Some cognitive theories of language learning and their implications for L2 instruction
Bandla, Eric Sydwell Mlamleli
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The purpose of this study is to evaluate the four most influential cognitive theories of language learning, namely, Interlanguage Theory, theories based on explicit implicit L2 knowledge distinction, Variability Theories, and the Multidimensional Model. The claims made by these theories are identified, the research on which the claims are based is evaluated, and the influences of the claims on L2 teaching are discussed. The evaluation shows that these theories reflect widely diverging positions regarding which phenomena are in need of explanation and how this explanation can best be provided, and that this makes the cognitive theories so complex and inaccessible that they become difficult to understand. The evaluation also shows that these theories have a great influence on L2 instruction. By analyzing and discussing the claims and the empirical foundations of the theories, the purpose is to bring the divergence between the theories to the awareness of the second language practitioner and researcher. The evaluation also leads to a number of observations being made concerning the main arguments of the theories. With regard to Interlanguage Theory, the study notes that cognitive strategies of L2 learning are regarded as central to L2 learning and that, although the learner's Ll is an important determinant ofL2 acquisition, it is not the only determinant and may not be the most important. The study also observes that fossilisation is a major cause of failure by most L2 learners to achieve full communicative competence similar to that of native speakers. Another important observation is that learners follow broadly similar routes of acquisition, although minor differences can also occur as a result of the learner's L 1 and other factors, and that errors are the external manifestation of the hypothesis-testing process, which is responsible for the continual revision of the interlanguage system. With regard to the theories based on explicit-implicit L2 knowledge distinction, the study notes that L2 learners are assumed to possess dual competence, and that the controversy over whether or not the two knowledge types interact has not yet been resolved. From the perspective of the variability theories, L2 learners possess multiple rather than dual competence. The claims of the Multidimensional Model link up with the 'natural route' as proposed by Interlanguage Theory or Krashen's (1982) 'Natural Order Hypothesis', and predicts that L2 structures that are developmentally constrained will not be acquired unless the learner has acquired the prerequisite structures, and that some L2 structures will not be constrained by stages of development and will thus be teachable. The study concludes that although L2 acquisition research does not prescribe methods of teaching, it gives explanatory support to formal interventions. The study recommends that if researchers could look into possible ways of resolving the debates concerning explicit-implicit L2 knowledge distinction, this could lead to a coherent approach to language teaching. The study also recommends that more information is needed on developmental features and how to identify features that are variational. For features where specific orders have been established, it would make sense for syllabus construction to present the grammatical structures according to their natural order of acquisition.
- Humanities