Second language acquisition (SLA) is a relatively new field, which was seen as an adjunct of language teaching pedagogy before 1960s (Myles, 2010). Ellis (1994) defined three aspects that are responsible for L2 acquisition: external factors (social factors, input and interactions); internal factors (learner’s existing knowledge and internal mechanisms) and individual learner factors (P. 193). The social factors was investigated under heavy influence from Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Developments (ZPD). In this paper, major focus would be around the notion and application of ZPD, including:
defining ZPD and key concepts of Vygotsky’s theory relating to ZPD: symbolic mediation, internalization, learning process, the role of interlocutor and learner;
comparing Vygotsky’s social cultural theory (SCT) with Piaget’s cognitive theory;
comparing Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Developments with Krashen’s notion of “ i+1” hypothesis
Symbolic mediation, internalization , learning process and ZPD
The social-cultural theory, stemmed from Vygotsky’s thoughts claims that the language learning process is socially mediated (Lantolf, 2000). Lantolf (1994) stressed that from Vygotskian perspective, the higher forms of human mental activity are “ always, and everywhere, mediated by symbolic means” (P. 418) The symbolic mediation refers to the external process via symbolic signs or tools in social context through which learner can control mental process after internalization (Lightbown & Spada, 2006). Lantolf (2000) regards language, among all the symbolic tools, as “ the most powerful psychological tool” (P. 81). Through the mediation of language, the child or learner learns how to perform a task or solve a problem with the help from a more skilled individual (Mitchell & Myles, 2004). In other words, the learning process starts as an inter-mental activity, by the more skilled individual sharing through talk, and ends as an intra-mental activity, with the shared knowledge taken in by the unskilled individual. Thus, according to Vygotsky, learning includes two stages: shared understanding in social context through symbolic mediation (mainly in the form of dialogue) and internalization of the shared knowledge by individual. The learning process from a Vygotskyan perspective is described as “ new concepts continue to be acquired through social/interactional means” (Mitchell & Myles, 2004, P. 147).
Vygotsky defines the concept of zone of proximal development (ZPD), as the distance between the “ actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86). In other words, the role of more advanced interlocutor is stressed by assisting individual crossing the gap between actual level (what the learner can do alone) and potential level (what the learner can achieve with help). The learner is cognitively prepared for solving more complex problems if supported by an interlocutor. More importance has been attached to social interaction between learner and interlocutor, which is regarded as a “ causative force in acquisition” (Saville-Troike, 2006, P. 111).
Vygotsky versus Piaget
Zuengler and Miller (2006) reviewed the ongoing debates on whether a separation should be made between second language acquisition and second language use and the debates on the commensurability of theories from different schools. It may be interesting to notice that the differences between sociocultural theory and cognitive theory bear relationship with their origins -Vygotsky, the father of socioculture theory and Piaget, the father of cognitive theory.
Piaget and Vygotsky are among the earliest proponents to link children’s language development with their cognitive development (Lightbown & Spada, 2006). For Piaget, the cognitive development for children is realized through interaction with things around them and is presented by language which is not different from Vygotsky’s view. They share the view of learner as a social human being who are learning through interaction with environment and of learning and development as a “ contextually embedded process of interactions” (Vianna & Stetsenko, 2006, P. 85).
However, the dissimilar emphasis that they place on social interaction leads to three major differences. For Piaget, children learn and develop in the environment. For Vygotsky, children not only learn and develop in the environment but also change it through interaction. Therefore, for Vygotsky, language is seen as a more powerful symbolic mediation (Lightbown & Spada, 2006). The second difference is “ adaption” versus “ transformation” (Vianna & Stetsenko, 2006, P. 87). For Piaget, human develop by assimilation and accommodation to adapt to the environment, whereas for Vygotsky, human develop by actively changing the environment. The third difference lies in their view of the priority between learning and cognitive development. For Piaget, children need to be cognitively prepared to a certain stage before learning, while for Vygotsky, precedence is given to learning instead of development. Therefore, Vygotsky argue for teaching or learning within ZPD, where learners could do more with scaffolding from interlocutors than their independent performance (Zuengler & Miller, 2006).
ZPD versus “ i+1”
Second language scholars have suggested the feasibility of integrating Krashen’s “ i+1” with Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (ZPD) based on their similarities. Dunn and Lantolf (1998) have stated the incommensurability of these two concepts not only because they are “ unrelated” but also because they are based on “ incommensurable theoretical discourses” (P. 411)
In Krashen’s view, “ humans acquire language in only one way-by understanding messages, or by receiving ‘ comprehensible input’ . . . that contains structures at our next ‘ stage’- structures that are a bit beyond our current level of competence” (Krashen, 1985, p. 2). More specifically, three factors contribute to language learning – learner’s internalized grammar, namely the “ i”, input containing linguistic structure a bit beyond learner’s current level, namely the “ i+1” and learner’s internal language processing mechanism (LAD)
For Vygotsky, as mentioned above, ZPD is defined as “ those functions that have not yet matured but are in the process of maturation” (1978, p. 86). A more holistic picture has been drawn with respect to language learning – learner, interlocutor, their social cultural backgrounds, their goals and motives and all the resources available (Dunn & Lantolf, 1998).
Learning and development occur in both situations, where learner will surpass their current level either with assistance from a more advanced interlocutor within learner’s ZPD or with acquisition of linguistic structure i+1, which may contribute largely to their seemingly similarities. However, it would be cautious to notice as well that the development occur with a comparison of learner’s current level, that is learner himself. Therefore, it would be less justifiable to view the development in Krashen’s term as an equivalent to that in Vygotsky’s theory. Also it would be more reasonable to notice that the construct of ZPD and i+1 cannot stand without considering the theocratical frame that they root in respectively. Therefore, a comparison would be made between theories that have incubated these two constructs with respect to the relationship between learning and development, the consequence of learning, the role of language, learner and interlocutor and the role of social interaction.
The fundamental difference between Krashen’s theory with Vygotsky’s theory is their diverse view on the relationship between instruction learning and cognitive development. Krashen hold the view as a “ separatist”, who perceive learning under instruction and cognitive development as two independent process (Dunn & Lantolf, 1998, P. 491). Therefore, Krashen intentionally draw a line between learning and acquisition, arguing that only though subconscious acquisition can comprehensible input be acquired, and learner’s cognition be developed. Conversely, Vygotsky presented a “ dualistic quality to development”, that is whether learning consciously or not, a mutual influence exists between learning and development ( Dunn & Lantolf, 1998, P. 491). Thus, learners are learning and developing at the same time, and the site where learning and development meet is called ZPD.
Secondly, Krashen and Vygotsky differ in their view of the consequence of learning, based on their divergent view on learning and development. For Krashen, the outcome of learning is the linguistic structure that is a bit beyond learner’s current level, and with the acquisition of this feature, learner has developed cognitively, ready to obtain the next i +1. Whereas for Vygotsky, learners are developing along the whole learning process, which means that not only the “ immediate future”, but also the “ maturing process” account for development (Dunn & Lantolf, 1998, P. 422). Therefore, it is the variability between ” acquisition” and “ Internalization” (Kinginger, 2002, P. 418).
Thirdly, the roles of language, learner and interlocutor are interpreted differently. From Krashen’s point, language is conceived as a “ container” of linguistic features with comprehensible input and learner as a “ container” with Language Acquisition Device (LAD), the individual process mechanism built inside minds, and the assistance from interlocutor is not necessary (Dunn & Lantolf, 1998, P. 418). In contrast, from Vygotsky’s perspective, language is one of the “ the most powerful psychological tool” of semiotic mediation system (Lightbown & Spada, 2006, P. 81), and thus representing the “ mediated forms of cognition” (Dunn & Lantolf, 1998, P. 426). Both learner and interlocutor are portrayed as a social human being, with motivation and social cultural identity, instead of a loner with an “ innate ability to process” (Kinginger, 2001, P. 419).
Moreover, unbalanced attention is given to social interaction in the frame developed by Krashen and Vygotsky. Krashen assigned relatively little importance to social interaction due to the existence of LAD, despite his support for a weak form of interaction: meaning negotiating proposed by Long (1996). In other words, Krashen argues that the strong form of interaction such as scaffolding or peer collaboration as well as learner output bear no direct relevance to SLA (Dunn & Lantolf, 1998). In contrast, social interaction is viewed as “ the medium and the result of development” by Vygotskian scholars (Kinginger, 2001, P. 422). Thus in order to maximize learner’s acquisition, interlocutor should scaffold the learner along ZPD and learner’s comprehensible output is as important as comprehensible input.
Over the past decade, there has been an increasing number of SLA researches conducted under the influence of socioculture theory (SCT) based on the work of Vygotsky (Ableeva & Lantolf, 2011; Brooks & Swain et al., 2010; Kinginger, 2002; Knouzi & Swain et al., 2010; Lantolf, 2007; Foster & Ohta, 2005; Swain & Deters, 2007; Swain & Lapkin et al, 2009). This theory differs from other theory describing the SLA in the stance that social environment is not only a learning context but rather a significant contributor to language acquisition (Swain & Deters, 2007). Thus the concept built in SCT framework such as ZPD, cannot be viewed separately away from its origin, which implies that it would be best for any future comparison or commensuration of concepts from unlike theories be made with their roots considered. Also the incommensurability precisely add the value to the theory building in SLA field, not only for the sake of the this particular school itself but also for a helpful reflection for other schools. It is with this sharp comparison between different perspectives, a more holistic picture can be draw for L2 acquisition, despite the criticisms been made and the debates ongoing (Zuengler & Miller, 2006). Lantolf (1996) have shown his welcome for a future of “ letting all the flowers bloom” in SLA theory building and I simply cannot agree more with him (P. 713-49).