Second Language Acquisition in Adults: From Research to Practice

This article provides a brief but concise overview of three aspects of Second Language Acquisition (SLA): learner motivation, role of interaction, role of vocabulary.

Moss, D.
Ross-Feldman, L.
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
National Center for ESL Literacy Education
Georgetown University
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

This article provides a brief but concise overview of three aspects of Second Language Acquisition (SLA): learner motivation, role of interaction, role of vocabulary. The authors, using research, define these areas, note their importance, and provide limited practical suggestions on how to incorporate or support them in a classroom setting. Learner motivation addresses integrative and instrumental motivation and how setting, context, goal achievement, strategies and outside opportunities affect learner motivation. Role of interaction is defined as communication between individuals (particularly negotiating meaning) and focuses on task-based learning and teaching and the role of teaching grammar. The role of vocabulary in SLA section addresses the research on and possible ways to incorporate incidental vocabulary, sight vocabulary, word families, role of reading, strategies, and meaning negotiation. This article also provides an excellent list of references to study aspects of SLA more in depth.

Required Training

To read and understand the material requires no training. However as it is an introductory piece greater in depth understanding of the concepts and how to apply them in teaching or program development is required.

What the experts say

OTE: Reviewers felt that the layout of the paper required the following clarification: The "role of interaction in SLA" section includes both task-based learning and teaching and focus on form subtitles. The focus on form may be included here as a way to underscore how typically non-interactive activities (e.g., "grammar being taught in isolation", see p. 3) might be developed as an interactive communicative activity.

Reviewer 1:

This is an easy to read digest of research on the effect of learner motivation, the role of interaction, and the role of vocabulary in second language acquisition. The conclusion points out that the research proves to substantiate many instructional practices in use in adult ESL classes. Programs looking to justify their practices will find this resource useful, given the emphasis federal funding has put on research-based practices. People seeking to increase their knowledge of Second Language Acquisition Research could draw upon the extensive (although slightly dated) bibliography.

The biggest drawback to this resource is that the research coming out of Portland State deals specifically with the adult ESL population, whereas much of the research cited in this resource was done with second language learners with different demographic profiles than those commonly found in the adult education field.

Reviewer 2:

This paper illustrates how SLA research informs ESL instruction. It concisely summarizes research in three areas (motivation, interaction and vocabulary). The three areas remain relevant to today's discussions and priorities: vocabulary as it relates to transition; motivation as it relates to learner persistence; interaction as key to workforce and community success. Each section contains a summary of ideas of one of the areas followed by research to support it and an example or two to illustrate how a corresponding activity would be implemented.

The vocabulary section is useful. There is often not an intentional approach to teaching vocabulary. Here there are several strong and different ideas to promote systematic practice.

Teachers could use the extensive list of resources at the end to formulate research questions from the titles and gain insight into how research is developed. Or teachers could choose a section and develop more instructional examples to share with peers.

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