Background  to SLA and Language Teaching Assumptions  

Vivian Cook, Newcastle University

Lecture handout (shortened as I can't get boxes to work)

'Facts' that Sla Research needs to Explain

·   English primary school children who are taught Italian for one hour a week learn to read better in English than other children

·   people who speak a second language are more creative and flexible at problem-solving than monolinguals, e.g. Einstein, Nabokov …

·   ten days after a road accident, a bilingual Moroccan could speak French but not Arabic; the next day Arabic but not French; the next day she went back to fluent French and poor Arabic; three months later she could speak both

·   the Voice Onset Time (VOT) for /t/ /d/ sounds of French people who speak English is different in French from those who don't

·   L2 learners rapidly learn the appropriate pronunciations for their own gender, for instance that men tend to pronounce the “-ing” ending of the English continuous form going as “-in’ ” but women tend to use “-ing”.

·   Remembering a video of a fishtank, Chinese who speak English will remember the fish more than the background to a greater extent than monolingual Chinese monolinguals


Key terms in Early Second Language Acquisition Research

Weinreich: Languages in Contact

interference: 'those instances of deviation from the norms of either language which occur in the speech of bilinguals as a result of their familiarity with more than one language' (Weinreich, 1953,1)

types of bilingualism:
   'book'      'kniga'           'book'='kniga'            'book'
   /buk/     /kniga/         /buk/  /kniga/                   /buk/
   coordinative               compound             subordinative
   bilingualism              bilingualism             bilingualism

Lado: Contrastive Analysis (CA – but not the same as Conversational Analysis CA)

transfer; 'individuals tend to transfer the forms and meanings, and the distribution of forms and meanings of their native language and culture to the foreign language and culture' (Lado, 1957, p.2). 

learning; 'a system of habits' (Lado, 1957, p.57), based on 'laws of language learning' such as 'exercise', 'familiarity of response', etc (Lado, 1964, p.45). Corder (1971), Error Analysis: (i) recognition of idiosyncrasy, (ii) accounting for the learner's idiosyncratic dialect, (iii) explanation. 

Interlanguage and multi-competence

Selinker (1972) interlanguage: language transfer, overgeneralisation of L2 rules, transfer of training, strategies of L2 learning, communication strategies,


the knowledge of more than one language in the same mind or the same community” (Cook, 2011).

L2 user: somebody who is actively using a language other than their first

L2 learner; someone who is learning but not using a language.

        Assumptions of Language Teaching

Assumption 1. The basis for teaching is the spoken, not the written language.

If not true, teaching needs to reconsider how it deals with writing, both overall and in terms of the specific aspects of writing

Assumption 2. The aim of language teaching is to make students like native speakers.

If not true, a realistic teaching target is therefore the successful L2 user, based on L2 user language, L2 user situations, L2 user based descriptions

Assumption 3. Teachers and students should use the target language rather than the L1 in the classroom.

If not true, language teaching needs to look at the roles of the L1 without prejudging.

Much of this is covered in LL&LT Chapter 1 and Cook, V.J. (2010), ‘Questioning traditional assumptions of language teaching’, Nouveaux cahiers de linguistique française, 29 (online) and Cook, V.J. (2011) ‘Key issues in SLA’ (online)

Corder, S.P. (1981), Error Analysis and Interlanguage, O.U.P.

Lado, R. (1964), Language Teaching: A Scientific Approach, McGraw-Hill

Selinker, L. (1972), 'Interlanguage', IRAL, 10/3.  Reprinted in Richards (1974)

Weinreich, U. (1953), Languages in Contact, The Hague, Mouton