Language acquisition

How young learners learn languages …..five statements to test my thinking!!

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1) Babies are unable to respond until they are at least 6 months old. T/F

This is false. From the moment a baby enters the world to eight weeks, the process of language acquisition is in motion. They begin to cry and make little sounds; this exercises the vocal organs and gives them practice in controlling the flow of air through their mouth and nose. They respond to their mother by looking at her when she speaks. If a stranger speaks, the baby will respond differently than to their mother’s voice. The tone, pitch, volume and intonation of a speaker’s voice makes the baby respond differently. The baby shows a response by crying, body movements, babbling and laughing.

2) Babbling has an element of meaning of which the young child is aware. T/F

This is true.  Language can be said to be a progression of the process which means that there is progressive emergence. Babbling plays a part in this. It can be said that language comes with age and with the form of the body where the child grows and their cognitive senses form. For instance, at 6-7 weeks the baby will be experimenting with coos and chuckles. Then at 3-4 months, the child will start to babble; making rough speech sounds. Most babbling consists of a small number of sounds, which suggests the child is preparing the sounds they will need to speak the language it is exposed to. The baby is aware as the babbling noises tend to closely approximate the language spoken in their environment. When they imitate adult sounds they are scaffolding their language for later development. Learning is intimately linked with the progressive surfacing of a child vocabulary and syntax.

3) Children may sometimes use words in a way different to an adult’s understanding of the language item. T/F

This is true. Younger children do not have an adult’s understanding of language; they have their own way of saying things as far as they approximate them. They are born with a special ability to discover for themselves the underlying rules for their language system. For example, a child can tell you in his verbal sounds that the dog their family has, has gone out side. He may say ‘doggie’ and point or say ‘doggie out’. This utterance may just be a few grunt but significantly the point of it is, is that the child is telling you the dog has exited the house. Speech in children can be recognised  by the way a child generally uses one pivot word plus one or two additional words, such as ‘Mummy go shops’, ‘Give dolly’. Telegraphic speech, as it is known like this, is marked by its own grammar, especially in terms of structure. These pivot words tend to occupy a consistent position in the sentence and the word order reflects the order of adult utterances, the only difference being that in telegraphic speech the less semantically important words disappear.

4) Grammar rules cannot usually be taught to young children. T/F

This is true if we were to say that a teacher or parent tries to formally teach a child grammar. Grammar is acquired naturally; it doesn’t need to be taught so formally especially to younger students. Grammar rules taught formally can be just too hard for some children to comprehend. Learning can be modeled on the natural environment, although learning needs to accentuate the rate of language acquisition. Role-play, games that highlight interesting and thought provoking activities can have grammar subconsciously delivered where the learner is using the appropriate language without realizing that the teacher is teaching a specific grammar point. The child will gradually pick up the grammar rules by interaction. They are not pressured. Grammar becomes secondary to the learners actually trying to speak. There language can be facilitated by the teacher. There is the fact that if the teacher tries to the child’s sentence to the correct version, it often fails. For example:

A child looks at their dolly and says question and answer.

Child: What colour?

Mother: (You mean) what colour IS IT?

Child: Red

Grammar is a progressive discovery. It seems that the child can only learn when the time is right.

5) Repetition plays an important part in first language acquisition. T/F

This is true. This does not mean a child will learn a language by repetition. Repetition helps by the way of the instructor, be that the mother or teacher who replies to the learner’s comments. The child speaks different to a normal adult. The repetition is done when the child speaks and the mother or teacher repeats and reinforces the child’s speech with their way of saying the utterance.

Child: Mummy come

Mother: Yes, here’s Mummy

Child: Nice doggie

Mother: Yes, he’s a nice doggie isn’t he?

With this type of repetition, encouraging the responsiveness, the child will develop.  She will keep the child’s word order and add on the rest. The emphasis is on the child’s meaning and not on grammatical structures.

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‘The better the learning strategy adapted the better the outcome will be.’

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Explaining this concept by contrasting the strategies used by the good learners and poor learners

There are many factors involved in a learner succeeding in learning a language. Above all, the student has to have a learning strategy and an efficient one that suits their strengths which will help him or her succeed even better. Strategies are tools for the self-directed involvement necessary for developing communicative ability. Active learners will succeed better than passive students and become more autonomous. I will talk about the good learner contrasting with the poor learner who both have their own ways which are for better or worse. One major factor is of teacher-dependence and towards an assumption of greater responsibility for and control of their learning. Students need the enthusiasm to learn, they can get bored very quickly. Students need to install in themselves that the learning is done for a reason. I will discuss the factors that help students develop a good language learning strategy while contrasting them with the ambivalence some students may have about learning a new language. This is notwithstanding that on the whole learning a new language is not easy even though it can be made to be more difficult.

To begin with, I must mention motivation. Motivation involves people learning a language for many reasons. Good learners can see an end result, so they can be motivated to learn. It is beneficial for the learner to have goals. Those can be goals for each class as well as the term. Good learners will not be disheartened if they do not succeed one time. There must be a sense of self-reinforcement. Good learners will give themselves rewards for success. Good learners are aware of their learning strategy and if it is (not) working. Their meta-cognitive awareness allows them to re-evaluate, focus, and arrange their learning. They will have a learning strategy that suits them. They will read up or ask the teacher questions referring to topic in hand. This then refers to the student being able to ask questions while not feeling shy to try. Weinstein and Mayer (1986) defined learning strategies (LS) broadly as “behaviors and thoughts that a learner engages in during learning” which are “intended to influence the learner’s encoding process” (p. 315). Of course, poor students just take it that the learning process is too hard. Poor students will tell themselves that this is too difficult and not relate their level of language with their actual stage of learning. A good learner can control their feelings and attitudes. Poor learners will turn up to lesson without preparation. Above all, it is easy to think you should be better at a language without realizing that the learning process will take time. The poor learner can not see the future for his or her language.

For the relatively older students, it can be seen that in this global world the use of English is fundamental and worthwhile for everybody not living in a country with English as its first language. This is an incentive for good learners who realize the potential of speaking either their own or second language better. Poor learners think for the now and do not realize how having a new language with affect them. The future can be made brighter and language is important, although English is not just long term but for the immediate time and what there is to learn in the class. All the students still have to enjoy learning. They have to get involved and be part of the class. New classes start all the time and those students may not be used to working with each other. Here is where the good and poor students can speed up or slow down the process of learning in a class. There is an overall aim for not only the students to work towards more fluent language but as the whole group, and the methods they use in order to achieve those aims need to be created to cater for everybody.

Working in groups, good learners can learn a lot from other students. This is not a time to discuss other issues as a poor learner might find but a chance to get into a group and discuss the problem that the teacher has set. Now, a good learner can take advantage of the group structure to query points and work as a team to succeed. This fosters a deeper understanding and a more active learning process. Good learners will co-operate and empathize with others. They will see that one person is more proficient than them and allow themselves to learn from them. Poor learners will allow this strong student to do all the work. This situation also includes personality, because if the good learner helps the group he or she will be praised and liked more by the group. There is also the fact that students can learn more from their peers as from the teacher. Good learners hear the thoughts and understand the feelings of others. Of course, some group work may be easy and the target reached easier than other scenarios. This is where the poor learner and good learner contrast because there is so much more from a situation than what is on the surface. Completing the task is one thing but adding to it or finding more ideas or checking through everything to see if you or your group fully understand is beneficial for everyone. Good language learners also take this opportunity to discuss the groups’ views with the teacher who more than likely is a native speaker. This is where they can ask for clarification of certain points and checking for the need to be corrected. This also relates to the good learner having some concept checking questions. For example: did you mean? Did you say that? What would you say?

Now, these lessons are usually kept within the boundaries of the target language. Poor students will try to question about other problems they have and lose the point of the lesson. The class may be difficult and hard to understand and discussing other topics will deter the group from succeeding, good learners will ask questions not only to their peers but to their teacher to help achieve the task. Good students hypothesize about their new language which can be proved against the teacher’s language. These hypotheses can be realized to be right or wrong when hearing the positive statement from the teacher. Poor learners do not question themselves and accept they will not understand. They allow others to succeed.  Good learners try out hypotheses about the target language they have just learnt but a poor learner will turn off, thinking everything is finished.

To conclude, I feel that good learners have to be serious about their learning and in many ways realize that the acquisition of a language does not come so naturally. There are many ways for learners to help themselves. This piece of writing is just a highlight of the methods that a student can use. One overriding factor has to be motivation and incentive. The student also has to enjoy learning and face it head on. It may seem hard, but it does not mean everything should be serious. Teachers are not there to bore the students, although many students may think so.

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