Second language acquisition and english language teaching


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Second language acquisition and english language teaching

  1. 1. SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION And ENGLSIH LANGUAGE TEACHINGMagdalena BobekIntroductionTheories of second language acquisition have for many years tried to influence itsdevelopment and continue to do so even today. Each perspective, though many have beenbased on little or insufficient evidence, has attempted to open the door to a newer and betterunderstanding of what language learning really entails giving rise to new approaches tosecond language teaching. One of the many theorists, David Block (2003:4), has suggestedthe need for a broader, socially informed and more sociolinguistically oriented SLA that doesnot exclude the more mainstream psycholinguistic one, but instead takes on board thecomplexity of context, the multi-layered nature of language and an expanded view of whatacquisition entails.In my assignment, by examining key theories that have attemped to influence secondlanguage acquisition (hereafter SLA) through the years, I would like to show anunderstanding of the reasons why SLA has developed the way it has and in the light of myown teaching experience and the reading material, I will attempt to examine the validity ofsome of these theories in practice and try to show that besides the linguistic andpsycholinguistic approaches in SLA, social context and sociolinguistic factors cannot beexcluded, but play an important role in language learning and development, as advocated byBlock.The Behaviourist Theory and Contrastive AnalysisThe wide variety of SLA theories that have developed through the years, as pointed out byThornbury (2006:1), is partly due to the enormous diversity of contexts in which secondlanguages are learned, as well as the variety of situations and purposes for the learning of asecond language (ibid:7). He informs us that the complexity of SLA is influenced bylinguistic factors, such as the learners first language; the different kinds of input that learners
  2. 2. are exposed to; external factors, such as the social context and the learners internal factors,such as their personality and capabilities (ibid). This may help explain why many issuesregarding SLA are still inconclusive, and often controversial (ibid), which makes researcherswork even more difficult as they have not yet arrived at a unified or comprehensive view asto how second languages are learnt (Mitchell and Myles, 2004:2), but instead have tried toanalyse language development each from their own perspective, namely from a linguistic,psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic point of view (Thornbury, 2006:22).Early linguists and psycholinguists were primarily concerned with the learners inner mentalmechanisms […] for processing, learning and storing new language knowledge (Mitchelland Myles, 2004:24). As Mitchell & Myles (ibid:223) put it, they largely concentrated on modelling the development of language within the individual learner, in response to an environment defined fairly narrowly as a source of linguistic information. In much of this work sociolinguistic issues were addressed only as afterthoughts, if at all.One of the dominant early psycholinguistic theories known as behaviourism saw languagelearning as a formation of habits, where through repeated reinforcement a certain stimuluswould elicit the same response time and again until it became a habit (ibid:30). Learningwould take place by imitating and repeating the same structures time after time and there wasa strong belief that practice makes perfect (ibid:31). Coursebooks and teachers manuals thatI came across in my early teaching career were full of drilling exercises, which proved to bevery tedious for pupils at times and caused them quite a few problems, because the sole aimwas to get to know the given structure at surface level without internalizing it. The drillsseemed very archaic and robot-like, as many pupils had no mental register of the meanings ofcertain words or phrases that they were simply forced to repeat.The learners first language (L1) soon came into play, however, as it was said to interfere withthis process, either helping or inhibiting it depending on how different the structures in thesecond language (L2) were from those in the first (ibid). As a result teachers beganconcentrating on teaching structures which were believed to be difficult that is those thatwere different in the first and second languages (ibid:32). The emphasis on the differencesand difficulties between languages led to so-called Contrastive Analysis, where researcherscompared pairs of languages in order to pinpoint areas of difference (ibid), which would inturn help in the teaching of the second or foreign language. However, teachers at the time
  3. 3. experienced that the predictions made by Contrastive Analysis did not always hold true in theclassroom and were not always reliable (ibid:37). Even today, according to Pica (1994:52),both teachers and researchers acknowledge that there is no guarantee that the differences orsimilarities between a learners L1 and L2 will bring about difficulty or ease in SLA. Whathas been proven, however, is that learners L1 can be a powerful influence on language development, but it can be suppressed, enhanced, or otherwise modified by the contributions of a broad range of linguistic, psychosocial, and cultural factors. (ibid).Zobl, for example, found that L1 plays a different role at specific stages of L2 development,such as in mastering article rules (ibid:53), which I have found is something that many youngSlovenian learners of English as their L2 have difficutly with. Slovenian does not have asdeveloped an article system as English, and nouns can stand alone in almost any situation.When speaking or writing English, pupils tend to use the more explicit one (ibid) where a oran are required or use no article at all. Another observation I have made is that thepronunciation and structures learners use, change to suit the situation they find themselves in.Like Dickerson (ibid), I have found that pupils will transfer sounds from their L1 more oftenin casual conversation than when involved in more formal tasks such as reading or writing.This seems to be a sign of the need to satisfy their sociolinguistic need which is to beunderstood and accepted by their peers. It is also a fact, at least in my experience that certainL2 linguistic contexts are especially sensitive to influence from learners L1, such as L2 finalconsonant clusters /kt/ or /ks/ (Sato, 1984 in Pica, 1994:53), which are simply notpronounced by some learners even if they do write them correctly, often causing problems inthe complete understanding of the utterance. Even the final /v/ sound as in the words believe,five, drive is pronounced as /w/ by many young Slovenian learners probably due to the factthat in Slovenian such an ending sound is not common and so cannot be automaticallytransfered to L2. The extent of L1 transfer, however, is only one of the many factors involvedin understanding the language learning process.Systemiticity and Variability in SLAKey developments in the 1970s regarding first language acquisition in young children shednew light on SLA and led to fundamental changes in language research. Researchers becameinterested in the language produced by learners or their interlanguage, and focused on thesystematic investigation of second language learners errors, better known as Error Analysis
  4. 4. (Mitchell and Myles, 2004:38-39), which involved charting and classifying learner language,including developmental patterns (Thornbury, 2006:30). It was soon evident that themajority of errors made by second language learners do not come from their first language,but are rather learner-internal in origin(Mitchell and Myles, 2004:38). The shift fromContrastive Analysis to that of Error Analysis represents a shift from the behaviourist viewof language-learning-as-habit-formation to the more mentalist view of language-learning-ashardwired (Thornbury, 2006:30). Researchers found that children all over the world gothrough similar stages, use similar constructions in order to express similar meanings, andmake the same kinds of errors (Mitchell and Myles, 2004::34). The theory of UniversalGrammar, developed by Noel Chomsky, states that in learning their L1 children have aninnate language faculty to guide them regardless of the messy input they are exposed to,which may include false starts, slips of the tongue, etc. (ibid:55), even though it could beargued that L1 input especially from parents and caretakers is not necessarily messy (ibid) ornoisy, but is simpler than the full adult version because it is designed for easy learning(Larsen-Freeman and Long, 1991:115) as its main goal is to understand and be understood(Brown, 1977:12). Chomsky claimed that children follow some kind of pre-programmed,internal route in acquiring language (Mitchell and Myles, 2004:37). Another development atthe time was Browns famous morpheme study on first language learning, which proved thatthere exists an order of acquisition of grammatical morphemes(ibid:34). When applied tosecond language learners, it proved that a set order of acquisition holds true for SLA as well,where the learners are guided by internal principles […] largely independent of their firstlanguage (ibid:43). All this helps explain why SLA is considered both highly systematic andhighly variable (Myles, 2002 in Thornbury, 2006:12-13), two of the main focuses oflanguage research. It is systematic in the sense of the route of development, (the nature of thestages all learners go through when acquiring the second language, which, according toMyles, remains largely independent of both the learners mother tongue (L1) and the contextof learning (e.g. whether instructed in a classroom or acquired naturally by exposure) (ibid).It is considered variable with reference to either the rate of the learning process […] or theoutcome of the learning process (how proficient learners become), or both, which Mylesinforms us are highly variable from learner to learner (ibid). However, researchers, whoseprime goal is to document and explain the developmental route taken in SLA and theuniversal mental processes available to all normal human beings, are less concerned with thespeed or rate of development and tend to minimize or disregard social and contextualdifferences among learners (Mitchell and Myles, 2004:24).
  5. 5. The Cognitive Approach versus Communicative CompetenceA good example of this type of approach is the cognitive perspective, which does not viewthe learner as a social being, but is moreover interested in the learners mind, as a processorof information (ibid:129). Cognivists are interested in how human memory works and how itstores second language information (ibid:99). They believe that achieving mastery in asecond language is essentially the same process as achieving mastery in a skill (Thornbury,2006:61), and that cognitive skills drive language development forward (ibid:83). There maybe some similarities between learning a skill and learning a language. Skills involve boththeory and practice, and second language learners also have to have some sort of knowledgeof language and its properties before they can produce it. There is also a certain amount ofautomaticity involved in language learning, especially where the acquisition of newgrammartical structures and vocabulary is concerned. However, I do not find that themovement from controlled to automatic processing via practice (repeated activation), assuggested by McLaughlin (Mitchell and Myles, 2004:101) or Andersons declarativeknowledge becoming proceduralised, by activating the same routine successfully a largenumber of times (ibid:104), is enough for a learners interlanguage to develop. Like Pica(1994:60) I find that today language skills are not dealt with in isolation, but are practised inconjunction with distinctively different activities involving student group work and classroomdiscussion. I cannot fully agree with the view that just by chunking the more mechanicalelements of a task and moving them into long term memory and then drawing on themwhenever needed, (Thornbury, 2006:62) is enough for interlanguage development. Somelanguage learning does involve the memorisation of vocabulary, including multi-word units(chunks) as a means of achieving fluency (ibid:79), but language is more complex than that,as each learning situation is a challenge in itself because it requires different levels of abilityof which the learner must always be conscious. Routinized operations (automatic strategies),as advocated by Donato and McCormick (1994:455), can become conscious goal-directedactions if the conditions under which they are carried out change, and learners then have touse different strategies to achieve their goal. It is, therefore, not only a matter of retrievingknowledge from long term memory, but knowing how to rearrange it and put it to use to suit agiven situation. Communicative competence or the ability to be able to participateappropriately in speech events with their own distinctive structures and routines in currenturban society, such as telephone conversations, service encounters (in shops, banks, etc.),
  6. 6. classroom lessons or job interviews […] has been seen […] as the broad eventual target ofSLL (Mitchell and Myles, 2004:240). Knowing how to make a complaint, as Thornbury(2006:86) writes, involves not just knowing how to formulate the appropriate utterance, butalso knowing under what conditions a complaint will be recognised as such. Real-worldsituations, where there may not be a one-to-one match between form and function (ibid:85-86), but where the meaning can be deciphered from the context with very little use ofgrammar (ibid:89), need to be understood. Learners should be given as many opportunies aspossible to participate in class activities involving conversations and dialogues, so that theycan gradually learn to respond appropriately to the situations they will encounter in real life. Itis, therefore, very important for learners to consider the effect of context on language and tobe able to distinguish between the pragmatic and syntactic modes of expression.Factors Influencing Input and Intake in SLAEven though the route of language development may be the same, learners may differ greatlyin the degree of success that they achieve (Mitchell and Myles, 2004:25), possibly, assummarized by Thornbury (2006:14-15), due to the extent of L1 transfer, their attitudes,motivation and learning style; the kind of opportunities that are available for language use; aswell as the amount and type of input they are exposed to. Stephen Krashens input hypotheses,encouraged researchers to examine more closely the characteristics of the language inputbeing made available to second language learners (Mitchell and Myles, 2004:166). Krashenconsidered acquistion as a subconscious process […] identical […] to the process childrenutilize in acquiring their first language, and learning as a conscious process, which occurswhen the learner focuses on form and learns about the linguistic rules of the target language(ibid:45). Learning, according to Krashen, only helps monitor language output, which isotherwise entirely acquired (McLaughlin, 1987:24). In practice, however, it is very difficult oreven impossible to assess when a learners production is the result of a conscious orsubconscious process. Perhaps at the very beginning of SLA one can say that learning hasmore of a monitoring or editing role, but as the learner becomes more fluent in the language,both acquisition and what has been learned merge into one. Successful L2 learning does notonly involve knowing language grammar rules as such, but among other things also languagestructures, vocabulary, style and appropriateness. When a second language is being acquiredin a country, where learners have very little or no opportunity to practise their L2 outside theclassroom, they cannot acquire it subconsciously through their environment as they would
  7. 7. their L1. Pica reminds us that even if a learner lives in a country where the language understudy is spoken widely in the community, does not guarantee opportunities for integrationwith its users. And even when there are opportunities for integration, language learning is notalways guaranteed (1994:70), which is why interaction in the virtual environment of theclassroom is of such great importance in language acquisition even though it might beconsidered a poor substitute for the natural environment.It is difficult to ascertain just how much direct exposure to the target language outside theclassroom affects SLA, because it depends on the elusive connections between both the L2culture and those cultural values that students bring to their learning experience(ibid:72). Picapoints out that learners who are exposed to more than one variety of L2 may choose higherprestige and teacher models as their target while others may select target models based onpeers, friends, or members of their own ethnic group (ibid:71). Still others may not feel theneed for any kind of integration, or instruction for that matter, such as the example of Santo inthe European Science Foundation Project (ESF), who, as Schumann states, seemed not tocare a lot about integration, and was happy enough to speak a pidginised form of English, solong as he succeeded in getting his meanings across (Thornbury, 2006:94).According to Schumann (ibid:163) success in SLA could be predicted by the extent to whichlearners are willing to adapt to the target language culture, i.e. to acculturate. One of theobstacles for failing to acculturate is social distance, which can be seen in the examplesdescribed by Norton (Mitchell and Myles, 2004:243) of the Polish immigrant girl, Eva, who,despite the fact that she was attending English classes, found it difficult to integrate into thetarget language community, because she had little or no opportunity to interact in the targetlanguage. Nonetheless she soon gained enough confidence to find conversational openingsand gradually gained acceptance as a legitimate speaker (ibid). In Salihas situation,however, even though she is a student at Plato College, in her real-life experience she feelsvery intimidated by her inability and struggle to express herself in L2 mainly due to the socialdistance between herself and her employer, who has the power to influence when she canspeak, how much she can speak and what she can speak about (Ternar, 1990:327-328 inNorton, 2000:1). These learners success or lack of it depends largely on their ability to gainaccess to the social and verbal activities of the target language community of practice,drawing on social and intellectual resources to help overcome difficulties of subordinationand isolation, and finally on the willingness from their respective communities to adapt and
  8. 8. accept them as legitimate participants (Mitchell and Myles, 2004:243-244). If the classroomis viewed in Tooheys words, as a community of practice(ibid:241), and a good learningsituation is evident, one in which there is little social difference between the target languagegroup and the L2 group, where a positive attitude to assimilation prevails (Ellis, 2000 inThornbury, 2006:163), then language acquisition can have fruitful results. However, attitudestowards language vary from learner to learner and some may be satisfied just by achieving thebasic learner variety of language to meet their immediate communicative needs (Mitchell andMyles, 2004:156), and may not have the desire to go beyond it while others may have lowself-esteem, which may hinder their understanding of the input regardless of how receptive toit they are. Even though Norton states that [I]t is through language that a person negotiates asense of self within and across different sites at different points in time, and it is throughlanguage that a person gains access to – or is denied access to – powerful social networks thatgive learners the opportunity to speak (2000:5), a learner’s motivation to speak is mediatedby investments that may conflict with the desire to speak (Pierce, 1995:19).It may be a question of the learners social identity […] whether defined by ethnicity, bylanguage, or any other means (Mitchell and Myles, 2004:246). If these learners findthemselves in life-threatening situations, where their interlanguage is being questioned, theymay show resistence or a complete withdrawal from second language interaction and lookfor re-assertion in their first language identity and switch to using their L1 only (ibid:248), orthey may adopt the strategy of silence to avoid humiliation(Thornbury, 2006:171). Learnershave to feel comfortable in the environment where SLA is taking place and be positivelymotivated by their teachers as well as by their peers if they are to develop their interlanguage.A Look at Comprehensible Input and Comprehensible OutputAnother factor to consider is input itself. According to Krashen the only thing learners needfor language acquisition to take place is comprehensible input, which he defines in his inputhypothesis as second language input just beyond the learners current second languagecompetence (Mitchell and Myles, 2004:48), the level of which is very difficult if notimpossible to determine, as each individuals current second language competence is unique.In Krashens view If input is understood, and there is enough of it, the necessary grammar isautomatically provided (ibid), so teachers do not have to explicitly teach it. It would seem,therefore, that grammar instruction is a waste of time. However, in many cases in theclassroom teaching grammar has proven to be essential in getting learners acquainted with
  9. 9. how language functions, especially if the rules governing L1 differ greatly from thosegoverning L2, as the differences may cause even greater difficulties in mastering morecomplex L2 structures later on. I would have to agree with Pica (1994:67) that theeffectiveness of grammar instruction appears to depend largely on selection and sequencing ofgrammar rules and careful assessment of learner readiness. It also depends on how effectiveand relevent the grammar is to the learners needs and purpose for learning the language,especially if these purposes are academic, such as school-leaving exams, in which case thelearner cannot afford not to master them. Put simply, mastering grammar gives the learner theadvantage over his/her knowledge of L2, and makes working with L2 easier and less stressfulwith whatever task is at hand. Of course, the ideal method of instruction would be a balance[…] between explicit instruction and more inductive, communicative procedures (ibid),which allow the learners not only the opportunity to practice the rules, but also to uselanguage more freely in different situations. It is also important that learners let […] input in(Mitchell and Myles, 2004:48). Bardovi-Harlig and Reynolds (1995:127) argue that inputenhancement which includes focused noticing as well as positive evidence provides learnerswith an awareness which helps input [to] become intake. They advocate using authentic textto present positive evidence, followed by focused noticing exercises, as well as a range ofproduction tasks to provide contexualized practice (ibid:124).Michael Long argues that in order to understand more fully the nature and usefulness of inputfor SLL, greater attention should be paid to the interactions in which learners areengaged(Mitchell and Myles, 2004:160), because when learners are engaged with theirinterlocutors in negotiations around meaning, the nature of the input might be qualitativelychanged and become increasingly well-targeted to the particular developmental needs of theindividual learner (ibid). Long found that when it came to solving ongoing communicationdifficulties in interactions between native speakers and non-native speakers, native speakerswould resort to conversational tactics such as repetition, confirmation checks, comprehensionchecks or clarification requests […] not with any conscious motive to teach grammar, but tofine-tune the second language input so as to make it more relevant to the current state oflearner development (ibid:167). Therefore negotiation work that triggers interactionaladjustments […] facilitates acquisition because it connects input, internal learner capabilities,particularily selective attention, and output in productive ways (Long, 1996:451-452). Longsinteraction hypothesis supports the need to provide classroom opportunities for interactionand the idea that interaction is a necessary condition for second language learning
  10. 10. (Thornbury, 2006:113). Research has shown that teaching a language should be an interactiveprocess between teachers and students and among students themselves, allowing fornegotiation and simply encouraging students to ask questions about input they do notinitially understand which may have positive results on their comprehension (Pica,1994:56).To ensure successful language learning, learners do indeed need opportunities to modify theirinterlanguage production and thereby to produce […] comprehensible output (ibid:56).However, given the different attitudes that learners have towards language some may need tobe stimulated to produce any sort of output. Others may be demotivated from the verybeginning and producing output such as speech, may be a long and tedious task. Waiting forspeech to emerge on its own, as Krashen (1985:2) seems to think, may take forever. That iswhy teacher motivation is so important here. A positive teacher-pupil, pupil-pupil relationshipcan have a positive impact on the output of students lacking in motivation. Again we must notforget those learners with low self-esteem or a feeling of not belonging, who may experiencedifficulty in making input become intake and so will need more time to produce any sort ofoutput. Like Swain, I believe that producing output is necessary for language development,because it may push learners to become aware of gaps and problems in their current secondlanguage system […] provides them with opportunities to reflect on, discuss and analyse theseproblems explicitly as well as oppotunities to experiment with new structures and forms(Mitchell and Myles, 2004:174-175). This focus on input, interaction and output referred toby Block as the Input-Interaction-Output model (2003:9) brought about new approachesinvolving communicative language teaching, which ever since its beginnings in the mid-1970s […] has argued for the need to provide classroom opportunities for interaction(Thornbury, 2006:113), where learners can take part in interactive activities in which realmeanings are being communicated, where the language is not always predictable, and wherenegotiation of meaning might result (ibid:197-198). In other words, giving learnersopportunities to learn language through using language(ibid).Interactive Activities - The Task-based ApproachesThere have been attempts at interactive approaches in the past such as that of Peter Skehan,who tried to view the cognitive approach to SLA from a practical perspective and suggested atask-based approach, which involves reversing the traditional order of instruction in thatdeclarative knowledge does not precede proceduralization, as suggested by Anderson above,
  11. 11. but emerges out of the process of proceduralization and helps shape it (Thornbury, 2006:65-66). It has to do with basing the instructional process around a series of tasks (ibid:65). Whatmakes this task-based approach different from other cognitive approaches is that its primarygoal is the communication of meaning and that it has a real-world relationship (Skehan,1996:38). Skehan explains that: […] a task which requires personal information to be exchanged, or a problem to be solved, or a collective judgement to be made bears a relationship to things that happen outside the classroom in a way that separates these activities from doing, for example, a transformation exercise (ibid).This seems to fit into the communicative approach very nicely, but because the emphasisamong the task participants is on interaction and communicating meaning, it is feared thatinterlanguage may suffer because processing language to extract meaning does not guaranteeautomatic sensitivity to form (ibid:41), and the goals for achieving native-like proficiency inlanguage, that of accuracy, complexity (restructuring) and fluency, may be inhibited. Eventhough Skehan attempted to focus on contexualized language use and social interaction,which are central in communicative language teaching (Thornbury, 2006:77-78), because ofthe major concern with form, the social dimension […] is largely ignored here as what ishappening inside the learner is seen as being more important than the social context in whichlearning is taking place (ibid). However, teachers can exploit tasks for their languagepotential, not simply as exercises in fluency (ibid:79) by manipulating the way in whichattention is directed, or being explicit immediately before the task is done as to whether theywant accuracy stressed, or whether they want specific structures to be used (ibid:55).Learning problems such as a lack of interest, learners not taking risks with theirinterlanguage or using their L1 just to get the task done, can be avoided if tasks aresequenced and if teachers adjust task performance factors, such as the time available, or theurgency of the task, or they can pre-teach language that might be useful (Thornbury,2006:69).In the negotiation of meaning investigated by Nakahama et al (2001:378) in interactionsbetween native speakers and non-native speakers involving information gap activities andconversation, it would seem obvious that because repair negotiation appears to lead to bettercomprehension (ibid:380), and since there is more repair negotiation in the information gapactivities than in open-ended conversation, (ibid:386), that information gap activities aresuperior to conversation. However, Thornbury notes that:
  12. 12. In the information gap the speakers are not pushed to produce language […] but only a solution to the task; they do not need to attend to the global coherence of the talk, but only to the immediate details (2006:117)Even though information gap activities do create opportunities for two-way interaction, likeThornbury, I believe they are hardly representative of communication in the real world andtherefore not, perhaps, a reliable means of measuring the amount or effect of negotiation ofmeaning in live talk (ibid:115). The purpose of negotiation in the information gap activitiesis to achieve local cohesion, where the opportunities for language use are mininal and thefocus is on single words in order to complete an activity (Nakahama et al, 2001:401).Knowing how learners utterances influence each other in terms of form and function is notthe only important characteristic of language use. It has to do with appropriating andinternalizing knowledge or skill which is collaboratively developed in the course of theinteraction (Mitchell and Myles, 2004:206-207). Although it has been argued that in moreopen-ended conversation interlocutors can quickly drop language and topics that causecommunication difficulties or avoid them altogether (Nakahama et al, 2001: 378),conversation does provide learners with more opportunities to produce more complexutterances, and learners feel more challenged because they have to understand theirinterlocutors and pay close attention to and relate their utterances to the context at hand intrying to achieve global cohesion and coherence (ibid:400-401). Information gap activities arevery useful with younger learners as they reinforce certain vocabulary items and structuresand give them an opportunity to use L2 even if only in a narrower and more controlledatmosphere. Open-ended conversation activities, on the other hand, allow learners tochallenge and debate issues as well as give their own opinion about a given topic. Interestingtopics open up debate especially when they involve the learners schema and I must say that inthe majority of cases learners want to be heard. Learners learn from each other and there is alot of negotiating taking place. By urging learners to use their L2, they gradually internalize it,which gets them thinking in L2 as well.Because we are dealing with non-native speakers in the classroom, some of which may notfind it necessary to improve their interlanguage at all, we should also consider that successfulinteraction should not only provide an environment that triggers mental processes, but alsoone that gives learners the opportunity for face-to-face interaction where they can experienceshared processes such as joint problem solving and discussions (ibid:195). If we consider thefact that interaction is social rather than individual in nature (Mitchell and Myles, 2004:193),
  13. 13. learners, who may not at first be capable of independent functioning, will gradually achievethe desired outcome by doing tasks under the guidance of other more skilled individuals orin collaboration with more capable peers, (ibid:195-196) who can provide scaffoldingappropriate to the learners current Zone of Proximal Development (Mitchell and Myles,2004:213). It is amazing to see peer interaction at work, namely how learners support eachother during oral second language production, how they work together during focus on formactivities, and how they collaborate around second language writing activities (Mitchell andMyles, 2004:214) even in mixed ability groups. In the example given by Donato (1994:44),even though the members of his group do not have the complete knowledge to do the task athand without some sort of help, they manage to do so through their successive individualcontributions within the group, the results of which show that peer scaffolding results inlinguistic development within the learner (ibid). As Wells puts it, whenever peoplecollaborate in an activity, each can assist the others, and each can learn from the contributionsof the others (1999:333). Classrooms should provide opportunities to create constructive,cohesive learning communities […] where students and teachers negotiate their identities andsubject-matter knowledge together in culturally respectful and equitable ways through socialinteraction to make the distance between the dominant learners, and those silent, marginalones who seem disconnected […] from peers, curriculum, activities (Duff, 2002:289-290)shorter. By creating a positive, collaborative group dynamic with teacher support inlinguistic needs, learners may want to participate in the community of practice which willprevent a core vs periphery division between the learners from developing (Thornbury,2006:199).ConclusionIt is very important for practioners like myself to understand the linguistic, psycholinguistic,socio-cultural and sociolinguistic views of SLA, as they all influence language developmenteach from their own perspective. Central to SLA is the learner, who may be learning thetarget language formally in school or college or picking it up in the playground or theworkplace (Mitchell and Myles, 2004:23), and whose reasons for learning a second or foreignlanguage may be very diverse. That is why there is definitely the need to take each theoreticalapproach into consideration in order to get the full understanding of what SLA entailsfollowed by intensive collaboration between educators and researchers, which would certainlyhelp improve language teaching and development.
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