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Role of Instruction in Second Language Acquisition Theories

  1. Jessica Williams

Published Online: 5 NOV 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781405198431.wbeal1024

The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics

How to Cite

Williams, J. 2012. Role of Instruction in Second Language Acquisition Theories. The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 5 NOV 2012


Although a natural relationship between theories of second language (L2) acquisition and instruction might be expected, surprisingly the connection between many theories and instruction is tenuous, or even absent. Since it is clear that the L2 often, indeed usually, proceeds in the absence of instruction, any viable theory of L2 acquisition should specify that instruction is not necessary. The possible role for instruction ranges from significant to helpful to no effect or, potentially, even detrimental. First, it is important to specify the target of instruction. Is it the morphosyntactic core, or does it include the L2 lexicon, phonology, and sociolinguistic rules? Second, if instruction has a role, what kind of instruction is indicated? The answer will depend, in part, on how a given theory handles the explicit–implicit knowledge interface. Teachers and researchers have long acknowledged that learners often seem to draw on knowledge they cannot articulate, and, conversely, are able to verbalize knowledge they cannot reliably use in communication. The theories below differ considerably on their acknowledgment of this interface and how they characterize it. This list of theories is by no means exhaustive; rather, it includes those that have been the most widely discussed.


  • language teaching;
  • language in the classroom;
  • second language acquisition