How Languages are Learned

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How Languages are Learned

Fourth Edition

Format: Paperback
See also: e-book | e-book
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English-Speaking Union's Duke of Edinburgh Book Prize 1993

This prize-winning, readable introduction to research in language acquisition is recommended reading for second language teachers worldwide.

  • ISBN: 978-0-19-454126-8
  • Pages: 272
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Dimensions: 234x156 mm

Now in its 4th edition, How Languages are Learned is highly valued for the way it relates language acquisition theory to classroom teaching and learning and draws practical implications from the research for the language classroom.

How Languages are Learned is widely used as a reference book on teacher training courses, and for new and experienced practising teachers.

Key features

  • Relates theories of first and second language acquisition to what actually goes on in the classroom
  • Uses activities throughout to explore the practical implications of the ideas presented
  • NEW Updated content gives teachers information about recent research on L2 learning
  • NEW Activities and Questions for Reflection personalise content and support critical thinking
  • NEW Extra Activities, Study Questions, and videos available online at


Unlike many introductions to the field of language acquisition research, How Languages are Learned does not assume that you are already familiar with research methods or theories. Its clear, readable style and absence of unnecessary technical jargon has helped to make it a standard text for trainee teachers throughout the world.

There are evaluations and case studies throughout the book so that you can see a practical context for the research ideas you are reading about. Many of these examples are taken directly from real first and second language classrooms. The new Activities feature provides opportunities for you to think through the research being discussed. Each chapter ends with Questions for Reflection which draw on your experiences of language learning and teaching and your critical thinking skills to revise the chapter content.

Reference to language acquisition research has been updated throughout the chapters and suggestions for further reading.

Extra resources, including Supplementary Activities, Discussion Questions, Chapter Summaries, and video interviews with the authors are available online at

The book is organized into seven chapters:

Chapter 1: 'Language learning in early childhood' (Includes first language acquisition data, explanations of first language acquisition from different perspectives, and updates to research on childhood bilingualism)

Chapter 2: 'Second language learning' (Topics covered include: learner characteristics, learner conditions, the language of second language learners, vocabulary, pragmatics, phonology, and sampling learners' language)

Chapter 3: 'Individual differences in second language learning' (Factors discussed include intelligence, aptitude, learning styles, personality, motivation and attitudes, identity and ethic group affiliation, and learner beliefs. Includes new research on age and second language instruction)

Chapter 4: 'Explaining second language learning' (Examines second language learning research from behaviourist, innatist, cognitive, and sociocultural perspectives.)

Chapter 5: 'Observing learning and teaching in the second language classroom' (Looks at different learning environments and discusses ways of observing and reporting on them.)

Chapter 6: 'Second language learning in the classroom' (Contains six practical proposals for classroom teaching based on research findings and insights.)

Chapter 7: 'Popular ideas about language learning revisited' (The authors list and give their personal perspective on some commonly held beliefs about language learning.)

There is a glossary to explain new and technical terms used in the book, and a full bibliography at the end of the book.


  • How Languages Are Learned, 4th edn. P. Lightbown & N. Spada. (2013) Oxford U. Press. ISBN 978-0-19-454126-8; 256pp+. This edition of the standard introductory work on this subject is over 20 pp. longer than the 3rd edition. A strong feature of this admirable book is its concise, clear summaries of important research findings. The chapters are; Language learning in early childhood, Second language learning (SLL), Individual differences in SLL, Explaining SLL, Observing learning and teaching in the SL classroom, SLL in the classroom, and Popular ideas about language learning revisited. Extra activities, study questions, and videos are available online at
    - The Teacher Trainer Journal, Vol 29/3


New resources to complement the book are available at
  • Sample material from the fourth edition, including new 'Questions for Reflection'
  • Discussion Questions organized per chapter
  • Supplementary Activities for teachers
  • Editable chapter summaries
  • Weblinks to related content on other websites

Part of... Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers

Each title in the series is intended to serve both as a basis for training courses and seminars, and as a reference text.

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Part of... Into the Classroom

Practical guides to understanding and implementing new developments in teaching

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