Second language learning

Second language learning

Second language learning (SLL) is the process by which people consciously learn a second language. According to the linguist Stephen Krashen, there is a difference in language learning and language acquisition.

Explaining Second Language Learning

The linguist Stephen Krashen (University of Southern California) differs in his theory two processes that happen when we “learn” a second language: Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Acquisition is the subconscious process that children already undergo when they acquire their first language.By contrast, Second Language Learning is the conscious process of learning, for example grammar rules. It leads to a conscious knowledge of the learned system.

tephen Krashen’s Monitor Model

The Monitor model plays a key role in Second Language Learning. It is influenced by Noam Chomsky's theory of first language acquisition. It was first described when the dissatisfaction with the language teaching methods was starting to grow during the 1970s. The main idea of this model considers learning as the conscious attention to form and rule learning. The Monitor model is based on Stephen Krashen's Monitor theory. The only functions of learning, so Krashen, are Monitoring or editing. The second language user/learner should only use his learned, thus conscious, knowledge in order to make the necessary changes of his utterances - before or after he speaks. According to Krashen formal rules and therefore conscious learning, as well, only play a limited role in second language performance.

Second language performers can only apply their conscious rules when three conditions are given.
* Time: In order to apply the formal rules sufficient time is needed. During a normal conversation there is usually not enough time to thoroughly think about which is the right grammar rule to apply. An over-use of Monitoring can even lead to trouble in the conversation. If the performer tries too hard to Monitor his utterances while speaking, his talking style might become too hesitant and thus disturb the flow of communication. Another risk when over-using the Monitor could be that the performer loses track of what his dialog partner is saying, because his attention is increasingly drawn to the Monitoring.
* Focus on Form: In order to use the Monitor effectively the second language performer has to be willing to focus on the form and correctness of his utterances to a certain extend.
* Knowing the Rule: The second language performer has to know the rule, meaning that he has to have learned the rule some time in his life. Conscious Monitor means that the performer can apply certain grammatical items that he has not yet acquired. These items are often simple grammatical rules such as, in the case of English being the second language, the third person "s". It is an easy rule usually taught at the beginning of the education that might not have been acquired yet. The performer has not consciously realized the use of the third person "s" for example while listening to English dialogs. These three conditions are necessary, but not sufficient to the application of learned knowledge. In other words, one may not fully utilize the whole range of his conscious grammar even with all three conditions given.

The three basic types of Monitor users

* Monitor over-user: This type of user constantly tries to Monitor all of his utterances. According to Krashen there are two main reasons to explain this behavior. The first reason can be traced back to the performer's history of exposure to the second language. For example, if all the grammar he knows was taught by instructions, the performer isn't used to any other way of handling his second language and therefore has no choice but to use the Monitor at all times. The second reason to cause this behavior is linked to the performer's personality. It depends on "what kind of person you are". In some cases performers have already acquired some aspects of the second language. But they do not fully trust their acquired knowledge, do not want to risk making errors and therefore are using the Monitor "just to check".
* Monitor under-user: This user, in contrast to the first one, almost never applies the Monitor. This may have two different causes. One cause may be that the performer has simply not learned how to Monitor yet. He lacks the knowledge of grammatical rules to apply as a Monitor. The other cause is, just as in type 1, connected to the personality. There are people that simply do not want to use their conscious knowledge, because to them it suffices, if they correct themselves only by "feel". As a complete contrast to the over-user the Monitor under-user only relies on his acquired system. His explanation would probably be "it just sounds/feels right".
* Optimal Monitor user: This user is a second language performer that only Monitors when appropriate. He does not let the Monitoring interfere with communication and knows when to set back the Monitoring, for example during conversations, so that a fluent dialog can develop. He Monitors when writing and for planned speeches, since the three conditions (see above) are usually given with these occasions. Monitoring is only considered as a supplement to the acquired knowledge.

Individual differences

Research on the question “who is a ‘good language learner’” has been difficult, because, on the one side, researchers cannot exactly measure characteristics such as motivation, intelligence or personality. On the other side, when they use methods like questionnaires, tests, or self-observation to define these characteristics, it remains impossible to interpret the correlations. That is, for example, if a researcher compares motivation and success of a learner and both variables are high, this does not mean that they caused each other.

Some learner characteristics:
* Intelligence: The traditionally measured IQ scores can tell a lot about the fact if we are good learners or not. But this variable does not refer to all abilities that are important for language learning. It may, in fact, be “strongly related to metalinguistic knowledge” (Lightbown/Spada 57). However, it does not say anything about our ability of communication and interaction. That is why Howard Gardner suggested that individuals have multiple intelligences including abilities for example in music, athletics, or interpersonal relations.
* Aptitude: The Aptitude describes the ability to learn a language. Thus, a learner with high aptitude may learn faster and more successful. There are official aptitude tests, for example the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT) or the Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery (PLAB). In these tests, the subject has to do exercises to find out, for instance, the ability to memorize words. In general, they test the auditory ability, grammatical sensitivity, inductive language learning ability, and memory. For example, the MLAT tests recognition, analogy, and understanding of syntactic structures. In the following example, the first sentence is the key sentence. One word in the key sentence will be printed in capital letters. You have to determine the word in the second sentence that plays the same role in that sentence: JOHN took a long walk in the woods. Children in blue jeans were singing and dancing in the park. A B C D E
* Personality: Several personality characteristics have been selected that may affect second language learning, but it is impossible to demonstrate that in long-term research studies. You may think that when learning a second language it is more effective to be an extroverted person. But there are researches that document just the contrary. Lily Wong Fillmore (1979) observed that “in certain learning situations, the quiet observant learner may have greater success” (Lightbown/Spada 61). Another characteristic that has been researched on is inhibition. Alexander Guiora made a study where he found out that small amounts of alcohol leads to more success in pronunciation tests. But on the other hand, larger amounts certainly distort the pronunciation!
* Anxiety: Anxiety is a characteristic that could hinder your success in second language learning to a certain degree. This refers to above average anxiety, because a certain amount of tension can have positive effects on your learning. Guy Spielmann and Mary Radnofsky (2001) use the term ‘tension’ instead of anxiety, because anxiety is often considered as negative. Anxiety has also been related to your “willingness to communicate” which promotes your learning process.
* Motivation and attitudes: There are two types of motivation: (1) instrumental motivation which is for a practical purpose, for example you need to learn English in order to do a job effectively or to study at an English-speaking institution, and (2) integrative motivation which is for personal goals or cultural interest. In the classroom, teachers can contribute to their students’ motivation creating a comfortable atmosphere and making the learning content interesting.Zoltán Dörnyei (2001a) designed a motivation model consisting of the three cycle phases a second language learner goes through:
# in the ‘choice motivation’ the learner gets started and sets goals
# in the second phase, the ‘executive motivation’, the learner has to work in order to maintain the motivation
# and the third phase, the ‘motivation retrospection’, self-appraisal and self-confidence develops.
* Learning styles: There are different types of [Learning styles] : ‘visual’ learners have to see something in order to learn it (visual learning), ‘auditory’ learners learn ‘by ear’ (auditory learning), and ‘kinesthetic’ learners need physical action such as miming or role-play (kinesthetic learning).

The methods for investigating the individual differences of second language learners are very uncertain. Thus we cannot say for sure that certain characteristics or attitudes bring out a ‘good language learner’.Though there is no doubt that there are personal differences between the second language learners. A teacher has to see these differences between his/her students and to select techniques which he/she has acquired, and than integrate these to the individual students in his/her lesson.

elf-directed learning

To be a self-directed learner means to regulate your learning and thus consciously aim it in the direction you want, i.e. to take responsibility for your learning and to plan, organize, and monitor it independently from the teacher.There are many different possibilities to define what it means to be a good self-directed learner. Generally, one can say that a self directed learner should obtain key characteristics like the ability to define his or her own objects, or an awareness of how to use language materials (e.g. books, tapes) effectively. Furthermore, he or she should organize the learning carefully, which means to plan exactly how much time to spend for learning, which materials to use, etc. Besides that, a good self-directed learner should permanently develop his or her learner strategies.

Learner strategies are strategies which help a learner to optimize his or her learning and make it more effective. There are two types of learner strategies:
* Cognitive learner strategies: Cognitive learner strategies deal directly with the second language. Examples are memorization or repetition of vocabulary.
* Metacognitive learner strategies: In contrast to the cognitive learner strategies, metacognitive learner strategies do not deal with the language itself, but with the regulation of the learning process. This includes planning, self-monitoring, and evaluation of the learning.

To make a student be more self-reliant, the typical classroom situation in which students very often learn foreign languages (e.g. at school, university, or language courses) does not seem to be adequate. All the more it is a very important task of a teacher to help the students develop and improve their learner strategies. In order to improve second language learning and make it more effective, he or she should prepare the students both practically and psychologically. The practical preparation is the teaching itself, for example of grammar rules or vocabulary. Besides that, it is practical knowledge like how to use a dictionary or where to find information like an appropriate grammar rule. The psychological preparation, however, includes also learner training.

Learner training is a classroom process which is organized by the teacher and which helps the students to become a better, self-directed learner. It includes the improvement of classroom learning, but also of self-access learning and independent learning at home.
* Learning in the classroom: To improve the learning in the classroom, the student might constantly write down unknown vocabulary and look it up after the lesson. Besides that, the students should be actively involved in the lesson.
* Self-access learning: Facilities for self-access learning are for example CALL (computer assisted language learning), tapes, written texts and articles, the library, the radio and the TV, games, exam material, grammar banks or the language lab. By providing or explaining them, the teacher can take away the fear of the students to use them.
* Independent learning: Independent learning at home includes the repetition of the past and the preparation of the following lesson.Besides that, the teacher should constantly encourage the students to monitor their learning and check its progress. This can be achieved for example through group work or talks in pairs in which the students consciously have to speak about their learning. Another way is to encourage students writing a learning diary or reflection letters, or to provide certain test material with which the students can independently evaluate how much they have learned.Even though this learner training might take some time which consequently cannot be used for teaching subject matters, it afterwards pays off and makes students better, faster and more motivated learners.

However, one must admit that self-directed learning is not adequate for everyone. It depends on the culture, the personality, and the former experiences of a student. People who are not used to learn in this way, are not open to try it, or even mistrust this approach might not improve their learning.


*Ellis, Rod. (2007). Educational Settings and Second Language Learning. Volume 9 Asian EFL Journal. []
*Ellis, Rod. (2005). Principles of Instructed Language Learning. Volume 7 Asian EFL Journal. []
*Giao Quynh Tran. (2008). Pragmatic and Discourse Transfer of Combination of Compliment Response Strategies in Second Language Learning and Usage. []
*Krashen, S.D. , Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon, 1982
*Lightbown, Patsy M., and Nina Spada. How Languages are Learned. Third Edition. New York: Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers, 2006
*Hedge, Tricia. Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
*, What do we know about learning and teaching second languages: Implications for teaching? Mangubhai, F. []
*, Stephen Krashen's Theory of Second Language Acquisition, Ricardo Schütz
*, Stephen Krashen - Wikipedia, the free enyclopedia
*, Krashen's Theory of Second Language Acquisition by Vivian Cook
*, Critique of Krashen I: acquisition - Learning, Timothy Mason
*, Possible entries for utterance, Oxford University Press Online Dictionary
*, Definition of utterance - Merriam-Webster Online
*, Motivation as a Contributing Factor in Second Language Acquisition, Jacqueline Norris-Holt

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