Second language acquisition (SLA) research: its significance for learning and teaching issues
Author: Florence Myles
© Florence Myles
The purpose of this general overview article is to outline how research into second language acquisition (SLA) over the last few decades has fed into our understanding of learning and teaching in foreign language classrooms. After a very brief overview of SLA research findings concerning both route and rate of L2 development, theoretical models attempting to explain these findings are presented, ranging from purely linguistic to cognitive models and social/interactionist models. The relationship between SLA research and second language pedagogy is then explored. Finally, recent developments
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The robust research findings regarding the systematicity of the route followed by L2 learners do not have straightforward implications for language teaching, however. One logical possibility might be that curricula should closely follow developmental routes; this is not sensible however, given (a) the incomplete nature of our knowledge of these routes, (b) the fact that classrooms are typically made up of learners who are not neatly located at a single developmental stage, and (c) the fact that developmental stages typically contain non-target forms. (For example, typical stages in the acquisition of negation will be: 1. 'no want pudding'; 2. 'me no want pudding' 3. 'I don't want pudding', with forms 1 and 2 representing normal developmental stages, therefore to be expected in early L2 productions, but which will not be taught). Other possibilities are that curricula should be recursive with inbuilt redundancy, and that teachers should not expect immediate accuracy when teaching a new structure, or that they should give up on closely prescribed grammar curricula and opt instead for functional and/or task-based syllabus models. Many teachers/language educators have actively welcomed the role of 'facilitator' rather than 'shaper' of development, implied by such models.
I will now briefly summarise research findings relating to both systematicity and variability, drawing implications for teaching methodology as I go along.