2nd Language Acquisition

Most people are somewhere on the spectrum of language learners; most in the middle, some excellently, some terribly.


None of the factors are measurable or completely decisive.

  • Age
  • Talent
  • Motivation
    • Instrumental - specific goal or reason (pass a test, get a job, get a visa, etc)
    • Integrative - want to learn L2 to be part of a culture (I want to go to France, etc)
  • Contact with native speakers
  • Immersed in the country
  • In love with a native speaker
  • Emotional Aspects
    • Empathy
    • Anxiety
    • Inhibition

L1 v L2

Acquisition Differences

Interlanguage Hypothesis

Interlanguage means any of the stages gone through in L2 language acquisition, a step between L1 and L2.

For instance Romantic language speakers (French, Italian) acquire German word order in three stages:

  1. S Aux V O
  2. O V
  3. S Aux O V

E.g. They go from S(Aux)VO to the German SAuxOV or SVO via: SOV
German children seem to know from the start that they have SOV order.

  • The critical period for phonology (and hence accent), as well as intonation is very very short, whereas for syntax there is quite a large window where we can learn it.

Fundamental Difference Hypothesis (FDH)

The Fundamental Difference Hypothesis is that L2ers construct grammars according to different principles from those in L1 acquisition.

The theory is that L1ers have specific linguistic principles of UG, but adults do not, and use their cognitive abilities to solve the L2 problem.

  • First language is acquired uniformly across all kids with reasonable exposure
  • Second languages are not acquired uniformly across adults, there are deviations within age, desire, practice, need, innate skills, context

Experimental Evidence

(to show age as a factor in 2nd language acquisition):
Johnson and Newport testing groups of immigrants who arrived in America at different ages. As adults they are given a written test (hence sketchy evidence this), and the 3-8 year olds performed natively, the 8-15 well but not natively, and the 17-31 year olds scored low.

Arguments against FDH

  1. Adults are superior in cognitive abilities; why is L2 harder?
  2. Linguistic Savants (e.g. Christopher)

Access to UG Hypothesis

Some researchers believe there is no difference between L1 and L2 acquisition.


Interlanguage grammars do not violate UG principles (they might be wrong for L1 and for L2, but are not impossible rules).

Whilst they may fall short of L1ers in ultimate attainment, L2ers acquire rules in the same way as L1ers.

Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis

Theory is that all we have to teach L2ers is the diff between L1 and L2.

Error Analysis

The kind of errors L2ers make when transferring grammatical rules or phonemes from L1 into the L2 words.

Critical Period for L2

We don't know if there is a critical period; it doesn't seem to ever be impossible to learn a new language.