Third Language Learners: Pragmatic Production and Awareness

Third Language Learners: Pragmatic Production and Awareness

by Maria Pilar Safont Jorda

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The book focuses on one aspect of foreign language acquisition that has not received much attention, that of the effect of bilingualism in the oral production of the English language learners. Two research areas have tackled this issue separately. On the one hand, third language acquisition researchers have analysed bilingualism effects in the acquisition of a third language. On the other hand, studies in interlanguage pragmatics have taken into account variables affecting the use of request acts by second language learners of English. The two research areas are connected in this volume, as it deals with bilingualism effects in the pragmatic production and awareness of third language learners of English.

The first part of the book includes a theoretical description of research conducted in the areas of third language acquisition and interlanguage pragmatics, and the second part presents a detailed description of the empirical study carried out in a multilingual speech community.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781788920483
Publisher: Channel View Publications
Publication date: 04/06/2005
Series: Second Language Acquisition
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Maria Pilar Safont Jordà is currently a researcher and teaching assistant at the Department of English Studies at the Universitat Jaume I in Castelló (Spain). She has carried out various studies on the development of pragmatic competence by third language learners of English. Her research interests include interlanguage pragmatics and third language acquisition.

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Third Language Acquisition


The status of the English language as a lingua franca in Europe has promoted the existence of multilingual education programmes in bilingual European communities. In northern European countries, English is more often employed outside the classroom context than in southern states, such as Spain. In fact, as suggested by Cenoz and Jessner (2000), it is not clear to what extent we should consider English as a foreign language in areas like Finland or Sweden. Following Berns (1990), these authors argue for a different perspective from the traditional EFL/ESL dichotomy in third language learning and use contexts. Their suggestion is to place the language in a continuum where we would find English as a foreign language at one end, and English as a second language at the other end. In this way, communities that are starting to use or have been using English in real-life contexts would place this third language halfway along this foreign to second language spectrum. From this perspective, we may assume that third language acquisition is a unique phenomenon that deserves consideration as a subfield within the global area of applied linguistics. It should then be studied in the same way as other subfields with which it bears a close relationship, such as that of second language acquisition.

The purpose of this chapter is to present an overview of research conducted in the field of third language acquisition. We will consider third language acquisition as related to but also different from two other disciplines, namely those of second language acquisition and bilingualism. As argued by Cenoz et al. (2001a), research in second language acquisition and bilingualism presents results that affect and facilitate our understanding of third language acquisition development, but there are some aspects that should be specifically dealt with. For this reason, we have subdivided the chapter into four main sections dealing with defining characteristics underlying third language acquisition, second language acquisition, bilingualism and empirical studies devoted to the analysis of third language acquisition and use in different settings. On account of the ideas expressed above, we will firstly, consider the complex nature of third language acquisition, which also applies to the term itself, as noted in the second section of this chapter. In this section, defining characteristics of third language acquisition will be dealt with, and special attention will be paid to a new approach for the study of those processes involved in the acquisition of a third language, namely that of the dynamic model for multilingualism, which has been proposed by Herdina and Jessner (2000, 2002). Individual differences, the context and the interaction between two or three languages known to the learner constitute some of the factors identified in the literature on multilingualism (Herdina and Jessner, 2002; Jessner, 1999) as promoting dynamism. A new conception of language development is then likely to arise from current empirical findings and theoretical assumptions in multilingual and third language acquisition. This new perspective will extend and support the complexity underlying third language learning raised and discussed in the third section of this chapter. We believe that focusing on the dynamic processes that take place in third language acquisition will help us account for what actually occurs in bilinguals' acquisition of a foreign language, which needs to be distinguished from second language acquisition.

For this reason, this third section aims at distinguishing third from second language acquisition. In order to present some evidence supporting such a difference, we will try to ascertain to what extent specific factors underlying third language acquisition, as pointed out by Cenoz (2000), are reflected in some of the most outstanding theories of second language acquisition. The distinction between second and third language acquisition processes will raise the issue of the complexity attributed to the acquisition of a third language. It may illustrate the idea that third language acquisition involves those factors affecting second language acquisition and also those effects deriving from the interaction between those languages known to the third language learner, who is also a bilingual speaker.

Bearing in mind the fact that our subjects are bilingual speakers learning an additional language in a foreign context, we have devoted the fourth section to bilingualism. We have dealt with this phenomenon because it relates to our study in two ways. Firstly, the inclusion and interpretation of some studies on bilingualism might facilitate our understanding of third language acquisition procedures. Secondly, it might offer some clues to acknowledge the processing mechanisms of our subjects as bilingual speakers. This section also aims at providing existing definitions of the notion of bilingual competence and the typology associated with it. We will comment on research (Hoffman, 1991; Volterra and Taeschner, 1978) concerning the relationship between the two linguistic systems a bilingual person possesses, which may be regarded as dependent or independent. The conceptualisation of that relationship is also manifested in existing models of bilingual speech production. Taking into account the fact that our study concentrates on bilingual learners' oral production, we shall deal with existing speech production models as well as with the criticisms raised against them. Since we believe that these models should account for particular characteristics of bilingual speech, language switching will be regarded as a defining feature of bilingual speech which reflects interaction between those languages known by the bilingual person. Results from studies on language switching by third language learners (Williams and Hammarberg, 1998) will lead to the inherent complexity underlying multilingual speech.

Considering specific characteristics of our subjects and the fact that they are learning English as a third language, we will pay special attention to the role of bilingualism in third language acquisition in the fifth section. In doing so, we will also account for recent studies carried out in the field of third language acquisition. Finally, we will consider existing research that has accounted for pragmatic competence in third language use.

Third Language Acquisition: Defining Characteristics

As stated by some scholars (Fouser, 1995; Jessner, 1999), there exists a degree of terminological and conceptual confusion regarding third language acquisition. In general terms, third language acquisition denotes those languages learned after a second one, which may imply a third, fourth or fifth language (that is, Ln). Nevertheless, this conceptualisation involves a series of different L2 backgrounds (second or foreign language) and learning situations that would point not only to third but also to bilingual, or even multilingual acquisition. Following this view, terms such as bilingualism, trilingualism or multilingualism would refer to the same phenomenon. In fact, Fouser (1997: 391) states that existing definitions remain 'confusing, as terms like bilingual and multilingual are vague and controversial'. The purpose of this chapter is to present what the concept of third language acquisition entails while pointing to its main outstanding features as suggested by previous researchers in the field. Bearing this aim in mind, we shall follow Herdina and Jessner's notion (2000), which contrasts with traditional aspects characterising language learning and which has been assumed to define third language acquisition in the same way as they explained first and second language acquisition processes.

Herdina and Jessner (2000) provide a clear distinction of the terminology currently used in third language acquisition studies. According to these authors, multilingualism is to be considered as a varied phenomenon involving bilingualism and monolingualism as possible forms, but addressing mainly those languages learned after a second one. In this sense, bilinguals cannot be identified with multilinguals. These authors present representative features of third language acquisition which may involve an important change in traditional language-learning paradigms. These characteristics involve (1) non-linearity, (2) language maintenance, (3) individual variation, (4) interdependence and quality change. Given the aims of our study, we shall look at these particular defining features in greater detail.

Herdina and Jessner (2000) consider non-linearity to be one of the main characteristics of third language acquisition in an attempt to distinguish this process from that involved in acquiring a second language. In fact, language competence is viewed as a gradual process whereby learners acquire a certain degree of proficiency after some training period. This process may be fostered or slowed down by various internal and external factors affecting learners. Besides, whether the process is fast or slow, conscious or unconscious, motivating or demotivating, it is always regarded as linear by second language researchers (Nunan, 1996). However, Herdina and Jessner (2000) argue for non-linearity in multilingual processes on the basis of biological growth studies:

According to biological principles language development is seen as a dynamic process with phases of accelerated growth and retardation. The development is dependent on environmental factors and is indeterminate. (Herdina and Jessner, 2000: 87)

The retardation phase could enable us to explain language attrition in the learners' second or third language and it also seems to corroborate nonlinearity as a defining feature. Considering that language learning takes place in a wide variety of both psychological and physical situations, and the fact that a non-native language requires active use to facilitate its acquisition, it is not surprising that learners who stop using that language might find it difficult to resort to their previously acquired knowledge after a certain period of time. Herdina and Jessner (2000: 91) define gradual language attrition as the opposite process to language growth. For these authors, 'lack of maintenance of a language system results in an adaptive process by which language competence is adjusted to meet the perceived communicative needs of the individual speaker'. A language needs not only to be learned but also to be maintained; otherwise the opposite process to language maintenance and growth is that of language attrition or decay. As argued by these authors, the rate of language attrition may depend on available resources providing authentic input and possibilities for output, on competition among existing linguistic systems, and on age and duration of language maintenance.

This idea leads to the identification of language maintenance as a second defining feature of third language acquisition. Learners have to make an effort in order to maintain their proficiency level in the languages known to them. The more languages known by an individual, the more effort is required for their maintenance. Therefore, time is just one possible cause of language attrition, but we may state that language learning, particularly in foreign language settings, needs refreshment periods to prevent attrition from taking place, as any language system needs not only to be learned but also to be maintained. Most third languages are foreign, as is the case of English in many European communities, and owing to the lack of opportunities for real practice, language attrition does occur. One example might be Spain, where learners of English complain that they spend years learning the language yet do not seem to improve greatly. In fact, it seems as though their level becomes somehow fossilised after some period of no use, or because they do not receive enough input and this is not high quality input. This may also affect subjects of the study presented in Part 2, who cannot use the language outside the classroom, thus affecting their rate of development, competence and performance in the target language.

Attrition phenomena may also be connected to individual traits of the learner, which concerns another defining feature of third language acquisition stated above. As complex human beings, learners might be influenced by a wide range of factors while learning a third language, thus analysing internal factors in isolation may facilitate their study, but, at the same time, it may present an unreal picture of what actually takes place in the learning process. We agree with Alcón (1997) in that these variables should be regarded from the point of view of their relation. It is also assumed that their interaction will possess a complex nature. However complex this may be, results focused on this relation might illustrate the development and progression of the linguistic system being learned. On account of these ideas, we might say that third language development could be viewed from a dynamic perspective, including variation and interaction among its defining features and influencing factors.

The interaction of specific features in third language acquisition can be explored by focusing on the existing relationships among those languages known by learners. This interdependence characterising third language learning leads us to consider learners' first, second and third languages as a whole linguistic system, which they command simultaneously. In fact, it seems more logical to consider languages known by a multilingual speaker as a whole unit than to view them as separate entities that develop in isolation.

In view of this, multilingualism cannot be interpreted as a mere quantitative change in the languages known to bilingual learners. An additional language affects the overall linguistic system of the learner, while creating new links and relationships. The whole system is restructured and new skills and learning techniques arise from learners' previous language-learning experience. In fact, we might claim that we are facing a qualitative rather than quantitative linguistic change in third language acquisition.

Considering all the ideas mentioned above, we may state that third language acquisition should be regarded as a complex phenomenon involving certain defining features, namely those of non-linearity, language maintenance and attrition, internal factors, interaction and linguistic interdependence. In line with such complexity is the idea that multilingualism should be studied from a dynamic perspective, and should also be consistent with a holistic view of bilingualism. The third language learner has a unique linguistic system which is influenced by the constant change of those relationships being established among the languages involved. Despite the specific characteristics and complexity underlying third language acquisition, as acknowledged by various scholars (Cenoz, 2000, 2003; Herdina and Jessner, 2000), it also shares certain features with other similar processes of language acquisition. Therefore, two related areas are those of second language acquisition and bilingualism. In fact, research conducted in these two subfields has probably influenced some of the current work in this young area, that of third language acquisition. Owing to this, we may focus on some aspects of bilingualism related to our purposes in the fourth section, as we are dealing not with second but with third language learners of a foreign language, who are already bilingual (Catalan/Castilian) speakers. However, we shall devote the next section to reviewing some of the most outstanding differences between second and third language acquisition in an attempt to expand the conceptualisation of third language acquisition presented above.

Second versus Third Language Acquisition

As our study concerns third language learners, it seems appropriate to account for the difference between second and third language acquisition. The study of multilingualism is a neglected area within the general field of language acquisition. As assumed by several authors (Cenoz, 2000; Fouser, 1995), approaching language learning from a perspective different from that of a second or foreign language is quite new. In fact, as regarded by Cenoz and Genesee (1998), multilingual acquisition is often considered to be a simple variation on bilingualism and second language acquisition. In these cases, second language acquisition is used as a general term to refer to 'any language other than the first one irrespective of the type of learning environment and the number of other languages the learner might know' (Sharwood Smith, 1994: 7).


Excerpted from "Third Language Learners"
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Copyright © 2005 Maria Pilar Safont Jordà.
Excerpted by permission of Multilingual Matters.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements, vii,
Introduction, 1,
Part 1: Theoretical Background,
1 Third Language Acquisition, 9,
2 Pragmatic Competence and Foreign Language Learning, 50,
3 The Sociolinguistic Context: Language Learning and Use in the Valencian Community, 85,
Part 2: The Study,
4 The Method, 101,
5 The Role of Pragmatic Instruction in Developing Foreign Language Learners' Pragmatic Competence, 114,
6 Effects of Proficiency Level on Pragmatic Production, 131,
7 The Effects of the Task on Pragmatic Production, 140,
8 The Role of Bilingualism in Pragmatic Awareness, 153,
9 Pragmatic Production and Awareness of Third Language Learners. Summarising the Findings, 163,
References, 171,

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