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Language is one of the most complicated matters in the world. Every language has its own rules, according to which it develops. Scientists do not know exactly how the language occurs, and why there are so many different languages in the world. There are many theories that explain the development of language. Like other concepts relating to the conduct, they diverge, on the question of whether language acquisition has only human nature, and if so, can it be treated as universal structure and hereditary or acquired structure is different in different cultures. On the other hand, many disputes are related to whether the development of language depends on the development of thinking, or, on the contrary if it serves as a basis for the development of cognitive functions. This paper will be devoted to three main theories: nativist, constructivist and environmental theories of acquisition. For every theory, there will be both advantages and disadvantages because it allows a researcher to understand what theory is better for language development.


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Environmental Theory

Scientists suggest that  person is the best adopted when he or she lives in a family of native speakers; an international student will have the opportunity not only to learn the language better but also to get to know the culture of ordinary Americans, their habits and the way they live. The most popular programs are summer programs, when a foreign student is invited to a family of his or her co-student to spend the summer together. In the end of summer, a foreign student does not seem to be a foreigner anymore: he or she speaks fluent English, uses slang words properly and is used to American way of life. Such programs have another advantage: those students who do not have money to spend vacations in their home country, will be welcome in one of American families.

This approach is explained in the social interactionist theory, which was developed by Vygotsky. The scientist claims that a person learns a language much better in the environment where this language exists, and not by means of exercises or texts. Vygotsky emphasizes on the pragmatic level of the language and not on its grammatical, lexical or phonetic levels; besides, the author of the theory state that grammar should be studied in the very end.

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Vygotsky compares this principle with the principle of learning mother tongue: first, a child listens to parents, then he or she begins to speak and when in school a child learns grammar rules. Scientist suggests that everything also depends on the environment because a person should hear the language studied everywhere. That is why the existing programs when an American student welcomes his or her international co-student at home for summer is very effective in learning English as a foreign language.

On the other hand, such approach may have several disadvantages. The main disadvantage is that language is unstable, and it tends to change quickly; it will be difficult for a foreign student to catch up with all the tendencies that exist in modern American English. The other disadvantage that is worth mentioning is that there are different dialects of every language, and sometimes it is difficult for a foreign student to understand something. Besides, a student will have only basic knowledge that may cause problems with understanding his or her opponent in higher levels of conversations (for example, a person will not know scientific terms or will not be able to argue his or her point of view). The benefit of this theory is that it is based not on grammatical use of a particular form or construction but rather on the capability of a speaker (in this case, a speaker is a foreign student) to have a conversation, to express his or her points of view without even thinking about grammatical basis behind a sentence or a word combination. The main idea of this theory is to speak; while a conversation with a native speaker a foreign student will have the opportunity to master his or her pronunciation and gain better feeling of a language. Such conversations will help students gain self-confidence, and they will not be afraid to speak to others and to make a mistake.

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This theory seems to be perfect for encouraging international students to learn English and help them overcome both language and culture barrier. However, different scientists including Noam Chomsky criticized the social interactionist theory. They stated that language is an inborn capability and one cannot learn a foreign language without knowing its grammatical structure and rules. The scientist states that a person has a decoder in his or her brains that allows understanding of mother tongue; however, it is not programmed to understand a foreign language and only with the means of learning grammar rules one may program the decoder to understand other languages. On the other hand, one sees that the theory of Vygotsky works and many people learn a foreign language simultaneously with learning culture and habits of those who live in a country and speaks that language. 

Nativist Theory

Nativist theory was proposed by Noam Chomsky. Noam Chomsky proposed a theory, which has become known as transformational grammar (or transformational-generative grammar). According to Chomsky, a language is not a set of language units and their classes, but the mechanism that creates a correct phrase. Chomsky defined syntaxes as a study of the principles and methods of constructing sentences. In his work “The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory” Chomsky writes that the grammar of the language L is a mechanism that generates all the grammatical sequences of L and not generating any grammatical impropriety." For example, an incoherent jumble of words difficult to remember than a meaningful grammatically correct sentence.

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The stream of audible sounds is always meaningful only when we "know" (perhaps unconsciously) the grammar of the language. According to Chomsky, a system of rules exists as the ability to produce and understand an infinite number of sentences. In this case, even meaningless sentences can be grammatically correct. Therefore, there are suggestions that are meaningless, but grammatically correct sentences, as well as there are meaningless and grammatically incorrect sentences.

Chomsky stated that every sentence has two structures: superficial and deep ones. Transformational analysis is an analysis of syntactic structures by converting them from superficial into deep. It is assumed that if, for example, a person wants to make a proposal, which has two deep structures, he or she performs a series of transfers of these deep structures in the surface. In this case, the person, according to Chomsky, consistently replaces the second group of the object “that” (the man who is wise, honest); leaves out “who” (wise man is honest); transposes “man” and “wise” (wise person is honest); and gets a surface structure that he or she needed.

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According to Chomsky, a child, hearing (sensing), "the outcoming language data", analyzes them and reveals the syntactic structure. He writes:

"To master the language, the child, therefore, must have, first, the linguistic theory, which defines the shape of the grammar of any possible human language, and second, the strategy of choice with energy grammar concerned, which is compatible with the original linguistic data." (Chomsky, p.142)

Chomsky's theory has stimulated a great number of experimental studies and had a decisive influence on the formation of the American psycholinguistics. In the western Europe linguistics, Chomsky theory was criticized, mostly because of its theoretical part.  However, scientists did not take into account formal approach to language, when the language facts are explained by the axioms set forth by the researcher.

Constructivist Theory

The constructivist theory appeared as an answer to the nativist theory proposed by Chomsky. The followers of this theory state that a child cannot learn a language which grammatical structure is different to his or her mother tongue. The constructivist theory of learning was formed on the basis of new research results of various branches of scientific knowledge concerning matters of processing and storing information: people see things not as they are but as how the brain interprets them. The brain creates a model of the world. Therefore, there cannot be any objective knowledge about the world, and in every moment every person is concerned only with his or her perception of reality.

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The constructivist concept comes from the fact that the student himself constructs his or her knowledge. This knowledge he or she acquired on the basis of individual cognitive constructs, as well as his or her experience of the individual and the new information they interact. The representatives of this theory emphasize on the fact that knowledge is acquired in a particular context and situation. Lexical material, for example, can be learned with the help of a dictionary and a specially compiled list. However, it often happens in situations of immediate (real) language use may cause several problems: there is no necessary, correct word or expression. The reason is that the words were learned incorrectly, namely, out of context of the specific situation. Classes, therefore, cannot be separated from the process of learning, as well, as it cannot be separated from the situation where words and word combinations are being learned. It is significant to create the student’s activity that is focused on the students’ learning environment. In this case, the more authentic learning situation is, the more likely it is that it becomes a transition to a real learning situation.

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The theory of behaviorism greatly influenced the theory of didactics and use of media in education. This theory of teaching is based on the acceptance that the behavior of an individual can be managed and supported by external attractive objects and phenomena (incentives). If the expected response is received, the feedback serves to reinforce it.

The research of the American psychologist Skinner was fundamental for the development of this concept. In the 60s and 70s this theory was the prior concerning the issue of learning and teaching foreign languages. Under the domination of the methods of teaching of foreign languages, thanks to this theory numerous language laboratories, language trainings carried out under the slogan “drill and practice” were created. At the same time, experiments with large computers and simplest question-response programs were held. Those times, many people sincerely believed that the creation of those machines that would completely replace the teacher. Training material was issued in small portions; the process of learning is reinforced by praise or censure. However, linguistic programming students are not functioning the way it is meant to initiate: no individual velocity study of the material, nor phonetic correction teacher per student does not bring the expected success and increase motivation of students.


The paper was aimed to outline the main advantages and disadvantages of three significant linguistic theories that influence the principles of studying a foreign language. It has been proved that the environmental theory stays aside from two others because it is not focused on the grammatical peculiarities of the language it rather focuses on the language as a whole. In my opinion, the environmental theory is the most useful in terms of studying a foreign language, because it allows a person to feel the language and how it is constructed. All those three theories have some common and some different features. To the common features, I would refer that all those three theories might help people who begin to study language to choose a preferred model of studying. On the other hand, those theories are controversial, especially the theories of Chomsky and the constructivist theory. They examine a language from different points of view; however, the constructivist theory has something in common with both the theory of Chomsky and the environmental theory: it deals with an issue of grammatical use of words and word combinations; on the other hand, the followers of this theory admit that every lexical part should be learned in a context.

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Chomsky theory is also correct because it is based on the theory that there was a Meta language, the original language of all the languages of the world. That is why the scientists state that all the languages have some common grammatical features. However, I would rather agree to the constructivist theory, because the representatives of it advice to learn a foreign language that has the most common features with a mother tongue. A person, who learns a new language, basing on this principle, will have the opportunity to build his or her own associations and chains between the words and word combinations in a mother tongue and in a language that is being learned.

  Environmental theory Nativist theory Constructivist theory
Definition A person should study language with native speakers All the languages were created on the basis of one language and it does not matter what language is learned All languages are different and a person should begin to learn a language that has similar origins with his or her mother tongue
Age Vygotsky states that there are special methods of learning in every period of life Every person can begin studying any time Every person can begin studying any time
Basis Based on the meaning of the whole sentence and not its parts Grammatically based Grammatically based
Subject-object relations The same as in the language that is being studied A sentence consists of a noun phrase and a verbal phrase Subject-Object
Related sciences Lexis, Sematics Syntax Cognitive phonology



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