Skip to main content

Bilingualism and Second Language Acquisition (Level 5)


  • Credit value: 15 credits at Level 5
  • Convenor and tutor: Professor Jean-Marc Dewaele
  • Assessment: a 2000-2500-word essay (100%)

Module description

At the heart of this module is the observation that the starting second language learner is an emergent bilingual, and that bilinguals are in a constant state of change. Languages can be acquired and forgotten, both driven by - or driving - social, cultural, emotional and psychological issues. As such, second language acquisition (SLA) is not just a cognitive enterprise, it is a journey that involves the mind and heart of the bilingual.

In this module, we will consider a number of interesting methodological and theoretical debates and up-to-date research findings on the processes, developmental patterns and factors underlying bilingualism and SLA. First, we will focus on bilingualism issues, namely the process of becoming bi- or multilingual, from birth or later in life. We will consider the cognitive and psychological consequences of bilingualism, as well as the sociopragmatic challenges in communicating emotions in a second language. Second, we will focus on second and foreign language acquisition, namely the development of linguistic competence and the factors that contribute to success.

The assignment will be a self-reflection on your own experiences as a bi- or multilingual and your experiences as a foreign language learner. The ultimate goal of this module is to give you a broad understanding of research in the field.

Indicative syllabus

  • From emergent bilingual to balanced bilingual
  • Trilingual first language acquisition: a case study
  • Bilingualism and emotions
  • Bilingualism: the cognitive consequences
  • Bilingualism: the psychological consequences
  • Introduction to second language acquisition (SLA)
  • The age effect in SLA
  • Individual differences in SLA
  • Motivation in SLA
  • Emotions in SLA

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • explain what is currently known about language acquisition from research, how we have come to know it, and what still needs to be investigated
  • accurately evaluate popular ideas about bilingualism and second language acquisition
  • develop informed expectations for language learning and training
  • answer your own questions about bilingualism and second language acquisition, frame new questions in the light of current research, and move toward research projects of your own
  • critically evaluate research on the topic and develop ideas for research projects.