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Theories of Second Language Acquisition


The study by Roberts and Liszka investigates the processes of second language learning. The authors examine a particular linguistic issue that is researched by other scholars from many angles, namely the acquisition of tense and aspect morphology (Roberts & Liszka, 2013). According to the researchers, they aim to assess whether advanced German and French learners of English can detect mismatches in sentences that have a fronted temporal adverbial and an inflected verb in their structure. This question is further connected to the idea that the ability of the participants to correctly find these agreement violations can be explained by the first language of these individuals. Therefore, the study supports the idea that one’s L1 can influence the acquisition of L2 in many aspects.

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The authors present a study based on a reading experiment. They outline a number of research problems that are debated in the field of second language acquisition. First of all, the fact that every language has its own structure and such features of it as tense and aspect can vary significantly from one language to another presents a plethora of possible questions for further research. For instance, the authors examine the notion of temporal expression of various languages having such distinct characteristics that the process of L2 acquisition may be complicated for individuals who learn a second language distinct from their first one. Furthermore, the interpretation of these characteristics may vary not only in terms of language variation but also regarding one’s type of usage. Here, the authors present the issue of implicit and explicit knowledge and state that one’s ability to put theoretical knowledge to practical use may be further complicated by their mother tongue. The authors discuss these research problems in detail. They define the terms of implicit and explicit knowledge and temporal adverbs and their morphology using other studies and writing.

Moreover, Roberts and Liszka (2013) present some earlier findings on the issues connected to tense and aspect acquisition in the L2. The description of both functional and formal perspectives on this topic is displayed. However, according to the authors, neither of these views offers an extensive amount of research on the use of tense and aspect morphology, instead focusing on other features such as learners’ production and knowledge. This study argues that the adoption of a specific theoretical framework is not necessary as the hypothesis that the authors make can be looked at from both perspectives. Roberts and Liszka use various primary and secondary sources to show the scope of research on this issue and highlight that the argument about L1 influencing L2 is supported in many works.

The hypothesis of the paper is investigated through the individuals’ knowledge of the English past simple and present perfect forms (Roberts & Liszka, 2013). The methodology of the study uses the results from sixty participants, including twenty German, twenty French, and twenty native English speakers. German and French participants can be considered advanced English learners on the basis of a language assessment test. The utilized materials include forty-eight items such as two sets of twenty-four sentences with past simple and present perfect structures. Moreover, each sentence has either a match or mismatch of a temporal adverbial and a verb. The participants complete two tasks. First, they read given sentences and evaluate their acceptability on a scale from one to six. Then, they read the sentences word by word and answer comprehension questions at the end of every sentence in order to eliminate the possibility of misunderstanding. This process is necessary to see whether the participants are paying attention and making their decisions based on their knowledge.

The findings of this research confirm the hypothesis that the authors make. According to the results presented by the scholars, a person’s L1 can significantly affect his or her process of L2 acquisition as one interprets learned structures according to one’s native language. Furthermore, Roberts and Liszka (2013) conclude that language learners may understand new information about L2 through the lens of L1 and use known sentence structures from the first language to create similar forms for the second one. This process occurs in online comprehension as, according to the study, offline understanding does not follow the same rules. The findings suggest that both learners and native speakers successfully detect mismatches during an offline reading. However, the interpretation of violations online shows that learners are possibly influenced by L1 as the Germans, for instance, are not as sensitive to the processing of the items with past simple as the French. This result is explained by the fact the specification of this temporal verb pattern is not present in the German language. Therefore, the authors conclude that the study’s findings fully support the proposed hypothesis.

Some topics for further research are also outlined by the authors. For example, the issues connected to one’s level of proficiency can be studied in order to find the difference between the interpretations of new and advanced learners. Roberts and Liszka (2013) propose the idea that individuals with more exposure to a second language can distinguish the aspects of tense and aspect easier and more instinctively than new students. Furthermore, the pairings of different languages can be studied in more detail to support the outlined hypothesis and provide more data for other studies. Finally, the difference between learners’ lexical and morphological interpretations can also be investigated further.


The described article by Roberts and Liszka clearly supports the theory that an individual’s L1 can significantly affect his or her process of L2 acquisition. The purpose of the study is stated explicitly as the authors go into great detail about explaining the current trends in the development of the L2 acquisition research. Many sub-problems are presented in this article. For example, the issue of online and offline comprehension is described extensively as the authors focus on finding differences between learners’ theoretical and practical implementations of knowledge. The terms that are discussed in the paper are also studied thoroughly. The authors devote a number of pages to exploring such concepts as implicit and explicit knowledge in order to explain the intuitive aspect of their sub-problem. The description of temporal adverbs and their correlation to proper verb forms are included in the paper as well. The authors use examples from the English, German, and French languages and compare their structures to show the differences visually.

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Moreover, the explanation of such variations and their significance for one’s process of learning is also present. However, it is possible that one’s understanding of various languages may be insufficient to see apparent differences between them. For example, Roberts and Liszka do not always explain the particular grammatical problems which may be present in sentences that are not translated. Thus, one may not fully comprehend the fact that L2 learners may face in the process of language acquisition. Although it is possible to argue that such information is not essential as the article focuses on the process of English language acquisition, it is safe to assume that readers should be able to grasp the concepts of all described language differences from this article. However, most of the variations are defined to the degree that is sufficient enough for other researchers to understand.

The hypothesis and sub-problems defined in the paper are specific as they are expressed in precise terms. The existing theories and perspectives are also described in the article. The explored argument is not unique to this particular study as many other pieces of research investigate it and provide their evidence supporting it (VanPatten & Williams, 2014). Literature that is analyzed in this work shows the same hypothesis being evaluated by other authors using different conditions, aspects, and language combinations (Salaberry & Shirai, 2002). Furthermore, some recent papers can also contribute to this theory. For instance, Qian (2015) samples data from English learners whose L1 significantly differs from languages described in this article. The findings of this author, however, suggest that one’s L1 can affect the results of one’s learning process and especially the study of tense and aspect morphology. Moreover, many researchers support this hypothesis as well. According to Slabakova (2016), the process of finding mismatches can have various degrees of success for learners with different first languages, which can be explained not by their level of proficiency but by their ability to comprehend well-known and unfamiliar structures. Thus, the literature review of this article provides evidence of the article’s value.

The authors describe the population involved in the study and provide extra information through the notes of the paper. Moreover, they offer some additional calculations in order to support some statements that were deemed unclear by previous reviewers. Thus, their results are presented in a number of forms, which only strengthens their arguments. The experimental studies are described in detail as the researchers provide an analysis of every calculation. Moreover, some nuanced moments are also discussed. For instance, Robets and Liszka (2013) admit that their decision to choose participants according to their completion of the Oxford placement test may not show the full scope of the individuals’ knowledge. However, they argue that questions of this examination evaluate information that is used in this study as well, which renders this type of evaluation viable. The findings are interpreted and discussed by the authors with the focus on the outlined hypothesis.

The implications of this study for the sphere of foreign language teaching can be clearly defined. First of all, the literature review of this study gives one an idea about the current state of developments in the field of L2 acquisition research. Moreover, the hypothesis of the article can be used as an approach to teaching students. Using the theory that learners understand new information on the basis of their L1 can give teachers ideas for various activities and lesson plans (Larsen-Freeman & Long, 2014). Some applications for further research are presented as well. One can study how learners from different backgrounds can interpret specific rules of the English language. The study by Roberts and Liszka offers a solid foundation for understanding how people with various first languages comprehend particular structures of English.


Larsen-Freeman, D., & Long, M. H. (2014). An introduction to second language acquisition research (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Qian, C. (2015). Lexical aspect and L1 transfer in the acquisition of tense-aspect morphology. In 2015 International Conference on Education Technology and Economic Management (pp. 286-292). Beijing, China: Atlantis Press.

Roberts, L., & Liszka, S. A. (2013). Processing tense/aspect-agreement violations on-line in the second language: A self-paced reading study with French and German L2 learners of English. Second Language Research, 29(4), 413-439.

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Salaberry, M. R., & Shirai, Y. (Eds.). (2002). The L2 acquisition of tense aspect morphology. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: John Benjamins Publishing.

Slabakova, R. (2016). Second language acquisition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

VanPatten, B., & Williams, J. (Eds.). (2014). Theories in second language acquisition: An introduction (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

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StudyCorgi. "Theories of Second Language Acquisition." December 31, 2020.


StudyCorgi. 2020. "Theories of Second Language Acquisition." December 31, 2020.


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