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1.1. Aims of the unit.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.
2.1. The nature and origins of foreign language learning.

2.2. The influence of Greek and Latin on foreign language teaching.


3.1. Key issues in language learning.

3.1.1. Acquisition vs learning.

3.1.2. Mother, second, and foreign language.

3.1.3. Competence vs performance.

3.2. General theories on language learning.

3.2.1. First approaches.

3.2.2. Present-day approaches.

3.3. General theories on second language acquisition.

3.3.1. Six theories of Second Language Acquisition. The Acculturation Model. Accommodation Theory. Discourse Theory. The Monitor Model. The Variable Competence Model. The Universal Hypothesis.
3.3.2. The Natural Approach and Language Acquisition. The Acquisition/Learning Hypothesis.

1 The Monitor Hypothesis. The Natural Order Hypothesis. The Input Hypothesis. The Affective Filter Hypothesis.

3.3.3. Factors which influence Second Language Acquisition. Language Aptitude. The Role of the First Language. Routines and Patterns. Individual Variation. Age Differences.






1.1. Aims of the unit.

The aim of this study is to provide a thorough account of what is known about the way
people learn languages. A historical background will give a framework for general
theories on learning from its origins to present-day trends, in an attempt to depict the
major and minor approaches and theories in language learning. At this point, key issues
will be useful to review so as to clarify the nuances between some concepts such as
acquisition and learning, or terms such as mother, second, and foreign language within a
theory of learning. The same overview approach is used to set the link between a
language learning theory and the concept of interlanguage. Furthermore, the treatment of
error will be described from ancient roots to present-day trends within a positive
framework. According to the learners needs, new contributions on a language learning
theory are offered through current applied linguistics journals. A final section will
conclude with an overview of the development of most influential theories on language

1.2. Notes on bibliography.

Introductions to a historical background to language learning include Baugh and Cable,

A History of the English Language (1993); David Crystal, Linguistics (1985); and
Howatt, A History of English Language Teaching (1984); On approaches to the teaching
of English as a foreign language, see Jack C. Richards and Theodore S. Rodgers,
Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching

(1992), and Wilga M. Rivers, Teaching Foreign-Language Skills (1981). An influential

introduction to general theories on learning and acquisition of a foreign language, still
indispensable, is Krashen, S.D., Second Language Acquisition and Second Language
Learning (1981); and Krashen, S. D., and T. D. Terrell, The Natural Approach: Language
Acquisition in the Classroom (1983). Among the many general works that incorporate
the the concept of interlanguage and error treatment, see especially Corder, S. Error
Analysis and Interlanguage (1981a). The most complete record of current publications is
the annual supplement of AESLA (Asociacin Espaola de Lingstica Aplicada) and
the following collections from Universidad de Alcal y Universidad de Barcelona
respectively, Universidad de Alcal, La Lingstica Aplicada a finales del Siglo XX.
Ensayos y propuestas (2001); Universidad de Barcelona, Trabajos en Lingstica
Aplicada (2001). Bibliographical sources are fully presented at the end of this work.


2.1. The nature and origins of foreign language teaching.

The history of foreign language teaching goes back to the earliest educational systems
whose main aim was to teach religion and to promote the traditions of the people. These
practices trace back to the temple schools of ancient Egypt where the principles of
writing, the sciences, mathematics, and architecture were taught. In ancient India, much
of the education was carried on by priests with the Buddhist doctrines that later spread to
the Far East. In ancient China, philosophy, poetry and religion were taught regarding
Confucius and other philosophers teachings. The Greeks focused on the state and society
in preparing intellectually citizens and the concepts they formulated served in later
centuries as the basis for the liberal arts, philosophy, aesthetic ideals, and gymnastic
training. Roman education provided the Western world the Latin language, classical
literature, engineering, law, and the administration and organization of government.

The ancient Jewish traditions of the Old Testament also played an important role in
formation of later education systems. The foundation of Jewish education is the Torah
(the Biblical books of mosaic law) and the Talmud, which set forth the aims and
methods of education among Jews. Jewish parents were urged by the Talmud to teach
their children such subjects as ethics, vocational knowledge, swimming, and a foreign
language. During the Middle Ages (15th-16th century), the early educational systems of
the nations of the Western world emanated from the Judea-Christian religious traditions,
which were combined with traditions derived from ancient Greece philosophers like
Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

2.2. The influence of Greek and Latin on language teaching.

In the context of language teaching and learning, a clear influence of the Greek and
Latin language is present. In Greece, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics examined carefully
the structure of language as part of the general study of dialectic. This study had a
major influence on subsequent grammatical thinking which was taken over by the
Romans with very little change.

In the sixteenth century the status of Latin changed from a living language that learners
needed to be able to read, write in, and speak, to a dead language which was studied as
an intellectual exercise (Richards & Rodgers 1992). The analysis of the grammar and
rhetoric of Classical Latin became the model language teaching between the 17th and
19th centuries, a time when thought about language teaching crystallized in Europe.

It was not until the eighteenth century that modern languages began to enter the
curriculum of European schools where they were taught using the same basic procedures
that were used for teaching Latin. Still nowadays, many of the features of modern
language learning theories can be traced back to this early period, and are considered
beneficial legacies from the past.



3.1. Key issues in language learning.

A relevant characteristic of contemporary second and foreign language teaching is the

proliferation of approaches, methods and theories so as to search for more efficie nt and
effective ways of teaching languages.

Many theories about the learning and teaching of languages have been proposed from a
historical perspective, and have been influenced by developments in the fields of
linguistics, psychology, anthropology, and sociology. The study of these theories and
how they influence language teaching today is called applied linguistics . As we have
seen in the preceding sections, many of our modern practices find their roots, or at the
least are inspired, in the practices of our predecessors.

The extent and importance of the teaching of English as a foreign language, and
therefore, the development of language learning theories, make it reasonable to define
some key concepts within this issue.

3.1.1. Acquisition vs learning.

These two concepts underlie a theory of learning, and are one of the main tenets of
Stephen Krashens theory of second language acquisition. For him, there are two
distinctive ways of developing skills and knowledge (competence) in a second
language. Thus, acquisition refers to the natural way of picking up a language by
using it in natural, communicative situations. This term is used to refer to an
unconscious process by which language is acquired similarly as children acquire their
first language, and probably second languages as well.

The term learning, by contrast, means having a conscious knowledge about grammar,
and conscious rules about a language are developed. In this context, formal teaching and
correction of errors are necessary for learning to occur. We refer to conscious grammar
rules only to make changes when correcting. It is important to bear in mind that
learning, according to the theory, cannot lead to acquisition

3.1.2. Mother tongue, second, and foreign language acquisition.

In learning languages, a distinction is usually made when referring to mother tongue,

second language, and foreign languages. In the seventeenth century, the theologian Jan
Amos Komensky (1592 - 1670), commonly known as Comenius, already established a
distinction referring to those terms. Thus, he claimed that man fell from his original state
due to the loss of the original tongue, at the Tower of Babel. For him, the beginning is
the learning of the mother-tongue (first language acquisition); there is no point in
learning another language if one has not mastered one's own. After that, one should learn

the languages of one's neighbours (second language); and only after that should one take
on the learning of one of the classic languages, such as Latin, Hebrew, Greek or Arabic
(foreign language).

At this point, it is relevant to define these concepts in modern terms. For instance, a
mother tongue is considered to be the first language one learns as a child whereas a
second language is acquired under the need of learning the language of another country.
On the other hand, when languages are acquired in school, it is considered as a foreign
language. The acronyms ESL and EFL stand for the learning of English as a Second and
as a Foreign Language.

3.1.3. Competence vs performance.

A distinction is often made between competence and performance in the study of

language. According to Chomsky (1965), competence consists of the mental
representation of linguistic rules which constitute the speaker-hearers internalized
grammar whereas performance consists of the comprehension and production of
language. Language acquisition studies both first and second-are interested in how
competence is developed. However, because second language acquisition focuses on
performance, there is no evidence for what is going on inside the learners head. This is
one of the major weaknesses of second language acquisition research.

3.2. General theories on language learning.

3.2.1. First approaches.

From a historical perspective foreign language learning has always been an important
practical concern. Whereas today English is the worlds most widely studied foreign
language, five hundred years ago it was Latin, for it was the dominant language of
education, commerce, religion, and government in the Western world. In the mid-late
nineteenth century, opportunities for communication increased among Europeans and
there was a high demand for oral proficiency in foreign languages.

Second language learning has always tended to follow in the footsteps of first language
acquisition and, in fact, throughout the history of language teaching, we find several
attempts to make second language learning more like first language learning. The
importance of meaning in learning, and the interest on how children learn languages as a
model for language teaching were the first approaches to a language learning theory.
Thus, if we trace back to the sixteenth century, we find out that the Frenchman
Montaigne described his own experience on learning Latin for the first years of his life
as a process where he was exclusively addressed in Latin by a German tutor. In the
nineteenth century, he was followed by individual language teaching specialists like the
Frenchman C. Marcel, the Englishman T. Prendergast, and the Frenchman F. Gouin
(Howatt 1984).

Prendergast was one of the first to record the observation of children in speaking,
followed by Gouin, one of the best known representatives of language teaching due to
his observations of childrens use of language. In 1880 Gouin attempted to build a
methodology around observation of child language learning when publishing L'art
d'enseigner et d'tudier les langues , which turned out to be a total failure. However, his
turning to observations of how children learn a second language is one of the most
impressive personal testimonials in the recorded annals of language learning.

Attempts to develop teaching principles from observation of child language learning

were made but these new ideas were not sufficient within the educational movement at
that time. However, toward the end of the nineteenth century, the interests of reform-
minded language teachers, and linguists, coincided and first attempts to language
learning theories were to be taken into consideration.

3.2.2. Present-day approaches.

Regarding the learning of languages, three main theories have approached, from
different perspectives, the question of how language is learnt. Thus, behaviorism
emphasizes the essential role of the environment in the process of language learning
whereas mentalist theories give priority to the learners innate characteristics from a
cognitive and psychological approach. A third approach claims for relevant concepts
such as a comprehensible input and a native speaker interaction in conversations for
students to acquire the new language.

Hence, mentalist accounts of language acquisition originated in the rejection of

behaviorist explanations of. Chomsky emphasized the role of mental processes rather
than the contribution of the environment in the language acquisition process. This
"Chomskian revolution" initially gave rise to eclecticism in teaching, but it has more
recently led to two main branches of teaching approaches: the humanistic approaches
based on the charismatic teaching of one person, and content-based communicative
approaches, which try to incorporate what has been learned in recent years about the
need for active learner participation, about appropriate language input, and about
communication as a human activity.
Following Richards & Rodgers (1992), prominent figures in this field, such as Stephen
Krashen, Tracy D. Terrell, and Noam Chomsky developed the language learning theories
which are the source of principles in language teaching nowadays. A psycholinguistic
and cognitive approach is necessary to understand learning processes, such as habit
formation, induction, inferencing, hypothesis testing, and generalization.

The advances in cognitive science and educational psychology made by Jean Piaget and
Lev Semenovic h Vygotsky in the first half of the century strongly influenced language

teaching theory in the 1960s and 1970s. Their theories were intended to explain the
ineffectiveness of the traditional prescriptive and mechanistic approaches to language
teaching and later serve as a basis for the new natural-communicative approaches.
Beginning in the 1950s , Noam Chomsky and his followers challenged previous
assumptions about language structure and language learning, taking the position that
language is creative (not memorized), and rule governed (not based on habit), and that
universal phenomena of the human mind underlie all language.

In addition to Chomsky's generativism, new trends favoring more humanistic views and
putting a greater focus on the learner and on social interaction, gave way to the Natural
(USA) and Communicative (England) approaches. Psychologist Charles Curran's
Community Language Learning and Krashen's and Terrell's Natural Approach (in the
1980s) are very representative of this latest trend in language teaching.

Stephen Krashen and Tracy D. Terrell have proposed ideas that have influenced
language teaching. Thus, Krashen studied the way that children learn language and
applied it to adult language learning. He proposed the Input Hypothesis, which states
that language is acquired by using comprehensible input (the language that one hears in
the environment) which is slightly beyond the learner's present proficiency. Learners use
the comprehensible input to deduce rules. Krashen's views on language teaching have
given rise to a number of changes in language teaching, including a de-emphasis on the
teaching of grammatical rules and a greater emphasis on trying to teach language to
adults in the way that children learn language. While Krashen's theories are not
universally accepted, they have had an influence.

Most recently, there has been also a significant shift toward greater attention to reading
and writing as a complement of listening and speaking, based on a new awareness of
significant differences between spoken and written languages, and on the notion that
dealing with language involves an interaction between the text on the one hand, and the
culturally-based world knowledge and experientially-based learning of the receiver on
the other.

3.3. General theories on second language acquisition.

According to Ellis (1985), second language acquisition is a complex process, involving

many interrelated factors. The term Second language acquisition (SLA) refers to the
subconscious or conscious processes by which a language other than the mother tongue
is learnt in a natural or a tutored setting. It covers the development of phonology, lexis,
grammar, and pragmatic knowledge, but has been largely confined to morphosyntax.

According to research in this field, it is thought that acquisition can take place only
when people understand messages in the target language, focusing on what rather than
how it is said. There are affective prerequisites to acquisition such as a positive

orientation to speakers of the language, and at least some degree of self-confidence, as
well as a silent period before any real spoken fluency develops. The amount of skills and
knowledge, called competence, will be acquired through input, and certainly the initial
production will not be very accurate. The study of SLA is directed at accounting for the
learners competence but in order to do so has set out to investigate empirically how a
learner performs when he or she uses a second language.

3.3.1. Six theories of Second Language Acquisition. The Acculturation Model.

The term acculturation is defined as the process of becoming adapted to a new

culture (Ellis 1985). This is an important aspect of Second Language Acquisition since
language is one of the most observable expressions of culture and because in second
language settings, the acquisition of a new language is seen as tied to the way in which
the learners community and the target language community view each other. A central
premise on this model is that a learner will control the degree to which he acquires the
second language. Accommodation Theory.

This theory derives from the research of Giles and focuses on the uses of language in
multilingual communities such as Britain. It operates within a socio-psychological
framework and its primary concern is to investigate how intergroup uses of language
reflect basic social and psychological attitudes in interethnic communication. Discourse Theory.

This theory is proposed by Halliday (1975) and his view of first language acquisition. It
derives from Hymess description of communicative competence in which
communication is treated as the matrix of linguistic knowledge. Hence, language
development should be considered in terms of how the learner discovers the meaning
potential of language by participating in communication. Halliday shows in a study how
his own child acquired language and puts forward that the development of the formal
linguistic devices for basic language grows out of the interpersonal uses to which
language is put. One of its main principles is that there is a natural route in syntactical
development. The Monitor Model.

Krashens Monitor Model is one of the most prominent and comprehensive of existing
theories in second language acquisition. It is an account on language-learner variability
within the framework of the Monitor Model. It consists of five central hypotheses, and

related to them, a number of factors which influence second language acquisition.
Although this model will be discussed in next sections, we will offer a brief account of

The five hypotheses are first, the acquisition-learning hypothesis where the terms
acquired and learnt are defined as subconscious and conscious study of language;
secondly, the natural order hypothesis which affirms that grammatical structures are
acquired in a predictable order; thirdly, the monitor hypothesis, where the monitor is
the device that learners use to edit their language performance; fourth, the input
hypothesis by which acquisition takes place as a result of the learner having understood
input a little beyond the current level of his competence; and finally, the affective filter
hypothesis, where the filter controls how much input the learner comes into contact
with, and how much is converted into intake. The term affective deals with motivation,
self-confidence, or anxiety state factors (Ellis 1985). This theory will be approached in
detail in the following section. The Variable Competence Model.

This model is proposed by Ellis (1984) and extends on the work of Tarone and
Bialystok. It claims that the way a language is learnt is a reflection of the way it is used.
Therefore, two distinctions form the basis for this model, one refers to the process of
language use, and the other to the product.

The product of language use deals with unplanned and planned discourse. Unplanned
discourse is related to the lack of preparation or forethought, and also to spontaneous
communication. On the other hand, planned discourse requires conscious thought and
gives priority to expression rather than thought. The process of language use is to be
understood in terms of rules and procedures, that is, linguistic knowledge and the ability
to make use of this knowledge. (Ellis 1985) The Universal Hypothesis.

In the words of Ellis (1985), this hypothesis states that second language acquisition is
determined by certain linguistic universals. Those working on this tradition argue that
there is a Universal Grammar that constrains the kind of hypotheses that the learner can
form and that it is innate. The relationship between Universal Grammar and acquisition
of the first language is, in fact, a necessary one, as Chomskys primary justification for
Universal Grammar is that it provides the only way of accounting for how children are
able to learn their mother tongue.

3.3.2. The Natural Approach and Language Acquisition.

In 1977, a teacher of Spanish, Tracy Terrell, and an applied linguist, Stephen Krashen,
both from California, developed a language teaching proposal that incorporated the
statements of the principles and practices of second language acquisition. In their book,
The Natural Approach (1983), we find theoretical sections prepared by Krashen and
sections on classroom procedures, prepared by Terrell.

Their method focuses on teaching communicative abilities and the primacy of meaning,
following a communicative approach. Since they see communication as the primary
function of language, they rejected earlier methods of language teaching which viewed
grammar as the central component. Krashen and Terrells view of language consists of
lexical items, structures, and messages.

This method has been identified with traditional approaches based on the use of
language in communicative situations without recourse to the native language. The term
natural refers to the principles of language learning in young children in the Natural
Method, and similarly in Krashen and Terrells principles found in successful second
language acquisition.

However, the fact that the Natural Approach was related to the older Natural Method
does not mean that they are synonymous terms. In fact, the Natural Method became
known as the Direct Method by the turn of the century. Although they share the same
tradition and the same term natural, there are important differences between them.
Thus the Direct Method places emphasis on teacher monologues, direct repetition, and
formal questions and answers, focusing on accurate production of target language
sentences. In the Natural Approach there is an emphasis on exposure, or input, rather
than practice, that is, what the language learners hear before they try to produce
language. Moreover, there is an emphasis on the central role of comprehension
(Richards & Rodgers (1992).

The theory of the Natural Approach is grounded on Krashens views of language

acquisition, which is based on scientific studies (Krashen and Terrell 1983). Therefore it
is relevant to present first, the fourth principles on which this theory is based on, and
then, the five hypotheses that account for this method.

The first principle is that comprehension precedes production. The second general
principle accounts for production to emerge in stages, where students are not forced to
speak before they are ready. The third general principle is that the course syllabus
consists of communicative goals, organizing classroom activities by topics, not
grammatical structures. The final principle is that activities must foster a lowering of the
affective filter of the students, encouraging them to express their ideas, opinions,
emotions and feeling. A good atmosphere must be created by the instructor. The five
hypotheses represent the principal tenets of Krashens theory and are examined in the
next section.

11 The Acquisition/Learning Hypothesis.

The Acquisition-Learning distinction is the most fundamental of all the hypotheses in

Krashen's theory and the most widely known among linguists and language
practitioners. The Acquisition/Learning Hypothesis claims that there are two
independent systems of second language performance: the acquired system and the
learned system. Acquisition refers to a natural and subconscious process very similar to
the process children undergo when they acquire their first language in order to develop a
language proficiency. Speakers are, then, concentrated not in the form of their
utterances, but in the communicative act through a meaningful interaction in the target
language or natural communication.

According to Krashen (1983), learning refers to a process of conscious rules for

meaningful communication which results in conscious knowledge about the language.
This proa non natural

way, as a product of formal instruction. According to Krashen 'learning' is less important

than 'acquisition'. The Monitor Hypothesis.

The Monitor Hypothesis emphasizes the role of grammar, as the learned knowledge to
correct ourselves when we communicate, but through conscious learning, in both first
and in second languages. This may happen before we actually speak or write. However,
the Monitor use itself is limited to three specific requirements. Thus, the performer first,
has to have enough time to think about rules; secondly, the learner has to focus on form ,
on what rather than how; and finally, the learner has to know the rule.

According to Krashen (1983), the role of the monitor should be used only to correct
deviations from speech and to polish its appearance. Hence, it appears that the role of
conscious learning is somewhat limited in second language performance.

It appears that the role of conscious learning is somewhat limited in second language
performance. According to Krashen, the role of the monitor is - or should be - minor,
being used only to correct deviations from 'normal' speech and to give speech a more
'polished' appearance. Krashen, then, establishes an individual variation analysis among
language learners regarding their monitor use. The Natural Order Hypothesis.

According to the Natural Order Hypothesis, the acquisition of grammatical structures
takes place in a predictable order in which errors are signs of naturalistic developmental
processes. This order seems to be independent of the learners age, first language
background, conditions of exposure, and although the agreement between individual
acquirers was not statistically similar. All these features reinforced the existence of a
natural order of language acquisition.

In general, certain structures tend to be acquired early such as grammatical morphemes,

or function words and others to be acquired late such as the third person singular
morpheme or the s possessive marker. However, Krashen (1983) points out that this
hypothesis is not a language program syllabus, and in fact, he rejects grammatical
sequencing when the goal is language acquisition. The Input Hypothesis.

The Input Hypothesis is Krashens explanation of how second language acquisition

takes place, and is only concerned with acquisition, not learning. This hypothesis points
out the relationship between the learners input and the language acquisition process,
where the speaking fluency emerges after the acquirer has built up competence through
comprehending input. This hypothesis claims that listening comprehension and reading
are of primary importance in a language program, and that speaking fluently in a second
language come on its own with time.

According to this hypothesis, learners improve and progress along the natural order
when receiving second language input. Since not all of the learners can be at the same
level of linguistic competence at the same time, Krashen (1983) suggests that natural
communicative input is the key to designing a syllabus, ensuring in this way that each
learner will receive the appropriate input for their current stage of linguistic competence. The Affective Filter Hypothesis.

In the Affective Filter Hypothesis, Krashen (1983) gives a framework to the learners
emotional state or attitudes that may pass, impede, or block the necessary input to
acquisition. These affective variables are usually related to success in second language
acquisition and they contribute to the concept of low affective filter. Among the
positive variables, we may include motivation, a good self -image, and a low level of
anxiety. It means that the performer is open to input, and that having the right attitudes,
such as confidence and encouragement, second language acquisition will be a complete

On the contrary, low motivation, low self -esteem, and debilitating anxiety can combine
to raise the affective filter and form a mental block that prevents comprehensible input

from being used for acquisition. In other words, when the filter is up, it impedes
language acquisition.

3.3.3. Factors which influence second language acquisition.

The five hypothesis seen in the preceding section form the core of the second language
acquisition theory that underlies the Natural Approach. We will consider now the
implication of the theory to several issues such as second language aptitude, the role
of the first language, the role of routines and patterns, individual variation, and age
differences in second language rate and attainment (Krashen & Terrell 1983). Second Language Aptitude.

Supported by empirical studies, the idea of second language aptitude is related to rapid
progress in second language classes, and for those students that have this aptitude, a
better performance in foreign language classes. The speed of learning is measured by
grammar-type tests that involve a conscious awareness of language, where the ability to
consciously figure out grammar rules will lead students to success. Aptitude
differences play a large role if grammatical accuracy is emphasized. The Role of the First Language.

The role of the first language in second language performance is closely related to the
term interference, which can recast as a learner strategy (Corder 1981). This concept
implies that second language acquisition (SLA) is strongly influenced by the learners
first language (L1) when we try to speak a second language (L2).

It was claimed that there is a fall back on first language grammatical competence
when students have to produce in second language. It should not be thought, according
to Krashen (1983) that any approach will completely eliminate this mode of production.
When students try to express themselves in the target language beyond their acquired
ability, they will tend to fall back on the L1.

During the last decades, there has been considerable disagreement among researchers
about the extent of the role of L1 due to behaviorist which see SLA as a process of habit-
formation. Hence, according to this theory, errors were the result of interference from
the habits of the L1. The Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis was an attempt to predict the
areas of difficulty that learners experienced, and eliminate the chance of error. But it did
not prove to be successful. As the learners proficiency grows, L1 influence will become
less powerful. Routines and Patterns.

Routines and patterns are sentences spoken by performers who have not acquired or
learned the rules involved, thus Whats your name? They may be helpful for
encouraging input in the real world, as well as to manage conversations. Patterns are
partially memorized and may be of considerable indirect benefit. Correctly used,
routines and patterns can help acquirers gain more input and manage conversations, and
on the contrary, they can lead to trouble if not used effectively as they cannot be used for
every situation. Individual Variation.

The theory of second language acquisition posits a basic uniformity in the way we all
acquire language. It also predicts that acquirers will vary only in certain ways, thus in
the rate and extent of acquisition. This is due to two factors: the amount of
comprehensible input an acquirer obtains, and the strength of the affective filter. We can
also observe variation with respect to routines and patterns use with respect to classroom
activities. Students who have no aptitude for grammar or who simply are not interested
in grammar, will concentrate almost completely on acquisition activities. Age Differences.

Age is the variable that has been most discussed when dealing with second language
acquisition because of the belief that children are better language learners than adults.
There has been considerable research on the effect of age on this field. The available
evidence suggests that age does not alter the route of acquisition, and according to Ellis
(1985), child, adolescent, and adult learners go through the same stages irrespective of
how old they are.

However, rate and success of SLA appear to be strongly influenced by the age of the
learner. Where rate is concerned, it is the older learners who reach higher levels of
proficiency. Literature research shows that although age improves language learning
capacity, performance may peak in the teens, and that age was a factor only when it
came to morphology and syntax. Where success of SLA is concerned, the general
finding is that the longer the exposure to the L2, the more native-like L2 proficiency


In this section we will relate the concept of interlanguage to its background in mentalist
views on language acquisition and the sequence of development in second language
acquisition. Closely related to interlanguage is the nature of errors, but we will examine
it in next section.

The term interlanguage was first coined by Selinker (1972) and refers to the systematic
knowledge of a second language which is independent of both the learners first
language and the target language. The term is related to a theory of learning that stresses
the learner-internal factors which contribute to language acquisition, and it was the first
attempt to examine empirically how a learner builds up knowledge of a language.

Interlanguage was a construct which identifies the stages of development through which
L2 learners pass on their way to proficiency. The question was to what extent the order
of development paralleled that in L1 acquisition. Mentalist accounts of first language
acquisition (FLA) stressed the active contribution of the child and minimized the
importance of behaviorist concepts, such as interference, imitation and reinforcement.
One of the most prominent figures in this field, Noam Chomsky, claimed that the childs
knowledge of his mother tongue was derived from a Universal Grammar which
consisted of a set of innate linguistic principles to control sentences formation.

Another mentalist feature that needs mentioning is that the child builds up his
knowledge of his mother tongue by means of hypothesis-testing. Corder (1981) suggests
that both L1 and L2 learners make errors in order to test out certain hypotheses about the
nature of the language they are learning. He saw the making of errors as a strategy. This
view was in opposition to the view of the SLA presented in the Contrastive Analysis
Hypothesis where L2 errors are the result of differences between the learners first
language and the target language. In the following section, we will offer an account of
the treatment of error.


Earlier records on error treatment trace back to the early seventeenth century, when
universities of most European countries started to exchange and spread their scientific
and cultural knowledge. Children entering grammar schools were initially given a
rigorous introduction to Latin grammar (Howatt 1984) and errors were often met with
brutal punishment.

Since then, error analysis has been approached from a quite different perspective. Prior
to the early 1970s, it consisted of little more than collections of common errors and
linguistic classification. In the first half of the twentieth century, behaviourist accounts
approached the concept of error as a sign of non- learning, as they were thought to
interfere with the acquisition of second language habits. The goals of traditional Error
Analysis were pedagogic, in order to provide information to be used for teaching or to
devise remedial lessons. There were no serious attempts to define error in
psychological terms.

Error Analysis declined because of enthusiasm for Contrastive Analysis proposed by

Chomsky. The strong form of the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis claims that
differences between learners first language and the target language can be used to

predict all errors whereas the weak form claims that differences are only used to identify
some of the errors that arise. In accordance with behaviorism, the prevention of errors
was more important than mere identification.

It was not until the late 1960s that there was a resurgence of interest in Error Analysis. It
involves collecting samples of learner language, identifying the errors in the sample,
describing and classifying then according to their hypothesized causes, and evaluating
their seriousness. One of the dominant figures in this field, Corder (1981), helped to give
this error treatment a new direction., elevating the status of errors from undesirability to
that of a guide on language learning process. According to the Natural Order
Hypothesis, proposed by Krashen (1983), the acquisition of grammatical structures takes
place in a predictable order in which errors are signs of naturalistic developmental
processes. Errors are no longer seen as unwanted forms but an active learners
contribution to second language acquisition. This is one of the main tenets of our current
educational system where errors are seen as a positive contribution to language learning,
and give LOGSE students an active role on language learning process.


Current research questions are approached from a wide range of interdisciplinary

subjects. Thus, language acquisition current research has brought about an exceptionally
concise portrayal of changes in language teaching methodology and a focus on form.
During the 1970s previous methodological approaches, such as audiolingualism or
grammar-translation were under pressure from more communicative approaches. In
addition, approaches to second language acquisition research were added to emphasize
the need to engage acquisitional processes within an interaction-driven approach to
interlanguage development, and special attention to the concept of interference when
dealing with languages in contact from a sociolinguistic perspective.

There has also been a longstanding concern among researchers, educators, and parents
about the intellectual development of children and a focus on cognitive processes.
Current research focus on actual effect that bilingualism has on childrens cognitive
development across a number of areas of thought. The attempt is to identify what aspects
of cognition are affected by childhood.

On learning and acquisition of languages, we find an interest on Spanish Language

approaches, writing analysis of second language performance, the role of second and
foreign language classroom settings, and research on advanced learners interaction in a
foreign language context, where the concepts of input and feedback are addressed.

There is a considerable interest on curriculum design and language teaching approaches

within the classroom context. The terms acquisition and learning are still present in most
articles on language teaching methodology regarding writing and selectividad test skills.

Another current concern turns on new technologies, such as practising language learning
on the web for distance courses. The traditional home study methods for distance
learning have been replaced in the last few years by the use of computers and CD-
ROMs. New exciting possibilities become availa ble via Internet and much literature is
being written about it as a way to enhance learning through technology.


Over the centuries, many changes have taken place in language learning theory with the
same specific goal, the search of a language teaching method or approach that proves to
be highly effective at all levels. In the preceding sections we have examined the main
features of language learning proposals in terms of approach and theories from the most
traditional approaches to the present- day trends.

We have been concerned in this presentation about the approach to second language
learning on adults following language learning theories on children. One set of schools
(e.g., Total Physical Response, Natural Approach) notes that first language acquisition is
the only universally successful model of language learning we have, and thus that
second language pedagogy must necessarily model itself on first language acquisition.
An opposed view (e.g., Silent Way, Suggestopedia) observes that adults have different
brains, interests, timing constraints, and learning environments than do children, and that
adult classroom learning therefore has to be fashioned in a way quite dissimilar to the
way in which nature fashions how first languages are learned by children.

Another key distinction turns on general theories on language learning, and language
acquisition, paying special attention to those theories that have developed into present-
day methods for second language acquisition, such as the Natural Approach. The
concept of interlanguage has been approached in order to understand its current
importance in the field of language teaching, and hence, the treatment of error as an
important part in the process of learning.

Chomsky challenged the behaviorist model of language learning with a cognitive

approach. He proposed a theory called Transformational Generative Grammar,
according to which learners do not acquire an endless list of rules but limited set of
transformations which can be used over and over again. For Chomsky, behaviorism
could not serve as a model of how humans learn language, since much of that language
is not imitated behavior but is created anew from underlying knowledge of abstract
rules. In his own words, language is not a habit structure.

Chomskys theory of tranformational grammar proposed that the fundamental properties

of language derive from innate aspects of the mind and from how humans process
experience through language (Richards & Rodgers 1992). His theories brought about the
mental properties on language use and language learning existing within the learners
competence, that is, his ability to generate sentences from abstract rules.


A historical background to language learning

- Baugh, A. & Cable, T. 1993. A History of the English Language. Prentice-Hall
- Crystal, D. 1985. Linguistics. Harmondsworth, England. Penguin Books.
- Howatt, A. (1984). A history of English Language teaching . Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
On approaches to the teaching of English as a foreign language
- Rivers, W. 1981. Teaching Foreign-Language Skills. Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press.
- Richards, J., & Rodgers, T. 1992. Approaches and Methods in Language
Teaching (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
On general theories on second language acquisition and learning
- Krashen, S. D. 1981. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language
Learning. Oxford: Pergamon.
- Krashen, S. D., and Terrell, T. D. 1983. The Natural Approach: Language
Acquisition in theClassroom. Oxford: Pergamon.
On the concept of interlanguage and error treatment
- Corder, S. 1981a. Error Analysis and Interlanguage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
New directions in language teaching
- Revistas de la Asociacin Espaola de Lingstica Aplicada (AESLA): De la
Cruz, Isabel; Santamara, Carmen; Tejedor, Cristina y Valero, Carmen. 2001. La
Lingstica Aplicada a finales del Siglo XX. Ensayos y propuestas. Universidad de
- Celaya, M Luz; Fernndez-Villanueva, Marta; Naves, Teresa; Strunk, Oliver y
Tragant, Elsa. 2001. Trabajos en Lingstica Aplicada . Universidad de Barcelona.