Choose Your Language

Archive for the ‘Second Language Acquistion’ Category

Stephen Krashen’s Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Stephen Krashen is a linguist, educational researcher, and activist who is Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California. In the 1990s, as the state of California became increasingly hostile to bilingual education, Krashen was instrumental in advocating the merits of learning a second language. His Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis is the centerpiece of his academic work.

Krashen’s Acquisition-Learning hypothesis revolves around the concept of “comprehensible input,” a term which essentially means “messages that can be understood.” Comprehensible input is best received when the learner is hearing something that he or she wants or needs to know. Krashen differentiates language learning from language acquisition, emphasizing that while learning is a formalized process, such as that which occurs in a classroom, acquisition happens informally, when a person is relaxed. He identifies a “silent period” during language acquisition, a time during which the student listens but is not comfortable speaking.

The Acquisition-Learning hypothesis acknowledges that students learn faster as they are given more comprehensible input. Inversely, a lack of comprehensible input delays language acquisition. Total Immersion Language Teaching, for example, succeeds so well is because it provides lots of comprehensible input. When people are immersed in a culture in which they do not know the language, they have an intense need and desire to speak that language. Such students are not interested in grammar lessons from a book but, instead, want to hear “comprehensible input” about that culture that teaches them what they need to know to survive.

Krashen’s acquisition-learning theory has much in common with both the communicative approach to language study and Noam Chomsky’s theory of generative grammar. The idea of “comprehensible input” is simply another way of saying that students learn languages best when they are learning about things that interest them. This idea is the essence of the communicative approach. Krashen’s Natural Order Hypothesis says that we acquire the rules of grammar in a logical order. This is similar to generative grammar’s hypothesis that the basic foundations of human grammar are deeply embedded in the human brain.

Stephen Krashen has been criticized for not having sufficient empirical evidence to back up his theories. Gregg accused Krashen of using “ill-defined terms.” McLaughlin critiques Krashen’s theories as being weak and imprecise. However, Krashen has conducted extensive research to determine the validity of his theories, and his dedication to promoting bilingual education has had undeniable worth. His frequent media appearances have pushed bilingualism to the forefront of public awareness.

Krashen is regarded true linguistic theorist, with over 30 years of research and hundreds of published articles and multiple books. Stephen Krashen’s passionate work has left an indelible mark on the future of bilingual education in America.

Some of Dr. Stephen Krashen’s research is available for free at,,,

Language Learning - Noam Chomsky

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Noam Chomsky was born in Philadelphia on December 7, 1928 and has been a professor of language for many years. He was able to secure a doctorate degree in 1955 from the University of Pennsylvania. It was at that University that he majored in linguistics.

Chomsky was first introduced to the field of language by his Hebrew father who, too, was a scholar of linguistics.

He is also considered to be a political activists, cognitive scientist, philosopher and reputable author of many books. It was around the 1960’s that people began to describe him as a liberal socialist in the political arena.

He has been credited, however, for having a great impact on the linguistic world and the role that he played in putting emphasis on how people learn a new language.

His theory, which is well known as Chomsky’s Hierarchy, divides prescribed grammar into different classes with more power as they increase. His idea of generative grammar and universal grammar was also part of the divisiveness between Chomsky and other linguist.

His work has also influenced other areas of expertise such as immunology, evolutionary psychology, and research of artificial intelligence as well as language translation that is computerized.

Chomsky approached the study of language in a different light than his other counterparts. His universal grammar theory emphasized the primary principle that there is an inner set of linguistic rules that all humans share. This he called the beginning stages of learning a language.

It was Naom Chomsky that identified the fact that generative grammar of any language, when given certain specific rules, will appropriately calculate the words that will combine to form a sentence grammatically. Those same rules when approached correctly will emphasize the morphology of the sentence.

The earlier version of this theory of Chomsky’s generative grammar was transformational grammar. Of course, the generative grammar receives some criticisms from proponents of cognitive grammar and functional theories.


Chomsky felt that the mind had more to do with linguistics than others give it credit. He prefaces this by giving the example of a child when placed in a linguistic environment is able to have an instinctive capability to adapt to the words that are spoken.

Linguistics - Phonology

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

Phonology has to do with organized sounds used in natural languages. It is a variety of sounds and the features of those sounds. Phonology constitutes specific rules of the interaction of sounds with each other.

Phonology relates to other aspects of language such as morphology and phonetics. It determines the kind of phonetic sound and their significance as well as the explanation and interpretation of sounds by the native linguist. It is similar to the way in which language constitutes syntax and vocabulary.

Phonology is a descriptive preface to the way that sounds function in any language. Sounds are combined in their specific unit of a language. An example of this in the English language is the sound that “p,” makes in the word, “pet,” includes the aspirated feature.

However, in the word, “group,” the “p,” becomes the final ending of the word and does not have an aspirated feature. In other words, even though, it is the same letter, “p,” the sounds when incorporated in each word is different.

It is easy to observe that different languages have different combination of sounds for any given word. Certain sounds are found in specific languages while absent in the next. In a specific language, sounds are different because of vowel interchanging that form those words.

The goal of phonology attempts to be accountable for the similar ways in which sound affects different languages. It also seeks to describe the rules of sound and its structure within a specific language.

Although, different languages have different combined sounds and a variety of ways to arrange and pattern these sounds, it goes without saying that there a few similar ways in which they span the human language on a whole.
Some of these similar ways that are universal to all languages are:
1.    Every consonant has a voiceless stop
2.    Every language has syllables
3.    Every inventory can be divided into vowels and consonants.


Correction pronunciation is important in any language and phonology makes sure that this becomes a rule. There are some linguists who incorporate phonetics within the scope of phonology to make it easier for the person learning a second language.

Linguistics - Universal Grammar

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

All humans are born with the ability and drive to learn language. Before we can even walk we start talking. From birth we are listening with intent, ready to learn our native tongue. Evolution has seen to it that we have an aptitude for language learning, but just how much of our abilities are we born with and how much to we acquire as we go along?

When we learn languages, we use the knowledge and skills acquired from the language we already know to understand this new language. That is, we take the rules of language, such as the use of verbs and adjective, sentence structure and syntax, and apply them to the new language. While these rules will always change and vary between languages there are some structures between languages that remain the same. This is known as universal grammar. Items than can be considered a part of universal grammar include tense, aspect and mood.

There are some rules that when applied to one language can be applied to practically any language. For instance, if a language has a name for the color red, it will have a word for the color purple. These rules do not always apply to every single language, which makes the theory of universal grammar difficult for linguists to prove. Universal Grammar forms part of the nature vs. nurture that has had scientists guessing for generations. Are we born destined to grow into a certain person with certain abilities, or do we acquire these characteristics along the way?

Within the field of linguistics there are two theories as to how we learn language as children. The theory of universal grammar was proposed by linguist Noam Chomsky. He believed that a set part of our brain was dedicated to language, and that this part of the brain had a set group of rules which we applied to language. It cannot be changed or altered, we do not learn it we are born with it. These structures appear in every language around the world. The alternative theory is that we are born with no pre-existing knowledge of language, rather it is something that we acquire.

Language Learning Method - Suggestopedia (Lozanov)

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Suggestopedia is an approach to language acquisition that is communicative. Baroque music is used to set its atmosphere. Pre-session, Session and post session are the three stages of the lesson.

Georgi Lozanov is a psychotherapist from Bulgaria who developed this method of learning a new language. Suggestology is what he based this study on and this exact method of teaching has been used in learning different foreign language. This is an unconventional method of teaching new language that Lozanov claim to be much faster for students to learn than other methods.

The idea of this method that Lozanov wanted to get across is to lower the affective filter that learners use to adapt to new language.

Lozanov claims that his Suggestopedia method liberates the student from anything negatively connected to the language learning process and the influence of the society that they lived in. Students using this method do not feel the pressures associated with learning a second language. Their intelligence is not restricted and they use spontaneity to acquire the knowledge, skills and habits of learning.

The suggestopedia method is implemented by focusing on the student’s conscious level of thinking as well as the subconscious, which is the reservoir of the mind. The subconscious mind is unlimited in its capacity to learn and so suggestopedia uses this proven scenario to learn a second language in less amount of time it would take to learn it with other conventional methods.

The student is at their best when they combine the three phases that include elaborating, deciphering and memorizing.

1. The deciphering stage is when the teacher initiates grammar and content.

2. The elaborating stage is the practice phase where the student shows what they have learned through song, drama and games. The teacher reads the text with music and sometimes along with the student in the memorizing phase.

3. The memorizing phase is usually called the concert session because it is associated with music.


To learn a second language using this method of suggestopedia requires an atmosphere that is comfortable and relaxing. The student learns best when techniques are added to the learning process such as art and music. Suggestopedia is indicative of how the brain works in the scope of learning.

Language Learning - Submersion

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Submersion is the sink or swim method to learning a second language. Students who have acquired the language naturally and those learning the same language are put in the same learning environment and required to learn as much as they possibly can.

This approach does not provide any structural support to learning a second language. The student is pretty much on their own. An assumption is made that students will either fail or pass the learning acquisition model.

Only one type of language is used in the classroom or environment where students learn. Students, however, are provided with examples of the language, but are not given any kind of individual instruction in the language. They have to figure it out on their own. The student’s native language is not included and teachers are not able to familiarize themselves with the student’s culture and language.

There are some disadvantages to this approach as students may feel inferior intellectually from their peers. They may also be less motivated and have low self esteem as well as frustration and anxiety.

An example of “submersion,” or “sink or swim,” method of learning a new language in a classroom setting is when the teacher uses English as the main language and not being aware that a Spanish student is in the class. The Spanish student is left to fend on their own and either quickly learn the language or fail the class.

There are a few public schools in the United States that host submersion programs as a way to get students who speak a different language to learn English faster.

The submersion program offers students little or no help with the expectation that these students who speak a different language will use their language acquisition skills in a native language to learn a new language if they are placed into that environment.


In actuality, there are only a few schools that participate in programs like this because they realize that if you put a native Spanish speaking student into a classroom with English speaking students and expect them to learn the material without any assistance, it just would not work. The sink or swim method is not suggested by many linguist as being the best method for second language acquisition.

Language Learning - Silent Way (Gattegno)

Monday, August 24th, 2009

The Silent Way was created by Caleb Gattegno and is the instructive approach to teaching a foreign language. The primary objective is for students to work independently as learners of a new language.

It allows students to develop their own theoretical models of learning a second language. Students are encouraged to use their mental abilities to decipher the meaning of a new language.  Expression of thought and feelings are created in the classroom among fellow students. The student trades their time for experience.

The student’s native language gives them leverage in learning a new language and they are given room to learn how to speak in the new language. It is the nonverbal aspect of their native language which includes sounds, gestures and writing that helps the student to identifying with a new language.

Gattegno used his model on certain observations and he thought that students did not learn because teachers did not teach. Instead, teachers need to do a study of how students learn and to do that experiment on themselves.

Gattegno used himself as an example and even though he was a teacher, he wanted to know how students learned so he became a learner and that is when he realized that awareness is the only thing that teachers can educate when it comes to humans.

His learning model claimed to be more approachable to teaching a second language because it was based more on awareness than on offering knowledge to the student. For every learner that Gattegno studied, no matter what age they were, he found one common principle and that is students were gifted and intelligent. They brought a strong will to learn, a lifetime of experiences of managing challenges and they were also independent.

Most of the methods of teaching using the Silent Way came from understanding how students learned. Included in this approach was the style of how the teacher corrected the student and how the teacher used silence to validate the student. The teacher wouldn’t give any answers that the student could not find out on their own.

A lot of people think that communication is the only tool to learning a new language. However, Gattegno does not seem to think that communication is the only key ingredient. He observed that communication called for the person communicating to convey their ideas and the student listening must be willing to submit to the message before giving a response.


Learning a second language is expressing thoughts and feelings, ideas, perceptions and opinions and student can do this effectively with their teacher. They will be able to develop criteria for right and wrong by exploration of the two boundaries.

Therefore, it will require making mistakes, which is a part of the learning process. If teachers can study the art of learning and realize that mistakes are good for the learning process, they will appreciate when students do make mistakes.

Language Learning - Learner Internal Factors

Monday, August 17th, 2009

There are many reasons that people choose to learn a second language. We may be planning to travel or looking for a job overseas. We may learn a second language from our family or while we are at school. Some people tend to learn language quickly while others struggle. Have you ever wondered why this is?

Within the field of linguistics, our level of competence in learning a second language is referred to as learner internal factors. Input is the exposure to the second language, and instruction is the method by which we are taught. Two people with exactly the same exposure to a second language will learn at completely different rates. While one learner may walk away from a lesson taking in all that they have learnt, another may leaving having recalled nothing.

Age is a major factor in language learning. Children seem to learn a second language much more easily than adults, and usually reach a high level of fluency as well. For this reason, many elementary schools have second language learning built into their curriculum. While it has not been proven conclusively, it is evident that a crucial period for language learning occurs before puberty, when we have a much greater aptitude for language learning.

Research has shown that those who have learnt a second language already will make better progress with subsequent language that they learn. The brain works like a muscle, so to speak, the more we exercise certain parts of it the stronger and more efficient they become. By learning languages, we utilize the parts of the brain involved and improve our own aptitude.

Even personality can have an effect on how someone learns a language. Of course, motivation has an effect. The more motivation you have will change the amount of effort that is placed into language learning. It has also been shown that people with generally low levels of anxiety and stress make for better language learners. Those who are extroverts tend to do better at language learning than introverts. This is thought to  be because extroverts have a lesser fear of failure and are more willing to ask for help.

Language Learning - Learner External Factors

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Have you ever stopped to consider how we learn second languages? If you are considering taking up a second language, knowing the process of how we learn can make you a more competent student as well as speeding up the process of learning at the same time. The way in which we learn our second language is different to how we learn our first. As we grow older our cognitive functions develop, giving us better skills to learn new things. As a child we are exposed to our native language, or languages, all of the time, whereas second language acquisition may be limited to just one or two hours a week.

Learner External Factors are the ways in which we are exposed to a second language and how we are effected by these outside forces. To better understand how we learn, linguists have studied the different ways we come across information on second languages.

Social effects can have a large impact on second language learning. If for example, you come from an Italian background but speak only English, you may encounter a large amount of encouragement in regard to learning Italian from your family and community. Discouragement can also occur, for instance after the September 11 attacks, the number of students studying Arabic dropped dramatically in many western countries due to the stigma attached to the Arabic language and culture after the attacks.

Input and intake are terms used within linguistics to describe exposure to language learning and the amount of information retained. Input is information the learner receives about the second language, usually direct exposure to the language itself. For example, if you spent an hour in a class learning Spanish, this would count as input. Intake is the information you remember. Linguists believe in order to maximize intake, input level should be slightly more than the learner is able to take in. Next time you are in a class and don’t quite feel like you understand everything, don’t worry. It’s the best and fastest way to learn. A good way to maximize intake is through interaction with native speakers. This ensures the language us have learnt is usable and also helps to build vocabulary.

Pedagogical techniques, or teaching methods, have also bee extensively studied. The way we are taught can drastically change how much we learn. It is believed by many specialists in the field that current techniques are not as effective as they could be.

Language Family

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Languages change and evolve all of the time; words become disused, new words are created and given new meanings. Many forces can change the shape of a language. In Italy, geography changes the language, across the country several dialects are spoken, which have evolved differently in different regions. Time also changes a language, the English we speak today is worlds apart form the Olde English spoken a thousand years ago, or even the English of Shakespeare spoken four hundred years ago.

Some parts of a language will change, but many features will remain the same. Because of this we can trace a language back thousands of years to its original roots. Languages belong to families. Many languages may have common roots, that is an original language from which they were derived.

To return to the example of the dialects of Italy, it’s possible to trace back through time to find its roots. Today in Sicily, people speak Sicilian and Italian. It is important to note that the advent of television in the 1960s meant that many people who would only have learnt Sicilian have since learnt Italian. The Sicilian Dialect most likely was derived from Italian settlers, who came from mainland Italy and settled there at some point in history. Because of the geographical separation from the mainland, over time this Italian evolved into the Sicilian they speak today. The Italian language was derived from Latin in a similar fashion. Many other languages share their roots in Latin, such as French, Spanish and Portuguese. This is what’s known as a language family.

If you decide to learn a second language that is in the same family as your first language, you may find it easier than learning a language from a different family. For instance if you speak English, which is part of the Germanic language family, you may find learning Dutch, Danish or Norwegian easier than a language form another family.

The language from which other languages stem from is known as the Proto-language. German and Latin are both proto-languages. It is not always possible to trace a proto-language. In some cases the speakers of this language did not write and leave any records of what they spoke. In such cases, linguists do their best to reconstitute such languages from what evidence they find.