Literacy and ESOL theories and frameworks

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Literacy and ESOL theories and frameworks

Theories of first and second language acquisition and learning and the associated language teaching approaches

Linguistic experts have developed many theories that analyze the process of first and second language acquisition and learning and the associated learning approaches. First language learners undergo an extensive and vigorous process in acquiring and learning a second language. Some of the most recognized scholars who have developed second language learning and acquisition theories include Krashen, Chomsky, Crystal, Brooks, Harmon, and Frith.

Chomsky’s theory of Universal grammar (UG)

Noam Chomsky introduced the theory of Universal Grammar (UG) in 1980. Chomsky argued that knowledge of grammar depends on two main components, the principles and properties shared among all languages, and the variation between properties of these languages. The theory uses the UG model that explains similarities of all natural languages and how human beings learn the second language the same way they acquire their first language. The aspect of UG shows that the process of acquiring the first language is guided and controlled by a specific cognitive module. Second language learners also use this cognitive approach to acquiring basic properties of the target language (Suzanne and O’Neil 277-279).

Chomsky asserted that the need to achieve full mastery of the target language motivates second language learners. In addition, the UG model argues that understanding the grammar of a second language does not involve totally knowing new structures, but involves discovering a set of parameters for a specific new language. Second language learners learn UG through their first language using parameters set for the second language. Chomsky demonstrated that other factors other than UG, such as learner’s input and learning environment, plays a role in language learning and acquisition. The theory of UG plays a major role in understanding the relationship between first language and acquisition but leaves a number of untouched elements of second language learning and acquisition process. The model helps in understanding stages experienced by language learners during first and second language development process.

Krashen’s second language acquisition theory

Krashen classified second language acquisition into five hypotheses categories. The five hypotheses as described by Krashen are the acquisition-learning, the monitor, the natural order, the transitional and the effective filter hypotheses. The acquisition-learning distinction forms the most significant of all hypotheses presented by Krashen. It argues that adults have two varying, independent helping in developing competences of a second language. The first method involves language acquisition that is similar to the way children learn language. Learners under this category never realize they are learning a new language, but only use the language as a means of communication. The second method of developing a language is through language learning. Learners acquire a conscious knowledge of a second language. Most linguistic experts claim that children acquire the language while adults learn the language (Krashen 10).

The Input Hypotheses act as the most commonly used approach in the second learning acquisition process today. It provides solutions to critical theoretical questions that explain how people acquire a second language today, and the challenges faced by first language learners in learning second language. According to Krashen, people acquire the language only when they understand its structures through using linguistic competences and knowledge of language acquisition and learning process (Krashen 20-21). Krashen’s five hypotheses theory claims that acquiring a language is different from learning the language. The theory plays a part in helping learners apply second language learning and acquisition skills in class through language knowledge. Moreover, error analysis helps in identifying mistakes made by first and second language learners in the learning and acquiring process.

Frith inter-language theory

Frith’s interlanguage theory of second language learning and acquisition claimed that learners who have an active and independent learning mind have higher chances of acquiring a new language. Inter-language may be described as a set of unique strategies that characterize the second language learning process. The inter-language approach invented by a learner assists in avoiding errors a learner would make in the target language. Frith used Selinker’s inter-language hypotheses to develop a theoretical approach to breakdown learner’s capacity in order to make a close follow-up of the performance. Selinker’s inter-language theory was used by Frith to assist in identifying and classifying errors into different types depending on the level of language proficiency of the learner. The inter-language hypothesis helps in identifying errors made by second language learners. Such errors should be eradicated in order to ensure the learner learns and acquires the correct form of target language. In addition, Frith observed errors made by learners as an opportunity to help come up with new strategies to help prevent such errors in the future. Finally, the theory the study of learner’s errors helps in uncovering the learner’s built-in syllabus and learning strategies (Frith 155-156).

Theories of literacy learning and development and the associated literacy teaching approaches

The language experience approach

The Language Experience Approach (LEA) acts as a form of a teaching approach that promotes learner’s participation in language literacy and learning. The theory capitalizes on learner’s background understanding of the target language and ensures instructors give learners experiences aimed at enriching language learning. The theory calls upon instructors to write down individual learner’s experience and compare them with others in the group for easier evaluation. Most language instructors argue that mistakes in grammar or structure have no impact on learner’s language experience, but depend on the understanding of the language through speaking. LEA also argues that the instructor could use vocabularies and other mechanical aspects of language teaching in promoting literacy learning and development. Learners who undergo uninterrupted formal education develop stronger oral language skills, but have a weakness in written language skills. Literacy acquisition compares to ethno-linguistic process, but the course has not been established by linguistic experts. LEA approach helps learners with lower levels of second language literacy understand general English language skills (ESL Literacy Network 2).

David Crystal’s Theory on Child Language Acquisition

Since mid-nineteenth century English language has become a second language for many learners across the world. Crystal’s Child Language Acquisition theory provides an analysis learner’s literacy learning and development from second language acquisition and learning point of view. The theory describes five major stages of child language acquisition. In the first stage, children acquired language assists them in asking for something they need, draw attention to something, and attract other people’s attention. The second stage sees children asking questions like “where”. A child becomes more conversant with the environment and starts classifying things. In the third stage, the child has almost acquired the first language and gains more literacy through the type expression they demonstrate. The child can easily construct a sentence with a meaning. In the fourth stage, the child develops increasingly complex sentence structures. They start explaining things, asking for an explanation on some issues, and demanding things. Finally, in the fifth stage the child completely acquires the language and uses it to do different things they need. Children express a hypothetical and conditional mode of communication (Crystal 237-240).

Works cited

Crystal, David. Part VII: Child Language Acquisition. In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of

Language. 3d ed. By David Crystal, 236–265. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

ESL Literacy Network. Theories of ESL literacy instructions. Bow Valley College, 2011. Web

November 1, 2014

Flynn, Suzanne, and Wayne A. O’Neil. Linguistic Theory in Second Language Acquisition.

Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1988. Print.

Frith, B. M. “Interlanguage Theory: Implications for the Classroom.” Interlanguage implications,


Krashen, Stephen D. Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford:

Pergamon Press Inc, 2009. internet edition, web

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