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Foreign Language Learning Theories Report (Assessment)

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Updated: Jul 30th, 2020

In order to answer this question, one has to define the concept of social identity. By doing this, we will be able to understand how the identity can be developed and then reconstructed. It is safe to say, though, that the social identity of any given individual derives from their self-concept and their adherence to certain social groups. If we perceive the acquisition of the second language together with the concept of identity reconstruction, we will see that the process of acquiring a second language contains both construction and reconstruction of one’s self-concept and identity.

The majority of the adepts of this particular outlook believe that it is critical to “forget” the mother tongue in order to partially reject the linguistic and cultural identity and free up space for the process of reconstruction and acquisition of the second language’s cultural identity. It can be noted that the social identity has to be variable and driven by an increased level of self-esteem and attitude towards the process of language learning. These particular factors have been found to critically impact the process of foreign language acquisition and the ultimate level of acquisition success. In other words, social identity is inextricably linked to the language.

The people that are mutually engaged in an activity are called a community of practice. Therefore, the process of learning is not internal but external and social. The former is also called peripheral participation for the reason that it requires the “newcomers” to acquire new skills and competences in order to move from periphery to the centre of the learning circle and fully participate in a variety of socio-cultural activities.

It is also logical to suppose that all these activities will not be useful in case if there is not enough information, resources, or “old-timers” who can share their knowledge. According to the idea of peripheral learning, the process of acquiring knowledge majorly relies on the activities and information that are available to peripheral learners. It is also safe to say that one of the key contributors to successful language acquisition is the process of experiential learning (meaning that learners will not only observe and listen but participate in the process as well). One of the limitations of this model consists in the fact that the learning opportunities of “newcomers” are asymmetrically dependent on the eliciting abilities of the “old-timers” and the overall rates of participation in a community of practice related to foreign language learning.

The first draft of the sociocultural theory was developed by Lev Vygotsky. The adepts of this particular movement believed that social interactions meant more than a simple capitalisation on an individual’s conception. The key idea of this psychological model consists in the fact that interaction is a sort of social learning and the language itself is a means of establishing sociocultural learning and social relationships.

Therefore, one of the key concepts that were developed by sociocultural theorists involves the intersecting relationships between learning and social activity. The latter was found to be mediated by language. It is also interesting that the mediating role of language was supported by the stable relationship between a knowledgeable individual (“the expert”) and a learning individual (“the novice”). Therefore, the process of collaborative discussions was found to help the novices to internalise new skills. On a bigger scale, it is reasonable to assume that the general mechanisms of acquiring knowledge are the same for the process of language learning as well.

The sociocultural theory mainly addresses the issue of language learning, but it combines the psychological and social implications of the learning process instead of highlighting dissimilarities between the two (including performance and student competencies). To conclude, Vygotsky claimed that language learning was a social process that helped to construct the learner’s identity and gain knowledge.

One of the similarities between McLaughlin’s and Schumann’s models consists in the fact that they both feature a causal direction. In other words, both these learning models presuppose that the degree of language acquisition is contingent on certain environmental factors. Nonetheless, this relationship is rather questionable. Another similarity can be found in the way in which both models interpret the notion of socio-psychological distance when it comes to the process of language acquisition.

It is safe to say that McLaughlin and Schumann accurately took into consideration the duality of the relationship between the language acquisition and the contextual factors that influence the former. One of the most vivid dissimilarities consists in the fact that according to McLaughlin, the learner has to control their language, whereas Schumann supposes that it is not the factor that should be considered when learning a foreign language.

McLaughlin also stated that an extended amount of time would be necessary for the learner in order to memorise the correct versions of the words. Schumann, on the other hand, believed that phonological or syntactic aspects of the learner’s language are insignificant because of the dynamic nature of the learning process. He also believed that the fluent use of a foreign language could be achieved without controlling the language.

The Input hypothesis was largely criticised by a number of researchers in the area. First, in 1980, Swain stated that the Input hypothesis lacked the depth that was necessary to develop productive skills while concentrating on receptive skills of the learners (speaking/ writing and listening/ reading respectively). Swain said that the production (also called output) was a much bigger contributor to the ultimate success of the learning process because a mere interpretation of input was not enough. The theory that Swain developed is currently known as the Output hypothesis. At the same time, Long also became one of the researchers that criticised the Input hypothesis for its incomprehensible nature. It was stated that there was no clear explanation regarding the connection between the input and the learner.

The core idea was that the existing negotiation did not provide enough input for the learners to acquire a foreign language. The incomprehensiveness of the interaction mentioned above occurred through repetition, elaboration, clarification, and paraphrasing. For the majority of researchers in the area, Long’s ideas are presently acknowledged as the Interactionist hypothesis. This happened for the reason that the researcher considered any learners’ interactions to be the foundation stone of the process of acquisition of a foreign language.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Foreign Language Learning Theories." July 30, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/foreign-language-learning-theories/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Foreign Language Learning Theories'. 30 July.

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