Essay Example on Second Language Learning: Cognitive & Affective Factors

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1658 Words
Date:  2023-09-11


Acquiring a second language depends on both cognitive and affective variables. The cognitive abilities of individuals in second language learning may remain relatively stable. Intelligence, aptitude, and cognitive style of the individual comprise the crucial factors under the cognitive variable. The affective factors, on the other hand, entail the motivation levels and attitudes of the learners. While motivation is the most influential variable in new language learning, it is also the most complicated psychological phenomenon (Dörnyei, 1998). The motivation variable creates the critical impetus for L2 proficiency. As opposed to the societally instigated learning of the first language through indoctrination, the second language learning must entail a continued personal conviction through the learning process. Learning of the L2 is, thus, more comfortable to master when the local society demands such L2 competencies (Dörnyei, 1998).

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Language learning often occurs unconsciously and incidentally (Rebuschat, & Williams, 2011). Such an implicit approach to language always occurs mainly in L1 situations. Studies, however, also determine that the incidental learning approach may be applied to L2 situations. In addition to such implicit knowledge gains, performance in the second language learning process also, clearly, increase during specific conscious teaching settings (Williams, & Rebuschat, 2016). Finally, the language a learner already knows may have a significant impact on the new language they aim to learn.

To what extent can SLA be considered either a natural or emergent process?

The syntactical processes that govern sentence construction and the semantics around meaning development in a language are highly complicated. Natural language mastery in children is often completed by eight years of age. In second language learning, the learner must construct a mental visualization of the language based on limited (foreign) input. In the analysis of such an initial state of L2 comprehension, the learner must interrogate the probable role of L1 in L2 acquisition (Klein, 1986). The initial state involves the underlying linguistic and knowledge structures that exist in the learner´s cognitive system during SLA for L2. Langauge is thereby determined to be constructed in a learner´s mind rather than acquired from external sources. The learning ability could, however, be emergent based on the UG (universal grammar) principles.

As language is created in a specific societal setting, the linguistic environment plays a central position in the SLA process (Ellis, 1988; Klein, 1986). The cultural identity of the locals from which L2 is learned plays a significant role in the motivational and aptitude factors in SLA. While the linguistic environment assists greatly in constructing feedback and negotiation of meaning between the natives and non-natives, such a situation may, unfortunately, create a false judgment of the non-natives´ language proficiency. The comprehension of an L2 can also be viewed in terms of salient and frequent components of the foreign language. Cue salience and the importance of particular outcomes may also act as a crucial determinant of inconsistencies and contingency factors in SLA.

The ‘ultimate attainment’ of SLA in terms of L2 development

Ultimate L2 attainment in SLA refers to the ability of a non-native speaker to attain native-like language proficiency (Andersen, 1984). The final attainment achievement levels for SLA learners are often higher in children than in adults. While the ideal situation may appear easily achievable, the reality is often different. Several adult L2 learners struggle immensely in attempting to reach the ultimate attainment ideal (Eckman et al., 1989).

Applied mostly to ELT (English Language teaching), native speakerism is an idealist, chauvinistic concept that has always been deemed to create a hegemony of native dominance. Such a native hegemony thereby creates a ´non-native´ front that is often perceived with racist and segregating undertones. Native speakers thus influence the ultimate attainment of the English language teaching journey. The imperialistic cultural disbelief creates around language proficiency could lead to the lowering of motivation and attitudes of the learner towards the attainment of English proficiency (Eckman et al., 1989; Andersen, 1984). Interlanguage has risen as an idiolect that aims to integrate the components of the L1 and L2 languages. Such an interlanguage linkage allows the learner to retain the elements of their original language while incorporating new features of the L2. The foundational assumption in interlanguage entails the presumption that the individuals learning a new language automatically make generalizations based on the original language (Andersen, 1984).

To what extent is SLA a social rather than an individual process?

Due to the centrality of interactions for feedback and meaning negotiation, SLA is a mostly social process. Research shows a significant correlation between social interaction and L2 development (Lantolf, Thorne, & Poehner, 2015). Furthermore, the social interaction process L2 comprehension entails a negotiation of meaning and feedback processes. These two essential components of a social setting allow an opportunity for the native and non-native learners to work together in overcoming barriers to comprehension. Such negotiation of meaning allows the learners to comprehend the intentions behind the syntax and semantics of L2 instead of merely understanding the basics of the language through rote methodologies (Lee et al., 2010).

Similar to various other educative settings, SLA requires an understanding of the multiple learners in social constructivist settings and their learning preferences, profiles, and affective elements. As such various learners´ learning should be conducted around their zones of proximal development. In the ZPD theory, learners are exposed to materials that are only slightly tougher than their current levels of comprehension. A scaffolding is thereby conducted with the teacher to raise the leaner into the comprehension levels. Tasks presented to learners must thus be neither too easy nor too tough (Lee et al., 2010). Students are then differentiated into heterogeneous units, and each group supplied with targeted peer and instructor feedback.

To what extent do all L2 learners have the same experiences during the SLA process?

Cognitive and metacognitive approaches are essential in understanding the learning preferences, styles, and profiles. Generally, all learning circumstances require the learner to engage with the learning materials through proactive and active strategies (Wong & Nunan, 2011). Both cognitive and affective considerations are essential in understanding the learners´ shared learning visions (Dörnyei, 1998). Metacognition, furthermore, allows the learners to “learn-how-to-learn” when in SLA situations (Ehrlich, 1997; Wong & Nunan, 2011). They can engage with the L2 in manners that interrogate the underlying initial state of the learner and aligns such state to the generalizable abstract concepts in the L2 language (Nikolov, & Djigunovic, 2006). The learning settings continue to depart from the mastery-centered approaches to learning into more proactive and meaningful strategies. Language comprehension is, for instance, continually handled from cognitivist and constructivist learning approaches (Oxford, 1992). Students are thereby engaged in educative contexts that are proactively scaffolded and differentiated to meet their unique needs (Reid, 1987; Robinson, 2005).

As the learning processes in SLA settings are highly interactive and social, the cultural identities adopted by the classroom setting significantly determine the learning process in the settings. The interlanguage approach is, thereby, identified as a critical component in understanding and integrating the various parts of the different languages. The circumstances of learning are furthermore, essential in case learners are to make holistic gains from the learning experience. An appreciation of the differentness of various cultures and integration of the native language of the L2 learner are some essential approaches to enhancing a conducive external environment better the learning experiences for the minority groups (Robinson, 2005).

To what extent is SLA a linear or dynamic process?

The SLA process is highly dynamic and self-organizing (Larsen-Freeman, 2015). As a dynamic system, according to the Dynamic Systems Theory (DST), SLA relies on initial input and reorganizes itself continually (and sometimes chaotically) while expressing new traits. Language acquisition and attrition are based on probable future outcomes that cannot conventionally be predicted. The learning system in an SLA system continues to reshape variable and interactions to address the continuously shifting educative requirements of the L2 students (Filipovic, & Hawkins, 2013). Factors such as changing motivational trends and age continue to improve the internal SLA systems in manners that address such changes in aptitudes and affective elements. Just like the educational system, furthermore, learners in SLA environments are exposed to unintended interactions that may lead to unplanned consequences. Shifting intentions and perspectives of the natives and non-natives initiate the cyclic movements within the complex SLA systems.

Students in SLA settings also continue to register the language at face value (also referred to as noticing) and make generalizations, put into perspective, and overall impressions about the language and the learning process (Filipovic, & Hawkins, 2013). Finally, formal and informal interactions with peers and instructors allow the learners to shift their affective and cognitive alignments around the SLA process. Such interactions may be planned or unplanned and thus create randomized responses from the learners.


Andersen, R. W. (1984). The One To One Principle Of Interlanguage Construction. Language Learning, 34(4), 77–95.

Dörnyei, Z. (1998). Motivation in second and foreign language learning. Language Teaching, 31(3), 117–135.

Eckman, F. R., Moravcsik, E. A., & Wirth, J. R. (1989). Implicational Universals and Interrogative Structures in the Interlanguage of ESL Learners. Language Learning, 39(2), 173–205.

Ehrlich, S. (1997). Gender As Social Practice. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 19(4), 421–446.

Ellis, R. (1988). The Effects of Linguistic Environment on the Second Language Acquisition of Grammatical Rules. Applied Linguistics, 9(3), 257–274.

Filipovic, L., & Hawkins, J. A. (2013). Multiple factors in second language acquisition: The CASP model. Linguistics, 51(1)., W. (1986). Second language acquisition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2015). Complexity theory. In B. VanPatten and J. Williams (eds) Theories in Second Language Acquisition: An introduction (pp.227–244). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Lantolf, J. P., & Pavlenko, A. (1995). Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Acquisition. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 15, 108–124.

Lee, Hyginus & Lee, Junior. (2010). Code Switching in the Teaching of English as a Second Language to Secondary School Students.

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