Tower of Babel
Second Language Acquisition: Concepts, Theories, and Debates
206 :  Special Topics in French Linguistics
Fall 2023
Class No: 30837
4226 Dwinelle Hall
Rick Kern
2:00 PM - 4:59 PM

This seminar will explore the field of second language acquisition, taking account of not only its central concepts and theories but also its tensions and controversies. We will begin by considering canonical psycholinguistic and interactional theories of second language acquisition and then contrast them with more recent sociocultural and ecological/emergentist theories. Along the way, we will see how perspectives on language, culture, context, and competence have shifted over time. We will consider some of the linguistic, cognitive, and social dimensions of children’s acquisition of a mother tongue and compare them with processes of second language development and the diverse factors that affect those processes in older children and adults. In the first part of the semester, we will consider questions such as: What is the relationship between age and language learning? Why are some people better at learning languages than others? Is successful language development a matter of aptitude? length of exposure?  practice? motivation? What is the importance of the first language in second language acquisition? What is the role of explicit instruction? We will focus on key concepts such as competence and performance, input and interaction, aptitude and motivation, form and meaning, critical periods, interlanguage and fossilization, learning versus acquisition. We will then turn to questions that reflect a focus on discourse rather than on language as viewed from a structural perspective. Here we will be concerned with relations between discourse and culture, mediation, language socialization, identity issues, multilingual subjectivity, and how all these come into play in language education. This latter portion of the course will consider alternative approaches to second language acquisition, including the adaptation of sociocultural theory, ecological theories, and different notions of competence (e.g., translingual competence, intercultural communicative competence, symbolic competence). The seminar will also examine research methods associated with these various approaches.

Articles/chapters supplemented by VanPatten et al. (2020).
Second Language Acquisition: An Introduction. Third Edition. (Routledge).