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BA Linguistics / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
First and Second Language Acquisition

Unit code LELA31111
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Linguistics & English Language
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course unit covers the fundamentals of human language acquisition. Using Spanish and English as points of reference, language is examined for the insight it provides into what it means to be human. Interdisciplinary in nature, this unit also investigates the broad issue of bilingualism, with special reference to English and Spanish, alongside the implications of language acquisition research for second-/foreign-language teaching and learning.


  • To introduce students to the interdisciplinary study of human language acquisition, through the reading and discussion of seminal works.
  • To provide students with the basic linguistic tools necessary to describe and analyse linguistic data.
  • To engage students in the longstanding debate over nature-nurture, with special attention to language (is the capacity for language inbuilt or learnt?), in order to assess the strength of the arguments for each position.
  • To help students assimilate the basic concepts that play a role in current theoretical frameworks aimed at explaining the processes of language development.
  • To allow students to establish a connection between theoretical research and pedagogical practice in the language classroom.
  • To enable students to use their knowledge of linguistics to facilitate the process of teaching and learning a language, with special attention to Spanish.
  • To help raise awareness of language diversity and multilingualism in a global world.
  • To help students develop the ability to work independently on topics related to the acquisition/learning of language, as well as develop argumentation and presentation skills, both orally and in written form, about the major critical areas of the discipline. 



Course introduction – Myths and realities about human language; introduction to linguistics (+ logistic matters)


Human language: learned, innate or both? The millenary nature vs. nurture debate


Language as an instinct I


Language as an instinct II


Acquiring a first language; acquiring Spanish as a First Language: how children acquire subjects


Bilingualism; acquiring a language in a bilingual context during childhood


L1 vs. L2; acquisition vs. learning


Acquiring Spanish as a Second Language during adulthood: the interlanguage; errors in the acquisition of a second/foreign language


Theories of L2 acquisition – theoretical models


Bridging the gap between theory and practice: the role of linguistics in the Second Language classroom


Review for the final exam and miscellanea


Teaching and learning methods




Oral presentation (in groups), which in addition to being summative, will also be formative in light of the final exam

Readings provided in .pdf format on Blackboard


Office hours

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of the semester, you will have:

  • assimilated basic concepts in modern linguistics from reading seminal works in the realm of language acquisition, with an emphasis on Spanish;
  • assimilated the basic concepts that play a role in current theoretical frameworks aimed at explaining the processes of language development;
  • developed critical awareness with regard to the weight of the arguments provided by scientific research to date, as well as the scope and limitations of the different theoretical proposals in the field;
  • developed the ability to work on topics pertaining to the acquisition/learning of the Spanish language.

Intellectual skills

The successful completion of this unit will enable you to develop:

  • analytical skills and the ability to deal with abstract concepts;
  • the ability to empirically test abstract ideas in linguistics;
  • argumentation and presentation skills, both orally and in written form, about the major critical areas of the discipline;
  • problem-posing and problem-solving skills;
  • the ability to obtain additional information about relevant topics;
  • critical awareness;
  • creativity and originality of thinking.

Practical skills

By completing this course unit, you will:

  • be able to analyse child and adult (Spanish) data;
  • use library, electronic and online resources effectively;
  • critically read and critique existing literature;
  • improve the teaching and learning of foreign/second languages by becoming more linguistically informed.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

This unit will enable you to acquire and/or further develop:

  • information-retrieval skills, including the ability to obtain additional information about relevant topics;
  • the ability to apply analytical skills to everyday problems;
  • oral and written presentation skills;
  • argumentation skills;
  • critical awareness;
  • awareness of linguistic diversity in a global world.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
- translation (emphasis on comparative linguistics; metalinguistic awareness; lexical accuracy; eye for detail); - editing (attention to detail; sentence structure); - proofreading (attention to detail; spelling-to-sound correspondences); - awareness of the pillars of bilingualism, crucial in an increasingly multilingual society; - application to literary analysis (the importance of the form of literary texts); - linguistic analysis (Google®, etc.).
Oral communication
The teaching and learning of foreign languages in an increasingly bilingual world (not only Spanish, but also English, through comparison of the two languages; the importance of linguistically informed foreign-language teachers). In this regard, the study of linguistics enhances the improvement of one¿s own language skills (awareness of sentence structure, knowledge of the sound system of the language; appropriateness of language utterance in real-world situations, i.e., discourse, etc.);
The study of linguistics enables students to apply their mastery of the discipline and the skills acquired (see above) to a number of areas, including (but not limited to):

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative


Weighting within unit (if summative)

Final exam


3 hours


Oral presentation (in 3-member groups)

Formative and summative

30-35 minutes



Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Formative feedback during seminars in class and after presentations.

Formative and summative

Meetings during office hours to discuss the presentations and the exam papers throughout the semester.



Office hours and email consultation throughout the semester.



Recommended reading

Bickerton, D 1984. The language bioprogram hypothesis. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 7:173-221.

Bley-Vroman, R. 1990. The Logical Problem of Foreign Language Learning. Linguistic Analysis 21: 3-47.

Corder, S. P. 1981. Error analysis and interlanguage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Crain, S., y D. Lillo-Martin. 1999. An Introduction to Linguistic Theory and Language Acquisition. Oxford: Blackwell.

Hualde, J. I., Escobar, A. Olarrea, A. y Travis, C. 2010. Introducción a la lingüística hispánica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Johnson, J. y E. Newport. 1989. Critical Period Effects in Second Language Learning: The Influence of Maturational State in the Acquisition of English as a Second Language. Cognitive Psychology 21:60-99.

Marcus, G. 2010. Poverty of the Stimulus Arguments. In MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences (MITECS).

Montrul, S. 2004. The Acquisition of Spanish. Morphosyntactic Development in Monolingual and Bilingual L1 Acquisition and in Adult L2 Acquisition. [Series on Language Acquisition and Language Disorders]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

O’Grady, W. 2005. How Children Learn Language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Pesetsky, D. 2010. Language Universals and Universal Grammar. In MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences (MITECS).

Plato. 380 a. C. Menón. In Obras completas de Platón, puestas en lengua castellana por primera vez por Patricio de Azcárate, Medina and Navarro (Biblioteca Filosófica), Madrid 1871-1872, 11 volúmenes.

Radford, A. 2016 (2nd ed.). Analysing English Sentences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rothman, J. 2010. Theoretical Linguistics Meets Pedagogical Practice: Pronominal Subject Use in Spanish as a Second Language. Hispania 93: 52-65.

Samet, J. 2010. History of Nativism. In MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences (MITECS).

Wexler, K. 2010. Innateness of Language. In MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences (MITECS).

White, L. 2003. Second Language Acquisition and Universal Grammar. New York: Oxford University Press.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Additional notes


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