Formal Approaches to SLA - ESL-Professional

Cristina Hudgins
Middle Tennessee State University
[email protected]
 “Language is a natural biological process driven by the
LAD” (Module 3 Lecture Notes).
 “Although language rules may not always be similar in
every language – the ability to identify correctly
formed sentences is universal and independent of
meaning” (Chomsky, 2008)
 “It is possible that it may place constraints on second
language acquisition” (Myles, 2008).
Universal Grammar (UG)
-a product of innatism
 It is “the system of principles and rules
that are elements or properties of all
human languages” and is “a
characterization of the child’s prelinguistic state” (Chomsky, 1975).
 This theory is governed by the idea
that everyone is born with an LAD
(Language Acquisition Device) and
that there are certain principles and
parameters present.
Universal Grammar (UG)
Principles- something that
is true for all languages.
Examples include:
 Structural Dependence:
“linguistic principles operate
on syntactic (or structural)
units” (Gass and Selinker,
 Subjacency: there is a limited
amount of movement that
can take place within
sentences (Gass and Selinker,
Parameters- “certain
linguistic features that vary
across languages” and must
be set acording to the
language being learned (Gass
and Selinker, 2008).
 The Pro-drop parameter
encompasses the following:
 The omission of subject pronouns
 The inversion of subjects and
verbs in the declarative
 The extraction of a subject from a
clause that contains a
“A language will either have all of
these properties or none of them”
(Gass and Selinker, 2008)
Transfer: The UG Perspective
 “A reconsideration of the concept of transfer” (Gass
and Selinker, 2008)
 Three of the “four areas that make current views of the
phenomena of transfer truly different from earlier”
ideas of transfer are:
 Levels of representation
 Clustering
 Learnability
(Gass and Selinker, 2008)
Transfer: The UG Perspective
 Levels of representation:
 Sentences can be represented in different ways with slightly
different meanings.
 Therefore, “transfer could occur not just on the basis of surface
facts, but also on the basis of underlying structures” (Gass and
Selinker, 2008)
 Clustering:
 “there are properties that cluster together within a parameter” and
“one is concerned with how multiple properties of language do or
do not behave in a” similar fashion (Gass and Selinker, 2008)
 Learnability:
 “Where positive evidence is readily available, allowing a learner to
reset a parameter, little transfer is predicted” (Gass and Selinker)
 “When positive evidence will not suffice to provide learners with
adequate information about the L2…transfer is predicted” (Gass and
Selinker, 2008)
Interactionist Theory
 Emphasizes the social aspects of learning a language;
the interaction that the learner experiences. (Module 3
Lecture Notes)
 Interactions and error corrections that occur in the
learning of the second language “assist in promoting
second language acquisition” (Lyster and Ranta, 1998)
 Interactions are “essential and vital to second language
learning because they become a source of input”
(Lantolf, 2000)
Age and Other Critical Factors
 Age:
 “Substantial evidence suggests the existance of a critical
learning period for first languages” (Phillips, 2002)
 There is a critical age of language acquisition. This is
thought to be between the ages of two and puberty.
“The critical period is thought to be related to brain
plasticity and lateralization” (Kasper, 2003).
 The ages between 5 and 9 is the time “when the primary
language is mostly settled and before the effects from a
critical or sensitive period to begin to manifest
themselves” (Gass and Selinker, 2008)
Age and Other
Critical Factors
 The native language:
 Avoidance
“the native language may influence which structures a learner
produces and which stru tures are not produces” (Gass and Selinker,
Learners avoid the differences between the L1 and the L2
 Differential learning rates
Learning times and learning rates differ among learners with
different native languages based on the similarities and differences
between the languages
 Different paths
 “paths of acquisition are not identical for speakers of all languages”
(Gass and Selinker, 2008)
 Facts of the native languages lead learners down different paths.
Age and Other
Critical Factors
 Age continued:
 Overproduction
There are “different uses of forms depending on the native
language” (Gass and Selinker, 2008)
 Predictability/selectivity
 “When something in the L2 is different from the L1, there is a
novelty effect,” and the information ‘sticks’ more rapidly (Gass
and Selinker, 2008).
 Second language processing
 “Learners begin with a universal processing principle and not
with their L1 processing strategy” (Gass and Selinker, 2008)
 Interlanguage Transfer:
 Multilinguals develop qualities that help trigger UG
parameter” (Gass and Selinker, 2008)
Tips for Teaching ESL
 Give the students as much input as possible
 Make sure to help the students make a personal
 Don’t write on the board too much and expect them to
be copying notes and listening to you speak at the
same time
 “Communicate slowly, clearly and directly”
 “Be animated”
(Andrew, 2005)
Tips for Teaching ESL
 Make real-life/real-world connections
 Make sure the students feel safe and comfortable in
the class
 Encourage peer teaching
 Encourage connections made between the native
language and the target language
 Encourage risk-taking, because it is the best way to
 Try it!
 Make a guess!
 Etc.
The Best Approach for Students I
Have Come in Contact With Thus Far
 The best approach, I believe, for the students I have
come into contact with is a combination of social
interaction, error corrections and identifying the
similarities and differences between the native
language and the target language.
The Approach I Feel Most
Aligned With.
 I feel that I am more aligned with the
Interactionist theory. I believe the social and
real life connections students can make while
listening to and utilizing their newly
developing language will help them
internalize the language and make
connections between their native language
and their new language. I do believe there are
some innate language factors but I feel
students must be taught to utilize those and
that they are not the biggest factor in second
language acquisition.
Andrews, H. (2005). Tips for Teaching ESL Beginners and Pre-literate
Adults. The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XI, No. 8.
Gass, S. M, and Selinker, L. (2008). Chapters 5 and 6. In Second
Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course (3rd ed) (pp. 1-15). New
York, NY: Routledge.
Kasper, L. F. PhD. (2003). Language Acquisition in Humans.
Retrieved from Dr. Loretta Kasper’s
ESL 91 on the web:
McGuigan, B. (2010). What is Universal Grammar? Retrieved from
Phillips, M. L. (2002). Second Language Learning. Retrieved from
Walqui, A. (2000). Contextual Factors in Second Language
Acquisition. Retrieved from the Center for Applied Linguistics

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