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Key Issues in Language Acquisition: Theories in Language Acquisition

What is language acquisition?

It is the study of how language acquired by humans. The language acquisition encompasses first language and second language as well. First language is the native language of one and then we call second language for additional language(s) that a particular person acquires after his/her first language. Example for this one is an Indonesian. He acquires Bahasa Indonesia as s first language since he was born in Indonesia and his parents speak the language. Then, he learns English and masters the language. The English is his second language. Therefore, he has undergone two language acquisition process.

Theories in Language Acquisition

Nativist theories: Genetic endowment is believedto be the key in the language acquisition process. The prominent name of this theory is Noam Chomsky.

Co-evolutionary theory: In this theory it is believed that language does not come from humans’ instinct, but it gradually forms due to cultural and cognitive inventiveness. Language is mastered through adaptation made by human body. This also works on children who learn their first language.

Critical period means ‘golden period’ of a person to learn a language which occurs before the person hits puberty. So, it is necessary to expose a language to a child before they reach their puberty for better language acquisition.

The syntactic development of a child can be seen below:

  • 18-24 Months: Two-word utterances
  • 95% of utterances: Correct word order.
  • Telegraphic speech (few function words).

Children are creative. They tend to utter some grammatically-wrong expression while learning a language. These wrong expressions have never been heard in daily life.

Theories in Language Acquisition

  1. Behaviorist: This theory was developed by Skinner. This theory argues that languages are acquired by imitation, reinforcement, and habit formation. The development of this theory started in between 1940s and 1970s. Behaviorist theory believes that acquiring language is a process of habit formation.
  2. Innatist Perspective: In this theory, humans are believed to have a language device in their brain, so that they naturally can learn any language. The Universal Grammar (UG) develops itself when a child is in his/her golden age.
  3. The cognitive perspective: Language can be acquired by paying attention to any aspect of the language. By practicing, that information can be accessed automatically within humans’ brain. Then, the learner can start over again to pay attention to another language aspect

4. Sociocultural: Language is acquired through social interaction. Language learning happens when a learner interacts with the interlocutor. Learning also occurs when learner enters their ZPD (Zone Proximal Development) (Vygotsky). ZPD is the difference between what a learner can do by their own and what they can do with assistance. This concept was developed by Soviet psychologist, Vygotsky.

by. RMRW

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