On Language Acquisition

I write a lot about language acquisition here (more than I ever planned to do).  Here I summarise very briefly where I’m coming from.

My basic perspective is informed by three sources: reading research in the field of Second Language Acquisition, paying attention to language teachers, and critical reflection on my own teaching and learning experiences.

From the first, reading people like Krashen, VanPatten, Nation, Ellis, Lightbown and Spada, and others, convinces me that the fundamental tenets of Krashen’s Comprehensible Input theory is sound (or, better than anything else we’ve got going). That means:

a) there’s a key, fundamental distinction between language acquistion and language learning

b) so-called ‘traditional’ grammar-translation approaches only teach (explicit, grammar-oriented) language learning

c) language acquisition occurs when learners meet comprehensible input in the target language.

For this reason, my own studies and teaching attemps to put CI-based principles into effect at every stage, to have myself and my students working in the target language as much as possible, to develop a proficiency of understanding an L2 in the L2.

The second, paying attention to language teachers, is simply a recognition that I didn’t train as a teacher, and I don’t work full-time in any language teaching capacity. And, that a lot of the really excellent applications of the above, occur in (mostly high-school) classrooms. In particular, I have learnt a huge amount by listening and paying attention to Latin teachers applying CI principles. Latin provides the best and strongest parallel case for other historical languages.

The third is inevitable. I’ve studied, at various times and to varying heights: Japanese, Spanish, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Gaelic, Mongolian, and German. Some of these I read very well, some I speak, some I’ve taught, some I’ve taught in.  And I’ve cultivated a self-aware critical consciousness of myself as a learner. Not that my experiences are necessarily ‘data’ or ‘research’, but I do have a wealth of language learning experience in different modes, which informs and supports my above principles.