Second language acquisition

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Summary: Theories to Second Language Acquisition according to Chomsky and Krashen

Starting with the definition, second language acquisition (SLA) refers to both the process and study of developing the ability to use a language other than the native tongue. Research focuses on the extent to which people coming to a second language develop competence in the language like that of a nativespeaker, and how similar the acquisition process is to first language acquisition. Where differences are identified, researchers seek to explain the factors that account for the acquisition of a second language. Over the last several decades, while second language researchers have proposed many theories of second language acquisition (SLA), there has been little agreement on any single SLA theory.Today, most researchers acknowledge that both nature and nurture play a role in first and second language acquisition. However, some researchers emphasize the influences of learning on language acquisition (behaviorists), while others emphasize the biological influences (nativists). In this paper I will discuss briefly the behaviorist Skinner and his point of view in LA and emphasize more on thenativist Noam Chomsky’s universal, generative and transformational grammar as well as Krashen’s point of view in SLA.

Children’s ability to understand language develops faster than their ability to speak it. Receptive language is the ability to understand language, and expressive language is the ability to use language to communicate. If a mother tells her fifteen-month-old child to putthe toy back in the toy chest, he may follow her instructions even though he can’t repeat them himself.

A major proponent of the idea that language depends largely on environment was the behaviorist B. F. Skinner. He believed that language is acquired through principles of conditioning, including association, imitation, and reinforcement. According to this view, children learn words byassociating sounds with objects, actions, and events. They also learn words and syntax by imitating others. Adults enable children to learn words and syntax by reinforcing correct speech.
Critics of this idea argue that a behaviorist explanation is inadequate. They maintain several arguments. First, learning cannot account for the rapid rate at which children acquire language. Secondly,there can be an infinite number of sentences in a language. All these sentences cannot be learned by imitation. Third, children make errors, such as overregularizing verbs. For example, a child may say John hitted me, incorrectly adding the usual past tense suffix -ed to hit. Errors like these can’t result from imitation, since adults generally use correct verb forms. Finally, children acquirelanguage skills even though adults do not consistently correct their syntax.

The main proponent of the view that biological influences bring about language development is the well-known linguist Noam Chomsky. Chomsky argues that human brains have a language acquisition device (LAD), an innate mechanism or process that allows children to develop language skills. According to this view, allchildren are born with a universal grammar, which makes them receptive to the common features of all languages. Because of this hard-wired background in grammar, children easily pick up a language when they are exposed to its particular grammar.

Evidence for an innate human capacity to acquire language skills comes from the following observations: first, the stages of language developmentoccur at about the same ages in most children, even though different children experience very different environments. Secondly, children’s language development follows a similar pattern across cultures. Thirdly, children generally acquire language skills quickly and effortlessly. Finally these new languages resemble each other in sentence structure, even when they are created in different cultures....
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