouses of our classrooms, control the contextua! climate for optima1
No, this is not the kind of extended metaphor that one can
"prove" or verify through empirlcal research. But, !est you scoff at
such outlandish depictions, think about how many factors in SLA
theory are conceptua!ized and described metapi1crical!y: language
acquisition device/ pvot and open words, Piaget's equifibration/ ognitive pruning, Ausubel's subsun1pton, transfer, socal distance,
global and focal errors, monitoring, affective fi/ter/ automatic and
control/ed processing. If a metaphor er1ab!.es us to describe a phenomenon clearly and to apply it wisely, then we Can surely entertain
it-as long as we understand that these word-pictures are usual!y
subject to certa!n breakdowns when logical!y extended too far. (Far
comments about metaphor in SLA theory, see Lanto!f 1996)
So, whi!e you rriight exercise a little caution in drawing a tight
analogy betvveen Earth's botanica! cycles and language learning, you
mlght just ai!ovv yourself to think of second language learners as
budding flovvers-as plants needing your nurture and care. When the
sc\entlfic flow charts and technica! termino!ogy of current second
language research become excruciatingly painful to understand, try
creating your own metaphors, perhaps! Play the believing game,
and enjoy it.







[Note: (I) Individual wor:k:; (G) group or pair work; (C) \vhole-cla.ss discussiori.]
1. (G) In the first part of this chapter on pages 274 and 275. Lightbown's
(1985) ten generaliLJ.tions about SLA are listed. In pairs or sn1al\ groups
(if nuinbers pernlit) assign one generalization to each pair/group with
the task of (a) exphlining the generalization fi.1rther, (b) offcring any
caveats or"it depends" stat~ments about it, and (e) citing an example or
two of the gcnc.raiiZJ.tion in the language clas..'irv01n.
2. (C;) Like\vise (sce item 1 above), look at the six "1nyths" (page 275). In
sn1aU groups, figure out (a) why it is a n1yth, (b) cave.ns or comments
that qllaW'y the statement,and (e) son1e exa1nples orcounter-examples
in the language cl:is:;room.
3. (I) RevieV\' thc n1ajur tenets of the three schools of thonght outlined in
Chapter 1 and reft-rred. to throughout the book: structuralism-behav-




Theories oi Second Lan;uage /\cquisitiun


iorisn.:1, rationalisn1-cognitivisn1. constn1ctivism. Do KrJshen's Input

.tlypothesis a..11<l the cognitive n1oclels of people like ivicLaughlin and
Bialystok and Ellis fit the second school of thought? Ho\v so? Ask the
san1c questions about Long's Interotction .tlypothcsis for the third school.
(C) Revic\.v thc five tenets of Kr,tshen 's Input Hypothcsis. \\/hich ones
are n1ost plausible? least plausible? How would you take the "hcst" of
his theories and apply then1 in thc classroom and yet still be 1nindful of
the various problen1s inherent in his ideas about SLA? 1-Iow do LarsenFreeman's cave~ns about ch::os theory an<l Long's criteria (pages 2....,6
and 277) enlighten your evaluation of Krashen 's n1odel?
(G) In pairs, each assigned to one to pie bel<,-~v, think of cxan1ple~ in
learning a foreign la.nguage (inside or outside a classroon1) that illustrate: (a) HIGs and LIGs, (b) 1Vlclaughlin's focal and peripheral
processes, (e) McLaughlin's controlled and auton1atic S(ages, (d) in1plicit
and explicit linguistic knowledge, (e) interaction as the basis of acqubition.
(l/G/C) II' you have quite a bit of time, try de\ising a "tno<lel" of SLA
that doesn't use prose as muchas a visual, graphic, or kincsthetic
rnetaphor. For example, you nght create an SLA board garue in \\rh.ich
players have to throw dice and pass through the '"'pits of puberty; the
"mire of mistakes," the 'falls of fossilization," and -" on. Or, you could
create a chart son1ething like Bialysrok's (_figure 10.2, page 285) 111odel.
Do this individually, or in pairs/groups, for "homework," then share your
creation with the rest of the class.1r:.- to deten<l your inodel on the
basis of at least sorne of the criteria for a viable theory presentr:d by
Larsen-Freernan or Long (pages 276 and 277).
(G/C) Suppose you have been iO\'ited toan intcrnational syn1posium on
SIA, the goal of \"Vhich is to devise a theory of SLA. Each person can
bring three and only three tenets or gener.ilizations to be included in
the theory. In groups or pairs, decide on three such tenets (or. at least.
domains of consideration) that you consider the 1nost important to
inclnde. DefCnd your threc on the basis ofLarsen-Free1nan's or Longs
lists, if appropriate, found on pages 276 and 277. Share fin<lings "",:J1 the
class and see if the class can cre;tte a con1posite picture of thc n1ost
important features of a thcory of SL\.
(1) Consider so1ne of the controversies that ha ve been dis..:ussed in this
book: innatencss, defining intelligence, the \Vhorfian hypothesis, the
strong version of che ContrastiYe Analysis lypothesis, Krashens Input
I-Iypothesis, an<l others. Play the believing game \Vith \.Vhat nght be
labeled the "un popular si lle., of the controver~1' 1~10\.v does it feel? H.O\\'
does it help to put things into balance? In what "'Y are both gan1es
necessary for ultimate understan<ling?
(1) Go back to the definitions of language, learning, and tcaching that


7heories oi Second Language Acquislion

( 1-1/\!'Ttk 7O

you formulared at the beginning of this book. Ho'\v might you revise
those clefinitions now?
10. (C~) Pairs or groups should each make a list of characteristics of a "successful language teacher." What steps do you think you could take to
train yourself to be inore successful? That is, what are your weaknesses
and strengths, and how n1ight you \Vork on r.hose \veaknesses from
what you know so far about foreign language teaching?

Thenrics oi Seconcl Langu,lge Alruisition


Lantolf,James P l 996. "SLA theory building: Letting ali the flov.,ers bloom!
Language !.earning 46: 71 )-7-49.
ltllllo(/JJresents son;c ff;ugh /Ju/ 1yu'ardin,U, rending 011 the j)/oce rd
nu!tujJhur in SLA tbeorfes, U'itb r1 hctlanced pcn;pcctf1e 011 theorie.~ in
SLA dJZ{/'(Jfhcr




TESOL Quarterl;; Winter 1990 issue.

[Note: See pages 18 anJ 19 of Chapter 1 for general guidelines for \\Titing
a journal on a previous or concurrent language lcarning experience.]

77.1is fssue u as entire~v giuen over to the scope a11djbrn1 oftheories

A11icles by leadng tbt!orists (iVlcLaup,hlin, Bia(vstok, Long.

o./ SLA.

At the beginning of the chapter, nine statc1nents were n1ade that correspond to the previous nine chapters in this bo~)k. Choose t\vo or tbrec of
those nine (n1ore if you have tiI11e), and write about your O\V'n language
learning experience in relation to the topic.
"\"X-11at do you tbink, in your own experience as a language !earncr. is the
most useful aspect of Krashen's Input Hyporhesis, and \vbat is the leasr
'fhink of an exan1ple in your o'>vn learning of each of l'vlcL;n1ghlin s tur
cells: (1) Focal-controlled: (2) Peripheral-controllcd; (3) Focal-auton1alic:
(4) Peripheral-auto1natic.\\'/rite them in your journal in a chart forn1ar antl
If you Jidn't do iten1 5 on page 297 for class, take on rhat assignn1ent of
creating a hugely nonverbal n10J.el of .SLA.
" c;-iven e\-"erything you now kno,., about learning a seconli language. '\vh:i.t
are the characteristic.s of a successful teacher? How did your ov.'n foreign
language teacher ineasure up?
" What <lid you like the n1ost about '\\Titing this journal? the least? \~'11<1t ben~
efit did you gain from the journal-"'\\Titine prncess?

Schun1ann, S;ofsky, and other::,) provided a good sense q( issues in

theo!J -rna king.

Krashen, Stephen. 1997. Foreign Language Education: Tbe Easy lV_y.

Culver City, CA: Language Educarion Associates.

f'or Cl quick, popu!arized L'erson ojK,usben 's ideas about SLA, ph:h1
tlp tbis little 62-page tract toril ten far c!assrooni teacbers.

Ellis, Rod. 1997. SIA !(esearcb and Language Teacbing. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Ellis, Rod. 1994. "A theory of instructed second language ac4uisition." In
Ellis, Nick (Ed.). 1994b. bnplicit and E::tplicit Learning o.l Language.
LonJon:Academic Press. (pp. 79-114).

Rod l:.'//is~; pro/Josa! ,lar a t/JeoJ)' q/ instructed second language

acquisition ghes a good pcture oj'his uieu 1 t?.lthe role o/ input anti
inter{lcfon and inzplicit and e.,p!icit knouledge in Sl~4. An ear!ier
l'ersio11 q//Jis tbeory is presented in tbe 1994 a1tic/e.
Jlodern Lc111guagejour11al, Fall 1998 issue.
flfs issue consists q/sL:r.: cnticles on tbe topi ..: o.l input anrf inten1ctio11 in st?cond language acquisiton. Alost oj'tbese are not dffli"cult,
technicnl reacli11g. 77:Je !eai:l aJ1cle by Gnss, 1llnckeJ', a1ul Pica uj]Crs
on l!/Onnatiz:e Ol'Crviezu.