Overview of approaches to second language acquisition
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Overview of Approaches to Second Language Acquisition. Gema Sieh Highland Rim School [email protected] Innatism. Work of Noam Chomsky Language is a natural biological process Language Acquisition Device (LAD) Humans have the innate capacity for language Universal Grammar

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Overview of Approaches to Second Language Acquisition

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Overview of Approaches to Second Language Acquisition

Gema Sieh

Highland Rim School

[email protected]


  • Work of Noam Chomsky

  • Language is a natural biological process

  • Language Acquisition Device (LAD)

    • Humans have the innate capacity for language

  • Universal Grammar

    • A set of unconscious rules that govern a language

    • Regardless of language, the ability to identify correctly formed sentences is universal and independent of meaning

    • UG the catalyst in language learning

  • LAD may place constraints on second language acquisition

    • May be why young learner have more difficulty learning a second language


  • Places emphasis on learner interaction and the social aspects of language learning

  • Research shows that feedback given to second language learners (error corrections) assisted in promoting language acquisition

  • Learning involves interactions between learners, teachers, and peers

  • Interactons are essential and vital to second language learning. They become a source of input (Lantolf, 2000)

Age Factor in second language acquisition

  • Children are more likely to attain native-like proficiency in a second language than are teenagers or adults (Gass and Selinker, 2008)

  • Children acquire phonology more easily

  • Adults can learn parts of a second language quicker such as morphology and syntax

  • There are sensitive periods when language learning is more successful

Contextual Factors That AffectSecond Language Acquisition


  • Language distance – This refers to the differences or similarities between L1 and L2. English and Spanish are much closer than English and Chinese

  • Native language proficiency – According to Walqui (2000) “The more academically sophisticated the students’ native language knowledge and abilities, the easier it will be for that student to learn a second language.”

  • Knowledge of the second language – A student’s prior knowledge of L2 affects learning.

  • Dialect and register – This refers to speech patterns that may differ from those the student is familiar with as part of a social group.

  • Language attitudes – Attitudes of the learner, peer group, neighborhood and society can have both positive and negative effects. This becomes an issue when the learning of L2 may be perceived as having to give up L1 especially as it relates to culture.


  • Diverse needs – Because of the diversity in our classrooms, the needs of individual students can be very different. Differentiation of instruction is inevitable.

  • Diverse goals – This can range from becoming completely proficient in L2 and eventually go to college to just being able to function with basic communication skills.

  • Peer groups – Peer pressure can undermine the intensions of parents or teachers.

  • Home support – It is important for parents to show support for the student’s progress.

Learning process

  • Learning styles –Students can be visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners.

  • Motivation – Are students intrinsically motivated, because of pleasure or value, or extrinsically motivated, because of some reward?

  • Classroom interaction – Language learning occurs as the outcome of interactions and communication with others in the target language.

Tips for teachers

  • Activate prior knowledge before a lesson

  • Use concrete examples, (pictures, videos, items) when teaching vocabulary

  • Because ESL’s decode doesn’t mean they can understand.

  • Academic vocabulary comes much later than social vocabulary

  • Their culture may explain their behavior

  • Graphic organizers make content area easier to understand

Best Approach for ESL’s at HRS

Interactionist Approach

  • Cooperative learning

  • Authentic discourse

  • Games used for learning languge

  • Discussion

  • Interactions with teachers and peers highly important

My Personal Approach


  • Socialization important

  • Build on background knowledge

  • Questions, questions, questions

  • Cooperative learning benefits ESL students

  • Scaffolding vocabulary in all subjects

Helpful References

  • 55 inservice ideas and strategies for teachers of ESL students


  • Information, activties, and advice for educators of Spanish-speaking families


  • Glossary of Primary and Second Language Acquisition Terms


  • Activities for ESL students



Askildon, L. R. (n.d.). Second Language Acquisition Theory. Retrieved from Center for English as a Second Language http://www.cesl.arizona.edu/docsTEFL/TEFLsampleSLAtheorywk1.pdf

Gass, S. M. & Selinker, L. (2008). Second language acquisition: An introductory course. New York, NY: Routledge.

Walqui, A. (2002). Contextual factors in second language acquisition (EDO-FL-00-05). Retrieved from Center for Applied Linguistics website: http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/0005contextual.html

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