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Secont language acquisition Introduction.

describing and explaining L2 acquisition

What is second language acquisition? The systematic study of how people acquire a second language belongs to the second half of the 20th century. Communication between people expanded beyond their local speech communities (example: World Wide Web), so they have had to learn a second language, which also often secure their employment. The term second can refer to any language (not just 2nd but even 3rd or 4th) that is learned subsequent to the mother tongue, which is not intended to contrast with foreign. L2 acquisition can be defined as the way which people learn a language other than their mother tongue inside or outside of a classroom, and Second Language Acquisition (SLA) as the study of this.

What are the goals of SLA? How can we find out how learners acquire an L2? We can ask them but sometimes they can only give limited information because they are not aware of or cannot remember the actual learning processes they engaged in. A better approach is to find out what learners actually do when they try to learn an L2. One way of doing this is by collecting samples of learner language (the language that learners produce when they are called to use an L2 in speech or writing) and analyse them carefully. The samples provide evidence of the target language (what the learners know about language they are trying to learn). Samples which are collected at different point in time can indicate the development of the learners knowledge. However, SLA has not focused on these communicative aspects. SLA focuses on the formal features of language such as the pronunciation of an L2, how learners accents change over time. Another might be how learners build up their vocabulary. Most often the focus has been the grammar of the L2. Researchers select specific grammatical structure (plural, relative clause) and explore how learners ability to produce this structure develops over time.

Two goals of SLA:


description of how L2 acquisition proceed explanation; identifying the external factors and internal factors that account for why learners acquire an L2 in the way they do.

Jray Adrienn (B7AGDX) Page 1

Secont language acquisition Introduction. describing and explaining L2 acquisition

External factors:

social milieu: in which learning takes place, input: samples of language to which a leaner is exposed (positive or negative attitude towards language).

Internal factors:

possessed cognitive mechanisms, which enables learners to extract information about L2 from the input (to notice plurals s), general knowledge about the world, which helps them understand L2 input, possessed communication strategies, which help them make effective use of their L2 knowledge, knowledge of how language in general works helps them to learn a language, and language aptitude (some find it easier to learn an L2 than others). Two case studies

A case study is a detailed study (typically longitudinal) of a learners acquisition of an L2, involving the collection of samples of the learners. speech or writting over a period of time.

First case study of an adult learner Wes (33) is an artist who is a native speaker of Japanese. He began to visit Hawaii in connection with his work and started to learn English there. He is a naturalistic learner, someone who learns the language at the same time as learning to communicate in it. Richard Schmidt, a researcher at the University of Hawaii, studied Wess development over a 3 year period from the first time he visited Hawaii until he took up residence there. Schmidt was interested in how Wess knowledge of English grammar developed over the 3 years. He focused different grammatical rules (the use of the auxiliary be, plural s, regular past ed or 3rd person s) from the beginning of his study to the end of the 3 year period. Wes could use some of the features with native-like accuracy at the beginning of his study, but Schmidt suspected that Wes had not really
Jray Adrienn (B7AGDX) Page 2

Secont language acquisition Introduction. describing and explaining L2 acquisition

acquired these. For example Wes did not have the same knowledge of progressive ing as a native speaker. He had no knowledge of most of the grammatical structures Schmidt investigated. Wes did not learn much grammar, he developed in other ways. He used formulas (Chunks of language that are stored either as complete units: I dont know, or as partially analysed units: Can I have a _____?). They helped him develop fluency in using English and he became a successful communicator.

A case study of two child learners The two child learners were investigated in a classroom context. Both were beginners in English at the beginning of the study. J (10) was from Portugal, literate in his native language. R (11) was from Pakistan, who lacked confidence and could not write his native language. They recently arrived in England and the goal was to prepare them for transfer to local secondary schools. They received mixed instructions (formal which are mostly rules and informal which is mostly communication). They had little exposure to the target language outside the classroom. They were asked to perform different requests. At first their requests were verbless. Later they stared to use imperative verbs. After this they learned to use: Can I have___? Later R made a use of want and J used got. Occasionally, both learners used hints instead of direct requests. Finally they started to use can with a range of different verbs. Number of points emerge from this:

both learners were capable of successfully performing simple requests even when they knew very little English, both of them manifested development in their ability to perform requests over the period of study, they acquired alternative ways of performing them. Many of their requests seemed formulaic in nature, both learners progressed in much the same way despite the fact that they had different native languages.

At the end of the study the two learners were still far short of native-like competence. They rarely modified a request or if they did they relied only on please.

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