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Topics in Second Language Acquisition - EDU00041M

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  • Department: Education
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Cylcia Bolibaugh
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

  • To familiarise students with key topics, concepts, findings and theories in work on second language learning and development

  • To critically evaluate their relevance and implications for language education

Module learning outcomes

Subject content

  • To develop a good understanding of key areas and issues discussed in work on second language learning and development

  • To understand the main methods used to investigate second language learning and development

  • To be able to read and critically evaluate original studies on key topics in second language research

  • To be able to evaluate the relevance of major research findings for second language learning and instruction, and make informed decisions regarding language teaching methodologies and practice

  • To be able to carry out small scale second language investigations for their dissertation

Academic and graduate skills

  • Engage critically with academic and language teaching publications

  • Formulate critical and balanced arguments orally and in writing

  • Participate in groupwork and problem-solving activities

  • Undertake and report appropriately short, empirical data collection and analysis work

  • Demonstrate effective planning and time management

  • Word-process, use a concordancer, manage files, use e-mail, VLE and the Web 

Module content

Course Details - (week by week)

Week 2 - Key issues in second language acquisition theory and research

This session will sketch the key issues discussed in second language acquisition theory and research and situate these  in relation to SLA’s ‘feeder’ disciplines of language teaching, linguistics, child language acquisition and psychology.

Week 3 - Logical problem of language acquisition: Nativist and Emergentist approaches

Are humans biologically endowed with a specialised language faculty? Or can the statistical properties of language and general cognition explain acquisition? In this session we will examine the evidence for two major (and opposing) explanations of how a language learner comes to know properties of language that go far beyond the input.

Week 4 - The role of age in second language learning: The Critical Period Hypothesis

This session focuses on how the age of onset determines the rate and the final outcome of language learning. We will discuss questions including whether second language learners can ever become entirely nativelike, and whether younger is always necessarily better.

Week 5 - The role of transfer in second language learning

This session address the question of what constraints (if any) a first language places on the learning of a second language. We will examine negative and positive consequences of different L1 backgrounds on different aspects of L2 learning.

Week 6 - The role of input, output and interaction in second language development

Is input necessary in SLA, and how much of it do we need? Is it sufficient? Does ‘input enhancement’ enhance language learning? What difference, if any, do interaction and output make? We turn to a rich body of both experimental and classroom SLA research to explore these questions.

Week 7 - The role of instruction and feedback in second language grammar development

In this session, the focus will be on the debate concerning the effectiveness of L2 grammar instruction. Can it work in principle? And if so, what is the comparative  effectiveness of different types of instruction?

Week 8 - L2 vocabulary learning: incidental and intentional

What do we know when we know a word? How is the bilingual mental lexicon organised? How do we learn new words? How difficult is it to learn a new word? How many words do L2 learners need to know? These are some of the questions that this session will explore.

Week 9 - Individual cognitive differences and second language learning

This session takes a cognitive perspective on SLA and explores the role of working memory and the role of individual differences in working memory capacity for second language learning.

Week 10 - Overview of the module and assignment preparation

In this session we’ll pull together various threads covered in the module. The students will also have a chance to discuss various issues related to their assignments.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 3500 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

The assessment for this module has a 3,500 word length.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 3500 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback in a range of ways throughout this module. This will include oral feedback in class, responses to posts on the VLE discussion board and written comments on work. You will have the chance to obtain feedback on your writing during the module, and you will have a short one-to-one meeting with a module tutor to discuss assessments.

You will be provided physical written feedback on assignment report sheets as well as them being readily available on the VLE. The feedback is returned to students in line with university policy. Please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information.

Indicative reading

Doughty, C. & Long, M. (2003). The handbook of second language acquisition. Oxford: Blackwell.

Gass, S. & Selinker, L (2001). Second language acquisition: An introductory course (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Lightbown, P., & Spada, N. (1999). How languages are learned. Revised edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mackey, A. & Gass, S. (2005). Second language research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Marsden, E., Mitchell, R., & Myles, F. (2013). Second language learning theories. London: Routledge.

Ortega, L. (2014). Understanding second language acquisition. London: Routledge.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.