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Social Interaction In Acquisition Of Second Languages English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2340 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Ever since the basic assumption endorsed in the seminal work of Hatch in the late 1970s that learners learn the structure of a language through interaction rather than learning grammar in order to interact (Gass, 2003: 224-255). The relationship between interaction and acquisition has been one of the core issues in second language acquisition (SLA) research. The reviewed done by Young (1999) has shown that interactional competence is clearly most applicable to explaining cross-cultural communication. It also provides a convenient framework for integrating studies of conversational phenomena within a broader context of interaction. As language usually related two four main domains: reading, writing, oral and listening. In order to practice the oral and listening, interaction is important. At the same time interaction can also assist the development of the second language acquisition.

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Second Language Acquisition (SLA) is the process by which people learn a second language in addition to their native language(s). Linguists have many different approaches towards the acquisition of the second language. In the past few decades, linguists were more focus on the cognitive aspects also known as the psycholinguistic which studies the internal factors of second language acquisition. However, more recent studies have redirected their attention to the external factors which refers to the sociolinguistic. Social interaction is one of the main focuses in the study of the sociolinguistic.

Unlike second language acquisition, there are specific brain parts located in the left hemisphere take care of the first language acquisition. If we consider first language acquisition as a natural cognitive development, then second language acquisition will be more like a process of nurture. Since it is more a process of nurture than a natural cognitive development, the social factors will be the vital attribution in the acquisition.

Importance of social interaction

On the basis of extensive research, there was considerable agreement that the learning environment must include opportunities for learners to engage in meaningful social interaction with users of the second language if they are to discover the linguistic and sociolinguistic rules necessary for second-language comprehension and production (Pica, 1987). And this agreement is still applicable for today’s second language learning. A very good example is that students who study abroad are usually more fluent and accurate in the second language they are using, as compare to their classmates in their own country.

In fact, there are many examples of the learners who are able to communicate and use the language efficiently without any formal instructions. For example the Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia do not have formal instruction in Bahasa Malaysia but are able to function well in their workplace and the community. Their second language is acquired through the unsystematic social interaction with the broader society. The learner has access to the target language in the course of everyday communication or interaction with the environment. The sounds of the language are embedded in a relevant situational context and the learner’s job is to extract from this material the rules for the use of the language. This interaction allows him to start learning and learning in turn allows him to make progress in communication (Albakri, 2006).

The question might be asked, why interaction is important to the second language acquisition. In order to answer that question we need to look at what is required to second language learning. First of all, we need to have input, with the input we will able to produce a response which also known as the output, feedback will be given according to the output. These three major components made up an interaction. The interaction approach attempts to account for learning through the learner’s exposure to language, production of language, and feedback on that production. A central claim resulting from a past research is that, though interaction may not be strictly necessary, it nevertheless constitutes the primary means by which language learners obtain data for language learning, not only because interaction is how most learners receive input, but also because the input obtained through interaction is more pragmatic and conducive to acquisition than input received in other ways (Gass & Mackey 2007: 175-199).


An important term used in the interaction approach of second language acquisition is interlanguage. Interlanguage is a emerging linguistic system that has been developed by a learner of a second language who has not become fully proficient yet but is approximating the target language. It often preserving some features of their first language, or over-generalizing target language rules in speaking or writing the target language and creating innovations. An interlanguage is basically a set of language created by the learner to engage the first language and the second language and it is usually based on the learners’ experiences with the second language.

At a more theoretical level, there are also well-argued claims that the social interaction most relevant to interlanguage development is that in which learners and their correspondents share a need and desire to understand each other (Pica, 1987). There is also recent empirical evidence that such mutual understanding can be reached when the learner and interlocutor modify and restructure their interaction as a result of their requests for clarification or confirmation of each other’s input and checks on the comprehensibility of their own productions, this will be discussed more in the feedback section. When learners need to understand unfamiliar linguistic input or when required to produce a comprehensible message are opportunities to modify and restructure their interaction with their respondents until mutual comprehension is reached. That process enables learners to move beyond their current interlanguage receptive and expressive capacities and yet improve their second language.

Another research investigates the type of interaction and the effects on the development of the interlanguage. It shows that certain kinds of interaction that the child engages in encourage faster and more complete development of features of his interlanguage than other kinds of interaction. A similar finding is reported by Shea (2003), who compares interactions between Japanese students studying at an American university and four different teachers. Shea reports that the Japanese students appear more proficient in English in conversations where they have equal access to the floor and take perspectives that are congruent with those taken by their teachers (Watanabe 2008).


Input refers to the language that a learner is exposed to. In all approaches to second language acquisition, input is a vital component for learning in that it provides the evidence from which learners can form linguistic hypotheses. On the other hand, the information provided by the input illustrates what is possible within a language. Interaction makes learner see the differences between them and native speakers. Interaction itself also directs learner’s attention to something new, such as a new lexical item or grammatical construction, thus promoting the development of the L2. Input obtained via interaction has been conceptualized and researched in terms of ‘comprehensible input’, ‘negotiation of meaning’ and ‘comprehensible output’ by Krashen, Long and Swain (Gass, 2003: 224-255, Krashen, 1981). The interrelatedness of these three notions is concisely articulated in Long’s revised version of the Interaction Hypothesis: the negotiation for meaning, and especially negotiation work that triggers interactional adjustments by the NS or more competent interlocutor, facilitates acquisition because it connects input, internal learner capacities, particularly selective attention, and output in productive ways (Tarone, 2009: 41-57).

The process of turning input into intake has been described by Krashen as follows: First, learners understand a message using the not yet acquired L2 structure and somehow connect the form with its meaning. Second, learners must notice a difference between their current interlanguage competence and the second language form (Xu, 2010).

As input of an interaction is just like the listening, it is important for learners to familiar with the phonetic of the second language. Language like French, which does not pronounce the why it looks like. Native speakers usually speak much faster than a learner can understand. It means that it is understandable if the sentence was written or spoken word by word. As many French learners have experienced, it is important for the learner to have more social interactions with the native speakers to get their ears used to the speed and dialect (for some language) of the second language.


Swain observed the children in Canada which showed less native-like language. Swain hypothesized that what was lacking was sufficient opportunities for language use. She claimed that language production forces learners to move form comprehension to syntactic use of language.

As many learners maybe experienced, there is a stage where the learner is too shy to produce an output. It may due to the afraid of making a wrong statement or convey a wrong message. The less the learner talk in the target language, the more shyness the will feel. That is why many Chinese students who take English as second language is excellent in the grammar and lexicon but can hardly talk to a native speaker fluently.


There are two types of feedbacks: implicit and explicit. Explicit refers to correction and metalinguisitic explanations. Implicit feedback refers to confirmation checks (i.e. the sentence or specific word has been correctly heard), clarification requests (i.e. a request for clarify or repeat), and comprehension checks (i.e. an expression used to check the listener is understand or not). Explicit feedback often occurs during negotiation for meaning. Pica (1989) describes how negotiation contributes to the language learning process, suggesting that negotiation facilitates comprehension of L2 input and servers to draw learners’ attention to form-meaning relationships through processes of repetition, segmentation, and rewording. The research also claims that negotiation can draw learners’ attention to linguistic problems and proposes that initial steps in interlanguage development occur when learners notice mismatches between the input and their own organization of the target language (Gass & Mackey, 2007: 175-199).

With feedbacks, both the native speakers and non-native speakers can adjust their language to a level where they can communicate efficiently. Other research have found that native speaker modifications are more frequent in two-way communication because conversation provides the native speaker with feedback from the learner and thus enables him to estimate the amount of adjustment required (Albakri, 2006).

Social context and culture

Learning a second language can be said of learning about another society and their culture. Language has been proven that has a great relationship with the society, culture and even history. In order to improve the second language proficiency, social context and culture have to be taken into the consideration. The best way of doing this is to interact with the native speakers.

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It was shown that speakers of any target language use different varieties of that language in the different social contexts in which it is spoken; a formal variety is appropriate in business meetings, while a vernacular variety is used with friends in a bar. So social context affects the social variety of the second language learners are exposed to. If learners are restricted to only one social context and need to learn varieties of second language that are spoken in other social context and need to learn varieties of second language that are spoken in other social contexts, their overall SLA can be affected. (Tarone, 2007).

Culture is difficult to define, but it does not mean that the issue is not important in relation to the acquisition of a second language. Through interaction, learners are able to understand certain usage of the language. For example, in Japanese, you need to use a respectful way or tone and choice of words to talk to a senior or anyone who is socially above your status. It is different in some western countries and the language they used. We may not be sure what culture the learner acquires, but it is certainly different from the learner’s own culture and this difference is an important part of the learning experience (Regan 1998).


Social interaction, without any doubt, is important in second language acquisition. The learner receives input from his/her respondent and that input becomes intake when the learner processes the information internally. The learner than produces the output which in turn becomes the input for the respondent and he/she provides feedback to that input. And this process continues as conversation or communication and therefore enhances second language learning (Albakri, 2006). It is also important that, the interaction provide the chance of knowing the culture of the target language and raise the awareness of the social context of the target language, which will indeed promotes the development of the second language. On the other hand, social interaction encourages learners to use the language in a more pragmatic way, which is one of the main reason we learn a second language at first place.

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