Influences on L2 Literacy Development

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  • 0:04 L1 and L2 Language
  • 1:02 Acquiring a Second Language
  • 2:44 Influences on L2 Literacy
  • 4:12 Individual Variables
  • 5:34 Sociopolitical Variables
  • 6:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kristen Goode

Kristen has been an educator for 25+ years - as a classroom teacher, a school administrator, and a university instructor. She holds a doctorate in Education Leadership.

There are many factors involved in the development of L2, or second language, literacy. In this lesson, we will explore several different areas of literacy development and examine the factors that impact development of L2 literacy.

L1 and L2 Language

Gina is a second grade student in a public school in Arizona. Gina's family has recently immigrated to the area from Mexico and Gina's having a really hard time in school. Because Spanish is her first language (L1), Gina is struggling to learn English (L2) while she also navigates her way through all that's expected of her as a second grader. Gina's struggles in learning the language may be caused by any number of different factors.

L1 refers to a child's first language. It's the language children learn first in their homes while growing up. It is the language they hear as infants and learn to speak as toddlers. For many Americans, L1 is English. For those who have immigrated to the country or who have been brought up in homes speaking other languages, however, L1 might be another language (Spanish, for example). L2 is a person's second language. For most immigrants to the United States, L2 will be English as they are adapting to English as their second language.

Acquiring a Second Language

When students are learning a second language, there are several areas to consider just as there are when they are learning their first language. As children develop language and literacy, primary areas of focus include:

Phonemic Awareness

This is the ability to hear and distinguish sounds in spoken language. Students learning a second language have to retrain their ears to understand the differences between the sounds and words spoken in L2. Phonemic awareness will influence how well a student is able understand and pronounce foreign words or words that are common to the L2.


This is understanding the relationship between sounds and written letters or symbols. This can be difficult for second language learners when the L2 alphabet looks or sounds different than L1. It'll also have an effect on how well a second language learner is able to read in L2.

Reading Fluency

This is the ability to read at an appropriate rate. Reading fluency in L2 is best taught through repeated readings and instructor modeling. Second language learners need exposure to words and sentences in context in order to build fluency skills.


This involves an understanding of words and their meanings. Building vocabulary in a second language requires intentional and explicit exposure to words and their meanings. Repetition, encouragement, and frequent interaction with words is also important.

Comprehension (listening and reading)

This is understanding or giving meaning to what's heard or read. In L2, comprehension often follows the development of second language vocabulary and, like vocabulary, will require effective engagement and interaction as well as intentional exposure to words in context.

Influences on L2 Literacy

Let's first look at how someone's L1 can affect their L2. In most cases, first language will have some type of effect on second language. This effect might be positive or negative, however, depending on the student or learner in question.

Let's first look at some of the positive influences of L1. Once a person has mastered his first language, the ability to transfer skills from that language to another can be almost flawless. This is known as language transfer. When phonics, fluency, phonemic awareness, etc., are fully developed in L1, a student will have more of an understanding as to how apply similar concepts and skills in learning a second language. This will be true if the process of learning L2 follows the same pattern as was followed in the development of L1. Cognates, for example, are words or phrases that share similarities from one language to the next.

Now let's look at some negative influences of L1. It can also be said that L1 can hinder the effective development of L2. Once a person is fluent in a first language, it may become difficult to switch gears and learn in an entirely new language. When language transfer gets confused and a learner cannot distinguish between elements of L1 and L2, it's seen as an interference of L1 on L2 development. In most cases, negative influence only becomes an issue, however, when perfection of the second language is expected and errors in pronunciation and understanding aren't accepted.

Individual Variables

Let's first take a look at some internal factors involved in the individual variables of second language development.


Children who are old enough to already have a solid grasp on their first language tend to find it easier to acquire a second language. At the same time, older children and adults often find it difficult to use correct pronunciation and intonation when learning a second language because they're already set in the ways of their first language.

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