P-L-A-C-E, which stands for people, language, attention, cognition, and emotion, is an acronym coined by Tom Scovel to represent what he calls the the five “domains” or “major contexts in which languages are acquired” (2). The acronym works well because it acknowledges that language learning does not depend on one or two factors, but on many factors interacting in different ways.

People – Scovel writes, “Speech is the social cement that binds people together, and because it is social, it rarely emerges in individual isolation….We need to hear and be heard” (15). Language is a social practice, a tool for interpersonal communication and community-building. The reason we are generally taken aback when we see people talking to themselves is that their practice, while potentially fascinating, does not conform to our social understanding of the purpose of language (see also the Interaction Hypothesis).

Language – This category refers to the components of the language itself (vocabulary, syntax, phonology, morphology, etc.). In order to communicate, learners must understand how to properly use these elements in language performance.

Attention – Richard Schmidt writes,

“Like most psychological concepts initially based on common experience, attention does not refer to a single mechanism, but to a variety of mechanisms with different functions. These include alertness, orientation, preconscious registration (detection without awareness), selection (detection with awareness within selective attention), facilitation, and inhibition” (1).

Multiple scholars, including Scovel, Schmidt, Tomlin and Villa, and McLaughlin have also used words such as noticing, consciousness-raising, and detection to discuss the role of attention in language acquisition (Scovel 76-81).

Cognition – There is no language without thinking. Even for those who seem to talk without thinking about what they are saying, without a brain they would lack the capacity to produce language.

Emotion – There are a number of emotional influences on second language acquisition, including motivation, boredom, stress, excitement, and anxiety (see also Affective Filter).


Schmidt, Richard. “The Centrality of Attention in SLA.” University of Hawai’i Working Papers in English as a Second Language, vol 16, no. 2, 1998, pp. 1-34.

Scovel, Tom. Learning New Languages. Heinle & Heinle, 2001.