A literary Review



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Second Language Acquisition:

A Literary Review

The number of ESL learners has drastically increased in the past two decades. In an attempt to move beyond the simple myths of second language acquisition and development, recent research has analyzed different levels and/or stages of SLA and related facts (or, in this case, beliefs). Scholars disagree on the stages and or critical periods of SLA. Some research focuses on the position of the teacher and the motivation of the student, as well as the learners comfort level and age when using English (as a second language) in conversations. In most literature about second language acquisition, scholars should keep in mind that many articles address SLA; unless there is research being conducted on SLA’s historical perspective, only the most recent studies should be evaluated because of the constant advancement of this broad topic. One of the most recent studies examines the difference between acquisition and learning.

Some scholars have stated, “second language acquisition can contribute to pedagogy” (Ellis, 1990). Many scholars have also presented the fact that teachers and researchers have forgotten that the goal of SLA is bilingualism. The differences in language learning and language acquisition, according to Krashen’s essay and academia, are exemplified as:

Acquisition: Learning:

- similar to child’s first language acquisition - formal knowledge of language

- “picking up” a language - “knowing about” a language

- subconscious - conscious

- implicit knowledge - explicit knowledge

- formal teaching does not help - formal teaching helps

The importance of this chart is the fact that many scholars use these guidelines in their essays and/or books. Scholars also tie the ability of the teacher to teach or nurture SLA to the motivation of the student. According to most literature, in order to learn a second language, a student must feel motivated and relaxed in his or her environment(s) in order to use language. Other research argues it is not as important for the environment to make a student feel relaxed, but the responsibility lies solely on the student and his or her comfort level. Once again: a misuse or misconception of learning and acquisition. Second language acquisition literature also differs in the time when focus shifted from learning to acquisition. Many scholars say it was in the 1970’s while others argue it was later, in the 1980’s. Many of the scholarly literature today, varies due to the looseness of the terms in question: learning and acquisition, and just as many continue to describe the learning process as if it were like teaching the natural language. In order to understand this concept of differential vocabulary, one must realize that teaching will always be associated with learning and there must be definite definitions. In order to break through the idea that learning and acquisition are different, there must be a change in all vocabulary (example: coaching acquisition instead of coaching). Literature today, suggests that ESL instruction “that natural environment or ‘language immersion’ courses will provide students with the most opportunities for learning” (http://cls.coe.utk.edu/lpm/esltoolkit/03acquisition.html). Some scholarship concentrates on the pedagogy of second language acquisition and some on the stages of pedagogy. While the two are intertwined and both contribute to the motivation of the student, much literature varies in many of the ideas of what the various stages are.

Much of the work deals with how second language acquisition is taught. However, there is a lot of work that specifically deals with the different stages of second language acquisition. Scholars have different ideas about what the different stages are and what characteristics qualify under which stage. Much literature argue there are only four stages, some argue there are six (Krashen’s research). There are some works that insist that the stages in second language acquisition are very similar to the stages in first language acquisition while others say the two are very different. Others still have even more detailed idea of what the different stages are.

Many scholars offer many stages that vary. However, many agree about the characteristics of the first two stages. The literature even lists the same details in many articles and books. Many articles simply name this the “silent period” when the learner is simply trying to soak up the material given. The third through sixth stages vary vastly. Many articles are written to inform teachers about the correct way to teach the learner (no matter what age) with the description of the stage. There are many other articles, books, and websites that simply offer only the stage and a very brief description of what is characterized under the stage. Some scholars write simply about the background of second language acquisition as a Germanic language and include different stages, which are presented as different levels of grammar. The articles that speak of the Germanic language are far too difficult to deteriorate for most teachers. It is presented, in many articles, as a formula.

One other main topic that a lot of literature concentrates on is the age factor. Many scholars argue that age has nothing to do with the learning level of a second language. The offer many examples of older people being able to assimilate and learn a second language with no problem. However, there are many other scholars that say age has almost everything to do with the learning of a second language. None of these articles take into consideration the amount time a learner uses the second language. They do take into consideration the motivation. The articles that do include positive examples of age not being a factor in learning also include the motivation level of the learner.

The problem with most of the literature about second language acquisition is that all of the terms are used very loosely. In most academia there is a common understanding of terms and hypothesis. Much of the literature read shared some ideas but had a lot of twists that varied between each scholar. Recent research has covered many topics such as the motivation of the student and teacher, the complex difference in many of the stages, and the age of the learner. Many of the historical texts that were written in the 1970’s and1980’s shared more common ideas about the pedagogy of this certain topic. Literature of second language acquisition is in a growing period. There are so many different ideas that are becoming more and more detailed, different hypothesis are starting to arise within different texts. Instead of the literature trying to progress more thoroughly, scholars should try to extend their terminology or settle on common terminology or usage. Second language acquisition literature is continually evolving, it is very hard to read one article, read another, and compare the two. The stages and terminology are very contradicting.


Works Cited:

McLaughlin, Second Language Acquisition, www.dpi.state.nc.us/curriculum/second_language/2langAcquisition.pdf , 1992


Cook, Vivian. http://homepage.ntlworld.com/vivian.c/SLA/
http://cis.coe.utk.edu/lpm/esltoolkit/03acquisition.html
Weinberger, Steven. http://mason.gmu.edu/~weinberg/Ling582.pdf#search=’Second%20Language%20Acquisition’.htm, last updated 2004
Klein, Wolfgang. http://books.camridge.org/0521317029.htm
Schutz, Ricardo. http://www.sk.com.br/sk~krash.html, last revised January 30, 2002
Birdsong, David. http://www.writing.berkeley.edu/TESL-EJ/ej14/r14.html, Vol. 4 No. 2 R-14, Nov. 1999
Haynes, Judy. http://www.everythingesl.net/inservices/language_stages.php
http://www.seattleschools.org/schools/JohnStanfordintlschool/Teaching/kand1/immersion_stages.htm,

*adapted from: Jerell, I.A. “Natural Approach to Second Language Acquisition”. Modern Language Journal, Vol. 6, p. 325, 337.


Wilson, Reid. http://languageimpact.com/articles/rwkrashenbk.htm

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