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Language Learning Theories

Definitions of L1 & L2
Definition of first language (L1):
The language(s) that an individual learns first. Other terms for first language-

Native language or mother tongue

Definition of second language (L2):

Any language other than the first language learned (in a broader sense).
A language learned after the first language in a context where the language is used widely in the speech community (in a narrower sense).

This power point presentation is designed to make you think about language learning (both L1 and L2). This presentation begins with guiding questions that you should think about as you see this presentation. A discussion question appears at the end of this presentation.

Guiding questions
How do babies learn their first language (L1)? Do children have to be taught how to speak? How long does it take a child to become fluent in her native language?
mama papa

Patterns in L1 Development
Characteristics of the language of children:
Their language development shows a high degree of similarity among children all over the world. There are predicable patterns in the L1 development and their L1 developmental patterns are related to their cognitive development (predictability). Their language reflects the word order of the language that they are hearing. The combination of the words has a meaning relationship (learning through imitation). Their language also shows they are able to apply the rules of the language to make sentences which they have never heard before (creativity).

Patterns in L1 Development
Before First Words -

The earliest vocalizations Involuntary crying (when they feel hungry or uncomfortable) Cooing and gurgling showing satisfaction or happiness
Babbling Babies use sounds to reflect the characteristics of the different language they are learning.

Patterns in L1 Development
First Words Around 12 months (one-word stage): Babies begin to produce one or two recognizable words (esp. content word); producing single-word sentences. By the age of 2 (two-word stage): 1) at least 50 different words 2) telegraphic sentences (no function words and grammatical morphemes) e.g., Mommy juice, baby fall down 3) reflecting the order of the language e.g., kiss baby, baby kiss 4) creatively combining words e.g., more outside, all gone cookie

Patterns in L1 Development
By the age of 4:
Most children are able to ask questions, give commands, report real events, and create stories about imaginary ones with correct word order and grammatical markers most of the time. They have mastered the basic structures of the language or languages spoken to them in these early years.

They begin to acquire less frequent and more complex linguistic structures such as passives and relative clauses. They begin to develop ability to use language in a widening social environment.

Three theories:

1.Environmentalist or Behaviourist: Say what I say 1. Nativist (Innatists): Its all in your mind 1. Interactionist: Learning from inside and out

1. Environmentalist theories
Environment shapes learning and behavior Children react to their surroundings Children learn language through Input (provides stimulus) Response through imitation Feedback and Reinforcement Habit formation

2. Nativist theories
Children do not need any kind of formal teaching to learn to speak. Children are born with a natural capacity to learn language. The brain contains systems for recognizing patterns of sound. Chomskys innate hypothesis and critical period theories are important in nativist theories.

Noam Chomskys L-A-D

Chomskys theory of the LAD (Language Acquisition Device) states that every human is born with innate principles of language. Children learn language spontaneously and speak creatively. According to Chomsky, the Behaviourist theory is inadequate because what children hear is incomplete and often ungrammatical, and cannot account for the creativity of their utterances.

Critical period hypothesis:

There is a critical period for language learning. There is no agreement about how long this sensitive period lasts. Genie the American wild child provided evidence that language cannot be learned after puberty.

In the fall of 1970, social workers took custody of a 13year-old child who had spent much of her life chained to a potty chair in her bedroom. She could not speak, walk, or respond to other people. She was called "Genie." Her case attracted psychologists who were interested in finding out whether she could still learn to speak. At the time, some linguists, led by MIT's Noam Chomsky, believed that human speech is a genetically programmed ability. Eric Lenneberg, a neuropsychologist, agreed with Chomsky and added further that if a person did not learn to speak by adolescence, then the natural ability to learn language might be lost forever. This theory was the so-called "critical period hypothesis."

Genie's vocabulary grew by leaps and bounds, but she was still not able to string words together into meaningful sentences. Normal children begin by learning to say simple sentences, like "No have toy." Soon they are able to say "I not have toy." Eventually they will learn to say, "I do not have the toy.' Later they will refine the sentence to say, "I don't have the toy." Genie seemed to be stuck at the first stage. We do learn many words from experience, from seeing, hearing, reading, and asking. But some scientists think that learning how to speak in sentences and sensing how words get put together in logical order also depends on something that is built into our brains from birth. Was Genie's brain missing something which was necessary for learning language?

3. Interactionist theories:
Children require interaction with a care-giver to develop language. Children follow the attention of the care-giver and learn to direct the attention of the care-giver; these activities involve intention reading and pattern finding skills. Communication is 3-way: child, adult, object. Language structure emerges from language use.

Interactionist Perspectives: Learning from Inside & Out

This position views that language develops as a result of the interplay between the innate learning ability of children and the environment in which they develop. Developmental psychologists attribute more importance to the environment than the innatists, though they also recognize a powerful learning mechanism in the human brain. They see language acquisition as similar to and influenced by the acquisition of other kinds of skill and knowledge, rather than as something that is largely independent of the childs experience and cognitive development.

Each of the three theoretical approaches explains a different aspect of first language acquisition. 1. Behaviorists (learning through imitation, practice, reinforcement, habit-formation) the acquisition of vocabulary and grammatical morphemes. 2. Innatists (LAD/UG/CPH) the acquisition of complex grammar (structure of the language).

3. Interactionists (social interaction) the acquisition of how form and meaning are related, how communicative functions are carried out, and how language is used appropriately.

Second language learning

Most people agree that there is a fundamental difference between L1 and L2 learning because: All children learn their first language easily and well whereas adults vary in their ultimate mastery of a second language. Children do not need to be taught their first language whereas adults benefit from formal instruction. Children are intrinsically motivated to learn their native language whereas adult mastery of a second language is dependent upon attitude, motivation, and aptitude.

Which theory of L1 acquisition makes the most sense to you: environmental, nativist, or interactionist? Explain in about 200 words with the help of some examples from what you have observed in life.