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Cross-Linguistic Influences in Second Language Acquisition - EDU00048M

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  • Department: Education
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Leah Roberts
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

The overall aim of this module is to explore cross-linguistic influences (CLI) in second language acquisition (SLA) from various different approaches.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

  • To provide a detailed overview (both historical and current) of the construct of CLI in SLA;

  • To familiarise students with methods for studying CLI in SLA at different linguistic (and non-linguistic) levels;

  • To assess the importance of CLI in language learning and language teaching.

Module learning outcomes

Subject content

Students who successfully complete the module should:

  • be aware of the key theoretical debates in the field of SLA and how they have evolved;

  • be able to critically evaluate research in the field of CLI from various approaches;

  • be able to assess the importance for, and to relate relevant research findings to topics in the field of both language learning and language education;

Academic and graduate skills

  • Engage critically with academic and language teaching publications

  • Formulate critical and balanced arguments orally and in writing

  • Participate in group work 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

Module Structure (week by week):

Week 2: Overview of the module. From 'transfer' to Cross-linguistic Influence

An overview of the module will be provided, highlighting the main questions that researchers are interested in and covering the major debates in the field. To situate the topic in the field of SLA, a historical overview of the concept of CLI will be provided and we will critically evaluate the influential theories of transfer and CLI (Typological Universals, Markedness Theory, Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis), using data from key studies. Why have some of these theories fallen out of favour in SLA research? How does the development of the concept of CLI from its original inception of 'transfer' reflect the evolution of the field of SLA in general? What are the topics of more recent CLI research?

Week 3: CLI on grammatical development

Following this historical overview, we will spend the next few sessions zooming in on CLI at various linguistic levels, starting with the effects of the L1 on the development of L2 morphosyntax, in particular on negation, in structurally complex sentences like relative clauses and questions, and on inflectional morphology. What are the critical debates surrounding the role of CLI on the L2 acquisition of grammar in current SLA theory? What can data from studies of the brain tell us about these key questions? What are the implications for grammar teaching?

Week 4: Age, proficiency and CLI on sounds in the L2

In this session, the focus is on the influence of the L1 on L2 sounds. Foreign accent is one of the most obvious ways that the L1 appears to influence the L2. How do factors such as age of acquisition and proficiency in L2 interact with cross-linguistic influence on L2 phonology? What can recent psycholinguistic evidence tell us about CLI at the phonological level? How can the CLI evidence be best put to use in the teaching of L2 phonology?

Week 5: CLI on semantic/lexical development

We consider recent research from a range of different approaches on the study of semantic categories in L2 development. Is it always the case that the closer in form two words are, the more easily L1 meaning can be mapped onto an L2 form? What about CLI on the language of metaphor and idioms? We will examine theories of the L2 mental lexicon and discuss to what degree the words in a bilingual's two languages are linked. What are the implications of these findings for the teaching of L2 vocabulary?

Week 6: CLI and cognition

Most research on CLI involves investigating the process whereby linguistic representations transfer between languages. Recently, though, it appears that there may be between language effects on different cognitive levels. We discuss theories that propose CLI has specific effects on conceptual as well as semantic and linguistic levels. We will also evaluate the evidence on the link between language/speaking and thought and discuss the implications of linguistic relativity for CLI.

Week 7: Using a foreign language and living in a foreign culture: CLI effects on discourse and pragmatics

We will address the topic of CLI beyond the level of the word and sentence, to that of discourse, rhetoric, and communicative interaction, looking at effects on narrative order, conversation and speech acts. We will also review research that has examined the circumstances under which certain social variables are carried over into the use of another language.

Week 8: CLI on real-time language processing

In this session, we review the recent psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic evidence of how CLI takes place in the brain. We focus on how the two languages of a bilingual are acquired, stored and processed and how they may influence each other during real time processing, zooming in on the bilingual mental lexicon and on syntactic parsing. Also of importance will be models of bilingual memory, and we will discuss recent research on the relationship between L1 and L2 words and events that have taken place in the particular language.

Week 9: Bidirectional influences: effects of L2 on L1, and L3 on L2

The majority of CLI research has focused on the influence of the mother tongue on the language being learned, but recent research has shown that CLI can occur in the opposite direction, and furthermore, that in multilingual speakers, influences can be observed from L2 to L3, from L1 to L3, from L3 to L1 and so on. As well as acquisitional order, we will examine the factors that affect such constellations of influence, including the language user's relative proficiency in their languages, the degrees of frequency of use and the degree of similarity between the languages in question.  

Week 10: Studying CLI in SLA and implications for language learning and teaching and future research

In the final session, we will review the key findings and debates on CLI in SLA covered in the course. We will attempt to pull the strands together to build a picture of how the findings relate to models of language learning as well as to language teaching, in particular examining the implications for teaching foreign and second languages, and also for teacher education and text-book writing. Finally, we will review the methods available to study CLI in SLA and discuss potentially fruitful areas for future research.


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

Alonso, R. (2016). Cross-linguistics Influences in Second Language Acquisition. Multilingual Matters.

Cook, V. (2003). Effects of the second language on the first. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Jarvis, S. & Pavlenko, A. (2008). Cross-linguistic Influence in language and cognition. New York: Routledge.

Odlin, T. (2012). Cross-linguistics Influences in Second Language Acquisition. In The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. Wiley Blackwell.

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.