Teorías generales sobre el aprendizaje y la
adquisición de una lengua extranjera.
El concepto de interlengua.
El concepto del error.
During the 20th century, a number of theories have been
developed on how second languages can be learned.
Generally these theories are influenced by:
theories on learning in general
theories on how children acquire their first language.
As a consequence, an overview on second language (L2)
acquisition approaches is not complete without them.
different theories of first language (L1) acquisition,
differences between first and second language acquisition.
main theories about how second languages are acquired.
Interlanguage and error and their influence in L2 teaching.
1. Imitation theory
children learn a language
mostly through imitation of
the utterances they are
exposed to in their
with the help of
linguistic abilities increase.
Problem: children actually produce utterances they have
never heard from adults, such as “regularized” irregular verbs
Furthermore, young children, even when elicited to do
so, are unable to reproduce certain grammatical structures.
E.g. Function words take longer to develop properly.
In 1965, Chomsky
concluded that children are
born with the capacity to
process linguistic input
through the so-called
This would explain in his
opinion the ease and speed
with which language is
3. Cognition theory
FromPiaget’s research on
He does not completely deny
the existence of some innate
capacity to acquire language.
No separate language module
Language is acquired along
with other means of
processing the environment.
Piaget’s four stages
Sensorimotor stage (0 to 2 yrs.) children begin to understand
Preoperational stage (2 to 7 yrs.) children begin to understand
Operational stage (7 to 11 yrs.) children’s ability to process
language and mental tasks is reinforced.
Formal operational stage (from 11 yrs onwards) children
acquire the ability to fully process abstract information
4. Input theory
based on parental input or
It is a particular adaptation of
language for first language
It is not a universal feature, does
have certain traits that facilitate
it, such as
simplicity, clarity, expressivity
and a tendency to be attentioncatching.
subconscious processes that
help produce language
personality and contextual
factors that influence the
individual production of
L1 acquisition occurs before the age of
L2 usually occurs after that age.
I.e. learners over five years old are
unable to fully process the
phonetic, grammatical, pragmatic and
semantic modules in the same way that
a native speaker can.
Furthermore, fossilization is likely to
occur in L2 acquisition as most learners
often retain non-native forms as
grammatical, and transferences from L1
Fom Pavlov’s experiments on animal behavior.
There are three main processes of habit formation,:
Classical conditioning : association of a response to a
stimulus through repetition. E.g. a dog will begin
salivating when it hears a bell if food is consistently
accompanied by the sound of a bell; even if food is not
provided in the experiment.
Operant conditioning describes the learning of a
conscious behavior that brings a desired response. E.g. a
rat will press a handle, if it learns that after that action
food it will be given food.
Multiple response learning is a complex development
of operant conditioning, which requires more than one
action. E.g., rats learning a particular route through a
maze that brings them them the desired reward.
B.F. Skinner considers language an
example of operant conditioning.
That is, “good” language is
ungrammatical, incoherent or
inappropriate language is not.
Well extended L2 teaching
methods such as the Audiolingual
Method is a direct heir of this
This method disregards the
learner’s autonomy to process their
environment in creative ways and
proved to be insufficient.
2. Cognitivism or Mentalism
Speakers can reflect upon their learning, not only repeat.
Based on the theories of the Gestalt school
Insightful learning is achieved with a
sudden, immediate, repeatable and transposable flash of
Noam Chomsky’s review of Skinner’s Verbal Behavior
Animal behavior in laboratory conditions should not be
extrapolated to human behavior.
There are a number of grammatical rules that all native
speakers know, which allow them to create an infinite
number of sentences.
Children are endowed with a Language
Acquisition Device that contains a component
known as Universal Grammar.
This Universal Grammar component is later
specified in the grammar of their native tongues.
Cognitivism also considers that L2 learning is
constructed through hypothesis testing, which
means the learner constructs hypothesis that he/she
later tests for validity.
Rejection then may lead to revision of rule and the
generation of a new hypothesis. This theory is an
important factor of interlanguage and may be either
conscious or unconscious.
It focuses on our ability to adapt our
style of speech in relation to the
setting, the topic of discourse, the
person we are interacting with, our
This theory highlights the
“accommodative” nature of
communication. It also explains why
individuals choose a communication
style over another.
If we choose to adapt our
speech to our interlocutors
in speed, vocabulary range,
register, etc. we can say we
are converging with them
If we separate ourselves
from them, we talk about a
case of divergence.
2. Similarity-attraction theory
The more similar our attitudes
and beliefs are, the more we will
be attracted to our
As a consequence, we tend to
overlook the linguistic mistakes
of our acquaintances and we
tend to use phatic expressions to
signal our good relationships.
Those with low social approval
usally converge to the language
of their social “superiors”.
3. Social exchange theory
Convergence/divergence is often
influenced by the social attitudes we
hold toward specific groups of speakers.
E.g. RP is chosen in Britain by most
middle- and upper-class speakers, as its
users are considered better educated and
At times a “downward” convergence may
be seen when the speaker wants to
identify himself with his listeners (e.g. a
politician at a meeting)
4. Causal attribution theory
Causal attribution theory
describes how we tend to give
motives to the utterances of a
speaker in order to interpret
their purposes. This explains
why convergence can backfire
at times and why sometimes
divergence can be preferable.
5. Intergroup distinctiveness
Developed by Tajfel, also
explains why divergence
sometimes is a valid
option, as it responds to
the need by certain groups
to ascertain their selfimage, their prestige or
E.g. youth slang or
Assimilation of one group’s cultural traits by
From the language teaching perspective, second
language acquisition is a trait of acculturation and
the degree of acculturation influences the degree
of language acquisition.
To give a practical example, we are all aware of the
improvements many students undergo when
exposed to the foreign language in its cultural
context (e.g., on a language exchange tour).
This theory is also very relevant in relation to
Psychological factor refers to the
individual affective interactions of the learner
with the language,
Sociological factor: the social group of
the learner and its cultural relations with the
Schuman: A good learning environment is
equality or inequality of the L2 learners
in relation to the L2 language group
willingness to remain in the L2 country
cohesiveness as a group
positive or negative attitudes both groups
hold towards each other.
Factors that influence L2 acculturation
communicative function, which
affects transmission of information
integrating function, which marks
the speaker as a member of a
group, and finally
expressive function, which uses
the language for virtuosity.
Second-language learners might stay
at the communicative function
level, and if they remain there, we
may speak of fossilization.
Based on Dell Hymes’ theory of
Communicative competence not only
takes into account grammar competence
but also sociolinguistic and
According to discourse
theorists, language acquisition is not
complete unless the learner has some
knowledge of social and pragmatic
conventions, besides grammatical
They also affirm that language arises from
Krashen’s Monitor model
1. There is a basic difference between
acquisition and learning, i.e.
acquisition is an unconscious skill while
learning is conscious and based on
2. The natural order hypothesis, which
has developed a hierarchy of language
acquisition that is predictable almost
universally both on children and L2
learners (e.g., the verb to be is learnt
first as a copula and then as an
auxiliary, and later in time its
contracted versions equally occur first
as a copula and secondly as an auxiliary)
Krashen’s Monitor model
3. The monitor hypothesis poses that as
learners we are capable of self-supervising
our utterances and self-correct them if we
are given enough time, if we are focused on
form and know the rule. This accounts for
the importance of allowing students for time
to analyze their utterances themselves.
4. The input hypothesis gives importance
to the need to adjust the “input” or amount
of new information, to the student. This
input must be comprehensible through our
knowledge of “context” and also must offer
an attainable amount of new information.
Krashen’s Monitor model
5. Finally, the affective filter
hypothesis pays attention to the
emotional and psychological
dynamics of the classroom, and
how a low affective filter (i.e. a
good self-image, high motivation
and low anxiety) can promote
It focuses on the role general cognitive processes play
on L2 learning.
It presents a learner that acts, constructs and plans.
An important aspect of cognitive theory is also its
contraposition of “rote” vs. “meaningful learning”.
“Rote” is described as arbitrary and verbatim
learning, which hinders its assimilation on the
learners’ main linguistic system (e.g. the learning of
phrasal verbs in lists)
Meaningful learning is integrated into previous
cognitive frames, thus facilitating the mastering and
retention of the rule (e.g. if these phrasal verbs are
learnt lexically, focusing on their meaning rather than
on their form)
Selinker, 1972. Not exactly a L2 acquisition theory.
IL is a language system between L1 and L2 that
learners use while acquiring their second language
This system is different and independent from both
and has particular traits.
IL is permeable, that is, it is subject to constant
revision on the part of the learner.
It is also dynamic, as it is constantly
changing, although very slowly.
Finally, it is systematic, as it is made of
predictable, understandable and coherent rules for
Some IL processes
Language transfer, which shows the influence of the
speaker’s native language on the target language. (e.g.
Overgeneralization of L2 rules, where a learner
extends the use of rules he knows to the whole system
(e.g. using the –ed ending for irregulars)
Some IL processes
Transfer of training, where a rule enters IL through
instruction (can be positive or negative)
Strategies of L2 learning, e.g. memorization, use
Communication strategies, e.g.
pointing, hypernyms, etc.
Developed by Corder (1967)
Slips occur both on native and non-native
speakers and are usually self-corrected
automatically by the utterer.
Mistakes are exclusive of non-native speakers
and can be corrected if the learners have the
mistakes pointed out to them either
immediately (first-order mistakes) or when
they are given clues as to where the mistake
lies (grammar, semantic, etc). These are called
Errors, finally, are those that need the learning
of a new rule as they cannot be self-corrected.
Types of error
Interlingual errors (where speakers transfer
Intralingual errors, which are usually similar to
those made by children and which are
indicative of the learner’s active processing of
Errors can be classified also according to their
substance errors (errors of
speaking, writing, listening or reading)
text errors (i.e. errors of composing spoken
or written texts; or errors on decoding oral or
discourse errors (i.e. errors of formulation in
spoken or written texts; or errors on
understanding oral or written texts)