Research on language acquisition/use can be divided into first and second language learning settings. The literature on first language learning is most relevant to child development while second language learning pertains primarily to adult learning, although most general theories of language learning apply to both. While it is not clear whether different psychological processes are involved in first and second language learning, there are differences in the way children and adults learn and this has important implications. Theories of adult learning (e.g., Cross, Knowles, Rogers ) and literacy (e.g., Sticht ) are more likely to provide an appropriate framework for second language learning compared to those concerned with child development (e.g., Bruner, Piaget ).
Linguistic-oriented theories of language learning tend to emphasize genetic mechanisms (socalled "universal grammars") in explaining language acquisition (e.g., Fodor, Bever & Garrett, 1974). Behavioral theories (e.g., Hull, Skinner, Thorndike) argue that association, reinforcement, and imitation are the primary factors in the acquisition of language. Cognitive theories (e.g., Ausubel, Landa, Schank) suggest that schema, rule structures, and meaning are the distinctive characteristic of language learning. Memory processes have been singled out as the basis for language comprehension (e. g., Anderson, Craik & Lockhart, Paivio). Theories of discourse (e.g., Hatch, 1983) argue that interaction with other speakers is the critical dimension in learning language, i.e., syntactic structures develop from conversations. Indeed, Vygotsky argues that all cognitive processes, including those involved in language, arise from social interaction.
Research and theory on first language learning tends to be closely intertwined with the development of cognition (e.g., Brown, 1973; Carroll & Freedle, 1972; Hayes, 1970). Theoretical frameworks for second language learning present a number of different perspectives. For example, Brown (1980) argues that the analysis of errors made in language learning reveals the development of an interlanguage -- a set of rules made up by the learner that map the new language onto their native language. According to Brown, correction of errors is important in helping the student understand the grammar of the new language. Krashen (1981) distinquishes between acquisition and learning processes; the former involve understanding and communication while the latter are concerned with the conscious monitoring of language use (i.e., metacognition). Krashen argues that acquisition processes are more critical than the learning processes and should be encouraged through activities that involve communication rather than vocabulary or grammar exercises. Many language researchers emphasize the inter-relationships among listening, speaking, reading, and writing processes (e.g. Clark & Clark, 1977; Cohen, 1990).
The significance of learner variables in language learning has been studied extensively, including abilities, motivation, cognitive styles, and learning strategies. Theories of intelligence (e.g., Gardner, Guilford, Sternberg) clearly indicate that there are distinct linguistic abilities that differ across individuals. Research on learning strategies (e.g., O'Malley & Chamot, A., 1990; Wenden & Rubin, 1987) indicates that student performance can be improved by following certain strategies but the results are highly dependent upon the nature of the task and differ across learners.
Brown, H.D. (1980). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Brown, R. (1973). A First Language: The Early Stages. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Carroll, J.B. & Freedle, R.O. (1972). Language Comprehension and the Acquisition of Knowledge. Washington, DC: Winston.
Clark, H. & Clark, E. (1977). Psychology and Language. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovan ovich.
Cohen, A. (1990). Language Learning. New York: Harper Collins.
Fodor, J., Bever, T. & Garrett, M. (1974). The Psychology of Language. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Hatch, E. (1983). Pyscholinguistics: A Second Language Perspective. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
Hayes, J.R. (1970). Cognition and the Development of Language. New York: Wiley.
Krashen, S. (1981). Second Language Acquisition and Learning. London: Pergamon.
O'Malley, J.M. & Chamot, A.J. (1990). Learning Strategies in Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wenden, A. & Rubin, J. (1987). Learning Strategies in Language Learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
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