Second Language Acquisition – A Case Study

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Second Language Acquisition: Is It Always Following Universal Standards? – A Case Study on A Child’s Pronunciation, Writing System, Syntax & Vocabulary

published in Vol.II, Issue.XX, September 2016

Introduction to the Author:

Shafinaz Sikder is currently working as a course instructor in a private university of Bangladesh (United International University).  She has completed her under graduation and post-graduation on ELT and Applied Linguistics from BRAC University. She has also been working in different private schools during her graduation program. Recently she is interested in research works related to the development of traditional materials to suit her students’ needs. She is also interested in designing different communicative materials to promote a communicative approach within the existing system of teaching English language courses.


This researched based case study has been conducted to investigate the fact that whether second language acquisition process follows some certain sequential stages despite specific learners and their particular contexts. That is to say, to challenge the existing idea of having universal developmental patterns in case of acquisition of a L2 which tries to bring all the unique learners under one single umbrella, this study was conducted on an individual to observe whether and to what extent the child is following or conforming up to any idealistic standard of acquiring an L2. Therefore the study had some pre-determined questions and language testing elements  which was ask to the randomly selected child within an informal context (her play time). Interestingly, the study results which were analyzed both qualitatively and quantifiably with support of secondary literatures revealed that the child is not following any particular patterns of development at a time.  Rather is developing word meanings by following some random sequences. That is to say, she has developed some features of word meanings which she should have acquired in some later stages (after a particular age) according to the claim of many researchers. On the other hand, she has not yet acquired features which she should have acquired already. Therefore it can be concluded that a child’s l2 acquisition cannot be made generalized under some certain or principled patterns or rules. This is because every learning process is unique since every individual learner is unique.

Keywords: vocabulary acquisition, sequential developmental stages, second language stages, learners errors, general mistakes

Introducing Second Language Acquisition:

SLA: Second Language Acquisition refers to the process of how a learner learns or acquires a second language in addition to his first language. In other words, it is the scientific way of picking up a second language consciously by knowing its rules, structures, grammatical elements, skills and different uses. That is to achieve the ability to practice the language by knowing its communicative, interactive, transformational and functional uses. Although it is a branch of linguistics yet it’s linked with other disciplinary like psychology, cognitive knowledge, innatism and structural theories. The main purpose of maximum learners of SLA is to gain the ability to speak in the target language; to be able to communicate effectively and function successfully in that language.


SLA Stages:

Stage I: Pre-production: This is a time when English-language learners have around 500 words in their vocabulary but they cannot use them to speak. All they can do is repetition of the words but cannot produce them. They cannot handle regular-irregular patterns, phonological system is underdeveloped; verb, sentence, writing system, questioning/negation are not certain.

Stage II: Early production: This stage may continue up to six months and students will develop a receptive vocabulary of about 1000 words approximately. During this stage, students can usually speak in one/two word phrases. They can use short language chunks most of which is memorized and can understand more than producing themselves. They can handle particular sounds (bilabial/labildental), irregular patterns, SVO; uses negatives at the starting and can question by single words/phrases.

Stage III: Speech emergence: They have vocabulary of about 3,000 words and can communicate with simple phrases and sentences. They will ask simple questions that may not be grammatically correct. They can say short stories, little dialogues etc. along with difficult sounds, unmarked words, using plural, –ing, copula, auxiliary verbs, regular patterns than other forms, using negatives both before modals/as alternatives. They can also ask questions by declarative sentences, rising intonations, fronting (do/wh) but no inversions.

Stage IV: Intermediate fluency: These learners have a vocabulary more than 3000 words. They have good control over phonology system and sentence structure yet have problems with verb/word forms. They are advanced in using articles, third person and possessives correctly, use negatives by understanding the rules/structures (do/don’t/no/not) and use questions with inversion, complex structures with tags and embedded interrogatives.

Stage V: Advanced users: They can use complex sentences when speaking and writing and are willing to express opinions and share their thoughts. They will ask questions to clarify, work in groups and comprehend literary texts.

Discussion Of The Subject And Observation Setting Of The Study:

I went to my relative’s house in Adabor to talk with my little cousin Orin. I bought some pictures, chocolates and a doll for her in order to talk and make her talk with me.

Subject’s Personal Details:






SLA StageL1Surrounding


Orin7FemaleStudying in Grade Kg-II


Bangla medium(English version)3rd StageBanglaParents and her Grandma


Observation Environment:

TimePlaceSubject’s MoodStimulus for speaking
Evening(7.30)Orin’s bedroomHappy but tiredDoll and fairytale book


Communication Dialogues (Reporting Data):

[Its mentionable that my subject is very friendly and free to talk with me, because I visit her at least once a week.]



I: Baby…amar baby… (I started with Bangla, hugged her hiding the gifts in a way she can see).

Orin: Oita ki? (Pointing to gift) dao…

I: What do you want? (I switched to English to make her response in English)

Orin: oi hathe ki…dekhi?

I: why? Its not for you.

Orin: Uhu..its mine..i know

I: Sure?

Orin: (snatched the Barbie and opened it)

I: pocha bachcha…naughty baby

Orin: naughty…Rapunjel (smiled)

I: What’s Rapunjel? Bolo Rapunzel…

Orin: She is a princess. The Prince love her

I: Can I play with it?

Orin: (avoid answering) Rapunjel has long long hair, isn’t it?

I: Rapunzel is not very pretty

Orin: No..she is very pretty..Rapunjel is prettiest. Mamma go to Hallmark and bring me the big dolls. (pointing to some Barbies)

I: Did you go with her?

Orin: Hay..I goed with her…Shunday…no..Sunday..but she don’t buyed me Rapunjel

I: Give it to me… (Rapunzel)

Orin: Keno? (Gave me an angry look)

I: I will give you something else if you give me the Barbie

Orin: mane?

I: tumi jodi amake Rapunzel dao tahole ami akta shundor boi dibo

Orin: Naaaa

I: give it right now

Orin: (gave it)… you dont never give it back? (she made faces)

I: if you listen to me…you will have to write something under these pictures. (I gave her the book with pictures of Rapunzel)

Orin: what I will write?

I: write whatever you see

Orin: hmm..acha


Picture Writing:

I showed her the following pictures from the fairytale book and she tried to write whatever she understood. This task was done to evaluate her writing problems/errors related to her writing system.




Analyzing the Above Responses (Data) On The Basis Of Errors:

Sound Related Errors:

Orin faced most difficulty in pronouncing the /s/ and /v/ sound. Most of the time, she said /bh/ instead of /v/ and /sh/ for /s/. The reasons I think is that there is no /v/ in her L1 that’s why she is replacing it with /bh/ and /s/ is an alveolar sound which is difficult to pronounce for kids; although I think she learnt it from her English teacher’s speech. However the /s/ problem is not very frequent and every time she is making the mistake she knows it and therefore is trying to say it correctly (Shunday…no Sunday). Another problem which I think that she will carry for a long time is the pronunciation of /j/ instead of /z/. It can be because there is no /z/ in Bangla and it’s clear that although she understood the difference yet cannot produce it correctly. She doesn’t seem to make it right although I tried to correct it several times before this conversation.

Word Related Errors:

The word related problems are mainly with the verb forms, mixing and overgeneralizing regular with irregular verbs, tenses, word spellings although she can use progressive-ing, auxiliaries, plurals and interestingly marked verbs and possessives. The mistakes are skipping tenses/degree of tenses because she is not sure which to use (you naughty, Rapunzel prettiest, mamma go to, I goed with), overgeneralizing (goed, buyed), spelling (casel, luking). These occurred mainly because she is avoiding tenses which seem difficult, the use of superlative degrees is mainly memorization, spelling is based on the way she pronounces it and overgeneralization shows that at least she is trying to follow the regular rule of regular past tenses. However she is good at using possessive determiners which is not expected; she could use ‘mine’, ‘her’, ‘his’ in its right place. Orin is good with plural forms (big dolls), and marked/unmarked verbs (princess/prince)

Sentence Related Errors:

Orin can use the SVO structure correctly although Bangla has SOV may be because it has been taught and corrected several times in her school. GTM method considers these structural elements very crucial therefore are more emphasized than pronunciations/spellings. Orin has the tendency to use tags like other kids yet in wrong way (she has long hair, isn’t It?) and also to keep incomplete statements and has problems with negations (don’t never give, she don’t buy) etc. She can be marked as stage 2 of negations because she is not sure of the use of ‘don’t’ but using it and stage 3 in case of using questions. She seems to do fronting without inversions and use declaratives with rising tone. Again she is using tags (complex questions) like learners of stage 6. That means she is learning different elements from different stages at the same time.

Chomsky’s UG:

Chomsky’s aspects if UG can be noticeable from Orin’s speech. Child’s mind is not a blank slate and they have some common grammar principles which are common to all grammars of all language and therefore they can learn structural elements of a L2 without being stimulated from outside. Although Orin has many difficulties but they are all within the common structure; they did not drop from sky. Like others, she has some common features in her speech which shows that she has learnt some elements naturally; that is using her brain. For example, she has not been taught to talk by jumbling the sentences. She did not write ‘golden hair long long’ but long long golden hair. May be she has it from her L1. She must have literary translated it from ‘lomba lomba shonali chul’. She has some common sense beforehand and her innate ability restricts her from abnormal mistakes in her speech/writing.

Writing System Related Errors:

English Writing Script: The modern English alphabet is a Latin alphabet consisting of 26 letters – the same letters that are found in the ISO basic Latin alphabet. The shape of handwritten letters can differ significantly from the standard printed form. Written English uses a number of digraphs, such as ch, sh, th, wh, qu, etc., but they are not considered separate letters of the alphabet. The English language was first written in the Anglo-Saxon futhorc runic alphabet, in use from the 5th century. The English alphabet is now considered to consist of the following 26 letters:  A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z.

Orin as a student of Bangladesh is learning English as an SLA and in the oldest teaching method GTM. She has some problems with her spelling and as well as letters although she is in kg-II when she is writing fast. In her quick writing (I observed her mistakes while she was practicing dictation with my phupi), she still tends to ‘e’ instead of ‘c’. Apart from it, she tends to write the words that way she pronounce them. For example, she wrote ‘Rapunzela’ instead of Rapunzel although she has written the same word correctly in other two pictures.

Method In Madness (The regular irregularities):

Orin has some typical mistakes that young English learners usually do. She over generalized the past-ed form to all past tenses, miss out words when she is out of vocabulary and some common spelling mistakes; spelling according to how the word sounds like we do in Bangla. These mistakes are not really errors and should not be considered as abnormal behaviors of children. Because learner learns by a particular system and making mistakes shows that they are at least on their way to learns. Sudden and strict restrictions and feedbacks can hamper their learning process so its necessary to overlook it. Yet something interesting I noticed is that Orin tends to speak Bangla whenever she is excited or in a bad or emotional mood. Sometimes I had to switch language because she was being uncomfortable. Whenever she was mad at me she unconsciously switches to Bangla because she can express herself better in it.  It’s not only true in case of children but also adult L2 users; we always fight, express emotions, cry or scold in our most comfortable zone; that is L1.


Findings and Conclusion:

Real learners never follow any particular way and stages while learning SLA. They do not pass different phases like stage 1 to stage 5; rather they learn different elements of different stages simultaneously. Learners are not machines that they will follow everything like a SLA models written in books or journals. They learn something, imitate something, create and simplify and generalize something in the learning process. Orin is no exception. Her responses and errors can be compared with little kids and some with mature learners. This is because every individual has their own way of learning language.


Cook, V.J., Long, J., & McDonough, S. (1979), ‘First and second language learning’, in G.E. Perren (ed.) The Mother Tongue and Other Languages in Education, CILTR, 7-22

Cook, V.J. 1969. The analogy between first and second language learning. IRAL VII/3, 207-216 ,on-line version

Cook, V.J. 1973. The comparison of language development in native children and foreign adults. IRAL XI/1, 13-28,

Allen, G. D. & S. Hawkins An Acquisition of Phonology Bibliography (1978). The development of phonological rhythm.

Www. Child second language


I hereby declare that this thesis is the presentation of my own research. Other’s contributions anywhere in this paper has been acknowledged with proper and due references. This paper has not been submitted anywhere, either in a part or a whole, for a degree or an award, in this or any other University.


Shafinaz Sikder

ID: 14163009

BRAC University


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