Principles of Second Language Development in Teaching EL Students

Five principles of second language development are presented here, along with suggestions on how to implement these practices.

Principle #1

Students need to feel good about themselves and their relationships with others in second language learning situations. (Rigg & Hudelson, 1986)
To put the principle into practice, educators should:

  • Foster friendships among EL students and their peers/teachers;
  • Promote cooperative learning activities;
  • Arrange for peer study partners;
  • Use language skills and cultural knowledge of EL students as resources in the classroom;
  • Have students make bilingual dictionaries for different content areas;
  • Have students provide information on food, music, dance, games, folk tales, etc.;
  • Have students share personal likes and dislikes;
  • Provide learning settings in which students feel at ease.

Principle #2

Comprehension naturally precedes production during the process of second language development (Krashen & Terrell, 1983)
To put the principle into practice:

  • Provide comprehensible input within meaningful contexts;
  • Give plenty of opportunities to read good literature that is age appropriate and suitable to students’ proficiency level;
  • Allow students to show comprehension/competency non-verbally;
  • If possible, use students’ native language as a means to develop necessary concepts.

Principle #3

Second language competency develops most quickly when the learner focuses on accomplishing tasks rather than focusing on the language itself. (Rigg & Hudelson, 1986; Krashen & Terrell, 1983)
To put the principle into practice:

  • Give chances for students to work on group assignments;
  • Begin with concrete experiences;
  • Focus on purposeful content-related activities.

Principle #4

Students can learn to read and write in a second language while they develop their oral skills. (Rigg & Hudelson, 1986)
To put the principle into practice:

  • Use the language experience approach to promote both oral and written communication;
  • Provide meaningful writing opportunities;
  • Teach note-taking skills;
  • Make authentic reading resources available;
  • Involve students in journal writing.

Principle #5

Learners acquire a second language through trial and error; mistakes are part of the natural process. (Rigg & Hudelson, 1986; Krashen & Terrell, 1983)
To put the principle into practice:

  • Focus on what students communicate rather than on how they communicate;
  • Don’t correct students’ mistakes all the time, especially when correction interrupts communication;
  • Use students’ errors as indicators of their progress in developing second language skills.


Krashen, S. & Terrell, Tracy. 1983. The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom. Hayward, CA: Alemany Press
Rigg, P. & Hudelson, S. 1986. One child doesn’t speak English. Australian Journal of Reading. 9, 3, pp. 116-125.

Last Modified: 11/7/2019 2:54:27 PM