The official website of educator & arts patron Jack C Richards

Universal Grammar and Learning a Second Language

Question:

Submitted by Burree Sultan Ray, University of Sargodha, Pakistan

If there is such a thing as universal grammar, why is learning a second language more difficult than learning a first language?

Dr. Richards responds:

The notion of universal grammar is merely a theory advocated within a Chomskian framework of cognitive linguistics. It does not speak to the query you raise. There are many factors that account for differences between L1 and L2 learning and that account for the fact that the former is generally successful but not necessarily the latter, and there is no need for a theory of universal grammar as a reference point.

Such factors include:

  • Distance between the L1 and the L2
  • Intensity and amount of exposure and practice
  • Learning contexts, meaningfulness of use
  • Motivation, and differences in communicative needs