Sociocultural theory and L2: State of the art

James P. Lantolf

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252 Scopus citations


This article considers the implications of two central constructs of sociocultural theory (SCT) for second language (L2) development: mediation and internalization. It first discusses Vygotsky's general theoretical claim that human mental activity arises as a consequence of the functional system formed by our biologically specified mental capacities and our culturally constructed symbolic artifacts. It then examines some of the L2 research that has investigated the extent to which L2 users are able to deploy their new language for cognitive mediation. Specific attention is given to the mediational function of L2 private speech and to the synchronization of gestures and speech from the perspective of Slobin's thinking for speaking framework, a framework that interfaces quite well with Vygotsky's theory. The second general topic addressed, internalization, is intimately connected to the first. It is argued that internalization of the features of a L2 takes place through imitation, especially as occurs in private speech. Imitation, based on recent neuroscience and child development research, is seen as an intentional and potentially transformative process rather than as rote mimicking. The research documents that L2 children and adults rely on imitation in their private speech when they encounter new linguistic affordances. What remains to be established is the connection between the linguistic features of private speech and those deployed by L2 speakers in their social performance. Finally, the article proposes that the study of how L2 learners internalize and develop the capacity to use conceptual and associated linguistic knowledge should move to the forefront of SCT L2 research and argues that a productive way of realizing this agenda is through the union of SCT and cognitive linguistics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-109
Number of pages43
JournalStudies in Second Language Acquisition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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