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									Language Production, Theory, and Acquisition

              Christine Tanner
                                                       Language Production, Theory, and Acquisition


       The focus of this paper will be on language learning and acquisition theories for first and

second languages. I will focus on several major theorists and explain their theories. These

include Noam Chomsky, Stephen Krashen, James Asher, Jim Cummins, Anna Uhl Chamot, and

J. Michael O’Malley. I will then address how a student’s first language can affect second

language learning and how the input a learner receives can help him/her learn the target

language. Several teaching strategies that would be useful in the classroom will also be

discussed. Lastly, I will explain what CLT – or Communicative Language Learning – is and is

not and how to use it for English Language Learners.

Theorists and Theories

       Noam Chomsky had the idea that all children have the ability to learn a language from

birth – whether they are born with or without the ability to hear. All children, Chomsky

theorizes, use a special brain mechanism called the Language Acquisition Device (LAD) to

discover language rules and use (Lightbrown & Spada, 2006). From the discovery of his LAD,

Chomsky came up with his idea about Universal Grammars. This idea states that children have

the ability to learn language because there are certain grammars that are universal in all

languages (Fromkin, Rodman, & Hyams, 2011). However, it is extremely difficult to identify all

of these grammars due to the diversity of the world’s languages. Through Universal Grammars,

children discover the grammar rules and usage of their primary language – or even secondary

language if they are introduced to it in their early years. There are opposing theories to

Chomsky’s Universal Grammar – some even go so far as to say that while Universal Grammars
                                                       Language Production, Theory, and Acquisition

explain a primary language acquisition, there has to be something more for second language

learning (Lightbrown & Spada, 2006).

       Chomsky’s six properties of language require some explanation here. First, language is

species-specific. Language is unique to the human race but communication is not.

Communication is accomplished by every species through various means. My cats can

communicate with each other but they do not “talk” to each other for the love of talking. Both

cats are even capable of communicating with me, but not of holding a conversation. Secondly is

that language is task-specific and should be seen as an organ inside the brain. Third, language is

definitely abstract. It is more than words strung together in a certain way (or how not to combine

them) or certain sounds. Fourth, language is hierarchal and learned in a certain order. Children

always learn it in the same order as do other children who speak the same language. All children

who learn English go through the same stages that I went through as a child. Children learning to

speak Chinese go through the same stages as their parents and grandparents. Fifth, a small

amount of language exposure as a child can lead to full acquisition – even with children who are

deaf and have been exposed to sign language as a small child. Lastly, humans are biologically

conditioned to learn language. Our brain structure is built so that we learn language and use it


       According to Stephen Krashen there are five hypotheses to language acquisition.

Language Acquisition versus Language Linguistic Hypothesis is the first of these (Bikle,

Billings, & Sanchez, 2011). This theory states the difference in acquisition and linguistics.

Acquisition is a “subconscious process that leads to fluency” (Bikle, Billings, & Sanchez, 2011)

while linguistics is a conscious act where the learner focuses on the formal knowledge being

presented/learned (Bikle, Billings, & Sanchez, 2011). Both are an integral part of language
                                                        Language Production, Theory, and Acquisition

learning – but which lends itself more to learning a second language? Krashen believes that you

have to have the linguistic learning before you can have acquisition of a language. However, it is

important to focus on communication itself – which is exactly what a primary language does

when a person is first learning it.

       The second hypothesis is Natural Order. In this hypothesis, Krashen explains that

language acquisition of grammar rules occurs in a predictable pattern for each language. For

English, the progressive tense (-ING), plurals, and the forms of “to be” are learned first (Bikle,

Billings, & Sanchez, 2011). Afterwards, auxiliary progressives and articles are added, followed

by the irregular past and then the regular past, third person singular, and possessives (Bikle,

Billings, & Sanchez, 2011).

       Monitor Hypothesis is the third idea. The monitor is the editing device in our heads. It is

most effective when there is pressure to communicate in the second language (Bikle, Billings, &

Sanchez, 2011). This pressure leads to language acquisition from necessity. Krashen also states

here that people need time to process the information coming in and then process the outgoing

information to succeed in communication (Bikle, Billings, & Sanchez, 2011).

       Comprehensible Input Hypothesis (i + 1) is the next step. Monitor Hypothesis leads us to

this one. Communication tends to challenge the learner in untried ways not taught in the

classroom. Since language is so complex, there are uncounted ways to communicate the same

idea. The learner has to be flexible with language usage and understanding – thus the “i + 1”

hypothesis. The input should be slightly above the learner’s level – just enough to challenge the

learner. This is what makes it “input + 1” – it is the input plus a little more information. The

information should not be too much – Krashen says not to overwhelm the learner but the teacher
                                                        Language Production, Theory, and Acquisition

should not “dumb it down,” either (Bikle, Billings, & Sanchez, 2011). To help learners make

sense of “input + 1”, teachers have to connect this new knowledge to prior knowledge in a way

that the learner will understand it. Using gestures and drawings can help to make this happen.

       The last of Krashen’s five hypotheses is the Affective Filter. Krashen states that the filter

can be the learner’s attitude towards learning, motivation, self-confidence, and/or anxiety levels

(Bikle, Billings, & Sanchez, 2011). When a person’s filter is up, the learning is blocked (Bikle,

Billings, & Sanchez, 2011) – much like when a dam is released. When the water is not allowed

to exit the dam is akin to the filter is blocking the person’s mind, learning does not occur. On the

other hand, when the filter is down, the learner is free to take in the information being presented

(Bikle, Billings, & Sanchez, 2011). This is the same with the dam. The water is released (like the

information) and it flows through the dam to the other side.

       Total Physical Response (TPR) is a theory by James Asher. TPR is a learning technique

that teaches students a second language through modeling and demonstration of the new

knowledge. The teacher directs the students through use of new commands in the target

language. The students model the new words/commands and demonstrate this knowledge by

performing these commands. The teacher will begin to recombine parts of the commands so

students can develop flexibility in their language learning and understanding. Only after the

students have learned the oral commands will they learn to read and write them. After that, the

role is reversed. The students lead the rest of the class with the commands – including the

teacher. Skits and other games are also used at this point (Larsen-Freeman, 2000).

       Asher builds on Krashen’s Affective Filter Hypothesis here. Asher believes that high

stress situations do not lead to learning. In fact, his theory is based upon reducing the students’
                                                      Language Production, Theory, and Acquisition

stress during learning and making learning fun so that students will want to be involved (Larsen-

Freeman, 2000).

       Jim Cummins has two main theories to discuss: CALP and BICS. BICS stands for Basic

Interpersonal Communication Skills while CALP means Cognitive Academic Language

Proficiency. BICS are the skills needed for conversing in daily language situations (Crochunis,

Erdrey, & Swedlow, 2002). Research shows that it takes a person approximately two years to

become conversationally fluent in a second language (Crochunis, Erdrey, & Swedlow, 2002).

CALP is the language needed to understand academic classes. It is very demanding cognitively

and often presented out of context – which makes it harder for the learner to understand

(Fillmore & Snow, 2000) CALP is necessary for English language learning students to succeed

in an English-only environment. It takes around five to seven years for students to reach fluency

in this area (Crochunis, Erdrey, & Swedlow, 2002).

       Anna Uhl Chamot worked with J. Michael O’Malley on CALLA – or Cognitive

Language Learning Approach (CALLA). This approach is for second language and foreign

language learners with the goals of learning academic content and the language necessary for

content learning (CALLA). The other goal is to become independent with your own learning

(Fast Facts: Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach, 2011). Scaffolding can help, as

long as it is removed when it is no longer needed.

       In CALLA, there are three types of knowledge: “declarative (knowledge of facts),

procedural (knowledge of “how to” do things), [and] metacognitive (relate current learning tasks

to past knowledge and learning procedures)” (Fast Facts: Cognitive Academic Language
                                                       Language Production, Theory, and Acquisition

Learning Approach, 2011). Teachers use this knowledge to help students identify the types of

knowledge they need and learning strategies needed for fluency in each one.

Using the L1 in the Classroom

       Using a student’s first language in the classroom can be beneficial to the student while

learning English. The teacher can use it to clarify the meaning of an idea, word, phrase, etc. so

that the student(s) will understand the English phrasing. Students who are allowed to answer in

their native language can demonstrate that they understand the concepts being taught, even if

they are unable to communicate that knowledge in English (Bikle, Billings, & Sanchez, 2011).

This is true whether the responses/ideas are written or spoken.
                                                      Language Production, Theory, and Acquisition

L2 Input in the Classroom

       There are many different techniques and strategies that teachers can use in the classroom

to help their students learn English as a second language or as a foreign language. Some of these

strategies include using gestures, drawings, and/or photographs (Larsen-Freeman, 2000).

Teaching students how to effectively use a bilingual dictionary and using context to guess

meanings of unfamiliar words are two more strategies (Coelho, 2003). Showing students how to

use stems, prefixes, and affixes when trying to figure out word relationships is well worth the

time spent in class (Coelho, 2003). Modeling and practice with unfamiliar words are yet more

strategies (Larsen-Freeman, 2000). Thinking out loud so that students can follow your thought

processes is another great strategy – no matter the language or subject being taught (Coelho,

2003). Guided reading which leads into independent reading is another strategy in the teacher’s

large toolbox.

Communicative Language Teaching

       Communicative Language Teaching, or CLT, is a way of teaching “communicative

competence” (Larsen-Freeman, 2000). This can include “knowing when and how to say what to

whom” as well as how to say it (Larsen-Freeman, 2000). In this idea, language and

communication are integral to each other.

       CLT is teaching how to communicate in the target language – including how a single

form can have more than one function in a language. The teacher is a facilitator or advisor,

guiding the students through the learning process. The learning process is designed to teach

students how to communicate effectively through the use of authentic materials and practice.
                                                     Language Production, Theory, and Acquisition

Cooperative learning groups are often used, but not always necessary. The goal is

communication – so functional speaking is the emphasis instead of learning verb forms and

conjugations (Coelho, 2003).
                                                     Language Production, Theory, and Acquisition


Bikle, K., Billings, E. S., & Sanchez, R. (2011). English Language Development at Middle

       School. Retrieved August 20, 2011, from Teachscape:

CALLA. (n.d.). Retrieved August 5, 2011, from CALLA:

Coelho, E. (2003). Adding English: a Guide to teaching in multilingual classrooms. Don Mills,

       Ontario: Pippin Publishing.

Crochunis, T., Erdrey, S., & Swedlow, J. (2002). The diversity kit. Brown University: Education


Fast Facts: Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach. (2011, January). Retrieved

       August 2011, from Colorado Department of Education:

Fillmore, L. W., & Snow, C. E. (2000, August 23). ERIC. Retrieved August 20, 2011, from What

       Teachers Need to Know about Language: http://faculty.tamu-

Fromkin, Rodman, & Hyams. (2011). An Introduction to Language. Retrieved August 12, 2011,

       from CourseSmart Solutions - WGU:


Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and principles in language teaching. Oxford: Oxford

       University Press.

Lightbrown, P. M., & Spada, N. (2006). How Languages are Learned. Oxford: Oxford

       University Press.

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