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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: June 2012

5 - Social contexts of Second Language Acquisition



When we talk about what is being acquired in SLA, it is not enough just to talk about the language itself. We must also include the social and cultural knowledge embedded in the language being learned, that is required for appropriate language use. What must L2 learners know and be able to do in order to communicate effectively? Part of this knowledge involves different ways of categorizing objects and events and expressing experiences. But an important part involves learners understanding their own and others' roles as members of groups or communities with sociopolitical as well as linguistic bounds. What difference does group membership and identity make in regard to what is learned, how it is acquired, and why some learners are more successful than others? In this chapter, we focus attention on two levels of context that affect language learning: the microsocial and the macrosocial: The microsocial focus deals with the potential effects of different immediately surrounding circumstances, while the macrosocial focus relates SLA to broader cultural, political, and educational environments.


Communicative competence

Language community

Foreigner talk

Direct correction

Indirect correction

Interaction Hypothesis

Symbolic mediation

Interpersonal interaction

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)


Intrapersonal interaction


Additive bilingualism

Subtractive Bilingualism

Communicative competence

From a social perspective, the notion of linguistic competence which was introduced in Chapter 1 is inadequate to account for what is being acquired in any language that is going to be used for communicative purposes.