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The application of Vygotsky’s Socio-Cultural Theory to second language acquisition
helps L2 learners bring their proficiency in a second language closer to the level of their first
language. The application of this particular theory is helpful for several reasons.
First, the theory takes into consideration the external as well as internal stages of human
cognitive development. So, the theory provides the opportunity for the research of the social
aspects of communication as well as mental functions of cognition, and therefore, for obtaining
varied results for further development of SLA theory (Anton & DiCamilla, 1999; Brooks &
Donato, 1994; Evensen, 2007; Lantolf, 2006; Nassaji, 2006; Zuengler & Miller, 2006).
Second, one of the main Vygotsky’s concepts – the zone of proximal development (ZPD)
– provides the explanations of the conditions (socio-cultural and cognitive) which are necessary
for the processes of human learning. The conditions for the further learning consist of already
existing knowledge, the social interaction with the more knowledgeable ones, and the
transformation of the external processes into internal (cognitive) processes and functions (Anton
et al., 1999; Brooks & Donato, 1994; Kinginger, 2002; Lantolf, 2006; Nassaji & Cumming,
2000; Ohta, 1995, 2005).
Consequently, within the contours of the mentioned two concepts of the Vygoskian
theory (the existence of social and cognitive elements in the processes of SLA and the concept of
the zone of proximate development), the following three issues can be emphasized.
The first issue is a variety of schemes for interpretation and, therefore, for a broad range
of applications of the concept of the zone of proximal development in second language
acquisition research. The variety of applications may lie, for example, in the phenomenon that
the conservative as well as progressive educators while acclaiming the matter of the ZPD,
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provide different interpretations of its meaning (Kinginger, 2002; Nassaji & Swain, 2000), or in
the researches of the ZPD in L2 learner-written material collaboration (Appel & Lantolf, 1994;
McCafferty, 1994; Ohta, 2005), or in the researches concerning the development of higher
potential level of SLA in the ZPD in creative writing (Tin, 2011).
The second issue considers private speech, or self-talk, – socially originated, verbalized,
but internal speech. Although dialogic in nature, private speech changes its function: it is used by
L2 learners to organize, plan, direct or evaluate the problem solving process while encountering
a difficult task. The issue is important because this evolution of speech – from social to self-
directed to internalized – exemplifies the path of higher mental functions including second
language acquisition (Anton et al., 1999; Lantolf, 2006a, 2006b, 1994; McCafferty, 1994, 1992;
Schinke-Llano, 1993; Tarone & Swain, 1995).
The third issue is the functions of L1 in the process of L2 acquisition. Because both
languages – L1 and L2 – are the tools of second language acquisition in the process of L2
internalization, which is the move from the imitation to private and inner speech, and to the
capacity of purposeful and autonomous self-regulated expression in L2, the issue of the functions
of L1 is important (Anton et el., 1999; Brooks & Donato, 1994; Brooks, Donato & McGlone,
1997; Lantolf, 2006; McCafferty, 1992, 1994; Tin, 2011). The studies reveal the role of L1 in
SLA and the connections between the emerging second language private speech and the cultural
heritage of the first language.
Thus, the following is the analysis of the main concepts of Vygotsky’s Socio-Cultural
Theory and its entailed issues. The analysis focuses on the possibilities of the development of the
SLA theory for the purpose of minimizing the gap between learners’ proficiencies in their first
and second languages.
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Main Concepts of Vygotsky’s Theory in Application to SLA
Social and Cognitive Processes of SLA
Second language acquisition involves two kinds of processes – social and cognitive. The
Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory gives the opportunity to synthesize the two processes and to
provide the most complete view on the development of L2. As it is mentioned in the works of
Brooks and Donato (1994), Lantolf (2006, 1994), Nassaji (2006), Thorne (2005), Zuengler and
Miller (2006), Vygotsky focused on the connections between people and the sociocultural
context in which they act and interact in shared experiences thus obtaining knew knowledge.
According to Vygotsky, social interaction plays a fundamental role in the process of cognitive
development, yet, social and cognitive processes are inseparable: “Every function in the child’s
cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level;
first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological)” (As
cited in Thorne, 2005, p. 395).
The notions of interpsychological and intrapsychological processes in SLA can be traced
in more researches, such as those conducted by Anton and DiCamilla (1999), and Brooks and
Donato (1994, 1997). Thus, Anton in her research concerning the socio-cognitive functions of L1
in the collaborative interaction of adult learners of Spanish in the L2 classroom, has interpreted
the functions of L1 in two ways: in interpsychological terms – as the construction of scaffodled
help and the establishment of intersubjectivity, and in intrapsychological terms – as the use of
private speech. The other researchers, Brooks and Donato, having analyzed speech data from
adolescent learners of Spanish who were engaged in a problem-solving speaking task, have
considered that if interaction lacks intrapsychological elements, the learning does not occur,
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in small-group processes, language learning activity must be viewed as cognitive activity
and not merely the rehearsal and eventual acquisition of linguistic forms … it is not only
the communicative activity or contents of the lesson that is paramount, but engagement
with and control of communicative interactions that will ultimately benefit the foreign
language learner (Brooks et el., 1994, pp. 272, 273).
In 1997 Brooks and Donato continued their research of the role of sociocultural and cognitive
processes in SLA. They studied student discourse of three pairs of third-semester intermediate-
level learners of Spanish at the university level. The students had to speak in the target language
to accomplish a given task of discussing the variety of problems, such as difficulties with
vocabulary or how to rehearse target language forms. The research confirmed the previous
conclusion that if the purpose and function of learner language are not clearly understood, the
collaboration doesn’t lead to learning, that mere collaboration is not enough, and that the most
important part in second language learning is “how forms of collaboration and social interaction
unite the development of second-language orality with an individual’s cognitive functioning”
(Brooks et el., 1997, p. 534).
Moreover, Lantolf (2006a, 2006b, 1994) has stated that social and cognitive processes
(mediation and internalization) are two central constructions in Vygotsky’s theory in terms of
application to the development of SLA theory, “I concentrate on two areas that I believe are
particularly important, especially with regard to future research: L2 mediation and the
internalization of L2s” (2006a, p. 68). This theme of the further development of the SLA theory
by applying the Vygotskyan apparent dualism between social interaction and cognitive,
neurological characteristics of second language learning are continued by recent researches.
Evensen (2007) has suggested that more considerate and less confrontational understanding of
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social and cognitive aspects of Vygotsky’s theory may help to shed new light on the theory of
second language acquisition,
I have sought to demonstrate the radical possibility – that a socially oriented, multi-plane
framework may be useful for understanding even cognitive or neurological aspects of
learning. Vygotsky’s dictum that learning and development moves from intermental to
intramental seems to imply exactly such a possibility… The inner logic of a mediational
system is appropriated by learners, but once appropriated, its inner logic will affect its
‘users’ in return. Cognitive structures … may be qualitatively restructured or transformed
as such mediated processes continue (p. 348).
So, learning occurs only when the social interaction undergoes the transformation from
external processes into internal (cognitive) processes and functions.
This synthesis of sociocultural and cognitive aspects in the Vygotskian approach to the process
of second language acquisition contributes to the development of the SLA theory by the means
of overcoming the conflicting debates concerning cognitive and social understandings of
learning. As Zuengler (2006) pointed out, “development doesn’t proceed as the unfolding of
inborn capacities, but as the transformation of innate capacities once they intertwine with
socioculturally constructed mediational means” (pp.38,39). This can prove that cognitive and
sociocultural perspectives are not two parallel SLA worlds, but the reflection of two essential
elements of learning.
Zone of Proximal Development
One of the main concepts of Vygotsky’s theory is the Zone of Proximal Development
(ZPD). According to Vygotsky, the ZPD is
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the difference between the child’s developmental level as determined by independent
problem solving and the higher level of potential development as determined through
problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers (As
cited in Ohta, 1995).
So, the ZPD is the zone where learning occurs. As it has been pointed out in the previous
unit concerning social and cognitive processes in second language acquisition, learning occurs
only when the external processes of social interaction with the more knowledgeable ones are
transformed into internal (cognitive) processes and functions. This transformation takes place in
the zone of proximal development, “The transfer of functions from the social (or
interpsychological) domain to the cognitive (or intrapsychological) plane occurs within the zone
of proximal development (ZPD)” (Anton et el., 1999). It means that the concept of the ZPD
explains the conditions of the processes of human learning.
For this reason, many researchers in the field of Vygotskian approach to SLA are
focusing on the zone of proximal development (Anton et al., 1999; Brooks & Donato, 1994;
Kinginger, 2002; Lantolf, 2006; Nassaji & Cumming, 2000; Ohta, 1995, 2005). Thus, Ohta,
(1995) analyzed students’ learning and progressing by means of collaborative interaction within
the ZPD. Ohta, while conducting a qualitative research of a combined – teacher leading and peer
pair work – interaction with two Japanese intermediate-level learners, conceptualized the ZPD
for SLA purposes by defining it as
the difference between the L2 learner’s developmental level as determined by
independent language use, and the higher level of potential development as determined
by how language is used in collaboration with a more capable interlocutor (p. 96).
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Within the zone of proximal development the improvement of L2 occurs by means of
scaffolding which is “the concept … [that] originates with the work of Wood et al. (1976) and
serves as a metaphor for the interaction between an expert and a novice engaged in a problem-
solving task” (Anton et al., 1999, p. 235). Ohta especially emphasized the importance of learner-
learner communicative interaction in the process of scaffolding. Ohta stated “examining learner
interaction in the ZPD provides a richer view of L2 development, allowing the researcher to
examine what learners are able to do with language and how language development occurs” (p.
One of the important features of the occurring development of L2 highlighted by Ohta
was the fact that “in learner-learner interaction … the learners contribute [not only their
established knowledge, but also] their individual differences in matures and maturing skills” (p.
97), and as a result, “the more advanced learner can also benefit from interaction with a learner
less proficient in the L2 as learner strengths are collaboratively joined” (p. 93). The concept of
collaboratively joined efforts of two or more learners and its importance in second language
acquisition was also pointed out by Anton et al. as intersubjectivity (1999).
The application of the zone of proximal development to SLA research also helps reveal
new features of the ZPD concept. According to Nassaji and Cummings (2000), the study of
teacher-student interaction via dialogue journals written over ten months elucidated “some of the
salient qualities of the ZPD that they mutually constructed in this context over time” (Nassaji et
al., 2000). The cooperative correspondence took place between a six year Farsi speaker at the
beginner level of learning English and his Canadian teacher. In the process, ninety-five
exchanges in interactive were analyzed. The longitude of the research and the contrastive
interaction between a much more knowledgeable one (a teacher) and a complete novice (a six
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year old beginner) allowed to bring to light two salient characteristics of the ZPD: “ (a) sustained
intersubjectivity and (b) complementary, asymmetric scaffolding” (p. 103).
Furthermore, the application of the ZPD in its dialectical aspect allows to analyze
language learning holistically by perceiving integrally unified, interactive phenomenon of
language. As Nassaji and Cummings (2000) in the same study point out, “Vygotsky claimed that
learning is formed through the ZPD, which creates ‘a dialectic unity of learning-and-
development’” (p. 97) where “the culturally mediated interaction among people in the zone of
proximate development is internalized, becoming a new function of the individual” (p. 98). This
brings the language acquisition to the pragmatic level, and vice versa – dialectically speaking,
the counter process is going on, in which “sociolingustically oriented theories have traced how
the language varieties that adults develop in a second language acquisition arise from pragmatic
functions people try to fulfill while communicating” (p. 96). In the relation to the results of this
particular study, the authors emphasized that
This dialogue journal writing set a long-term context for the student and teacher to
communicate routinely through written English … in which both participants reciprocally
shared common knowledge, purposes and tools of communication, evidently
understanding and appreciating them. … A sociocultural perspective highlights teaching
and learning in conjunction and close-up, looking to fundamental characteristics of the
ZPD as a set of interactive processes wherein learning occurs because teaching facilitates
it … instead of fragmenting [language] essential interconnectedness … for example, by
treating language as a system of elements divorced from their social functions and
context (pp. 114, 115).
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The dialectic aspect of the ZPD was also emphasized in studies of such authors as Nassaji
and Swain (2000), and Kinginger (2002). According to Kinginger, the dialectical
interpretation of the ZDP
hints at the possibility of recovering the unity within a dialectic synthesis … through
recognition of the notion that language-in-use constitutes and object of reflection, raising
students awareness to all levels: metalinguistic, metadiscursive, metapragmatic,
metacultural (p. 257).
The comparative researches continue to support the general idea of applicability of the
ZPD concept to second language learning theory. Thus, Nassaji and Swain (2000) in their
qualitative and quantitative study of two Korean students’ English compositional writings
compared help provided within the ZPD with random help. The ZPD student was provided with
help to be moved gradually to the needed level “using prompts through the Regulatory Scale
developed by Aljaafreh and Lantolf (1994)” (Nassaji et el., 2012). At the same time, the non-
ZPD student was provided with random help in the form of prompts without regarding her ZPD.
As the research has proved, “help provided within the ZPD was more effective than help
provided randomly” (Nassaji et el., 2012).
Therefore, these results continue to prove the research reliability of the ZPD approach
and show the perspectives of the further development of the theory of SLA by applying to the
study the concept of the zone of proximate development.
Some Entailed Aspects of Vygotsky’s Theory in Application to SLA
Variety of Interpretations and Applications of the ZPD
The interpretation of the research materials obtained in the studies of the zone of
proximate development often depends on the researcher’s theoretical academic domain as it is
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mentioned by such researchers as Kinginger (2002) and Nissaji and Swain (2000). Thus,
according to Kinginger, the representatives of both – the conservative and progressive domains
of SLA studies acclaim the matter of the ZPD, yet they provide different interpretations of its
meaning. In the interpretation of conservative scholars “interactions where students participate in
reaching the instructor’s goal are identified as ‘scaffolding’, as constructing the ZPD … where
students comply with their instructor’s directives in producing sentences that are maximally
correct” (pp. 254, 255). Nevertheless, the important aspect of ZPD is missing here – it is the
social activity of students. In the pseudo-ZPD studies students “are invited to participate and
even to share the floor; but they are not authorized to question what they are accomplishing and
why” (p.255). Usually conservative educators uncritically linked the ZPD “to Krashen’s Monitor
Model in order to reinforce a conservative ‘skills’ based practice … [where] the ZPD serves to
represent the diffusion of participant roles within canonical classroom discourse (e.g. Gifford and
Mullaney, 1999)” (Kinginger, 2002, p. 257). On the other hand, progressive educators “suggest a
prospective understanding of language learning, even though they limit the scope of this
understanding to the specific case of the negotiation of linguistic structures” (p. 257). This
approach to ZPD through prospective understanding was also considered by Nassaji and Swain,
2000, who, after Wells, 1998, interpret the ZPD “not as a fixed trait of the learner but as an
emergent and open-ended one that unfolds through interaction and expands the potential for
learning by providing opportunities which were not anticipated in the first place” (Nassaji and
Swain, p. 36).
One more interpretation of the ZPD occurs with the introduction of a written text as a
communicator. The mainstream research in terms of the ZPD is conducted in peer-peer or
teacher-pupil collaborative interaction, yet the ZPD as a space where second language learning
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can take place is not limited by these collaborations only. In her later study, Ohta (2005)
assumed that learning within the ZPD occurs also in interaction with a written source, “The ZPD
is a key developmental space for language learning acquisition. As learners bump up against
their own limitations and are assisted to move beyond them with the help of teacher, peer, or
written source, development follows” (p. 513). How the processes of interaction and scaffolded
help occur via communication with a written source can be partly explained by the post-modern
notion (Appel & Lantolf, 1994) that the meaning of the text is created by the reader at certain
level of the reader’s competence; then the created meaning affects the reader’s comprehension;
then, in its turn, the emerged comprehension creates a next in turn meaning at the higher level of
the reader’s competence, and the dialectical process of the mutual meaning-comprehension
influence will go on, “One of the consequences of the post-modernist movement … is the
recognition of the possibility that meaning does not reside in texts per se, but is created through
some type of reader-text interaction” (p. 449). Therefore, here we have one more example of
Vygotsky’s dialectical (versus linear) approach to the psychological development, emphasized
by McCafferty (1994), when “development is a complex dialectical process characterized by …
metamorphosis or qualitative transformation of one form into another, intertwining of external
and internal factors” (Vygotsky, 1978, as cited in McCafferty, 1994).
The other connection of the ZPD with a written source is the interpretation of the
emergence of more complex L2 in creative writing tasks with high formal constraints (acrostics)
in comparison with those of looser formal constraints (similes) (Tin, 2010). The study was
conducted over 2 weeks with 23 non-native 18-22 year-old English speakers from a university in
Indonesia who wrote a number of poems in pairs and individually; students’ discussions in pairs
were audio taped and analyzed. As Tin has pointed out, the creative writing tasks mean the play
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with the language; yet only the play where the rules are strictly defined creates the ZPD and
provides the scaffolding that brings students to the higher level of potential development.
Acrostic (poem w/formal constrains) Simile (free style poem)
Jar of amazing feeling
You should get it (p. 222)
Our friend is like an orange
She always freshes us
She is stubborn when unripe
But wiser when ripe (p. 229)
The more complex L2 (the poem on the left) emerges because the formal constraints
require students “to develop new compositional strategies and syntactic structures, combining
known familiar utterances in unfamiliar ways in order to construct new meaning” (p. 231). So,
according to Tin, only the play with acrostics gives students the Vygotskian opportunity to
perform “a head taller than they are” (Vygotsky, 1978 as cited in Tin, 2010, p. 232).
Private speech is one of the most important socio-cognitive functions within the zone of
proximal development. Private speech is a self-talk. It is socially originated, verbalized, but
internal speech dialogic in nature (Anton et al., 1999; Appel & Lantolf, 1994; Lantolf, 2006a,
2006b, 1994; McCafferty, 1994, 1992). Although socially originated and dialogic, private speech
changes its function: it is used by a L2 learner to organize, plan, direct or evaluate the problem
solving while encountering a difficult task. According to Anton and DiCamilla (1999), “private
speech is social in its genesis and may therefore be social or communicative in its appearance,
but it nevertheless psychological in function. That is, it is speech directed to the self for the
purpose of directing and organizing one’s mental activity” (p. 235). This statement is rooted in
Vygotsky’s belief that
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with the acquisition of language, children gain access to the most powerful of “mental
tools,” that they use language to transform the cognitive functions appropriated through
interpersonal experience into intrapersonal functions. In children … this transformation is
greatly facilitated through the use of speech for the self, or private speech (As cited in
In application to SLA theory, the issue of private speech helps understand how private
speech mediates second language learning. In the study of the nature of private speech and its
role in the mental activity in the process of recalling and comprehending written texts, Appel and
Lantolf (1994) showed “how speaking, especially in the form of private speech …, not only
mediates the subjects’ attempts to report on what they understand from the text, but also how it
serves as the process through which they come to comprehend the text” (Appel & Lantolf, 1994,
p.439). The researches also proved the nature of private speech to be social.
In this study there were 28 participants – all young adults: 14 native speakers of English
and 14 advanced English speakers from a German university. The subjects were given two texts
– one narrative (a typical children’s fairy tale) and one expository (about propagation of coffee
plants). The subjects were instructed to read the texts carefully and recall them in a while orally
being alone in the room; no time restrictions were imposed. The responses were tape recorded
and analyzed. I was expected that the oral responses would be “marked by a high frequency of
metacomments, or what we refer to as private speech” (Appel et al., 1994, p. 439). The
metacomments in forms of macrostructures – “the gist of the text for the reader” (p. 443) showed
that the more difficult the task was and the less proficient the speakers were, the more
macrostructures in increasing variability were produced. Concerning the nature of private speech
Appel and Lantolf (1994) concluded,
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private speech, as a way of mediating mental activity, … is rooted in communicative
speech. In our view all of this means that people can construct meaning from a text … by
conversing with others, with the self in presence of others, or, as in the case of our
subjects, with the self in the presence of no one other than the self. All of these activities
are at their core, social (p. 449).
The process of the use of private speech by second language learners was also studied
cross-culturally (McCafferty, 1992). The study revealed psychological idiosyncrasy in the
manner of using private speech by the L2 learners from the different countries. In this study the
“central idea” (McCafferty, p. 181) of Vygotskian theory that cultural-historical background
impacts cognitive development was set as a research question to investigate it in terms of private
speech. The study considered “the influence of cultural background to see how adult second
language learners of English from two different cultural backgrounds (Asian  and Hispanic
 [all ESL college students]) attempt to gain self-regulation in a communicative task in their
L2” (p. 181). The subjects were asked to construct a narrative based on a story as portrayed
through a series of six pictures. The results showed that the Hispanic subjects were using far
more different kinds of utterances of private speech than the Asians (Hispanics – 61-16, Asians –
4-7). The differences in the use of private speech by ESL learners from two different cultural
contexts, also showed, according to McCafferty, that “the L2 learners’ use of private speech …
would seem to indicate the degree to which individual autonomy is valued within cultures” (p.
Functions of L1 in SLA
The functions of L1 in second language acquisition closely related to the notion of private
speech: L1 is one of the tools of second language acquisition in the process of L2 internalization.
Reilly_Vygotsky’s Socio-Cultural Theory in SLA 16
In this process learners help themselves by producing private speech in L1 or L2 to obtain the
capacity of purposeful and autonomous self-regulated expression in L2 (Anton et el., 1999;
Brooks, Donato & McGlone, 1997; Lantolf, 2006; Tin, 2011). So, the question of how second
language learners’ communication in L1 and L2 affects their second language acquisition is an
important issue in the theory of SLA. There are several opinions concerning the use and the role
of L1 in the second language learning process.
Some researchers, such as Anton and DiCamilla (1999), emphasize the beneficial
functions of L1 in general, while others (Brooks & Donato, 1994; Brooks, Donato & McGlone,
1997; Lantolf, 2006; McCafferty, 1992, 1994; Tin, 2011) emphasize the transitional role of L1,
considering its beneficial role mainly at the early stages of SLA.
Thus, in their research, Anton and DiCamilla (1999) studied the interaction of five pairs
of the beginner Spanish learners (all – young adults, native speakers of English) in their L1 for
solving L2 writing tasks. Three sessions of the intense course of Spanish were recorded and
analyzed. The results showed that the functions “of L1 in the second language learning process
are beneficial since it acts as a critical psychological tool that enables L2 learners to construct
effective collaborative dialogue in the completion of meaning-based language task” (p. 245).
Moreover, when analyzing the results of the experiment, the authors marked out two types of L1
functions – interpsychological (construction of scaffolded help and establishment of
itersubjectivity) and intrapsychological (use of private speech).
The variations of the use of L1 in two different writing tasks are revealed in the research
concerning writing acrostics (structured poems) and similes (freestyle poems) (Tin, 2011). This
study has been described here in the unit Private Speech. Tin called the finding “unplanned
insight … offering a new way of regarding the use of the L1 vs. the L2 in collaborative writing
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tasks” (p. 231). First, the author mentions the results of the previous studies conducted by Swain
and Lapkin (2000), where, according to Tin, “pair writing stimulates collaborative dialogue in
the L1 and creation of text in the target language (Tin, 2011, p. 231). In her research Tin has
proved the different usages of L1 and L2 in the two different tasks while analyzing private
speech. The author has come to the following conclusion, “In acrostics, conceptual systems are
activated through the L2 directly. … However, in similes, concepts are first retrieved in the L1
then translated into the L2” (p. 232). So, in acrostics, “the formal constraints … allow students to
conceptually mediate L2 directly, strengthening the link between L2 lexicon and conceptual
representation” (p. 232), while in similes, “L1 becomes a communicative strategy and a
cognitive tool to access L2 forms that are available” (p. 232).
The most of the researchers (Brooks, Donato & McGlone, 1997; Lantolf, 2006;
McCafferty, 1992, 1994) point out the transitional role of dialogic L1 in helping L2 learners
overcome the beginner stage of communicative interaction in L1 and move to the stage of pure
L2 interaction. First of all, the researchers recognized that communication in L1 at the early
stages of learning is not the evidence that students are off-task, or sabotage the activity, or unable
to work in small groups. In this experiment, native speakers of English learning Spanish
(university students of intermediate level) were specifically instructed to speak in L2 only while
performing L2 tasks (jig-saw activity with pictures). In spite of this, the subjects involved private
speech in both L1 and L2 when they encountered difficulties. According to the authors, “The
implication of these findings is that learners can gain self-regulation if provided multiple
opportunities to collaborate” (Brooks, Donato & McGlone, 1997, p. 532). The authors stated
that, at least initially, “in the attempts to regulate their participation in collaborative tasks, …
they [L2 learners] can carry out the tasks in the native language,” because “systematic
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opportunities for collaboration with the target language may eventually enable individuals to
perform cognitively demanding tasks in the target language” (p. 534). From the Vygotskian
perspective “all forms of collaboration and social interaction unite the development of second-
language orality with an individual’s cognitive functioning” (p. 534), and L1 is considered to be
one of these collaborative forms of socio-cultural interaction. Thus, L1 becomes a cognitive tool
as well as a communicative strategy to “access L2 forms that are available” (Anton et el., 1999,
Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory in terms of second language acquisition considers the
main features of the SLA processes. According to the theory, human development goes through
the following stages: mediation – communication through words, gestures, facial expressions,
imitation, and internalization/appropriation – the creative use of language with the help of private
speech (Anton & DiCamilla, 1999; Brooks & Donato, 1994; Evensen, 2007; Lantolf, 2006;
Nassaji, 2006; Nassaji & Cumming, 2000; Ohta, 1995, 2005; Zuengler & Miller, 2006). Thus,
the theory considers the connections between the socio-cultural aspects and cognitive linguistic.
Moreover, the Vygotskian approach takes into consideration the necessary conditions of the
processes of SLA. The conditions of second language acquisition are considered in terms of the
zone of proximate development and consist of already existing knowledge, the social interaction,
and the transformation of the external processes into cognitive ones (Anton et al., 1999; Brooks
& Donato, 1994; Kinginger, 2002; Lantolf, 2006; Nassaji & Cumming, 2000; Ohta, 1995, 2005).
Within the contours of the socio-cultural/cognitive processes and conditions more issues
are considered. Such as private speech that mediates and regulates mental functions in complex
cognitive tasks as well as facilitates the internalization of mental functions. As a result, second
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language learners become self-regulated in the process of private speech turning into inner
speech (Anton et al., 1999; Appel & Lantolf, 1994; Lantolf, 2006a, 2006b, 1994; McCafferty,
Also, in connection with private speech, the role of L1 in acquisition of the target
language is considered. According to Vygotsky, the higher cognitive development originates in
social interaction by means of psychological and communicative tools. Because the native
language (L1) is one of the critical tools in bringing already existing knowledge to the social
interaction and in transforming the external processes into cognitive functions, the role of L1 in
second language acquisition is beneficial in solving meaning-based language tasks (Anton et el.,
1999; Brooks, Donato & McGlone, 1997; Lantolf, 2006; Tin, 2011).
Finally, Vygotskian theory creates perspectives for future research in the field of the
theory of SLA. Some aspects that remain to be established are: the connections between the
socio-cultural processes and cognitive linguistic ones in terms of the zone of proximate
development and private speech, the further theoretical explanation of scaffolding through the
concept of regulation, the transmission of cultural knowledge as socially based bringing second
language acquisition to the pragmatic level (Anton et al., 1999; Lantolf, 2006a, 2006b, 1994;
McCafferty, 1994, 1992; Nassaji and Swain, 2000; Schinke-Llano, 1993; Ohta, 1995, 2000;
Tarone & Swain, 1995)
Reilly_Vygotsky’s Socio-Cultural Theory in SLA 20
Anton, M., & Dicamilla, F. J. (1999). Socio-cognitive functions of L1 collaborative interaction in
the L2 classroom. The Modern Language Journal, 83(2), 233-247. Retrieved from
Appel, G., & Lantolf, J. P. (1994). Speaking as mediation: A study of L1 and L2 text recall tasks.
The Modern Language Journal, 78(4), 437-452.
Brooks, F. B., & Donato, R. (1994). Vygotskyan approaches to understanding foreign language
learner discourse during communicative tasks. Hispania, 77(2), pp. 262-274.
Brooks, F. B., Donato, R., & McGlonem, J. V. (1997). When are they going to say ?it? right?
understanding learner talk during pair-work activity. Foreign Language Annals, 30(4), 524-
Donato, R., & Mccormick, D. (1994). A sociocultural perspective on language learning
strategies: The role of mediation. Modern Language Journal, 78(4), 453.
Evensen, L. S. (2007). 'With a little help from my friends'? theory of learning in applied
linguistics and SLA. Journal of Applied Linguistics, 4(3), 333-353.
Frawley, W., & Lantolf, J. P. (1985; 1985). Second language discourse: A vygotskyan
perspective. Applied Linguistics, 6(1), 19-44.
Kinginger, C. (2002). Defining the zone of proximal development in US foreign language
education. Applied Linguistics, 23(2), 240-261.
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Lantolf, J. P. (2006). Sociocultural theory and L2: State of the art. Studies in Second Language
Acquisition, 28(1), 67-109.
Lantolf, J. P. (2006). Language emergence: Implications for applied linguistics-A sociocultural
perspective. Applied Linguistics, 27(4), 717-728.
McCafferty, S. G. (1994). Adult second language learners' use of private speech: A review of
studies. The Modern Language Journal, 78(4), 421-436.
McCafferty, S. G. (1992). The use of private speech by adult second language learners: A cross-
cultural study. The Modern Language Journal, 76(2), 179-189.
McCafferty, S. G., Roebuck, R. F., & Wayland, R. P. (2001). Activity theory and the incidental
learning of second-language vocabulary. Language Awareness, 10(4), 289-294.
Nassaji, H., & Cumming, A. (2000). What’s in a ZPD? A case study of a young ESL student and
teacher interacting through dialogue journals. Language Teaching Research, 4(2), 95-121.
Nassaji, H. (2006). [Vygotsky's and A. A. leontiev's semiotics and psycholinguistics]. Modern
Language Journal, 90(1), 133-134.
Nassaji, H., & Swain, M. (2000). A vygotskian perspective on corrective feedback in L2: The
effect of random versus negotiated help on the learning of english articles Taylor & Francis
Ohta, A. S. (2005). Interlanguage pragmatics in the zone of proximal development. System,
33(3), 503-517. doi:10.1016/j.system.2005.06.001
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Ohta, A. S. (1995; 1995). Applying sociocultural theory to an analysis of learner discourse:
Learner-learner collaborative interaction in the zone of proximal development. Issues in
Applied Linguistics, 6(2), 93-121.
Schinke-Llano, L. (1993). On the value of a vygotskian framework for SLA theory and research.
Language Learning, 43(1), 121-129.
Thorne, S. L. (2005). Epistemology, politics, and ethics in sociocultural theory. The Modern
Language Journal, 89(3), 393-409.
Tin, T. B. (2011). Language creativity and co-emergence of form and meaning in creative
writing tasks. Applied Linguistics (Oxford), 32(2), 215-235.
Zuengler, J., & Miller, E. R. (2006). Cognitive and sociocultural perspectives: Two parallel SLA
worlds? TESOL Quarterly, 40(1), 35-58.