In order to start in a very clear way, let’s highlight the difference(s) between learning and acquiring a second language according to Krashen. Learning is a formal process, a conscious study in which students accumulate information and transform it into knowledge due to intellectual effort. On the other hand, acquiring has to do with natural exposure, developing aptitudes through natural, unconscious and intuitive assimilation. This way, acquiring is much more related to children than learning, once proficiency is not linked to the knowledge we have internalized, it is so to the abilities we develop in practice in consequence of the concrete experiences he have.
In fact, Second Language Acquisition (SLA) is the kind of object that is related to many others and because of this I do not have complete domain about it. To be sincere, even the oldest researches and researchers are not a hundred per cent sure about this process once it is related to human beings and it is in constant modifications.
Even though, the references to be read have been developed in a way that the evolution of the researches are clearly showed. There was a time in which people believed that the difficulties facing second language acquisition were imposed by the first language. It was assumed that where there were differences between L1 and L2, the learner’s L1 knowledge would interfere in the L2, and in the cases of similarities both languages would help learning the other.
Nowadays it is clear that the differences and similarities can not be seen in a so reduced way. Learners can transfer from a language to another in order to increase vocabulary, grammar constructions and spontaneous speaking even when these connections lead them to errors.
That is why we may not consider the errors of L2 are not predominantly result of L1 interference, due to the contribution of the mother tongue. By the borrowings learners do from a language to the other they improve their performances and might consider some rules and structures they build consciously or unconsciously.
A second language acquisition is not a uniform or predictable phenomenon. There is no single way in which learners acquire knowledge of a second language once it is a product of many factors.
These factors are all about the learner and also their learning, a universe full of complexity and diversity. Considering that a second language is learnt after the mother tongue, researches show that decodifying a language follows the same process for L1 and L2. In fact, SLA refers to all the aspects of language that the learner needs to master and for this, there is a natural route which is understood to be universal because they have a fixed order to learn grammar, for example. However, the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH) assumed that learner with different mother tongues would learn a second language in a different way.
This universal way of learning challenges CAH because researches show that children learn their mother tongue in a very predictable route, and as the negative transfer is not the major factor in SLA, it is not so unreasonable to consider that learning / acquiring a second language follows a natural sequence of development – which is known as the L2 = L1 hypothesis.
And analyzing adults and children is very easy to see that the ways they use to get the same end are not the same, obviously. But discussing the five factors that influence learning would be a theme for a very long research, they are: age, aptitude, style, motivation (and the socioalffective filter) and personality. For instance, it is enough to think about not only them – as relevant aspects to the level of success in language learning – but also about all the environment that can be given to learners in order to optimize their acquisition. These points would be a great framework to keep investigating SLA.
Lígia de Souza Leite - Systemic Bilingual teacher and coordinator at Lapis de Cor in English in Natal - RN
ELLIS, R. Understanding second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1995.