Developmental Trends

This writer teaches English to speakers of other languages and therefore has decided to critique articles discussing the linguistic development of non-English speaking students and studies of second language acquisition.

Much research has been conducted on linguistic development and second language acquisition. Nevertheless, the ever-present conclusion of this research seems to be the fact that complexity is a determining factor.

The range of beliefs and definitions of second language acquisition is as diversified as the population researched. As the number of children entering early childhood education programs with limited English proficiency increases, the need to know how to access these children’s language development also increases. Understanding children’s language development can be a daunting task due to the fact that second language learners come from different cultural, social, and linguistic backgrounds.

McLaughlin, Blanchard, & Osanai (1995) stated that there are many different ways in which children can be exposed to a second language. For some children, two languages are present in the home from birth. For others, second language exposure begins when they start school.

Most researches distinguish between children who learn two or more languages simultaneously and children who learn a second language after the first language is established. In addition, children also differ in their exposure to the language. For instance, the type and amount of exposure may vary greatly – some children may have the same exposure to English and their native languages, whereas others may be native language predominates.

Collier (1988) stated that it is natural for teachers, curriculum developers, administrators, and government officials to ask how long it should take for limited-English-proficient students to overcome the language limitations that hinder their learning and advancement. Collier also believes that the answer to this question depends on several factors, such as the learners’ cognitive style, socioeconomic background, formal schooling in first language, and many other factors. Thus far, authors and several researchers have agreed that the topic is complex and often the answer to the questions is – “it depends”.

Collier further explains that a substantial amount of research indicates that successful language acquisition also depends on the learner’s age. Lenneberg (as cited in Collier) theorized that the acquisition of language is an innate process determined by biological factors, which limit the critical period for acquisition of a language from roughly two years of age to puberty. Some of the earliest studies on language acquisition focused on proving or disproving Lenneberg’s theory.

Twyford (1988) warned that generalizations about the relationship of age and language acquisition are treacherous for two reasons. First, people of the same age do not share the same characteristics. Second, there is no uniform pattern of development that everyone follows. Twyford also mentioned Piaget’s human cognitive development, which is achieved through maturational stages as learners’ thought processes and patterns change systematically with age. Piaget has directly influenced the way language development is seen – as part of a complex cognitive development.

It is believed that the younger the learner the faster the second language acquisition. Nevertheless, the articles analyzed by this writer suggest otherwise. Too much attention has been placed in one particular aspect of language acquisition – pronunciation – disregarding other aspects of the language to be mastered. Younger children may develop faster than older children in basic oral skills, whereas older children are able to acquire the more complex aspects of language faster. Collier reiterated that it is important to remember that most studies report a pattern of age differences as seen in studies of basic oral skills in a second language, not the more complex skills required for formal schooling.

Despite of the many studies, the results are often complex and contrary to what the researchers deemed true. These conflicting results continue due to the fact that there are so many contributing factors to second language acquisition, such as short and long-term language exposure, culture, socioeconomic aspects, and biological factors.

Debates on the second language acquisition topic are endless. William & Lantolf (1998) examined the feasibility of integrating Krashen’s construct of i + 1 and Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. Their study concluded that the difference between the two constructs resides in fundamental differences and therefore cannot be compared, raising even more questions on the issue of second language acquisition.

This writer has then come to the conclusion that the theories and the methodologies that originated from such theories are as complex and diverse as the population studied. The aspect of language acquisition and linguistic development that the authors seem to agree on is the fact that this is a rather variable subject, one that will continue to prompt researches, which will yield new approaches and theories.


Collier, V. (1988). The Effect Of Age On Acquisition Of A Second Language For School. The National Clearing House for Bilingual Education.

McLaughlin, B., Blanchard, A., & Osanai, Y. (1995). Assessing Language Development In Bilingual Preschool Children. NCBE Program Information Guide Series.

Twyford, C. (1987). Age-Related Factors In Second Language Acquisition. The National Clearing House for Bilingual Education.

William, D. & Lantolf, J. (1998). Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development and Krashen’s I + 1: incommensurable constructs; incommensurable theories. Language Learning, 48, 3, 411-42.

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About Monica Wiesmann-Hirchert

Monica has been teaching ESOL/EFL for 16 years - both in Brazil and in the United States. She taught EFL to adults and business executives in Brazil as well as trained other EFL professionals. Monica has been working with international students in the United States for 8 years; she prepares this student population to enol in academic programs at English speaking colleges and universities. While in Brazil, Monica was the pedagogical coordinator of a large language institute and responsible for selecting and training new EFL instructors, designing business English courses, & administering the University of London proficiency exams. Currently, Monica is coordinating an IEP (Intensive English Program) at a 2-year college in Florida. She is responsible for designing and implementing curriculum, selecting and training ESOL faculty, administering the Institutional TOEFL test, and student counseling and advising.

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