Second Language Acquisition: Processs and Hypotheses


Second language acquisition is a process by which people learn a second language. It refers to any language learned in addition to the first language and the differences between both processes. Second language acquisition is a controversial issue; since, there is no a general agreement about how and when it takes place. Several theories and models have tried to explain the facts that may be involved in acquisition of a second language, Theories as the Behaviourism theories which state that acquisition is just a set of habits a learner may acquire or Nativist theories that suggest we all have a natural-born ability to acquire a language or models as Socio –linguistic models, Interactional models that express that language and society are connected and the former is affected by society , etc .

However all the theories have failed to explain how acquisition really happen and yet there are many questions unsolved .

This essay refers to two of the most important theories in this field, the Input Hypothesis by Krashen and the Comprehensible Output Hypothesis by Swain, their differences, similarities and their relation with other theories proposed.

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1. Swains and his Comprehensible Output Theory state that acquisition is a phenomenon that occurs when the learner tries to transmit a message and fails (encounters a gap between he knows and needs to know .Funiber 57.) Therefore, when Learners try and finally manage to produce utterances that can be understood by their partners, they have acquired new language knowledge. During this process learners have tested their knowledge and formulated hypothesis which have helped them to acquire new language forms.

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2. Krashen makes a difference between acquisition and learning. The former is the natural process that occurs when a child participates in natural communication in his environment while he interacts with the world. It just the way people learn their own language. On the other hand, Learning is just the result of formal instruction and occurs when learners consciously study a language. When Krashen makes this differentiation he formulates his Monitor Model which has five different hypotheses such as the Natural Order Hypothesis, The acquisition / learning Hypothesis, The Affective Filter Hypothesis, The monitor Hypothesis and The Input Hypothesis.


The Input hypothesis is the most accepted and study theory within the linguistic field, it states that being exposed to comprehensible language (comprehensible Input) is the first step to acquire a language. However, it is important to mention that not only by listening to great deals of the target language, we will manage to acquire it since the language information a learner can be exposed to is not the same information he/she assimilates. INPUT should not be confused with INTAKE which is what the learner really assimilates from INPUT (Page. 38 Funiber).One of the most important theorist is Krashen, who gives Input a great importance in the process of language acquisition because he considers it the cause of language acquisition.

In order to process and assimilate the information from all the INPUT we may receive several factors have to be taken into account. For instance, we can mention some motivation, views the learners have about the language, age, etc. Krashen also consider these factors important in language acquisition. Also we can talk about some theorist such as Schumann, Giles and Byme who also see motivation and feelings towards the language as crucial factors for language acquisition.

Schumann with his Acculturation Model, Giles and Byme with his Accommodation Theory state that learners who are positive towards the group who speak the target language for either cultural or personal reason will have more possibilities to acquire the second language However, it seems essential to mention that both Schumann and Giles based his theories only on Second language environments where learners are constantly exposed to the target language (immigrants living in a foreign language Country) and do not mention the internal mechanisms that take place when learners acquire a language . Both the Acculturation Model and the Accommodation Theory are mainly Socio-psychological models and do not take into account the cognitive process that takes place in language acquisition.

Krashen also gives importance to motivation and the learner’s attitude towards the L2. However, he based his Affective Filter Hypothesis on formal Second language instruction where motivation and the different feelings towards L2 a learner has, from the target language affects the quantity of Input learners receive and can be turned into Intake. The Affective Filter Hypothesis suggests that learners with low motivation and negative views of the target language receive little Input, while learners with more motivation received and acquire much from the Input they are exposed to. As Krashen states:

The Affective Filter Hypothesis captures the relationship between affective variables and the process of second language acquisition by positing that acquirers vary with respect to the strength or level of their Affective Filters. Those whose attitudes are not optimal for second language acquisition will not only tend to seek less input, but they will also have a high or strong Affective Filter – even if they understand the message, the input will not reach that part of the brain responsible for language acquisition, or the language acquisition device . (Stephen D. Krashen, Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition, Prentice Hall International, 1987, p. 31)

Also, Krashen claims Input must be comprehensible to learners. In other words learners must be exposed to Input above their current level (I+1) where “I” is the current language proficiency a learner already has, and 1 is the Input they are exposed to which it is little above their current level, therefore, learners will force their knowledge (I) to make sense of the language they receive above their existing knowledge (+1), and by doing this learners will acquire language unconsciously and involuntary.

According to what have been mentioned above we may think that Acquisition may be controlled by providing learners with the right doses of Input (a view near to Behaviourism which attempt to control process of acquisition by creating habits). However, we must remember Krashen distinguishes between Acquisition and Learning as two different processes, where acquisition is a natural process and learning is the result of formal instruction. Besides, Krashen stresses that natural acquisition is more importance in terms of relevance and suggests that learning does not take to acquisition.

When Krashen refers to natural acquisition is relevant to mention that as well as Chomsky, he also believes that humans have an innate ability to learn a language. Chomsky would claim that we are all born with a Language Acquisition Device (LAD) ( funiber,22) , and that was possible to find the similarities and differences between languages , which would help to predict structures that may cause problems, while Krashen refers to this natural born- ability to mention that children learn their mother tongue by listening to spoken language that is meaningful to them (Input) and states that a second language is acquired as much as the same way our first language is acquired

We can talk about Input without mentioning interaction since it is clear that they are connected since some sort of interaction is needed to have Input produced. Here we could highlight modifications that make Input comprehensible, For instance teacher –talk, foreigner talk, etc. The Interactionist View studies these modifications and worries about how input is modified.

Long (1985) states “Interactional modifications in conversation between native speakers and non native speakers are the mechanism for this to take place”

we see we cannot talk about Input without referring to interaction and modifications in it to make comprehensible (I+1) .

Krashen Input Hypothesis has generated a lot of research in the field of language acquisition; since lots of theories refer to it (even Swains gives importance to Input as one of the causes of language acquisition); however it has also generated critics. One of them refers to Input and how to measure the amount and quality of Input a learner receives or how this Input is made comprehensible. Besides, the Input hypothesis does not focus much on language production, something that according to Krashen will emerge freely after a period of exposure to the target language.


Swain developed his Comprehensible Output Hypothesis after a study he developed with some French students where he found out that even when some students were exposed to reasonable amounts of Comprehensible Input, they have not been really successful in acquiring the target language.

Therefore, these findings led her to think that Input was not the only cause of second language acquisition and that there was a missing factor that has not let learners acquire the language.

She called this factor Output

Comprehensible Output Hypothesis (CO) was developed to show that not only receiving input was useful to acquire a language but also using the language comprehensible. When learners are pushed to use the language, they will always find problems to communicate, therefore, they will have to test their knowledge, and when they finally have their ideas successfully transmitted, they will have proved their hypothesis correct and will have acquired a new form.

For example, a beginner English student trying to say “Pay attention” a phrase he has never heard before would say “Put attention”. Although He has not produced the utterance grammatically correct, he has used the previous knowledge obtained and has attempted to transmit an idea. Thus, during some point of the interaction he will receive feedback from his interlocutor; he will have tested a hypothesis and will have acquired a new form he did not know before.

As we see in The Output Hypothesis several processes take place. For instance, the necessity to transmit and idea, interaction, negotiation of meaning and even processes within the learner talk such as scaffolding. Moreover, Output Hypothesis seems to promote interaction as another way to acquire language in contrast to the Input Hypothesis which seems to promote the passive participation of learners. Theoretically, a learner could spend years exposed to lots of comprehensible Input without producing a single word of the target language and someday will be able to produce the language.

Input and Output seems to be really different, yet they are still related because it cannot Output if a previous Input has not been received (Swains recognizes the input as one of the way to acquire a language). However, Input hypothesis does not refer to production as much as Comprehensible Output does.

Producing language is more than simply being involved in communicative activities and just uses the language because the activity requires it. As Swains suggests:

Speaking just to speak is not enough. Students need more than this” (Swain, 1993:159-160)

Swains means that contexts where learner’s utterances may be modified to produce comprehensible Output are needed. Studies are shown that when learners are involved in activities where they use the target language (collaborative task activities) they can have access to their partner’s knowledge and temporarily with their peers’ assistance become more proficient. Thus, through working in pair they can produce Comprehensible Output beyond their level and learn something new or consolidate their existing knowledge. This seems to correspond to the formula I+1 from comprehensible Input.

Comprehensible output (CO) suggests that when learners are engaged in interaction, more negotiation of meaning occurs. Consequently, learners are learning language.

Another important feature of Comprehensible Output is that it promotes social interaction which turns to be an important factor for Psychological development which is commonly based on interactions. Sociolinguist models see language development as part of the social and psychological development, and this primarily takes place when the learner uses the language ( what tends to happen in CO).Therefore acquiring a language is not only receiving it passively, but using mental cognitive processes to transmit it.

Also, there are some other functions in the learning of a language that Comprehensible Output promotes which are worth to be mentioned. For instance Output helps learners to get fluency, to be precise in terms of use of the language (grammar, context, vocabulary and pronunciation) and helps learners to prove their knowledge. “An incorrect output shows that the learner has formulated a hypothesis about the language and tries to test it” (Corder, 1981) the output also allows learners to reflect on their language (conscious reflection)


Krashen position against Output hypothesis is hard, since he considers that Output is rare and it does not contribute to language acquisition. It is just a way to practice a knowledge already learned and its importance is only because it lets learners to be exposed to the target language (Input) According to krashen (1989) Output is just a way to provide more input to the learner. He states (p.456)

Output aids acquisition indirectly by encouraging CI (comprehensible input), via conversation. When you speak it invites others to talk to you. Moreover, as you speak your output provides your conversational partner with information about your competence … this information helps your conversational partner adjust the input to make it more comprehensible

Krashen is right when he says that Output provides learners with more Input. However, he does not mention the processes that happen during this interaction, processes that help learners to produce Comprehensible Output and more Input. Learners involve in communicative activities help each other to produce better utterances (CO), through these activities Output has been generated and at the same time a much more comprehensible Input will be transmitted.

Besides, Krashen forgets that English students studying where English is not the native languages have fewer chances to use the language, therefore, why we should deny them the opportunities? As English teachers we know that giving our students the right amount of English as well the opportunity to experience it in the real world increases their competence in the language enormously since they need to use the language to really acquire it.

On the other hand Krashen states that pushing learners to produce the language will only generate stress and anxiety what will increase their Affective Filter and affect acquisition , this is to some extent true, However, Swains claims that if we don’t push learners to produce the language, they will simply acquire strategies to make themselves understood in the classroom what will affect the development of their Interlanguage (Fossilization) and will not contribute to their language competence .


1. FUNIBER , The learning of a second language – input and interaction , pp 35-40

2. FUNIBER, (?) Theories of second language learning – The acquisition learning process PP. 10-14.

3. JACK RYAN (2000). A review of the role of the output in second language acquisition with anecdotal examples from Japanese’s learner experiences, pp

4. ARNAIZ, P & PEÑATE, M. El papel de la producción oral (output) en el aprendizaje de una lengua extranjera (L.E) el estudio de sus funciones. Universidad de las Palmas de Gran Canaria , pp 37-55

5. SWAIN, M. The output hypothesis and beyond – Mediating acquisition through collaborative dialogue. Ontario Institute for studies in education for University of Toronto , pp 98-114 .


1.The Output Hypothesis: Just Speaking and Writing Aren’t Enough.…En caché – Similares

2.Comprehensible output – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia caché – Similares –

3.An introduction to the work of Stephen Krashen caché – Similares – Haz hecho público que te gusta. Deshacer

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Second Language Acquisition: Processs and Hypotheses. (2016, Nov 06). Retrieved from

Second Language Acquisition: Processs and Hypotheses

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