Greenspan (1992) stresses the importance of the missing link of emotion by challenging the basis of previous methodologies. Refuting Chomsky (1966), he claimed that symbols, language, and intelligence are not deeply rooted in genetics; instead, they evolve out of the emotional responses gained by means of the child’s interaction with the environment and other human beings. In comparison with Freud (1911), Greenspan (1992) gives more weight to the role of emotional experiences in the development of the child’s early functional and social improvement. In a slight variation from Vygotsky’s (1978) principle of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), in which the adult takes the lead in the unequal interaction and provides instructive correction to a child performing a set of tasks, Greenspan’s proposed interactions are more child-directed. This outlook bears some superficial similarities to Bruner’s (1983) concept of “format”, although Bruner’s format hinges on the child and caregiver’s engagement in activities such as dressing, bathing, or playing which involve both language and culture; in fact, the two are meaningfully inseparable. Furthermore, unlike Greenspan’s developmental interactions, formats may either carry a special purpose or simply be performed as an amusement tool (Bruner 1983).
Contrary to the traditional concept of development which separates affect from intellect, Greenspan (1992) posits that emotions play a critical role in improving the intellectual faculties. Given the paramount role of emotional interactions in cognitive functioning, Greenspan went beyond the previous observations of the time. He synthesized various insights and added the key concept of emotional development as the essence of his vision. According to his view, language, as a substantial cognitive process, does not occur suddenly at some pre-determined manner; instead, it emerges out of the child’s interaction with his parent or caregiver in co-regulated activities, namely playing, sharing, and naming.
Functional emotional theory
In 1997, Greenspan set forth a theory of a process through which functional emotional approaches create and organize various aspects of the mind and intelligence. As the term suggests, the theory mainly stems from an amalgam of two common notions of ‘functions’ and ‘emotions’. Several attempts have been made to catalogue the different functions of language found in the growing child’s repertoire. Children are motivated to acquire a language since it serves particular purposes or functions for them. In this realm, Halliday’s (1975) taxonomy focuses on some functions which help children to fulfill their physical, emotional, social, and environmental needs—the emotional dimension of the theory largely originates from the idea of emotional competency and EQ which was discussed earlier.
As Greenspan (1997) states, affective signals are the primary concepts we use to experience the world, and they emerge prior to the sensorimotor patterns presented by Piaget (1962). Moreover, he showed that intellect, academic abilities, consciousness, and morality are rooted in our earliest emotional experiences (Greenspan and Shanker 2004). The crux of this approach to language development is that language skills evolve from a sequence of affective transformations, which make the child initially self-regulate and get interested in the world, and subsequently, following a series of further transformations, take part in the social interactions, become involved in shared attention, recognize social, communicative patterns, figure out other people’s intentions, imitate complex actions, form a sense of ‘self’, and create meaningful symbols (Greenspan and Lewis 2005). Basically, the child nourishes these underlying capacities and gradually moves from the pre-symbolic stage to language.
When the ability to form symbols evolves in children, they are required to harness their inner affects to symbols to produce meaningful notions such as language, imagination, and logical thought. In other words, the affect-mediated interactions enable children to perceive the patterns of the world through symbols, and eventually transform these patterns to thought and conversation (Greenspan 2001). Gestural and social interactions provide the context for the meaning of verbal symbols. The necessity of this fundamental level of knowing through doing is highly emphasized in the gradual process of meaning formation. Children move from global affective schemes to reciprocal ones. Long chains of affective interactions enable children to further explore the world based on the received feedback and to organize gestural or verbal communication. In essence, affect assists children to go through the simple interest in the world toward social problem-solving, and advance through procedural knowledge to symbolic knowledge. It gives meaning to what children hear, how they process the visual-spatial information, and arrange motor activities (Greenspan 2001).
As children begin to imitate words (mom, dad, go), those words have to be flavored with affect to hold meaning. The word “juice” has meaning to the extent the child can combine it with different feeling experiences including the pleasure and image of drinking juice (Greenspan 2001). In truth, to feel an emotion, it is necessary to experience that emotion in a consistent relationship; that is to say, it is not possible to experience the emotions which we have never had (Greenspan and Lewis 2005).
However, emotional experiences are not restricted to semantics only; they can likewise be applied to children’s learning of grammar. For instance, the word “more” might not denote quantity for children, but rather remind them of something tasty; whereas, “no more” could remind them of a dose of bitter medicine. “Big” is an older child who is walking around and “little” is a baby of his own age and size (Shanker and Greenspan 2005). During speech language therapy sessions, the therapists may attempt to teach preliminary grammatical forms by repeatedly drilling the child on some particular structures that may turn to be exhausting for both the child and therapist. Here, the main issue is that the structure has been emphasized with no regard to the emotional aspect. Unlike the therapist, the caregivers act more effectively and teach that same structure by using affect gestures and slightly varying their tone of voice, by uttering “gentleeee” (Greenspan and Shanker 2004; Shanker 2002) for instance.
In order to facilitate the reciprocal affective processes, a social pragmatic approach was proposed by Greenspan (1997). DIR, a theoretical and applied framework for comprehensive, individually-determined intervention, integrates the child’s isolated functional developmental capacities (social, motor, cognitive, language, and sensory) that lay the foundation for higher order thinking and purposeful communicating (Greenspan 1992; Greenspan and Wieder 1998a). This treatment technique was initially designed to help disturbed children suffering from autism. To define the core components of this multidisciplinary approach, the “D” represents the developmental capacities including mutual attention and engagement, back and forth interactions, affective reciprocity, problem-solving, creating play ideas, and abstract thinking which appear during the child’s early years. This component indicates six functional developmental features: 1) self-regulating and processing environmental information, 2) involvement in a relationship, 3) maintaining and responding to a mutual purposeful communication, 4) making complex gestures and directing the communication toward problem-solving, 5) creating and deploying ideas, and 6) making a link between ideas, reality, and thought. There is a plenty of evidence which shows that emotional processes including engagement, joint attention, affective reciprocity, and creative play are related to healthy social, language, and intellectual functioning (Greenspan 2004; Siller and Sigman 2002).
The “I” represents the child’s individual differences in sensory motor processing and regulation which support development. The “R” represents the relationships and environment required for the interactions through which the development of emotional, social, and cognitive capacities is fostered (Greenspan and Wieder 2006).
Central to the DIR model is the secure relationship which promotes spontaneous sequences of back-and-forth affect cues between the parent and child to help the child expand and elaborate upon ideas, thoughts, and feelings and overcome the probable developmental challenges of linking up emotions to motor planning and verbal communication (Seskin et al. 2010; Wieder and Greenspan 2003). The very intention is to empower every single developmental capacity, which jointly can set the basis for higher order abilities (Greenspan and Wieder 2006). The intervention approach, which is built on the child’s and family’s unique developmental profile, involves parents, caregivers, or teachers in developing a better understanding of their child using the complex verbal or gestural interactions between biology and experience. In fact, it enables them to enter the child’s world, bring the child into a joint world, make a communication bridge, and interact with the child in ways that nurture emotional, social, and intellectual development (Greenspan 2001). Thus, more and more emotions must be injected into the interactions. Once the interactions become more captivating and meaningful, the child progresses much faster and easier. As a result, the adult’s emotional interest, that is brought to the context, must rise as the task gets harder (Greenspan and Lewis 2005).
Overall, the model highlights the necessity of unifying family support, school programs, home programs, biomedical mediation, and other required therapies tailored to meet children’s entire needs and goals, into their intervention schedule (Greenspan 2001). To this end, Greenspan and Wieder (2006) recommend running various types of interactions in multiple different settings and environments to help the children progress through the developmental stages more purposefully.
The floor time therapy
The model’s major intervention constituent is “Floor Time”, a non-directive, relationship-building play therapy for parent and children with autism spectrum disorders (Greenspan and Wieder 2006). It is mostly aimed at infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, but might be utilized for older children if necessary. Play is an integral part of child development. During floor time daily play sessions, adults sit on the floor with the children and follow their lead using gestures and words to move the children up the symbolic ladder and help them enter the world of ideas and abstract thinking (Wieder and Greenspan 2003). Messina (1999–2004) considers that Floor Time encompasses five successive steps: 1) observation, 2) the child opens the communication circle, 3) the adult follows the child’s lead and interest, 4) they extend and expand play, and 5) the child closes the communication circle. The flow of interactions allows many circles of communication to be opened and closed in expeditious sequences. During this course, the child realizes and savors the concept of two-way communication (Messina 1999–2004). The play framework supports engagement, symbolic play, problem-solving, friendship, and higher order thinking (Greenspan and Wieder 2005). In a study, Greenspan and Wieder (1998b) examined a cohort of 200 children between the ages of 22 months and 4 years diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and concluded that most children (58 %) who received Floor Time intervention for at least 2 years made notable progress in all areas of development. All the children of the study received two to five hours of Floor Time interaction along with speech therapy and educational services. Years later, in 2005, Greenspan and Wieder set out a 10–15 year follow-up on 16 children of their former case review. The final outcome manifested that the participants were particularly strong in levels of empathy and theory of mind tasks, and were able to successfully relate their thoughts, ideas, and intentions to themselves and others. Simply put, the children could progress out of their deficits and autism symptoms, and develop into individuals with a typical, hopeful future (Greenspan and Wieder 2005). In all, the majority of the studies which have inspected DIR/ Floor Time have reported numerous benefits of the intervention (Simpson 2005).
DIR and second language pedagogy
The methodological core of the DIR model is to appreciate the role of affect and the importance of supportive relationships and family functioning (Greenspan 2001). Although DIR is a model of first language acquisition, each of its components also has deep historical roots in second language learning and teaching.
Developmental perspectives have been broadly taken into account in second language as well as the first language learning procedures. Studies have shown that both first and second language learners go through a pattern of development (Ipek 2009). This enterprise represents the basis for several approaches to SLA. Rod Ellis (1984) discusses and outlines the concept of developmental sequences in detail. Pienemann’s processability theory (Pienemann 1998,2005) is a theory of language development, which predicts a universal and developmental hierarchy for any given first or second language. Krashen’s (1982) Input Hypothesis attempts to explain the way acquirers move from one stage (i) to the next (i + 1). According to this hypothesis, learners receive comprehensible input and progress along the natural order to a step beyond their current level of competence and knowledge.
A thorough recognition of individual differences is substantial to discover the factors that influence learning development and the mechanisms involved (Astington 1993; Cutting and Dunn 1999). Research into the effects of individual differences on learning is well established in the fields of first and second language acquisition. For instance, McLaughlin (1987) posits that considerable individual variation in learning, performance, and communication strategies results in diversities in learning processes. It has long been witnessed that there is a broad discrepancy among language learners with respect to their ultimate success in mastering an L2 (Dornyei 2005). With ongoing developments in the study of motivation, personality, and different cognitive abilities of learners, individual differences remain a powerful area in the educational contexts (Dornyei 2005). Individual differences, as consistent predictors of learners’ success, have been studied widely within L2 domain, turning the field into one of the most thoroughly studied aspects of SLA. Controversial issues for a discussion of the broad scope of individual learner differences in second language learning include cognitive variables (such as aptitude, learning styles, and strategies), affective variables (such as motivation, self-efficacy, and anxiety), personality traits, culture, gender, etc.
In both first and second language acquisition a rich linguistic environment contributes to successful language development. Based on this premise, applied linguistics critically highlights the significant role of interaction in SLA (Long 1996; Tomasello 2003). Relationship-based or interactionist approaches toward language acquisition centre around a one-to-one interaction constructed via exchanges of comprehensible input and output which gives the child access to language (Ipek 2009). Krashen’s (1982) theory, mentioned above, promotes SLA and fluency through one-way comprehensible input. Others take an interactionist position emphasizing a two-way communication. Long (1985) believes that conversational interaction is influential on SLA. Hawkins (2001) argues that, by means of interactions such as collaborative activities, pair work, and group work, knowledge is gradually constructed. A further issue related to the L1 and L2 acquisition is the ZPD. Vygotsky (1978) explains ZPD as a child’s learning capacity when collaborating to negotiate meaning. Meanwhile, interactional modifications effectively simplify the input for the second language learner (Ellis 1994; Long 1996).
Overall, fashions in language learning theories have come and gone, each setting forth hypotheses on how we generally learn, and how we might teach languages. We have argued that the critical missing piece in the SLA domain is the investment of affect, which was proposed by Greenspan (1992). We label this new perspective as Emotion-Based Language Instruction (EBLI).