Second Language Acquisition
May 30th, 2014
This paper posits that through testing a predictive model for second language acquisition, low native language proficiency will be a salient factor on achievement in L2. Through a theory-based model, the biological and individual factors under investigation were as follows: age, time in the country, L1 literacy level, urban/rural upbringing, motivation, integrativeness, and interrupted formal education. A sample of 84 Spanish-speaking English language learners took part in this study. Multiple linear regression analysis revealed that the predictive model’s explanatory power is rooted in the variables of age, time in country and L1 literacy level and their interaction. Moreover, within this model, it is L1 literacy level that was found to be the most significant of these variables, with each one-point increase on the native language assessment battery being associated with a .43 point increase on the English language assessment.
Theorists in second language acquisition have posited different models for understanding how this complex and dynamic social psychological and cognitive process works. Research has delved into analyzing which factors are most predictive of humans’ ability to acquire a second language. These factors range from personal traits such as motivation level, aptitude, level of similarity between L1 and L2 to more generalizable biological patterns such as age effects. The current research aims to test a theory-based model of factors that predict the acquisition of English as a second language in a sample of recent Spanish-speaking immigrants who attend a bilingual international school in the South Bronx. Given the population of students, many of whom suffer from low literacy in their L1, one particularly critical issue that this research aims to explore is the impact of L1 literacy on L2 acquisition and its implications for Department of Education policies to support English Language Learners (ELLs).
Research has shown that a wide variety of factors impact an individual’s competence in acquiring a second language. The factors tested in this research model include age, amount of time in the United States, level of native language proficiency, level of self-reported motivation, length of interrupted formal education (if any), level of self-reported acceptance in the new society as well as growing up in a rural or urban area, which served as a proxy for quality of education. A great deal of research has been conducted on children and adults as second language learners and the differences in their rate and success of acquisition, whereas less emphasis has been placed on adolescents. Therefore, one aim of this study is to shed light on this relatively less studied population in order to determine what factors might most impact their acquisition of English.
Age and Time Effects: The Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) for language learning posits that if a person is not exposed to language before a certain age they will be unable to acquire it; given the unethical nature of performing a language deprivation experiment, there have been very few cases that could test this hypothesis. Of the few, one of the most notorious incidences is the case of Genie, a girl who had been severely abused and deprived of social interaction until she was almost fourteen years old. In line with CPH, Genie lacked linguistic competence even after seven years of language rehabilitation (Fromkin et al, 1974). A weak version of this theory, often referred to as the sensitive period hypothesis, has been applied in the realm of second language acquisition. This hypothesis has been tested in various studies and has often revealed that age effects are predictive