Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Looking Ahead: Future Directions in, and Future Research into, Second Language Acquisition

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Looking Ahead: Future Directions in, and Future Research into, Second Language Acquisition

Article excerpt


The theme of the commemorative issue in which this article appears is about looking ahead. I have been invited to address this theme by identifying future directions in, and future research into, second language acquisition (SLA).11 happily tackle this assignment, but first I must give a nod to the past-to see from whence the discipline of SLA has come. As I tell my own students, it is important to understand ideas at the time they originated. Next, I identify some directions that I believe SLA theory and research are moving toward. Before concluding, I discuss the implications of SLA theory and research for language testing, research, and teaching.


2.1| A cognitive beginning

As far as the past in SLA is concerned, most scholars credit Corder (1967) and Selinker (1972) with publishing landmark articles that helped establish the modern-day study of SLA. Corder's speculation that there existed a "built-in" learner syllabus and Selinker's positing of an interlanguage (a language spoken by learners that is intermediate between their first language [L1] and the second language [L2]) ignited the imagination of many scholars, who were inspired, as Corder and Selinker had been, by Chomsky's (1965) claim of the existence of a universal grammar (UG).

It was the time of the cognitive revolution in linguistics, psychology, and other disciplines, and the field of SLA followed suit. Excitement mounted when there were reports of acquisition orders that appeared to be impervious to native language influence. Such claims were revolutionary, given that the language teaching field had just been in the embrace of behaviorism, which attributed most successes and failures to positive and negative "transfer" from the native language. Then too, for recent transplants from teaching like me,2 a natural syllabus meant that I could teach harmoniously, in concert with my students' natural proclivity, a welcome prospect indeed.

For several decades thereafter, research efforts went into searching for common acquisition orders and sequences of development, the former consisting of different grammatical structures and the latter of regular patterns within a given morphosyntactic domain, such as negation and question formation. Successes led Krashen to hypothesize that there existed a natural order of acquisition (Krashen, 1982). Much of this work was done with English, but a major research undertaking in Germany (the ZISA project; see Meisel, 1977) added evidence that untutored learners acquired German word order rules in a clear sequence.

To be sure, there were warnings to the contrary, such as reports of greater variability than universality (Tarone, 1983) and my own caution against assuming that learners had no individual agency when it came to managing their learning process (Larsen-Freeman, 1983). There were other voices too, reminding us of the pervasive influence of the L1 and the other languages that learners spoke3 on both the rate and route of development. In any event, many scholars operated within a cognitivist paradigm and continued the search for rule-governed learner performance. What is more, although pedagogical grammar rules were different from theoretical constructs in linguistics, such as X-bar grammar, the teaching of grammar through rule induction or deduction were common classroom practices, persisting to this day despite the objections of many (Larsen-Freeman, 2015b). Certainly, much attention in SLA is still given to the application of UG to SLA, form-focused instruction, taskbased language teaching, input processing, output production, noticing, and the interface between explicit and implicit knowledge (e.g., Cook, 1985; R. Ellis, 2006; Long, 2014; VanPatten, 1996). (See Toth & Moranski (2018) for a current discussion of some of these issues.)

2.2| A social challenge

Countering Chomsky's linguistic competence with his own term, communicative competence, Hymes (1972) asserted that competence was made up not only of grammatical knowledge but also of social knowledge-knowing how to use utterances appropriately. …

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