Sociocultural Theory applied to Language Development (Swain & Deters, Lantolf)

Explanation of Main Features

The Sociocultural Theory (SCT) is based on the work done by Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky. He emphasized there is no disconnect between environment, context, the individual and learning. The social environment is the context for mental development. SCT focuses on tools a learner is working with, where the tool is being used, and why the learner is using the tool. Language is viewed as a tool of the mind, an active part of cognitive development. The idea is that you have to produce spoken or written language in order to better understand concepts.

Sociocultural theory also highlights the importance of factors that affect a student's actions and motivations. A second language learner's motivation will change over time and in the context that it is needed. The learner isn't independent from context when learning a second language. Instead, the learner's history, motivations, and experiences will affect their second language acquisition (Swain & Deters, 2007).

Classroom Implications

Language needs be used, not just in writing, but socially. In the classroom, interactions such as think-pair-share and group discussions, can help students understand language concepts. Any activities that get students talking about what they are reading, even when it is about their emotions, helps them comprehend and learn. As the teacher, it is also important to understand the histories of your students, in order to better help you understand their motivations for learning a new language. What their motivations are, and how they fluctuate, has a strong impact on how well they learn language. In addition, it is important to understand that in this theory, learning is related to becoming part of the community. So, if you have a new student join your class partway through the school year, they will need to become part of the community before they can become full learners. The students' identities affect their access to the various communities in the classroom, and it is essential as the teacher to give students time to establish an identity and become part of the classroom communities (Swain & Deters, 2007).


Swain, M. & Deters, P. (2007). "New" mainstream SLA theory: Expanded and enriched. Modern Language Journal, 91(5), 820-836.