SLA Topics Vivian Cook
Cook, J. Long and S. McDonough
G.E. Perren (ed.), The Mother Tongue and Other Languages in Education, CILTR, 1979
of languages in education usually concern themselves with why we should teach
languages, what we should teach. and how we should teach them, but are rarely
concerned with how people learn languages. Yet, if these discussions are
to have any effect on education, they must at some stage be related to language
learning. The purpose of this paper is to draw attention to some of the issues
about language learning that need to be remembered when considering the
other contributions to this volume.
we are concerned here with language learning in an educational context. The
basis is the research evidence about language learning that has been built up
during the last two decades. The argument is put in terms of the comparison of
the child learning a first language and the foreigner learning a second,
henceforth abbreviated to L1 and L2 learning. For many years the question has
been debated whether L2 learning is the same as L1 learning. Phrased in this way
the question is impossible to answer since it reduces a complex issue to a
matter of 'Yes' or 'No'; language learning has many aspects, each of which may
be similar or different in L1 and L2. The overall position taken here is that
there is indeed a fundamental similarity between L1 and L2 learning but, that as
soon as we look at language learning in a classroom, there are important
differences that have to be taken into account, some of them inescapable. some
of them avoidable. Although much of the evidence supports this position (Macnamara,
1976; McLaughlin, 1977), the limitations of the evidence mean that it cannot yet
be considered to be proved. So the bulk of this paper provides on the one hand
an overview of L1 learning, and on the other hand some ways in which this
relates to L2 learning in a classroom; it does not, however, consider the
implications of L1 learning for the teaching of the mother tongue. Nevertheless
the broad trend of its arguments provides interesting support for some of the
main ideas in the paper by Rosen and Stratta (see chapter 2).
of all it is necessary to draw attention to some general factors involved in the
comparison of L1 and L2 learning. One factor is that the settings of L1 learning
may be rather different from those of L2 learning. An aspect of this is the
number of people the learner meets; while the native child is limited to
parents, family. and friends, the L2 learner may encounter one native speaker or
teacher at a time or several. Consequently the kinds of relationship the L2
learner has with the people he meets may be wider than those of the L1 learner.
Also the type of exposure to the language will vary; in L2 learning it may range
from accidental or even random to highly structured, while in L1 learning it is
limited by the ways in which children are brought up in a particular culture and
by the adult's beliefs about how they should talk to children. This exposure may
vary also in density; in the first language exposure is fairly constant, in the
second language it can vary from occasional to regular (but widely spaced) to
'immersion'. In short then, the settings in which L2 learning takes place are
more varied than for L1 learning.
well as settings, another important factor is the learner. Second languages are
learnt later than first languages and so L2 learners are usually older than L1
learners. Though this may seem an obvious point, nevertheless it needs stating
that characteristics associated with growing older, such as more mature
cognitive and emotional development, must inevitably be expected to affect L2
learning. It has often been suggested, for instance, that teenagers and adults
can use more conscious mental processing than the intuitive processing of the
child (Krashen, 1977) and in the emotional sphere it is sometimes felt that the
differences between what a learner wants to say in an L2 and what he can say in
his L1 is frustrating in a way similar to the pressure on the native child to
communicate. In addition L2 learners have rather different motivations and
attitudes from L1 learners, even if it is hard to say exactly what motivates a
child to learn his first language. Finally, L2 learners have often learnt to
read and write in their first language and this causes them to approach language
learning in a different way.
made these general points, we can look at some actual points of comparison
between L1 and L2 learning. The structure of the remainder of this paper
consists of eight statements about L1 learning. These eight all reflect a
reasonable consensus of opinion among those carrying out research into language
development within more or less the psycholinguistic tradition. Naturally there
are other statements that could be made that are also supported by the evidence.
The reason for choosing these eight is that they seem to have potential
implications for languages in education. So, after each statement has been
elaborated, it is compared with L2 learning and some implications for L2
teaching are drawn. While the argument is based on research findings wherever
possible, the general caveat must be made that often the research that bears
upon particular points of interest to the language teacher is limited or non-
existent; for the purposes of this paper we have sometimes felt it necessary to
make certain intuitive leaps beyond our actual state of knowledge.
The child's language is a system
in its own right rather than being a small fragment of the adult system
is a common assumption in work on L1 learning that the child's language system
is a system in its own right rather than an incomplete version of the adult
system. The child does not as it were, choose bits out of the adult system and
add the bits together till he has the complete system; rather he has a system of
his own whose bits do not necessarily correspond to the bits of the adult
system, even though the system as a whole evolves into it. L1 learning is not so
much a matter of adding parts of the adult system one at a time as of developing
more and more complex systems that gradually grow to resemble the adult's. So
the child seems to have his own grammatical rules (Braine, 1976; Brown, 1973),
his own set of language functions (Halliday, 1975) and his own semantic meanings
(Clark, 1973), all of which change ultimately into the adult system; it has,
however, been questioned whether this is true of phonology (Smith, 1973).
the same assumption has been held by many people studying L2 learning (Selinker,
1972; Nemser, 1971; Corder, 1967). The learner speaks an 'interlanguage' which
has a system of its own, different from either the first or second. This
interlanguage, like the child's system, is constantly changing and developing
towards the target language; however, unlike the child, a second language
learner more often than not fails to develop his system completely into the
target and it becomes 'fossilised' at some intermediate point. But, while this
'interlanguage' assumption applies to second language learning in a natural
setting, most language teaching has implicitly assumed exactly the opposite; an
L2 learner is expected to have a system that is some fragment of the native
system, not a system in its own right, and he is required to learn the language
bit by bit. For instance in learning English as a foreign language the learner
may be first taught the present tense, then the present continuous, then the
past tense, and so on; each of these tenses corresponds to part of the target
language and after he has covered them all the learner will have pieced together
the tense system of English; he is not, however , allowed to develop a
progressively more complicated system of tenses of his own as the native child
does. This reliance in the classroom on teaching bits of the target language in
an incremental fashion is as true of other aspects of language such as functions
as it is of grammar. There may well be factors in the classroom setting that
necessitate this approach of 'rule isolation' (Krashen. 1976) but we should be
aware that it is very different from either L1 or L2 learning in natural
learning of a first language
has many sides and is not simply a matter of learning syntax and
child learning his first language is evidently learning a number of things
besides language forms, some of which are acquired through the medium of the
newly learnt language, and some of which lead to further acquisition of the
language code. His language is involved in his developing cognitive structure,
emotional states, relationships, and play.
child begins by having a limited set of functions (Halliday, 1975) or things he
can do in his language. which are associated with certain classes of
expressions, and these are isolated from each other by features such as words or
intonation contours. For Halliday, the process of language development consists,
besides the elaboration of syntax, in the gradual integration of these language
functions, and their replacement by the flexibility of the adult language In
particular this highlights the social role of language. Even very young children
use a kind of language in their relationships and play with peers. Work on
conversational competence (Keenan, 1974) showed that a young child uses language
to get attention from, to play with, and direct other children. This work showed
that interaction between children even at the earliest stages is genuine social
interplay through language and not simultaneous or uncoordinated monologues.
a second language context. the applicability of the statements depends on the
characteristics of the learners and the situation. It seems unlikely that the
second language will be involved in the pupil's emotional life (except in
situations created by its presence, or the need to learn it), nor in his
relationships, unless engineered (e.g. pen-friends and foreign visits). Where
there is a genuine purpose behind the foreign language in the curriculum, the L2
learner is not simply learning a new syntax and vocabulary, but also how to
function in the new language. On the other hand, he is not learning a totally
new conceptual system, nor a new set of language functions. Of course, new
concepts will arise both from the language and the culture associated with it.
But usually depending on the educational purpose, the learner will be acquiring
a set of skills to do a job with, and/or a new way of looking at the world
derived from the new culture. How much of either he gains will depend on his
needs and interests.
the new language material is perceived by the learner to be relevant to his
goal, and if the types of social interaction conducted in the new language are
varied, then L2 learning may share some of the rich and multi-faceted nature of
L1. A move toward language courses that capitalise both on the range of
communicative functions an L2 learner can use his first language for, and on the
L2 learner's expectation of the range of functions he may need his second
language for, is represented by the Council of Europe's project for a unit
credit scheme (Trim, 1974) and by the work on English for specific purposes.
These are based on the hypothesis that motivation will depend on the learner's
perception of the function of the new language in his foreseeable future. In
general language courses in schools, the lack, of a specific focus could, for
example, be offset by increasing the relevance of the foreign language work to
the mother tongue teaching and the language problems throughout the curriculum.
The use of the first language goes
hand in hand with the child's needs and interests
perhaps a truism, It needs restating that the child's use of his first language
reflects his own world - what he wants to do through language, what he wants to
say through language, how he perceives the world, and how he is discovering his
social roles. So his first attempts to use language reflect his need to interact
with the people around him (Bruner, 1975), his language functions reflect his
social relationships. In terms of subject matter, from his first word to his
teens he, hardly surprisingly, talks about what interests him (Nelson 1973;
Rutherford, Freeth and Mercer, 1970). This is not of course to deny that these
needs and interests may be themselves the products of how other children and
adults see the child, or of socialisation.
same statement will of necessity be true of much second language learning in a
'natural' setting; the learner's language reflects his own needs and interests,
though these may be different from those of the child. The statement will also
be true of classroom L2 learning when it occurs in a situation where the
learners have to make immediate use of the language outside the classroom;
immigrants for instance obviously need to be taught the ways in which they can
put language to practical use However. the statement has much less application
to teaching situations where the language does not have an immediate practical
value - the typical situation say of a foreign language classroom in England.
For instance, if we teach students how to buy aspirins in France, this may be
extremely useful on some future occasion when they are in France, but it is
hardly relevant to the headache they have today. Thus, the functional approach
commended in the last section is valuable when we can predict what needs the
student will have for the foreign language at some future date but is less
applicable to classroom situations where we have little idea what use the
students will have for the language, if any. In a sense this functional approach
shifts the student's needs to the future rather than the immediate present; it
is not what the student wants to do today that counts but what he can do
tomorrow. This is markedly different not only from L1 learning which starts from
today's needs, but also from the progress in 'natural' second language learning
which starts from the learner's actual need to function in a conversation now
teachers might at least consider the alternative of starting from the student's
social and psychological needs in the classroom rather than from the student's
needs in the future, particularly as it has been shown that in school learners
the 'integrative' motivation in which the learner wants to form part of a group
through the new language is more powerful than the 'instrumental' motivation in
which the learner wants to do things through the language (Gardner, Smythe and
Whenever there is a relationship
between cognition and language development, language depends on cognition
has always been a matter of controversy how language development is connected
with cognitive development. The position adopted here is based on that taken in
Cromer's review of the issues involved (1976), namely that, while some aspects
of language are independent of cognitive development, other aspects depend on
the prior acquisition of certain cognitive abilities. In other words language
development does not always depend on thought, but, when the two are related,
thought usually comes first. So work within Piagetian framework has shown how it
is possible to relate language to the child's stage of cognitive development:
the two-word stage at one end of development may depend on cognitive schema the
child acquires during the earlier 'sensori-motor' stage (Sinclair, 1971); the
use of certain syntactic structures by children at about the age of seven may
depend upon the acquisition of ideas about 'conservation' (Sinclair 1969).
the transition to Piaget's stage of 'formal operations' in the teens it becomes
a more open question whether language development is the cause rather than the
effect of some aspects of cognitive development (Bruner, 1975). But it should
not be forgotten that other aspects of language development are independent of
cognition. The stages of syntactic development for instance do not correspond
particularly well with cognitive stages. Also the kinds of organisation in
language may be so different from those in other areas of cognition that it is
hard to find points of contact. In case of misapprehension it should be pointed
out that 'cognition' is used here in the sense of underlying mental system
rather than particular 'concepts'; the statement does not deny that particular
concepts are acquired through language but claims rather that, at least until
the teens, the underlying cognitive system has an effect on language development
rather than vice versa
relationship of this statement to L2 learning depends upon the earlier point
that the L2 learner is usually at a later stage of cognitive development than
the L1 learner. Indeed the differences between order and younger L2 learners
have sometimes been explained in terms of increased cognitive maturity (Rosansky,
1976; Tremaine, 1975).
language depends on cognition we would therefore expect to find difference
between L1 and L2 learning regardless of whether the learners are in 'natural'
settings. Take the effects of cognition on the order of language acquisition.
Statement 6 below considers the order of acquisition in more detail but here it
can be pointed out that wherever a point of language depends on cognition we can
expect it to be learnt earlier by L2 learners than by L1 learners because the L2
learner already possesses the necessary cognitive structures. Padilla for
instance has shown that child L2 learners go through the same order of
acquisition of some grammatical morphemes when they are close to the age of the
L1 learners, but go through a different order when they are older; in other
words, the older children's order of acquisition in the second language is
affected by their cognitive and social development.
application of this statement to language teaching suggests that the grading and
sequencing of language in the classroom needs to reflect the cognitive
stage of the learner. For instance. there may be some grammatical structures
that are learnt late by native children for cognitive reasons. On the one hand,
if the L2 learner is still below the appropriate stage there is not much point
in teaching these because he won't be able to learn them. On the other hand. if
he is past that cognitive stage. they can be introduced much sooner than in L1
learning. The L2 teacher can take for granted the possession of certain
concepts. While the teacher of the mother tongue is faced with the tricky
problem of deciding whether to teach language as a way to acquiring concepts or
to teach concepts as a way to acquiring language. the foreign language teacher
can assume to some extent that his students have the underlying conceptual
The child's use and learning of
language is partly determined by mental capacity
capacity is used to refer to all internal psychological processes, including
those of attention, organisation and memory. Capacity is obviously limited both
for the child and the adult but the limitations for the child are more severe.
The child, for example, may be less able to direct and sustain its attention (Kagan
and Lewis, 1965). Research also suggests that the child's spontaneous attempts
to remember verbal materials are less likely to involve typical adult strategies
of organisation, such as labelling, clustering, and using covert speech for
rehearsal (Hagen, 1971; Bousfield, Esterson and Whitmarsh, 1958; Flavell, Beach
and Chinsky, 1966). The child, thus, often remembers less than the adult. These
claims do not depend upon a particular model of mental limitations (Olson,
1973). A shorter span of immediate memory in the child for instance may be
explained either in terms of the child having a smaller number of mental
'slots', or in terms of the child failing to use an appropriate processing
strategy, or in terms of both.
far as linguistic performance is concerned, mental constraints are both short
term and long-term (Slobin, 1973). Short-term constraints involve the use of
speech for comprehension and production; they are usually viewed in terms of
memory and attention (Shallice, 1975). For instance, it has been shown that the
length of a child's utterance is typically less than that of an adult (Brown,
1973). Also, when asked to imitate adult sentences, the child reduces the length
to match its own spontaneous utterance long-term constraints involve the storage
and organisation of the rule system for language. For example, the best
predictor of the order of acquisition of some parts of language appears to be
relative semantic complexity; the past tense '-ed', indicating only 'time' is
learnt before the third person singular ending of the verb '-s', indicating both
'time' and 'number' (Brown); the use of 'big/small' to refer to any dimension,
occurs before 'high/low' which refers to a single dimension (Clark, 1972). A
further aspect of long-term memory is the manner of rule acquisition An
hypothesis-testing model of acquisition has been proposed, which selects rules
according to their relative simplicity (Katz, 1966). An alternative possibility
is a discovery-procedures model, which registers and accumulates properties of
sentences (Braine, 1971).
question arises as to whether there is a relationship between short-term and
long-term limitations in mental capacity. Limitations in the processing of
speech and in the organisation of linguistic rules may be independent. It has
been argued, however, that the child is limited, in the complexity of the rule
system it can store and use, by the same cognitive processes which limit the
representation of information in short-term memory (Olson, 1973). A similar
suggestion is that the form of linguistic rules is determined by short-term
processing limitations. because the rules refer to a system which is embodied in
the medium of rapidly-fading, temporally ordered sound and because they must be
accessed and used during rapid speech processing. Some relation thus seems
capacity is also limited for the L2 learner. Indeed, if tasks involve more than
the minimal linguistic complexity (Long and Harding-Esch. 1977), the limitations
on internal processes are likely to be similar in most respects to those in L1
learning, The similarity is most obvious for those internal processes involved
in the organisation and memory of verbal materials and least obvious for
attention. The L2 learner, like the adult, is more able to direct his own
attention and to allow his attention to be directed by others through the medium
of words (J.S. Bruner,1975). In general, the differences from the child relate
to the greater cognitive and emotional maturity of the L2 learner.
terms of short-term constraints, maturity seems to be of little help. Even
advanced L2 learners fail to group in recall words belonging to the same
semantic category (Cook, 1977) and omit important but not subsidiary information
in the summary and recall of text (Long and Harding-Esch, 1977). In contrast,
tasks with minimal linguistic requirements such as deductive reasoning (d'Anglejean
et al. 1977) and the verification of order relations may be performed
almost as well in a second language as in a first. In terms of long-term
constraints associated with the storage and organisation of linguistic rules, L2
learning appears to have much in common with L1 learning. The order of
acquisition of certain syntactic constructions, for example 'easy to please'
versus 'eager to please’, may be the same in both (Cook. 1973). An important
difference, however, appears to be the conscious involvement of the L2 learner
in the learning process as shown by spontaneous practice and active strategies
of self-checking (Stern. 1975). Indeed. along with avoidance strategies
(Schachter. 1974), a notion of the conscious monitoring of syntax has been
proposed as perhaps the distinctive feature of L2 learning (Krashen,
are at least three implications that can be drawn from this for the teaching of
second languages. One is that teaching materials and techniques have to take
into account the various forms of mental limitation. For example, the length of
sentences that are presented to the learner should have some relationship to the
span that the learner has for that kind of material. Another implication is that
teaching should not neglect the re-development of linguistic strategies
spontaneously used in the first language such as the clustering of vocabulary in
memory, the interpretation of reference, and the making of inferences. The
implication is that teaching might attempt to exploit rather more those specific
features of L2 learning. such as avoidance and conscious monitoring of language.
which may be only poorly developed in the use of the first language.
There are particular stages in
language development through which all children progress, even if the rate of
is still impossible to say how consistent children are in the order in which
they acquire language, because of the limitations of the research. Nevertheless,
consistent orders of acquisition have been found. The reasons for this may be
certain universal strategies that L1 learners adopt for dealing with language.
certain inherent characteristics of the language itself, the dependence of some
aspects of language on cognition, or the frequency with which certain forms are
heard and used. Hatch and others have argued that consistent orders of
acquisition of language forms appear in children because the kinds of
interaction the children engage in are necessarily limited. Partly there are a
limited number of things to talk about, partly the interaction process itself
requires certain types of language, and partly adults share preconceptions of
the child's linguistic abilities. First language development is probably the
product not of any one of these factors, but of the interaction between them.
the case of L2 learning, there have been several reports of research in which
the order of acquisition of language items by learners of different mother
tongues, different ages, in different situations, appears to be constant. Both
Chinese- and Spanish-speaking children in America appeared to acquire certain
English morphemes in the same order (Dulay and Burt, 1974) and this order
correlated with that obtained with adults (Bailey. Madden and Krashen, 1974).
Order of acquisition was the same for three groups of learners of different
ages, but their rate of progress was different (Fathmann., 1975). In these, and
other researches, the order of acquisition of morphemes was found to be slightly
different from that found in L1 learning. In contrast, it has been found that
various other syntactic processes (e.g. the difference between easy to
do and eager to
do, between ask and promise someone
to do something, and relative clause formation) appear to be learnt in the
same order as in L1 (d'Anglejean and Tucker, 1975; Cook. 1973). But in general
there is some difficulty in interpreting these and related results as there are
several methodological problems (Rosansky, 1975; Cook, 1978: Schachter and
there has been a large amount of research of varying quality into the problem of
the order of acquisition of language items in English as a second language and
other languages, most of it supporting the idea of a constant order among
learners. If this proves to be true. the most cautious implication for language
teaching is that teaching sequences should be avoided that go counter to the
order of acquisition that has been discovered. If the learner is going to pass
through the same stages almost regardless of the order in which we present the
language to him, we might as well accommodate our order of presentation to his
order of acquisition rather than the kind of ordering that has been used so far
based either on some notion of linguistic complexity or some arbitrary division
and sequencing of the target the learner is aiming at we need grading and
sequencing based on the actual progression of the learner; indeed some attempts
have already been made to base order of acquisition on the errors that learners
child learns to adapt its language use to particular situations
research has been directed at establishing how a child learns the grammar and
functions of a first language (Brown, 1973). Only recently, however, has an
attempt been made to find out how and when the child learns to adapt his
language to particular situations (Berko-Gleason, 1973). The situations of
concern here are primarily social and involve communication with different
audiences, such as other children and adults.
language is itself flexible. Formality of address between adults is an obvious
example, in which factors such as relative social status. employment and income
may all be influential (Ervin- Tripp, 1973). Further, adult speech addressed to
children rather than to other adults tends to have simpler syntax, with few or
no embedded or conjoined clauses, to be slower with different patterns of
pausing, to use a restricted vocabulary and to contain few mistakes or
ungrammatical turns of phrase (Farwell. 1973).
suggests the child acquires a similar - albeit initially crude - flexibility.
Very small children, for example, babble to parents and siblings but not to
strangers (Berko-Gleason. 1973). Likewise, whining - a repetitive, insistent
sing-song demand or complaint - may be reserved for parents. Flexibility
increases as children grow older. Reports indicate that children of four years
and above modify their speech to younger children in contrast to peers or
adults, by omitting verbs, and increasing one word utterances. repetitions and
attention-getting words, such as the child's name and 'Look’ (Gelman and Shatz,
1972). Elsewhere it has been shown that they address babies with short
repetitious utterances, while they address children of their own age with
sounds. but no endearments (Berko-Gleason). Children often address their
youngers in the socialising code of the parents; indicating what should be done
and how ('Don't run!'; 'You share them!'). Children may also treat strangers
formally in terms of greetings and politeness (Bates. 1974). In general.
although the flexibility of the child's speech code is very limited below the
age of five years, there is a considerable Increase by the age of ten.
present there is little agreement about what determines the speed at which the
child learns to adapt its language for others. Some suppose that taking
another's perspective is incompatible with the basically ego-centric nature of
the young child and must therefore await later development. Others suppose that
making allowances for others requires some mental capacity and is possible at
all stages of development for the child, providing its mental resources are not
exceeded by competing demands (Krauss and Glucksberg, 1973).
is even less research on the L2 learner's adaptation of language to particular
situations than on the child's, However, since the audience in the classroom is
largely restricted to the teacher and fellow learners, it is reasonable to
assume that initially at least there is less encouragement for the L2 learner to
acquire flexible language. Indeed, it might be argued that the often formal
nature of the classroom interactions produces an essentially inflexible
language: which only considerable exposure to the target language culture is
able to break down, Even when modified by long exposure, the resultant
'informal' language may not itself be much more flexible. Even advanced learners
tend to import informal expressions into tasks in which they are not appropriate
– for example in the summary and recall of a speech made at the European
Parliament (Long and Harding-Esch, 1977).
in the second language culture, the learner's flexibility might be expected to
improve, Firstly, the types of different audience are likely to increase,
including both native and non-native speakers but of a different language.
Secondly, the learner is likely to possess considerable flexibility in a first
language which may transfer to a second as linguistic proficiency increases. Not
all types of adaptation, however, should be interpreted in terms of
code-switching flexibility. Pressure to communicate with native target language
speakers may lead to avoidance strategies by which complex syntactic forms are
not used (Schachter, 1974) or to simple language systems (pidgins) (Schumann,
1975). Neither necessarily involves sensitivity to different social situations
Speaking with less proficient non-native speakers with a different first
language, however, might be expected to elicit those typical strategies of
foreigner talk to be discussed below.
implication for second language teaching is that, as the learner becomes more
proficient, he should be encouraged to transfer the knowledge already possessed
concerning the need for situational flexibility to the second language, through
techniques such as role-playing. In addition the learner should be made aware of
the possibility of being flexible even at early stages of language acquisition
through such processes as simplification. In general, except at an advanced
level, the classroom has treated language as unvarying and has not encouraged
the learner to appreciate the varieties of language that make up the native
speaker's communicative competence. The classroom needs to present a greater
variety of language so that the learner's flexibility can be developed, rather
than a single variety of classroom language.
adapt their speech in systematic ways when talking to children
characteristics of speech addressed to children by mothers arid others.
Including older children, has been divided into elements of simplification and
clarification (Sachs and Devin, 1976). Simplification strategies include:
shorter mean length of utterance; restriction of tenses; restriction of number
of elements before the verb; less subordination. Clarification strategies
include naming, repetition (mother repeating herself and repeating child's
words); frequent questions; frequent imperatives; exaggerated intonation. A
small proportion of 'motherese', as it is now often called, appears to include
linguistic guidance (e.g. recasting sentences).
it is reasonably clear that people do modify their language when speaking to
young children, it is not obvious what role this plays in the child's
acquisition process. It might be a necessary part of the process, but so far no
reports have been able to contrast language learning situations where motherese
occurs with those where it doesn't. Presumably this type of language
modification is a product of the mothers' conception of communication strategies
and is quite strongly determined by what the children can or wish to say.
However, there is no evidence that children use mothers as a L2 learner might
use a teacher or native speaker (e.g. for explanations of language structure)
except to ask for names. Some children's learning strategies and their mothers'
interaction patterns may be mismatched, thus causing learning to be delayed
(Nelson, 1973). If motherese was clear, it might be evidence for refuting the
transformationalists' claim that the language children were exposed to was too
deformed to be usable as data for grammar construction by a child who was not
equipped with innate knowledge of language structure. The evidence is, however,
is not clear how far clarification strategies have reinforcing effects.
Indications of partial success in communication may reward the child but
evidence to support this is scarce. The utility of viewing motherese as
analogous to school instruction seems rather small, as there is as yet no
evidence showing the lasting effects of these strategies on the language
relating this statement to the L2 situation, the 'adult' 'translates' as the
native speaker or teacher, and the 'child', as the learner. Outside the
classroom, native speakers do use 'foreigner talk', that is to say. adapt their
speech in systematic ways when talking to foreign learners, and compensate for
the learner's poor expression by using many strategies for maintaining the
conversation and for eliciting the meaning the non-native speaker is trying to
express. Popularly, both adopt the strategy of talking loudly and slowly, but
there are many more subtle strategies of repair of lost contact, repetition of
key words, simplification of syntax, and use of words that are believed
international such as 'savvy', many of which seem similar to those used by
adults to children (Ferguson, 1975; Hatch). It is not clear however whether
foreigner talk is something that native speakers believe they do rather than
actually do; an experiment in which a foreigner asked natives for directions did
not reveal much use of foreigner talk (Stocker-Edel, 1977). Whether these
alleged foreigner talk strategies are really analogous to the verbal strategies
used when speaking to children is not certain - and neither is their role in the
learner's developing competence. In the classroom, while teachers typically
control their use of the language to relate it to the level of attainment of
their pupils, frequently principles of teaching methods are used to govern this
control, such as requiring only 'full' sentences or grammatically accurate ones.
with the previous statement, the implication is that the classroom needs to
present a greater variety of language and to use techniques in which pupils and
teachers adopt a variety of roles. For example. if the pupils are never allowed
to initiate questions or give orders in the second language, they cannot be
expected to learn to do so. Also, if it is true that L2 learners profit from
conversational interaction as L1 learners do, then a way needs to be found of
bringing opportunities for such interactions into the classroom. As always this
should be qualified with the reminder that at present we still need to find out
exactly what types of interaction already take place in language classrooms
before we can advocate particular changes (Fanselow. 1977). While this
implication is speculative, it can hardly be denied that the principles of
simplification that have governed the choice of classroom language have little
connection with the principles underlying foreigner talk or motherese; if these
simplified varieties play a part in the learning process, then classroom
language will have to move in the direction of these simplified forms that are
sometimes addressed to learners.
conclude this paper, it is evident that the vital question the teacher must
decide is the extent to which he should modify the classroom situation to be
more like that found in 'natural' language learning. If he believes that L2
learning in a classroom is entirely different from language learning outside a
classroom, we will feel no need to modify the classroom in this way. If,
however, he believes that language learning is language learning wherever it
occurs, as we would claim the evidence suggests, then he will have to bring many
features of 'natural' learning into the classroom, always bearing in mind that
some of them may not permit transfer. Some of these features have been mentioned
during the argument. Perhaps to sum up it might be said that the classroom that
takes them into account is likely to be a freer, more spontaneous, place with
less direction by the teacher and less control of the language but at the same
time provide a greater wealth of activities and interactions.
a postscript to this paper we should like to take up briefly the point that was
made earlier about the lack of evidence on certain crucial issues and suggest
some further research that is necessary before very concrete suggestions can be
made for a teaching methodology based on a knowledge of second language
learning. At the moment we do have several studies of the learner's language in
terms of syntactic development and error analysis. We do, however, need not only
studies of other languages being learnt but also much greater work on the
development of other aspects of language - semantics, phonology. language
functions, and so on. This work should not only describe what occurs but should
also attempt to explain it by postulating processes and strategies in the
learner that cause the various phenomena of second language learning. Another
point that needs clarification is the relationship between language learning and
other mental processes. such as the development of memory span and its
relationship to language learning, the contribution of language to the various
stages of conceptual development and, vice versa, the effects of learning a
second language on the individual. whether beneficial or harmful. Furthermore,
we do not have sufficient information at present on the learner's situation, not
just in physical or general terms but also in terms of the specific social
interactions that take place in 'natural' learning situations and in the
classroom. Lastly because of the variety of mother tongues that pupils speak in
British schools today we need to know more both about the utility of preserving
and encouraging the mother tongue within the educational setting in Britain and
about the peculiarities of teaching a language such as French through the medium
of a language that is not itself the pupils' mother tongue. Ultimately this
should lead to a coherent theory of second language learning, rather than the
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