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Case Study: An English Language Learner

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5096 words Published: 1st Sep 2017

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Second Language Acquisition (SLA) or L2 (language 2) acquisition refers to the process by which a person learns a second language, in addition to their first language (L1). Although it is referred to as SLA, it applies not only to the acquisition of a second language but a third and fourth also, covering any other language apart from the first (Stefánsson, 2013).

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The purpose of this case study is to provide a holistic depiction of an L2 English language learner relative to topics such as educational and cultural background, language learning experiences, language learning preference, the status of English in the learner’s home language as well as the extent to which the learner identifies with being bilingual/multilingual. This case study will draw upon the learner’s own experience while including relevant theories and literature. Finally, I will conclude this case study by making recommendations on any future developments the learner can make based on their own experience, my analysis of their language as well as drawing on relevant literature. For ethical reasons the learner will be referred to as “Jane” from here on.

Jane is a 22-year-old Aston University student; living in Birmingham, West Midlands with her parents, who are both teachers, and her two siblings. Currently studying Sociology and International Relations, Jane enjoys reading novels in her spare time while holding down a part time job as a Waitress. English is one of three languages spoken by Jane. The first being Urdu, the language used to communicate with her parents and family back in her home country of Pakistan. English is used most commonly, used for daily life at university, work and occasionally at home but only with her two siblings. Lastly, French, which has been picked up as a third language. Jane Doe classes herself as an “intermediate French speaker”. Having taken a placement year in 2016, she has had the opportunity to develop her French while teaching English to learners in France for a year.

Learner’s Background

Although Jane is technically considered an L2 leaner she speaks English as a native speaker would, as well as understanding the grammatical and structural rules of English language, she is well versed in linguistic features such as idiomatic expressions and acronyms. Born in Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city, she came to Britain at a young age with no proficiency in English language, neither spoken nor written. By the IELTS speaking band descriptors, Jane was a band one with no relatable English, unable to communicate. At the time the education system in Lahore only required children to start learning English in year 6, which meant she had not had the opportunity to learn English at school as she left in year 4. As English was not spoken in her home, she came Birmingham with only the ability to communicate in her home dialect, Urdu. Coming to Britain at such a young age gave Jane a slight edge when learning English as she found she picked things up a little quicker than if she had relocated at an older age.

‘It is very common for primary schools in Birmingham to provide English language assists in primary education due to the high number of migrant families’ – something along this line…

Fortunately, her primary school teacher had a teaching assist who happened to speak her dialect, this greatly aided her English language acquisition, as she had someone who could break down the difficult grammar and vocabulary in a language she understood. As English was not spoken in her home, school was her only medium for learning English and this support system not only improved her English but also her confidence, the ability to interact with native speakers drove her passion to want to learn English. She quickly found herself watching television programmes in English and reading English books. By the time she left primary school at 11, she was fluent in English. After two years of schooling and a combination of English language lessons, her English was already at an advanced level.

Generally young learners have more of a positive attitude towards SLA and are highly motivated. Despite studies showing motivation in young learners beginning very high and decreasing over time (Nikolov and Djigunovi’c 2006), English has become somewhat of a passion for Jane. Although it was a necessary tool for her early years, she thoroughly enjoyed studying English Language and Literature at GCSE and A Level and plans to pursue a higher education programme in English Literature in the future.

Effects of Bilingualism

Most of the world’s population is multilingual. Two thirds of children globally are brought up in bilingual environments (Crystal, 1997). It is important to consider a learner’s environment when trying to form a well-rounded analysis of their L2, especially as a bilingual learner as there are more factors to consider. While bilingualism has not proven to have inherent negative effects on language development, there are many variables that affect a bilingual child’s progress. These variables include the context in which language is learned, parental attitudes towards bilingualism, the status of the language(s) in the community and the socio-cultural context surrounding the child’s growth (Bialystok, Majumder and Martin, 2003). The general encouragement a child receives while learning English as a second language tends differ per learner and their background. Regardless, a positive outcome is more likely to result from the encouragement and respect shown not only towards the second language but also the native dialect. Both factor and play an important role in a child’s development and attitude towards language (Bialystok, 2008).




Research Methodology

Identify errors first then explain them

Data collection is often used to set the direction and boundary for a study. Several factors are considered before data collection begins, including but not limited to: setting a time frame for collecting data (for this case study I only needed an afternoon as the interview took 25 minutes), deciding what type of participant is needed (an English language learner), and a location (Bryman, 2012). As the learner is also a student at Aston University, the interview took place in a private room in the university library.

The primary aim of this case study is to devise a well-rounded representation of an English language learner, to do this effectively the planning and completion of an interview with a learner, was essential. Research shows that one of the most flexible and widely used methods of gaining information about a person’s experience, feelings and views is through an interview (Oxford Journals, 2016). Interviews are a qualitative approach to data collection; they are one of several methods used to understand the underlying motivations and reasons behind a topic, to gain an insight into a problem or develop a hypothesis. Qualitative methods differ slightly, notably by analysis as opposed to collection. The analysis of quantitative methods employ more of a numerical approach to quantifying a problem, the data is usually transformed into useable statistics which is not a necessity for this study.

Dr Nathan Page, a professor at Aston University, organised the pairing of learners. To make the process fair, several names of learners were placed into a hat and I picked a name at random. Prior to my interview I completed an ethics form as well as preparing the questions I planned to ask my learner. As the University Ethics Committee requires all research involving human subjects to submit ethics forms for review, my form had to be approved before I could progress with the interview. This also ensures my research meets the standards of ethical research expected by the University. My interview took place in week 11 of the first term in the 2016/17 academic year. In preparing for my interview I considered some of the ethical issues which could arise from my research such as; the sensitivity behind subject matters, the English proficiency levels of my learner and any discomfort that may arise during the interview. I recorded the interview for research purposes so I also had to consider any issues which may result from this. To protect the learner, I addressed these issues by expressing their right to anonymity further emphasised with the use of a pseudonym throughout this case study. The recording was taken on a password protected device, not shared and will be deleted as soon as this research is completed. Their right to withdraw was made clear to the learner verbally and on a consent form, along with the other rights, which she signed prior to the interview. Taking point from Mann (2011) I ensured greater focused remained on myself during the interview, by influencing the learner’s responses to a certain extent I could effectively control the direction of the interview while still giving the learner flexibility to elaborate her answers. This minimised the risk to my safety while remaining mindful of the learner. Using co-construction, I could elicit certain details which were of relevance to my analysis that otherwise, may not have been obtained.

Learner’s Educational Background

I would classify Jane a sequential bilingual, Jane began learning English with a high proficiency in Urdu.

Jane, Pakistan born, began her education in Lahore – the country’s second largest city. The primary education system was slightly different in pre-2002 with English being introduced into the curriculum from year 6, as opposed to recent years where English has been taught to school children at a much earlier age (Coleman and Capstick, 2012). In Jane’s case learning English was an immediate priority once she arrived in England. During our interview Jane Doe talks about coming to England in 2002 with her family although her parents had relocated years before for work purposes. At 8 and a half, with no prior knowledge of English, she recalls reading newpapers and watching the news to gage some sort of understanding of the language before starting school. Fortunately, upon starting school an English language teaching assistant was present, easing the transition was made easier as the TA spoke her home dialect, Urdu. As the curriculum was taught in English, the teaching assistant ensured Jane Doe did not fall behind in her studies by acting as a translator, while also helping with her English language acquisition.


In her first-year of learning English, Jane had after school classes to improve her English language, these were often very informal with few specialised activities to target grammar. Reflecting an audiolingual approach to teaching which is based on the behaviourist theory of learning, these lessons focused on oral practice, repetition, pronunciation and communication. Jane’s language teacher adopted more of a communicative approach teaching, which is reflected in the way she speaks today. Communicative language teaching aims to educate the learner on communicative competency as opposed to grammatical competency (Richards, 2006). Jane vividly recalls these lessons focusing more on vocabulary and helpful phrases. While they were helpful, she found her strength in language acquisition came mostly from watching English or Asian programmes with English subtitles or reading books and newspapers. As indicated by Altenaichinger (2003), CLT has been highly favoured by teachers over the past 20 years, scholars have also agreed because of the central focus on the learner and CLT’s emphasis on communicative proficiency in teaching.

In the early 2000s English was not as widely spoken in Pakistan, she found it difficult to rely on her parents for assistance as they had only began learning English two years prior and had little knowledge to help. Research shows that children find it easier to learn a second language as they are still learning the mechanics of their first language, they have not yet developed the advanced elements of grammar and still use simpler syntax making the standard fluency much lower (The Telegraph, 2013). Jane took it upon herself to learn English, she explains although it was necessary for school she genuinely enjoyed reading and still does, she frequently reads books and articles to improving her lexis.

  • the extent to which the learner identifies with being bilingual/multilingual

Analysis of Learner’s English

As Jane acquired English through a largely unstructured approach, I will begin her language analysis by using Ellis and Barkhuizen’s (2005) ‘Error Analysis’ (EA). Error analysis is a very important area of SLA and foreign language learning (FLL) (Jabeen, 2015). It is typically a good first step in analysis due to its systematic nature and while errors are not always bad, they play a crucial part in the process of learning a language. The theoretical framework of analysis will mirror Corder’s (1974) classification of errors into four principle categories; addition, omission, selection and ordering.

Consider the sample below, an extract taken from my interview with Jane:

J A N E: So yeah just like erm at some point it was like I need to teach them how to do this but you know erm-

I NT E R V I E W E R: -mhm hmm-

J A N E: -I donno know how to do it myself because I’ve just learnt it-

I NT E R V I E W E R:- you just picked it up

J A N E: -I’ve just picked it up so I’ve never really learnt it from a book or anything erm speaking of grammar so it was just like you know we take it for granted that I can speak it but actually it’s really difficult to learn it, the English language, and I felt like that actually French was much easier to learn

I NT E R V I E W E R: mhm hmm-

J A N E: -than English was.


Table 1 Lines 17 to 27 of Partial Transcription of Interview

The sample of learner language in Table 1 was collected from a partial transcription of my brief and informal 25-minute interview with Jane, whose L1 is Urdu. It is important to consider these environmental factors when analysing the language. The sample was collected as part of this study, throughout the interview semi structured questions were used which allowed the learner to speak more freely.

Some learners are exposed to different varieties of English language which differ from the standard dialect (Ellis, 1994).

For example, in comparison with the norms of British standard English the utterance:

I’ve just picked it up so I’ve never really learnt it from a book or anything

is perfectly normal and often considered a ‘colloquial’ form of speech. However, grammatically speaking including ‘really’ falls under the category of an ‘addition’. Dulay, Burt and Krashen (1982), as part of their surface strategy taxonomy of errors, define additions as ‘the presence of an item that must not appear in well-formed utterances’. With that said, it is important to note – ‘never really’ – has become normalised in British spoken English, especially in younger generations. Therefore, I would class this as more of a ‘mistake’ than an ‘error’. Generally, errors arise from lack of knowledge and competency, which doesn’t seem to be the case here, rather a processing problem in which the learner has fallen back on an alternative, non-standard rule that they find easier to access. Mistakes are a regular feature of native-speaker speech and can arise for several reasons; memory limitations, competing plans or lack of automaticity.

By the IELTS speaking band descriptors, Jane falls within the remit of a band 8 (British Council), communicating fluently with occasional repetition with little self-correction. Points are developed coherently and appropriately while sentences remain error-free with a few non-systematic mistakes which can be overlooked.

Consider the sample below, an extract taken from my interview with Jane:

J A N E: You know when you go to the shops or the malls, they all [Pakistan locals] speak their own language, but now that I go back it’s a lot more modern… I do live in a city I’m not from the village side… I live in the second biggest city of Pakistan so now that I’ve been back it’s quite modern-

I NT E R VI E W E R: -mhmm hmm

J A N E: So you know people will er dress er in er a erm westernised way… it’s very westernised so they speak English as well in their everyday lives they, they speak English maybe with their parents as well-

I N T E R V I E W E R: -mhmm hmm

Table 2 Lines 44 to 53 of Partial Transcription of Interview

This data is extracted from my informal interview with Jane using unstructured open interview questions. Let’s consider ordering. Dulay, Burt and Krashen describe misordering as ‘the incorrect placement of a morpheme or groups of morphemes in an utterance’. While discussing the status on English in her home country, Jane says:

But now that I go back it’s a lot more modern

Taylor (1989) points out the reason for this error may be psycholinguistic, sociolinguistic, or epistemic. Psycholinguistic reasons are more to do with the learner’s knowledge of language and difficulties with producing this knowledge. Sociolinguistic sources stem from the learner’s ability to adjust their language with the social context. Epistemic reasons centre around result of lack of world knowledge. As the error is repeated:

so now that I’ve been back it’s quite modern

It has been disregarded as a mistake and as such will be analysed as an error. Competency errors can happen for three reasons, Richards (1971) distinguishes these as; interference, intralingual and unique. Interference errors can occur as a result of ‘the use of elements from one language while speaking another’. It is quite possible Jane has transferred the rules of discourse from her L1, Urdu, as the morphemes may be arranged that way in an equivalent sentence.

The interview took on a very informal structure, the conversation reflected that of two friends talking in a social context. Therefore, analysing her language proved quite difficult to some degree, Jane’s speech reflects a native and many of her ‘mistakes’ or ‘errors’ are a feature present in native language speech.


J A N E: -not a lot of people spoke English…

I N T E R V I E W E R: …hmm

Recommendations for Learner

For language learners, I believe it is vital to be exposed to opportunities which allow them to explore language in a classroom and to practice it in a social context. The notion that ‘language is learned by doing’ has been at the forefront of teaching for many years however it doesn’t necessarily relate to all learners. Although studies show that children learn language best through imitations, games and singing, moving forward I feel the activities that would benefit Jane most are those which focus on grammar. In spoken discourse, her fluency and accuracy enable her to converse very well with native English speakers. However, she is keen to build up her vocabulary and improve the complexity of language. By improving her grammar, Jane should find it easier to form more complex sentences without too much hesitation.

6) Recommendations for learner (relate to any identified development needs/what specific activities would you recommend? Why? – can be linked to theories/literature)


Bialystok, E. (2008). Second-Language Acquisition and Bilingualism at an Early Age and the Impact on Early Cognitive Development. York University: Canada. Rev Ed

Bialystok E, S. Majumder, MM. Martin. (2003). Developing Phonological Awareness: Is there a bilingual advantage? Applied Psycholinguistics; 24(1):27-44.

British Council.


Bryman, A. (2012) Social Research Methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Coleman, H. & Capstick, T (2012). Language in Education in Pakistan


Corder, S. P. (1974). Error Analysis. In J. P. B. Allen, & S. Pit Corder (Eds.), Techniques in Applied Linguistics. London: Oxford University Press.

Crystal, D. (1997). English as a Global Language. Cambridge University Press

Dulay, H, M.Burt and S.Krashen. (1982). Language Two. New York: Oxford University Press

Ellis, R (1994). The Study of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Ellis, R. & Barkhuizen, G. (2005). Analysing Learner Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jabeen, A (2015)

PDF on Destop

Mann, S. (2011) A Critical Review of Qualitative Interviews in Applied Linguistics. Applied Linguistics, 32(1) 6-24

Oxford Journals, 2016


Richards, J. (1971). A non-contrastive approach to error analysis. English language teaching journal 25: 204-19

Richards, J. (2006). Communicative Language Teaching Today. New York: Cambridge University Press

Skehan, P. (2001). ‘Tasks and Language Performance Assessment’ in Bygate, M, Skehan, P and Swain, M (eds).

Stefánsson, E. G. (2013). Second Language Acquisition: The Effect of Age and Motivation


The Telegraph, 2013



Appendix 1

Partial Transcription of Interview

Interviewer: what are your thoughts about the English Language, specifically

what are the feelings towards English in your home language and is it spoken in comparison to other languages? Is not spoken at all? (.) like what’s the kind of status of it?

Jane: erm (.) I think we take it for granted because erm (.) I think like in terms of like learning the grammar and so on I’ve seen how difficult it is teaching English myself in France

I: mhm hmm

J: and I think we just take it for granted that we can speak English really well but erm (.)

I: so you can (.) sorry to interrupt so you taught English while you were in France

J:yeah I was teaching [English

I: [that was your erm (.) [placement

J: [yeah that was my job

I: Interesting

J: So yeah just like (.) erm at some point it was like I need to teach them how to do this but you know erm (.)

I:mhm hmm

J: I don’t know how to do it myself because I’ve just learnt it (.)

I:you just picked it up

J:I’ve just picked it up so I’ve never really learnt it from a book or anything erm (.) speaking of grammar (.) so it was just like you know we take it for granted that I can speak it but actually it’s really difficult to learn it (.) the English language (.) and I felt like that actually French was much easier to learn (.)

I: mhm hmm

J:than English was

I:can you give me an example of the grammar (.) do you have any exercises that you perhaps were trying to use (.) to teach grammar (.) how were you trying to teach grammar and how was it harder

J:erm (.) I did have a example but it’s just gone out my mind now erm (.) can we come back to that question

I: yeah we can come back to that

I: so going back to English in your home country, do people speak (.) if

you went to a shop or you went to the cinema or you were in public (.) would people speak English or is it not really a language that is spoken?

J: erm back then (.) so when I came here we used to go back to Pakistan every single [year

I: [what year was that?

J: that was (.) we came here in 2002

I:mhmm hmm

J:and up until 2006(.) 2007(.) used to visit our family every single year so at that time (.)

I:mhmm hmm

J: not a lot of people spoke English

I: hmm

J: You know when you go to the shops or the malls (.) they all [referring to Pakistan locals] speak their own language (.) but now that I go back it’s a lot more modern (.) I do live in a city I’m not from the village side (.) I live in the secondbiggest city of Pakistan so now that I’ve been back it’s quite modern

I:mhmm hmm

J: So you know people will er (.) dress in a erm (.) westernised way (.) it’s very westernised so they speak English as well in their everyday lives they, they speak English maybe with their parents as well (.)

I:mhmm hmm

J: cause I’ve seen my cousins erm whenever I speak to them over Skype (.)


J: or over the phone er (.) sometimes we just start speaking English and it’snormal so it’s like okay (.)

I: that’s so interesting

J: you speak English really well and that’s because it’s quite common to teach English now in schools because obviously teaching in year 6 is quite late (.)

I: right

J:so they’ve started teaching them [earlier

I:[so they’ve moved the age up


I: so do you think if you were a child in Pakistan now (.)


I: say you left in year 4 again, do you think your English would have been better

J: I would know er (.) some of the language if not like all of it (.) it would er (.) it wouldn’t be like starting from scratch

I: okay (.) so what are your thoughts on the English language on a global slash international scale (.)

J: erm

I:to give an example a lot of (.) political leaders (.)

J: hmm

I: a lot of conferences (.) a lot of important things are relayed in English

J: mhmm hmm

I: and (.) some people find that weird because English is only actually spoken by 8% of the world

J: yeah

I: by that (.) or any of your experiences (.) what are your thoughts (.) about English language on an international scale (.) obviously coming from being born in Pakistan coming here (.) and reflecting on how different it was then (.)

J:mhmm hmm

I: and now (.) and you’ve said yourself it’s westernised (.) what are your thoughts (.) I’m not sure if I’m making [much sense

J: [I think (.) I think a lot of people associate the English language with being like intelligent (.)

I:mhmm hmm

J: so if you’re able to speak English er you must be intelligent or you know you must be like highly educated or something but it’s (.) it’s just a language to me erm (.) cause I’ve travelled (.) I’ve travelled to so many places and (.) it’s just (.) among those languages English is just another language to [me

I: [yeah

J: so it’s not like (.) I understand erm you know a lot of (.) of these leaders they speak English and so because I think English is the one language that is (.) widely spoken but that’s just (.) what we think

I: yeah

J: even though it’s not widely spoken but we assume that people (.) that wherever we go people will just know how to speak English

I: mhmm hmm

J: whereas they don’t (.) so erm (.) does that answer your question

I: yeah (.)


I: [yeah it does answer my question

J: okay

I: so tell me about some of the difficulties you encountered while learning English erm (.) did it affect any of the languages you already speak or have spoken or (.)

J: mhmm hmm

I: did it improve them (.) did having another language already help you help English â†-

J: erm I think the difficulties I faced was erm (.) just (.) erm (.) well actually I don’t know (.) just the difficulties that (.) erm you know just (.) the time it took me to learn the language

I: mhmm hmm

J: I mean I think it took me almost two and a half years (.) to be able to speak English fluently


J: so I could say that I did erm (.) affect (.) my school life

I: hmm

J: not in a (.) in a (.) like a bad way or something but because erm (.) it’s not like I got bullied or anything for my English or anything like that (.) erm I had a really good childhood but (.) I think it just kind of put me behind other students



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