What is the role of input in SLA?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In the field of Second Language Acquisition, Stephen Krashen's input theory was one of the first to analyze the role of input in L2 learning. "Input" is defined as the amount of language to which the student is exposed. In linguistics, the input refers to the target language, which is the language that the student is getting ready to learn. 

The subsequent processing and internalization of the language, also known as "intake", will eventually be reflected in the application of the target language to new tasks. Hence, the more input the student receives, the more chances the student will have to conceptualize, and retain it.

The input theory is unquestionable in the linguistics field. It is a fact that it is through consistent, casual and formal exposure to the L2 that learning is achieved. The more exposure, the more chances for learning. This being said, let's see how the input affects the process of SLA.

  •  Proper input, or the proper teaching of language within a non-threatening environment, is imperative for the initial process of intaking. This means that the teacher must first input recognizable and easy-to-connect words at first.
  • Input plus 1 (i + 1) assures the retention of learned vocabulary. This means that, by exposing the students to easy words, and then by adding a couple of challenging ones, the student will enter a zone of proximal development (ZPD) that will aid in the use of innate linguistics skills for language processing.
  • Input in writing is essential for the retention of combinations of sounds and symbols. Extensive Reading Programs are often recommended in the L2 classrooms because posters, books, and other print-rich materials aid visual learners to relate the sounds of words to the way in which they are written; this also aids in the encoding process and in the intake of new words.
  • According to Long and Robinson (1990) the interaction theory of communication suggests that the understanding (comprehensibility) of input is increased during interactions in L1 and L2 because the negotiation of the meaning of words heightens the cognitive ability of the speaker into using more schema and creating more cognitive and linguistics connections.

In not so many words, the role of input is that of intaking, processing, accentuating, retaining, enhancing, and expanding the cognitive skills of the L2 learner through the myriad of processes that take place through the acts of decoding, internalizing, and applying the new information.

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