Nativist Theory

The nativist theory of foreign language acquisition, also referred to as innatist theory, states that human beings are naturally born with biological mental structures designed for language acquisition. If exposed to a sample of a foreign language, humans discover for themselves the rules of that language system and retain them in their memory. Noam Chomsky, the founder of the theory, believed that all languages are built on Universal Grammar – a set of rules, a common structural basis, and that all world languages share common principles. For example, they all have words to identify things, i.e. nouns, and words to identify actions, i.e. verbs. The languages, however, differ in the application of various rules for sentence structure, pronunciation, word positioning. Innatists believe that there is a time frame in early childhood when the human brain is specifically predisposed to language acquisition. If presented with the adequate language input, the first few years of life is the time when an individual can acquire the first language. For foreign language acquisition, innatists argue that the best time to master the language is before the age of 11. If language input doesn’t occur before this time, fluency in the second language will not be attained and it will not be possible to reach the native like level of proficiency. This, however, does not eliminate the fact that students can be successful language learners at any age. In fact, adults and adolescents can actually make use of their cognitive skills and previously acquired knowledge that would greatly contribute to foreign language learning.

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