Systematicity in Language Learning

Systematicity in SLA


  • A substantial part of the SLA research community has concentrated on documenting and trying to understand the discovery that language learning is highly systematic. A defining moment for the field was in the late 70s / early 80s when it became evident that L2 learners follow a fairly rigid developmental route, in the same way as children learning their L1 do, and not dissimilar in many respects from the L1 route. Moreover, this developmental route, crudely represented as a series of interlocking linguistic systems (or interlanguages, sometimes bore little resemblance to either the L1 of the learner, or the L2 being learnt.
  • According to Mitchell and Myles (2004), in the process of interlanguage, “… this kind of data has commonly been interpreted to show that, at least as far as key parts of the second language grammar are concerned, learners’ development follows a common ‘route’, even if the speed or ‘rate’ at which learners actually travel along this common route may be very different” (p. 16).
  • Variabilists such as Tarone (1983) and Preston (1996) have argued that learner language (interlanguage) is essentially systematic. Although learners’ second language utterances may be deviant by comparison with target language norms, that is, variability, they are by no means lacking in system.
  • It has become increasingly apparent that, although interlanguages are systematic and internally consistent, they may contain alternate rules for performing the same functions. Thus, despite the evidence for uniformity in the developmental profile of different learners from different first-language backgrounds, there are variations in the overall course of development that learners follow. As Tarone (1983) put it, the evidence indicates that interlanguage, like any other natural language, is systematically variable.

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