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An Analysis of Target Language

1. An Analysis of Language
We use language everyday and we live in a world of words. Hardly any moments
passes without someone talking, writing, or reading. Indeed, language is most essential to
mankind. But we as language users do not know yet what exactly language is. To
presume to define language adequately would be folly. Linguists and philologists have
been trying for centuries to define the term, but there is still no simple and single answer
to it. In fact, the study of language has more than 2500 years. During the long history of
linguistic study, a lot of theories and schools of thought emerged. Different linguists have
viewed language from different perspectives and have given different definitions and
descriptions of language. Here we will briefly introduce the following four schools.

1.1 Basic Views of Language

1.1.1 Traditional Linguistics

Traditional linguistics has a tradition of more than 2000 years. In the fifth century
B.C. the ancient Greeks began to make serious study of language. There were two famous
controversies at that time. One was between the naturalists and conventionalists on the
relations between form and meaning. The naturalists argued that the forms of words
reflected directly the nature of objects. They use onomatopoeia and sound symbolism as
their evidence to justify their point of view. On the contrary, the conventionalists thought
that language was conventional and there was no logic connection between form and
meaning of words. The other was between the analogists and anomalists on the
regularities of language. The analogists claimed that language in general was regular and
there were rules for people to follow. The anomalists maintained that language was
basically irregular and that was why there were so many exceptions and irregularities in
the Greek language. Although the two sides of the two controversies could not convince
each other, their debate roused people’s interest in language and led them to the detailed
study of Greek.
Traditional study of language was, to a large extent, practical in nature. People
made a study of language in order to understand the classic works of ancient times and in
order to be able to teach students, enabling them to understand and appreciate those
classic works. The practical proposes made traditional linguists believe that the written
form of language was superior to the spoken language which was regarded as the
corrupted form of language, so they give priority to the written form and took words as
their starting point. When discussing the rules of language, they usually took a
prescriptive approach, because they wanted to set up principles and standards for people
to use language correctly.
In summary, traditional linguists viewed the nature of language as consisting of
following axioms:
1) Language is writing: the written record of the language is the “purest” form.
Speech is secondary and to be distrusted since it is ephemeral and degenerate.
2) Language is conventional: language is conventional and it is not only invented,
but in its progressive advancement, it varies for the purposes of practical
3) Language is prescriptive: well-prescribed language can be used correctly.

1.1.2 Structural Linguistics

American structuralism started at the beginning of the 20 th century and was very
popular and influential in the 1930s and 1940s throughout the world. The two forerunners
of it were Franz Boas and Edward Sapir. Boas, as an anthropologist, found the traditional
grammatical model could not be used to analyze the structures of American Indian’s
languages. Therefore, he had to describe them as they were used. Sapir began to do the
fieldwork in 1904 and recorded a dozen and a half American Indian’s languages and
found that although those languages had no written forms and were regarded as primitive,
they were virtually systematic and were very efficient in communications within their
Another outsatnding structuralist in the late 19th and early 20th century was F. de
Saussure. He considered language as an edifice or a well-defined object. Central to
Saussure’s views is the arbitrary nature of linguistic sign. He viewed language as a
system of signs where the sign is a union of the signifier (the sound image) and the
signified (the idea). There are no natural and inevitable connections between the signifier
and the signified. Language does not simply assign arbitrary names to a set of
independently existing concepts but rather sets up an arbitrary relation between signifiers
and signifieds of its own construction. In other words each language has an arbitrary way
of organizing the world into concepts and categories.
Leonard Bloomfield, a linguist in America, is regarded as the father of American
structuralism. He accepted the theories and principles of behaviorism and characterized
language and language acquisition in term of behaviorist terminology. For him, a
language was a habit of verbal behavior which consisted of a series of stimuli and
responses. He argued that to acquire a language was to form a habit of verbal behavior
and learning a second language was learning a new habit. He thought that speech was
primary and writing was a secondary because for him writing was a later development to
present speech. He stated, in agreement with Sapir’s view, that each language had a
unique system of its own and linguists should describe instead of prescribe what people
actually say, which is in direct contrast with traditional linguistics.
During the years of the World War II, a lot of American structuralists joined in the
training of military personnel and they summarized the ideas and principles of
structuralism and applied them systematically to the teaching of foreign languages. Their
methods were so successful that they set a new approach to foreign language teaching
(audio-lingual method) on its course.
In structuralists’ belief, language is a linguistic system made up of various
subsystems: from phonological, morphological, lexical, etc. to sentences. Each language
has a finite number of such structural items. To learn a language means to learn these
structural items so as to understand and produce language.
For the structuralists, language consists of following three axioms:
1)Language is speech: this is in direct contrast with traditional linguistics which
relegated speech to a position of secondary importance, after writing. The
structuralists declared that the speech is the language. The written recorded is
but a secondary representation of the language.
2)Language is a structural system: language is a system of forms, elements or items
of which are combined in certain ways to create sentences.
3)Language is an arbitrary system: there is absolutely no relationship between the
words and objects they represent.

1.1.3 Transformational Generative Linguistics

The year 1957 saw the publication of Noam Chomsky’s book Syntactic Structures,
which started a revolution in the linguistic world and ushered in a new school --- the
transformational generative linguistics. Although Chomsky was trained in the structuralist
tradition, he was not satisfied with the theory of structuralism, which was inadequate in
explaining some common linguistic facts and phenomena. For example, it would be very
difficult for the structuralists to explain why children acquire their first language in a few
years, and why the same structure can be used to express different meanings and different
structures can be used express the same meaning.
Noam Chomsky viewed language as an internalized system of rules and equate
human beings with automata. He assumes that children are born with a language
acquisition device (LAD). This LAD is made up of a set of general principles called
universal grammar. These general principles can be applied to all the languages in the
world. Once the child is born, the particular language environment will trigger the LAD.
Chomsky assumes that the child will make hypotheses on the basis of the general
principles, then he will test the hypotheses against the actual language data, then he will
modify the hypotheses accordingly. This hypothesis-testing procedure will repeat again
and again until the hypotheses agree with the actual grammar of the language. Children’s
language acquisition process completes when the universal grammar is successfully
transformed into the grammar of a particular language. Only in this way, is it possible to
offer explanations for the facts that all children acquire their first language at roughly the
same speed; they will make mistakes that never occur in the adult language. Meanwhile,
Chomsky emphasized that human language is creative in that humans are able to produce
and interpret an infinitely large number of sentences that they have never heard before.
Thus language is a set of rules or deep structures which underlie the surface structure. For
the transformationalists, language is a system of knowledge made manifest in linguistic
forms but innate and universal.
1)Language is a system which relates meaning to substance: it emphasizes meaning
in linguistic description.
2)Language is a mental phenomenon and innate: the innateness of language
acquired but not inherited in the form of a specific language, suggests a
genetically imparted ability for language learning. It is this ability that
distinguishes man’s language from animal communication systems.
3)Language is universal: all normal children acquire a mother tongue. At a highly
abstract level, all languages must share some universal characteristics.
1.1.4 Functional Linguistics

The functional linguistics develops directly from the London school of linguistics.
The linguist like J.R. Firth attempted to establish a descriptive framework for the analysis
of language by the application of the context of situation to language events. He defined
meaning as function in context. He held the position that all branches of linguistics are
concerned with meaning, and the meaning of linguistic items depends on the context of
situation. For Firth a system is simply a set of choices within a specific context. Any
linguistic item has got two sets of contexts: the context of the other possible choices in a
system and the context where the system itself occurs.
Although Firth attempted to develop a model of linguistic description, he was never
able to work out his theory in detail. It is M.A.K.Halliday who has accomplished this task
and made the London School of linguistics one of the most competitive linguistic theories
of systematic linguistics. While he was developing and elaborating the theory of
systematic linguistics, Halliday made remarkable progress in the study of context. As
early as 1961, Halliday made quite clear his point of view that linguistic events should be
accounted for at three primary levels: substance, form, and context. The substance is the
material of language which can be phonic or graphic. The form is the organization of the
substance into meaningful events. And by context, he meant the relation of the form to
non-linguistic features of the situations in which language operates, and relation of form
to linguistic features other than those of the item under attention. Meanwhile, he also
emphasized the various functions of language and made an attempt to show how the
dimensions of context are linked to the linguistic forms and to the ideational,
interpersonal and textual functions of language. He regarded language as an instrument
used to perform kinds of functions in social interaction.
To functionalists, language is viewed as a dynamic, open system by means of
which members of a community exchange information and communicate. They see
language not only as a linguistic system but also as a means for doing things. Language
has to serve various purposes as there are different types of occasions for using it. In fact,
most of our day-to-day language use involves functional activities: offering, suggesting,
advising, apologizing, etc. Therefore, learners learn a language in order to be able to do
things with it. To perform functions, learners need to know how to combine the
grammatical rules and the vocabulary to express the notions that perform the functions.
Examples of notions are concept of present, past & future time; the expressions of
certainty and possibility; the roles of agent and instrument within a sentence; and special
relationships between people and objects. In general, language has at least seven basic
functions: phatic, directive, informative, interrogative, expressive, evocative, and
performative. Halliday also provided one of the best expositions of language functions
and outlined seven different functions of language.
1) The instrumental function, which serves to manipulate, to cause certain events to
2) The regulatory function, which is the control of events. Regulatory functions of
language are not so much the “unleashing” of certain power, as the maintenance of
3) The representational function, which is the use of language to make statements,
convey facts and knowledge, explain, or report---to “represent” reality as one sees it.
4) The interactional function, which serves to ensure social maintenance.
5) The personal function, which allows a speaker to express feelings, emotions and
6) The heuristic function, which involves language used to acquire knowledge, to learn
about the environment.
7) The imaginative function, which serves to create imaginary systems or ideas.

1.2 Definition of Language

1.2.1 Different Definitions of Language

What is language? This may sound like a naive question. Yet, to this extremely
familiar phenomenon, it is very difficult to give a satisfactory definition. Although there
has been an enormous amount of research in language in the past half century, no
authoritative answer has been given to “What is language?” Rather, people talk about
views of language, seemingly allowing for or accepting different theories for the moment.
We may say “language is a tool for human communication”. But that doesn’t say
anything about its defining properties, only about its function, and there are many other
systems (secret codes, traffic signals, for example) performing the same function. We
may say “language is a set of rules”; again that says nothing about its function, and there
are other systems containing sets of rules. Still other common definitions of language
found in dictionaries and introductory textbooks include the following ones:
Language is a system of arbitrary, vocal symbols which permit all people in a given
culture, or other people who have learned the system of that culture, to communicate or
to interact (Finocchiaro 1964: 8).
Language is a system of communication by sound, operating through the organs of
speech and hearing, among members of a given community, and using vocal symbols
possessing arbitrary conventional meanings (Pei 1966: 141).
Language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for human communication
(Wardhaugh 1972:3).
[Language is] any means, vocal or other, of expressing or communicating feeling or
thought …a system of conventionalized signs, especially words, or gestures having fixed
meanings (Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English language 1934:1390)
[Language is] a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of
conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings
(Webster’s Third International Dictionary of the English language 1961: 1270).
[Language is] a system of communication consisting of a set of small parts and a set
of rules which decide the ways in which these parts can be combined to produce
messages that have meaning (Cambridge International Dictionary of English 1995: 795)
Many of the significant characteristics of language are capsulized in these definitions.
Some of the definitions, Finocchiaro, Pei, and Wardhaugh, for example, restrict
themselves to the notion of vocal symbols, while both of the Webster’s definitions include
more than merely vocal symbols as the proper domain of language. Finocchiaro and
Wardhaugh limit their definitions to human language, thereby implying that animal
communication and language are essentially different.
A consolidation of the definitions of language yields the following composite
1) Language is systematic and generative.
2) Language is a set of arbitrary symbols.
3) Those symbols are primarily vocal, but may also be visual.
4) The symbols have conventionalized meanings to which they refer.
5) Language is used for communication.
6) Language operates in a speech community or culture.
7) Language is essentially human, although possibly not limited to humans.
8) Language is acquired by all people in much the same way---language and
languages learning both have universal characteristics.

1.2.2 Nature of Language

Then, what is language on earth? As language teachers, we clearly need to know

generally what sort of entity we are teaching to our students. In fact, generally speaking,
linguists are in broad agreement about some of the important characteristics of human
language, and most of them would accept a tentative definition like the following:
Language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for human communication
(Wardhaugh 1972:3). This does not appear to be very original at first sight, but each word
in it has been chosen with care to capture an important aspect of language.
By “system”, we mean all elements of language in this system are arranged
according to certain rules; they can not be combined at will. In English, “bkli” will not be
a possible word. “He table a green” will not be an acceptable sentence. If language were
not systematic, it could not be learned or used consistently. In other words, it is because
every language has its system that it conveys the same meaning to different speakers.
By “arbitrary”, it meant that there is no intrinsic connection between the word pen
and the thing we use to write with. The fact that different languages have different words
for it (bi in Chinese for instance) speaks strongly for the arbitrary nature of language.
Although the choice of certain sound symbols to represent certain objects, events or ideas
is arbitrary, once the relationship is established, it becomes a fixed convention. It is
because the sounds and words of a language are used in fixed ways that the speakers of
the language can understand one another, thus making communications and interaction
By “symbolic”, it is meant that anything that represents something else is a symbol.
It explains words are associated with objects, actions, ideas by convention. For example,
the dove is the symbol of peace. Language consists of another type of symbols, sounds
symbols or speech sounds. These symbols are not chosen for any particular reasons but at
By “vocal”, it is because the primary medium is sound for all languages, no matter
how well developed are their writing systems. All evidence shows that writing systems
came much later than the spoken forms and that they are only attempts to capture sounds
and meaning on paper. The fact that children acquire spoken language first before they
can read or write also indicates that language is primarily vocal.
By “human communication” in this definition, it is meant to specify that language
is human –specific; that is, it is very different from the communication systems other
forms of life possess (such as bird songs and animal cries). Everybody agrees that
language is used for human communication and language is possessed only by human
beings. It allows people to say things to one another and to express their thoughts and
needs and even very complex ideas such as making hypotheses and devising theories or
complicated feelings such as both love and hate at the same time. In short, language is a
unique system of communication, and it is the cornerstone of society.

2. An Analysis of Learning and Teaching

2.1 An Analysis of language Learning and Teaching

2.1.1 Nature of Language Learning

Human beings are continually engaged in some sort of learning activities all their
lives, for example, learning to swim, dance, play football, manage a company, or speak a
foreign language. Then, what is learning? A search in contemporary dictionaries reveals
that learning is “acquiring or getting of knowledge of a subject or a skill by study,
experience, or instruction.” A more specialized definition might read as follows:
“Learning is a relatively permanent change in a behavioral tendency and is the result of
reinforced practice” (Kimble and Garmezy 1963: 133). Breaking down the components
of the definition of learning, we can extract a number of characteristic features of
1) Learning is acquisition or “getting.”
2) Learning is retention of information or skill.
3) Retention implies storage systems, memory, and cognitive organization.
4) Learning involves active, conscious focus on and acting upon events outside or
inside the organism.
5) Learning is relatively permanent but subject to forgetting.
6) Learning involves some form of practice, perhaps reinforced practice.
7) Learning is a change in behavior.
These concepts can also give way to a number of subfields within the discipline of
psychology: acquisition processes, perception, memory (storage) systems, recall,
conscious and subconscious learning styles and strategies, theories of forgetting,
reinforcement, the role of practice. So, we can see that the concept of learning has been
greatly influenced by the psychological study of the learning process, and as a result it is
much more widely interpreted than has been customary in popular uses of the term. The
psychological concept of learning goes far beyond learning directly from a teacher or
learning through study or practice. Learning not only includes the learning of skills (for
example, swimming or sewing) or the acquisition of knowledge. It also refers to abstract
and psychological aspects of learning, such as learning to learn and learning to think, the
modification of attitudes, acquisition of interests, social values, or social roles, and even
changes in personality.
Language learning, in keeping with this broad interpretation, is also very widely
conceived. It includes all kinds of language learning for which no formal provision is
made through teaching. First of all, there is the vast area of first-language acquisition to
be discussed shortly. Secondly, an individual in his lifetime, without any specific tuition,
acquires new terms, meanings, jargons, slangs, codes, or ‘registers’ ; he may learn new
patterns of intonation, new gestures, or postures; he may acquire a new dialect. In many
multilingual settings, he may learn to function in more than one language. Much, and
perhaps even most, of such language learning goes on without any ‘teaching’, and some
of it outside the conscious awareness of the learner. We can not afford to ignore all such
‘natural’, ‘undirected’ or ‘informal’ language learning.

2.1.2 Nature of Language Teaching

Teaching can not be defined apart from learning and it is implied in the definition
of learning. Teaching is guiding and facilitating learning, enabling the learner to learn,
setting the conditions for learning. Teaching can be defined as “ showing or helping
someone to learn how to do something, giving instructions, guiding in the study of
something, providing with knowledge, causing to know or understand” (Kimble &
Garmezy 1963). An extended definition of teaching will spell out governing principles
for choosing certain methods and techniques. Theories of teaching should specify the
following features:
1) The knowledge that most effectively leads the individual to a predisposition
toward learning.
2) The ways in which a body of language should be instructed so that the learner
can most readily grasp it.
3) The most effective sequences in which to present the materials to be learned.
4) The nature and pacing of rewards and punishments in the process of learning and
Language teaching can be defined as the activities which are intended to bring
about language learning. All that need be pointed out here is that ‘language teaching’ is
more widely interpreted than ‘instructing a language class’. Formal instruction or
methods of training are included; but also is individualized instruction, self-study,
computer-assisted instruction, and the use of media. Likewise, the supporting activities,
such as the preparation of teaching materials or the training of teachers, as well as making
the necessary administrative provision inside or outside an educational system---they all
fall under the concept of teaching. Sometimes it is argued that informal methods of
‘deschooling’ (Illich 1971), using the language in unplanned situations, ‘teach’ languages
more effectively than formal classroom instruction. Even in these cases, although a
teacher is not much in evidence, we are still within the range of what legitimately can be
described as teaching, as long as such informal approaches are planned for the purposes
of language learning. To sum up, we should interpret language teaching widely so as to
include all activities intended to bring about language learning.

2.1.3 The Relationship between Learning and Teaching

How do teaching and learning interact? The relationship between learning and
teaching is that theories of learning will yield theories of teaching. Learning is the
prerequisite and the basis of teaching. Nathan Gage (1964: 269) noted that “to satisfy the
practical demands of education, theories of learning must be ‘stood on their head’ so as to
yield theories of teaching.” Theories of learning always determine theories,
methodologies and techniques of teaching. The understanding of a theory of learning is
needed before a theory of teaching can be formed. Our understanding of how the learner
learns will determine our philosophy of education, our teaching style, our approach,
methods, and classroom techniques. If, like B.F. Skinner, we look at learning as a process
of stimulus and response through a carefully paced program of reinforcement, naturally
we will teach accordingly and adopt the audio-lingual method in our teaching. On the
other hand, if we view second language learning basically as a deductive rather than an
inductive process, we will probably choose to present copious rules and paradigms to our
students rather than let them “discover” those rules inductively. And if we consider
language learning as a process of cognitive activities, we will get students involved in
meaning learning and cognitive development. All in all, theories of learning always
determine theories, methodologies and techniques of teaching.

2.2 Two Polarized Views of Human learning

The language learning theory underlying an approach or method usually answers

two questions: 1) what are the psycholinguistic and cognitive processes involved in
language learning? 2) What are the conditions that need to be met in order for these
learning processes to be activated? Although these two questions have never been
satisfactorily answered, a vast amount of research has been done from all aspects, which
can be broadly divided into process-oriented theories and condition-oriented theories.
Process-oriented theories are concerned with how the mind processes new information,
such as habit formation, including, making inference, hypothesis testing and
generalization. Condition-oriented theories emphasize the nature of the human and
physical context in which language learning takes place, such as the students, what kind
of input learners receive, and the learning atmosphere.

2.2.1 Behavioristic Views of Human Learning

The behaviorist theory of language learning was initiated by behavioral

psychologist Skinner, who applied Waston and Raynor’s theory of conditioning to the
way humans acquire language (Harmer, 1983). Based on their experiments, Watson and
Raynor formulated a stimulus-response theory of psychology. They claimed that
emotional reactions are learned in much the same way as other skills. The key point of
the theory of conditioning is that “you can train an animal to do anything (within reason)
if you follow a certain procedure which has three major stages, stimulus, response, and
reinforcement” (Harmer, 1983: 30). Based on the theory of conditioning, Skinner
suggested language is also a form of behavior. He regarded language as a human
behavior and holds that language can be learned the same way as an animal through a
chain of ‘stimulus-response reinforcement’. Thus it focuses on publicly observable
responses, which can be objectively perceived, recorded and measured. A behaviorist
defines that learning is the change in the behavioral tendency and is the result of the
reinforced practices of stimuli and response.
As far as this is concerned, some similarities exist between humans and animals
acquiring a set of habits. But learning is unique to the human beings because learning
involves not only passive stimulus and response behaviors, but also active and conscious
focus on and acting upon events outside or inside the organism. Animals can not learn
like human beings because their changes in behavior are no more than the results of
repeated stimulus and response or rewards and punishment. There is no spontaneity at all
in animal “learning”.

2.2.2 Cognitive Views of Human Learning

The term cognitivism is often used loosely to describe methods in which students
are asked to think rather than simply repeat. It seems to be largely the result of Noam
Chomsky’s reaction to Skinner’s behaviorist theory, which led to the revival of structural
linguistics. Cognitive view of learning regards language not as a human behavior, but as
an internal linguistic-processing ability of the human individual and an intricate rule-
based system and a large part of language acquisition is the learning of this system.
Children learn their native language very quickly and with little effort. The linguistic
input is limited and of poor quality, but the output is a perfect language system. On the
other hand, children in the world learn their first language in very different environments.
However, they follow more or less the same stages in their linguistic development. All
these seem to suggest that language is somewhat innate and human beings are innately
predisposed to acquire a language. There must be aspects of linguistic organization that
are basic to the human brain and that make it possible for human beings to acquire
linguistic competence creatively despite the complex nature of language.

2.3 Nature of L2 Learning

When we discuss the nature of L2 learning, we first need to give a definite answer
to a crucial question: in learning a second language, what does the learner acquire, a new
language system or a new cognitive system? Learning L2 does acquire a new language
system, but it need not acquire a new cognitive system. Human cognitive system is
almost the same and undergoes similar process of development. In learning a second
language, we may learn a few new concepts that do not exist in our native language, but
it is unnecessary to alter our cognitive system. What we do is to add new concepts to our
existing cognition through assimilation and accommodation.
In order to understand better the nature of L2 learning, we must make clear what
are the tasks confronting the L2 learner so as to attain native-like proficiency. J. Richards
contends that the task for L2 learning is the acquisition of semantic, transformational and
syntactic and phonological competence for the realization of language-independent deep-
structure conceptual system. That is to say, second language learning primarily involves
the acquisition of a new set of realization of a universal type. The task for the L2 learner
is to acquire the linguistic competence, or rather the words for expressing the conceptual
instead of a new cognitive system. Richards points out that there are two levels of task in
L2 learning: the competence level and the performance level. On the competence side,
the L2 learner has to learn to readjust his optional and obligatory categories in the
language he is learning. He has to learn to discover the grammatically crucial elements of
the syntactic system of the new language such as how to recognize the noun phrase and
the verb phrase and their structures of modification and how the major syntactic
categories are realized. He also has to learn to perceive sound contrasts which are not
distinctive in his own language. On the performance side, the L2 learner has to learn how
to perform in the new language. He has to produce unfamiliar sounds or use familiar
sounds in unfamiliar positions. He has to learn to write or speak the new language in a
particular style or register for a particular communicative role. The question is which
level should be more stressed in L2 learning? J. Richards concludes that in the initial
stages of L2 learning focus should be on the competence side, because it is the linguistic
competence that L2 learners must first acquire. Performance is secondary to competence;
the learner’s interlanguage is accepted as normal signs of a complex rule system in the
stage of second language development. In the advanced stages, focus should be shifted
from competence to performance, should learn how to speak or write appropriately in a
particular context. At a later stage, attention shifts to performance itself and the
significance of appropriate performance.

2.4 Major Modern L2 Learning Theories

In the study of second language acquisition process, researchers and language

teachers tried hard to describe and explain the L2 acquisition process, and the different
aspects of L2 acquisition they have tackled included (a) situational factors, (b) the
linguistic input, (c) learner differences, (d) learner processes, and (e) linguistic output. As
a result, many new theories about SLA about each aspect of L2 learning appeared. But
here, we shall only concentrate on some of the more influential L2 learning theories.

2.4.1 The Habit-formation Theory

The habit-formation theory comes from the behaviorist psychology and was very
popular in the 1950s and 60s. According to behaviorists, language is regarded as a set of
linguistic habits and the linguistic habits are formed through identifying and
strengthening the associations between stimuli and responses. Learning a second
language means the formation of a new set of linguistic habits. Imitation and practice
play an important role in the process of habit-formation. Since the process of second
language acquisition is regarded as a process of habit formation, then the old habits---
mother tongue of the learner---will either facilitate or get in the way of the second
language learning. That is to say, if the mother tongue and the target language have the
same linguistic habits, then positive transfer will occur and the target language learning
process will be facilitated. However, when the mother tongue and the target language
share a meaning but express it in different ways, the learner will transfer the way of
expression in the mother tongue to the target language. This is called negative transfer
and the results of such transfers are realized by errors made by the learner. Therefore,
according to the theory, errors should be avoided and should be corrected if they have
been made, because they are indication of non-learning and have the danger of becoming
bad linguistic habits. Since errors will interfere with the new habit-formation process and
are the results of the negative transfer, the best way to avoid the errors is to predict when
they will occur and find ways to prevent the occurrence of them. Contrastive analysis is
proposed as a valid means to predict potential errors. Some scholars believe that if a
careful and detailed comparison between the mother tongue and the target language is
done, then all the errors in second language learning process can be predicted and

2.4.2 The Hypothesis of Linguistic Universals

The hypothesis of linguistic universals originates from the study of linguistic

universals in natural languages. It is acknowledged that there exist certain linguistic
properties which are true to all the natural languages in the world. There are two most
influential approaches to the study of linguistic universals. One is taken by Noam
Chomsky, who is making detailed study of a particular language in order to reveal the
universals of language; the other is taken by Joseph H. Greenberg, who studies and
compares different languages in an effort to determine the linguistic universals.
Chomsky divided the grammar of a natural language into core grammar and
peripheral grammar. According to him, human beings are born with a language
acquisition device which consists of a set of general principles. The core grammar of a
natural language agrees with the inborn set of general principles while the peripheral can
not be governed by the language acquisition device. In researches into the second
language acquisition process, people have found that second language learners usually
acquire the core grammar of the target language and then the peripheral grammar. This is
simply because the core grammar agrees with the inborn general principles and is much
easier to learn. They also believe that the core grammar of the learner’s mother tongue
will facilitate the development of the learner’s interlanguage and will exert a positive
influence on the acquisition of the target language.

2.4.3 The Acculturation Theory

The acculturation theory originated in the late 1970s and was put forward by J.
Schumann and R. Anderson. By acculturation they meant that individuals of one culture
have to go through the process of modification in attitudes, knowledge, and behavior in
order to function well in another culture. It involves not only the social adaptation but
also psychological adaptation. Schumann thinks that second language acquisition is just
one aspect of acculturation and the relation between acculturation and second language
acquisition is that the degree of the former will control the degree of the later. That is to
say, successful acculturation will bring about successful second language acquisition,
while poor acculturation will produce poor second language acquisition. When discussing
the factors which determine the degree of acculturation success, Schuman maintains that
the social and psychological distance play a decisive role. Social distance is created by
the relations between the learner and the members of the target social group, and
psychological distance is the result of various affective factors of the learner. It is
assumed that the shorter the distance, the better the learning environment, hence the
better the language learning result.

2.4.4 The Discourse Theory

The discourse theory was established by E. Hatch in the late 1970s. This theory of
second language acquisition was developed from M.A.K. Halliday’s theory of first
language acquisition. Halliday thinks that the process of first language acquisition is
actually the process is actually the process of learning how to communicate in that
language. Hatch agrees with Halliday’s views on first language acquisition and perceives
little difference between the first language acquisition process and the process of second
language acquisition---only through communication discourses can the learner acquire
the second language. The main points of the discourse theory can be summarized as
In second language acquisition, the rules of grammar are acquired in a natural order.
2) When communicating with a non-native speaker, the native speaker will adjust his
3) The strategies and means used in discourses and the adjusted language input will
influence the speed and order of second language acquisition.
4) Therefore, the natural order of second language acquisition is the result of the
learner’s learning to make discourse interactions.
From the above points of the discourse theory, we could see that Hatch focuses his
research on the process of second language acquisition and he tries to describe the
process by analyzing the face-to-face communication.

2.4.5 The Monitor Theory

The monitor theory, which is very important theory in second language learning,
was put forward by Stephen Krashen in the late 1970s. In so far as it is probably the most
comprehensive of existing theories. Krashen formulated this theory in a set of five
hypotheses about second language learning in a host of articles and books between 1975
and 1985.
1) The Acquisition-learning hypothesis
Krashen claims that adult learners of a second language have two ways of
developing their competence in a second/foreign language. One is acquisition which
refers to the subconscious process in which they develop their language proficiency
through natural communications in the target language and it is very similar to the
process children use in acquiring their first language. The other is learning which refers to
the conscious process in which they acquire the explicit knowledge of the rules of the
target language. The basic distinction between language acquisition and language
learning is whether the learner pays a conscious attention to the rules of the target
language. Generally speaking, language can be acquired in natural communication
settings when learners pay attention to meaning instead of form, or in the classroom when
the focus is on communication. Focusing on the form of the target language will only
result in an explicit knowledge of the rules of the target language. In Krashen’s point of
view, conscious learning usually does not lead to acquisition.
2) The Monitor Hypothesis
According to Krashen, acquisition and learning have different functions in the
communication activities. Acquisition is responsible for the fluency of the utterances
produced by speakers while learning is responsible for the accuracy of the speeches or
passages. That is to say, in natural communication settings, acquisition has a far more
important role to play than learning, the only function of which is to monitor or edit what
has been or is going to be produced according to the norms of the target language.
In order to perform this monitor function, language learners have to satisfy at least
three conditions. The first condition is that the speaker must have sufficient time to
monitor his production. In normal conversations, the speaker usually does not have
enough time to monitor his speeches. The second condition is that the language performer
must have his focus on form. In certain occasions such as language examinations or
preparation of a formal speech, accuracy becomes an important factor and if the learner
has enough time, he will try his best to monitor what he is going to produce. The third
condition is that the language performer must have an explicit knowledge of the rules of
the target language; otherwise, the language performer won’t be able to monitor his
3) The Natural Order Hypothesis
This hypothesis claims that foreign language learners acquire the rules of the target
language in the same order no matter where, when, and how they are learning the
language. For example, one group of learners may learn a language in a natural
communication setting and another group may be taught in the classroom. However, their
order of acquisition of the language system will be the same. Krashen believes that this
natural order of acquisition is independent of the order of rules taught in the classroom. In
his point of view, language teaching cannot change the natural order of language
acquisition. The only thing it can do is to facilitate the speed of acquisition. Although at
the moment Krashen is sure that there is a natural order of language acquisition, he can
not explain with evidence what this order is. And he assumes that one task of applied
linguistic research is to find out the true picture of this natural order.
4) The Input Hypothesis
Krashen uses the input hypothesis to explain the relationship between language
input and language acquisition and to answer the question of how people acquire
languages. According to Krashen, the only way for people to acquire a language is by
understanding messages or receiving comprehensible input. They move from i, their
current level, to i+1, the next level along the natural order, by understanding input
containing i+1. That is to say, language is acquired by people’s comprehension of input
that is slightly beyond their current level. People understand input containing i+1 because
the situation, context, facial expressions, gestures, etc. will provide clues for their
comprehension. Krashen maintains that input containing i+1 will be provided
automatically in natural communication settings, so it is not necessary for the language
teachers to teach the next structure deliberately along the natural order.
5) The Affective Filter Hypothesis
The affective filter hypothesis attempts to account for the variation in speed of
language acquisition among individuals of the same group. Research in second language
acquisition shows that motivation, self-confidence and anxiety are the three affective
factors which determine the degree of success in second language acquisition. Generally
speaking, learners with high motivation, self-confidence, and low anxiety will do much
better than those that are unmotivated, lacking in self-confidence and concerned too
much with failure. The affective filter hypothesis is formed on the basis of such research
and it claims that language acquirers with a low affective filter will get more input
containing i+1 and they are able to make a better use of the input in their acquisition
process, while learners with a high affective filter which will block the input in their
language acquisition process. This explains why we do have individual differences
among the same group of learners.

3. An Analysis of Target Language-English

At the beginning of the fifth century Britain was invaded by three tribes from the
North Europe: the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. These three tribes landed on the British
coast, drove the Britons west and north and settled down on the island. These three tribes
merged into one people. And the three dialects they spoke naturally grew into a single
language, the English language.
English is classified as a Teutonic language, that is, a Germanic language. To be
more exact, English belongs to the Low West Germanic branch of the Indo-European
family. That is to say, English belongs to the group of languages to which German,
Dutch, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian also belong. The English language is of a mixed
character. On the one hand, it shares with West Germanic languages many common
words and similar grammatical structures. On the other hand, more than half of the
English vocabulary is derived from Latin and French. Besides, English has accepted
words from other languages of the world in the course of its historical development.

3.1 The Structures of English

Most people rarely think of language as consisting of structures, that is, of parts
which fit together in systematic ways. In their minds, the sounds of the language are
simply the letters of the alphabet, the vocabulary is only a listing of words in a dictionary,
and the grammar is only sets of rules which do not make much sense, since there are so
many exceptions. And the idea of a discourse having a structure seems almost
unthinkable. Most people never think about the order or arrangement of what they say or
write. They may show appreciation for a well-written essay or story, but they seldom
realize that their evaluation is based on such factors as unity, completeness, proportion,
balance, and cohesion. In fact all languages consist of four major structures: sounds,
lexemes, syntax, and discourse. Here, in order to have a concise recognition of language
structures, we need to have a brief review about language components respectively.
Human beings can make a wide range of sounds but only a small set of sounds are
used in speech. Each language has a limited number of distinctive sounds which are
crucial in signaling differences of meaning (the so-called “phonemes”). In English, there
are 20 phonemes in the received pronunciation vowel system and 24 phonemes in the
consonant system. But each of these phonemes consist of a set of closely related sounds
(often called “phones”), and each phoneme contrasts in at least one dimension with all
the other phonemes in the language. In addition, the sounds are not a random selection of
possible noises, but a systematically organized set of sounds which are contrastively
related to one another to form meaningful units. Apart from the consonants and vowels of
a language (often called the “segmental phonemes”), there are also a number of features
which may accompany these sounds and which may radically alter the meaning of what
is said. These “paralinguistic” features include, for example, the tone of voice.
The lexical part of language is structured in two quite distinct ways: formal and
semantic. The major formal classes of words in English consist of such sets as nouns,
verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, and exclamatory
particles. The major semantic classes, however, are somewhat parallel, but quite distinct,
namely, entities, e.g. man, child, house, tree, hill, activities, e.g. eat, think, run, work,
plough, characteristics, e.g. good, swift, true, beautiful, lovely, and relations, e.g. in,
under, through, because, furthermore. For example, the noun reason is often a way of
talking about a relations between two events, e.g. the reason he came was to collect the
money. Note, however, that reason in the expression he may reason in that way represents
a particular kind of intellectual activity.
The syntactic structures of language are of two basic types: syntagmatic (the linear
relations of grammatical units) and paradigmatic (the vertical or substitutional relations
of grammatical units). The syntagmatic relations can be easily identified, such as the
sentence the old man hobbled into the house. The paradigmatic structures are based on
the relations of substitution. For example, in the grammatical frame the boy ran out it is
possible to substitute a number of other words for each of the components, as illustrated
in the following sets:
the boy ran out
a child walked in
this man rode through
that ball rolled around
That fact that certain words can fill particular positions in a syntagmatic frame
means that they belong to the same paradigmatic classes, e.g. determiners, nouns, verbs,
and adverbs. There is, however, another type of paradigmatic relation in the substitution
of one term as a cross reference to another.
Most people are conscious of the rules of grammar and how sentences must be put
together, but they are largely unaware of that there are also patterns for putting sentences
together into paragraphs, combining paragraphs into sections, and organizing sections
into chapters and chapters into books. There are so many different kinds of discourse
structures that many people feel that almost any order or arrangement of sentences is
justified. This is certainly not true, and readers are quick to recognize whether a particular
text is well organized or poorly arranged, however, they do not know just why they react
as they do. Nevertheless, most people do have a significant competence for the
organization of discourse. In fact, for any discourse, it implies the underlying structure
which accounts for the organization of a text or a discourse. Different kinds of texts and
discourse (e.g. stories, descriptions, letters, reports, poems) are distinguished by the ways
in which the topic, propositions, and other information are linked together to form a unit.

3.2 The Features of English

Linguists believe that English and Chinese fall into different language classes
according to their respective features. Firstly, English is a synthetic-analytic language
which is “characterized by frequent and systematic use of inflected forms to express
grammatical relationships and many function words” (a definition from Webster’s Ninth
New Collegiate Dictionary), while Chinese is an analytic language which is
“characterized by a relatively frequent use of function words, auxiliary verbs, and
changes in word order to express syntactic relations, rather than of inflected forms” (a
definition from The Random House College Dictionary). The differences are well
expressed and demonstrated through numerous changes under the dimension of
morphology. That is changes in the internal structures, namely, conjugation, declension,
affixation (prefix and suffix). These changes can also be subdivided into such sub-aspects
as gender, number, case, tense, aspect, voice, mood, degree of comparison, person, parts
of speech (LIAN Shu-neng,1993), with these diversities of words and conversion of the
same word and inner structures, lexical and grammatical meanings and significance of
English can be achieved.
Secondly, as to another different feature of morphology between English and
Chinese, usage in function words, especially in “article”, “preposition”, “auxiliary word”,
is different. Most parts of speech in English have their equivalent parts of speech in
Chinese, but “article” is an exception. Some articles can be substituted by classifiers in
Chinese while most of them can not. In fact, the use and usage of “article” is a linguistic
phenomenon. Preposition is active in English while verb is active in Chinese. English and
Chinese both have their auxiliary words but are different in usage. In English, the number
of auxiliary words is not large, and most of them are used in sentences to help the main
verbs to make a sentence. Such as “do/does, did” are used in simple present and past
tenses (limited to negative, interrogative, inversion, stressed sentences) and “will, shall,
would,” are used in simple future and past future tenses respectively with the main verbs
to indicate a future action will happen or in sentences to convey a desire or a wish. As to
“model verbs”, such as “ought to, must, need, had better, would rather” are used with
main verbs to indicate one’s ability, responsibility, obligation, suggestions, intentions.
These rules are easy to follow. But usage of auxiliary words in Chinese (a. words
referring to an action: 着、了、过; b. words referring to structure: 的、地、得; c.
words referring to mood and tone: 吗 、 呢 、 吧 、 啊 、 嘛 、 呀 、 哪 ) can be a
complicated question.
Thirdly, “parts of speech” also falls into the category of different language classes.
What’s more, words in both English and Chinese are poly-semantic. As a result, the
problems become complicated. In English word-building is through composition,
conversion and derivation (affixation). By way of these approaches of word formation,
parts of speech or meanings of English words can be changed or enhanced. In conveying
certain meanings we do not need to look for other words, instead, just find the right or
proper words in their right parts of speech. For this part, native speakers assume the rule
is obvious and self-evident, but for Chinese learners, they may use the same word in
different sentences, parts of speech being identifiable by the auxiliary words 的,地,得,
while in English the case is that we should change the parts of speech of the words to
correspond to the sentences’ grammar by changing their affixes. Besides, English
grammatical functions of words or parts of speech can be changed without changing the
word forms. That is a very typical feature of English.
Fourthly, English and Chinese are different in language structures in many aspects.
Although English and Chinese have modifier “used before or after a noun to indicate
pertinence, character, quantity” (The Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, Chinese-English
Edition) but in most cases, the modifiers are 20 pre-determined in Chinese while in
English they can be pre-determined as well as post-determined. And the post-determined
case in English is predominant, such as: attributive clause; present and past participle;
proposition phrases; infinitive; adjective after the relative pronoun “which” or “who” and
the link verb “be” (various forms) in an attributive clause.
Fifthly, it is well acknowledged that English is a hypotactic language while
Chinese is a paratactic language. That is, English greatly stresses formal cohesion while
Chinese stresses semantic coherence. When expressed, English is found to use different
subordinate relations such as participles and subordinate clauses, to indicate logical
meanings and structures while in Chinese, with influence of Chinese way of thinking or
beliefs for centuries, factors of time, sequence are attached great importance in conveying
messages. That is to say, Chinese sentence order is relatively rigid. It is often put in a way
according to the time, sequential events, reason, condition, and so on. But English
sentence order is largely based on S-V sentence pattern in that the main idea is put
priority while the subordinate idea is put by way of subordinate clause, or participles. R.
Eastman (1984) once pointed, “The English sentence is extremely plastic. It can be
enlarged, combined, adjusted with almost any degree of fineness to accommodate a
writer’s thought.” In fact, English is like an architecture style in that conjunctive-nexus is
the main feature. In summary, we can also use several pairs of words to distinguish the
diversities between English and Chinese: hypotactic vs. paratactic, overt cohesion vs.
covert coherence, formal cohesion vs. semantic coherence, grammatical and notional
concord vs. functional concord, preciseness vs. conciseness, compact vs. diffusive, and
complex vs. simplex.
At last, discourse is the highest level at which we may find cultural deposits, which
usually take the form of the discourse pattern and the stylistic features of a specific genre
(ibid). Thus we should adapt the thinking pattern of the target language and adjust the
conveying in a high discourse level rather than take a word-for-word policy.

3.3 Uses and Functions of English

The teaching of second and foreign language is a major international enterprise.

The current status of English has turned a significant percentage of the world’s
population into part-time users or learners of English. Here, we will survey some uses
and functions of English around the world.

3.3.1 English as a Mother Tongue

English can be described as the mother tongue or first language of over 45

percentage of the populations in 10 countries; ranked according to greatest percentage of
speakers of English these are the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand,
Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, the United States, Canada, and Guyana (Fishman et al.
1977). In English-speaking countries like these, English is not spoken in an identical
manner, however. Different varieties or dialects of English exist, reflecting such factors
as a person’s degree of education, ethnic group, social class, or geographical location. A
dialect may be distinguished by differences of vocabulary or grammar, but differences in
pronunciation are generally its most recognizable feature and determine the speaker’s
accent, that is, the way his or her dialect is pronounced. The variety of English that is
recognized by speakers of English as being the “correct” way of speaking, that is used as
the basis for written English, and that is the variety generally used to teach English to
those learning it as a second or foreign language is referred to as Standard English.

3.3.2 English as a Second Language

In many countries a language that is not the mother tongue of the majority of the
population may still function as an official language, that is, as the sole or major language
of law, government, education, business, and the media. In countries where English has
these functions it is usually referred to as a second language. English is an official (and
hence second) language in Botswana, Cameroon, Fiji, Gambia, Ghana, India, Malta,
Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and so on.
When English functions as a second language, that is, where it is used alongside
other languages but is commonly the most important language of education, government,
or business, it is often regarded by its users as a local rather than a foreign language
(Richards 1979). Consequently, it is spoken in ways that mark its local status. Thus in
countries like India, Nigeria, and Singapore people refer to their variety of English as
Nigerian English, Indian English, or Singaporean English. These are legitimate varieties
of English with a greater total number of users than the varieties of English spoken in
countries where English is considered a native language. (L.E. Smith 1981; Kachru
1982). They often serve as vehicles for the expression of literature and creative writing.
In their written forms they are close to standard British or American English, but their
spoken forms maybe quite distinctive.

3.3.3 English as a Foreign Language

In countries where English is not an official language it may still have a significant
role to play. It may be an important school subject and it may be necessary to pass an
examination in English to enter a university. It may be the language of certain courses at
a university, or at least of a large percentage of the students’ textbooks. It may be needed
for people who work in tourism, business, and for some sections of the civil service. In
countries where English has these functions, such as China, Japan, France, Germany,
Mexico, Israel-that is, all those countries where English is not regarded as a second
language---English is described as a foreign language.
In EFL countries, as they are sometimes referred to, English is increasingly the first
foreign language studied at school or college. In China, English has replaced Russian as
the most commonly studied foreign language. In many south American countries, it is
placing French as a foreign language in schools. In addition, over 50 percentage of the
world’s non-English-speaking foreign students study in English-speaking countries. This
has led to a greater need for English to be taught at the higher levels of education in EFL

4. Basic Conceptual Distinctions about Language

In language teaching and learning, we inevitably come across a number of terms
which are not easy to distinguish between them. We often use such terms as ‘first
language’, ‘second language’ and ‘foreign language’. One would assume that as language
teachers, we could use terms which are neatly defined and totally unambiguous. But far
from it, the ironic fact is that the terminology we need in language pedagogy is often
ambiguous and sometimes downright confusing. We must be alert to this source of
possible misunderstanding and try to minimize it by explaining the terms we use. We can
at this point only illustrate the problem of terminology by discussing terms: ‘first’,
‘second’ or ‘foreign language’.

4.1. First Language Vs Second Language

We start from the common-sense distinction between ‘mother tongue’ or ‘native

language’ and ‘second language’ or ‘foreign language’. At a more technical level we also
find for the first two terms ‘primary language’ and ‘L1’ and for the second two
‘secondary language’ and ‘L2’. In order to have a clear and concise impression, all these
confusing terms can be generally categorized into two groups.

Distinction between L1 and L2

L1 L2
first language second language
native language non-native language
mother tongue foreign language
primary language secondary language

Misunderstanding and confusion often arise when people use the same term to talk
about different things and express different meanings. Therefore, it is very necessary to
make such distinctions clear. H.H. Stern once pointed out: these two sets of terms are
always relative to a person or a group of persons. They indicate a subjective relationship
between a language and an individual or a group. We can never assign any particular
language, for example, English, French, or Japanese, in any absolute way to one or the
other set of terms. They can be distinguished in the light of the manner of acquisition,
social function and the level of proficiency.
Thus, the L1 terms are used to indicate, first of all, that a person has acquired the
language in infancy and early childhood (hence ‘first’ or ‘native’) and generally within
the family (hence ‘mother tongue’). Secondly, the L1 terms signal a characteristic level of
proficiency in the language. They suggest an intuitive, ‘native-like’, ‘full’, or ‘perfect’
command of the language, a high level of proficiency. So sometimes it is necessary for us
to make a distinction between L1 as ‘language acquired first in early childhood’ and L1
as ‘language of dominant or preferred use’. Consequently, it would be best to reverse the
term ‘native language’ for the language of early-childhood acquisition and ‘primary
language’ for the language of dominant or preferred use when this distinction has to be
made, with the terms ‘first language’ or ‘L1’ to cover both uses, allowing the context to
make clear the distinction.
The concept of L2 (‘non-native language’, ‘second language’, ‘foreign language’)
implies the prior availability to the individual of an L1, in other words the individual is
already in command of an L1 or some form of bilingualism. Again, the use of the L2 set
of terms has a dual function: it indicates something about the acquisition of the language
and something about the nature of the command.
Whether the learning is formalized in any way, for example, through a language
course in school, through private study, or is left informal, in all three cases the language
is learnt as a ‘second language’ or ‘foreign language’. It implies that such languages are
learnt by these individuals after they have already acquired a L1. Secondly, the L2 terms
may indicate a lower level of proficiency in the language in comparison with the primary
language. The language is the individual’s ‘weaker’ or ‘secondary’ language. It feels ‘less
familiar’, ‘new’, or ‘strange’.
To sum up, the term ‘second language’ has two meaning. First, it refers to the
chronology of language learning. A second language is any language acquired (or to be
acquired) later than the native language. This definition deliberately leaves upon how
much later second language is acquired. At one extreme the second language learning
process takes place at an early age when the native language command is still
rudimentary. At the other, it may take place in adult life when the L1 acquisition process
is virtually completed or slowed down. Or, it may take place at any stage between the two
extremes. Secondly, the term ‘second language’ is used to refer to the level of language
command in comparison with a primary or dominant language. In this second sense,
‘second language’ indicates a lower level of actual or believed proficiency. Hence
‘second’ means also ‘weaker’ or ‘secondary’. As in many cases the two uses coincide,
that is to say, proficiency in a language acquirer later than the L1 is frequently lower than
that in the L1, the term ‘second language’ or L2 is used to cover both meanings. If the
lower proficiency level is to be referred to specifically, the terms ‘weaker’ or ‘secondary’
can be used for clarification.

4.2.Second versus Foreign Language

Another distinction worthy of note is that within the second group, there is a
difference between a second language and a foreign language. In the past, the term
‘foreign language’ was most widely used in contrast to ‘native language’. In recent
decades the other term ‘second language’ has been increasingly applied for all types of
non-native language learning. Now mostly the two are regarded as a synonym and second
language and foreign language are used interchangeably, and some scholars now use
second language to cover both foreign language and non-native language, but in certain
cases a conceptual distinction is still necessary in the use of ‘second’ or ‘foreign’ .
In contrasting ‘second language’ and ‘foreign language’ there is today consensus
that a necessary distinction is to be made between a non-native language learnt and used
within one country to which the term ‘second language’ has been applied, and a non-
native language learnt and used with reference to a speech community outside national or
territorial boundaries to which the term ‘foreign language’ is commonly given. A ‘second
language’ usually has official status or a recognized function within a country which a
foreign language has not. When immigrants come to a new country and learn the
language of that country, they are learning a second language. Second language refers to
non-native language, which is learned or used in the second language environment, i.e.
within one country or speech community where it has official status or recognized
function and is accepted as lingua franca used for education, government, or business
within one country.
Foreign language also refers to a non-native language. But it is learnt or used not in
the second environment but in the first language environment, i.e., within one’s own
country or speech community with little exposure to native use of the language or few
opportunities to use the language. The second distinction is that second language is not
limited to classroom instruction only, but is learned or used outside classroom or native
language environment while foreign language is usually taught by the language teacher
and used in an artificial environment.
The purposes of second language learning are often different from foreign language
learning. Since the second language is frequently the official language or one of two or
more recognized languages, it is needed ‘for full participation in the political and
economic life of the nation’ (Paulston 1974:12-13); or it may be the language needed for
education (Marckwardt 1963). Foreign language learning is often undertaken with a
variety of different purposes in mind, for example, travel abroad, communication with
native speakers, reading of a foreign literature, or reading of foreign scientific and
technical works. A second language, because it is used within the country, is usually
learnt with much more environmental support than a foreign language whose speech
community may be thousands of miles away. A foreign language usually requires more
formal instruction and other measures compensating for the lack of environmental
support. By contrast, a second language is often learnt informally (‘pick up’) because of
its widespread use within the environment.