Second language

‘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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The classroom, language acquisition and Stephen Krashen

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I think a few of you can recall I mentioned Stephen Krashen a few times and his theory on comprehensible input.  Of course, time is always with us over the two days, so I am always reticent to talk too long about certain theories, although I hope I do highlight it efficiently and effectively. So, I have written a few extra notes on language acquisition, the classroom and Krashen and his approach and theory that will hopefully make you think more about what goes on in the learning environment and the approach you take in teaching the students.

To begin with, an EFL instructor can be a fantastic teacher but how does he/she know if the students are ‘acquiring the language’ in the way they should be which is natural and not forced.  ‘Acquiring language’ is one of the salient points in children’s actual acquisition of a language. It is a fact that children, in natural settings, learn language rapidly and without formal instruction. Children are not given formal education when they are very young yet they acquire their language progressively to being fluent. It makes me think of some Thai schools I worked in where they barrage the students with grammar that is in such a formal setting that doesn’t leave any room for talking. The students can be very good at grammar but cannot speak and quite a few seem very shy also. Furthermore, if the students are not relaxed in the classroom (the setting) the teacher cannot expect them to learn. You would hope they learn their second language the same as their first language in a natural way where children never felt the language was demanding or never felt pressured and weren’t inhibited to use it.

The classroom as a setting I think should not be a place that is far from reality such that students can only speak in the classroom not outside where it is most important. I think that as a teacher the authenticity of the teacher’s teaching and the classroom has to be right so as to enlighten the learning experience. The issue here is students often learn their second language through constant grammar study so the similarity between it being similar to a natural, childhood, first language acquisition and later second language acquisition is not apparent. Thus creating a real classroom experience is a must for the students. The use of real objects, pictures, videos, roleplays, situations, even field trips (not forgetting the teacher/facilitator’s approach) to get the feeling that the students will use this language outside the classroom in numerous settings is a must.

Stephen Krashen whose ‘acquisition theory’ is used in teaching, states that ‘language learners need language ‘input’ which consists of new language along with clues as to what the language means’. As a teacher, you should follow this path that allows the students to speak in class while giving them that little bit more to expand their language. The teacher should build on what the students already know. I think this normal delivery of speech and with ‘hands-on’ language acquisition experience facilitates the natural learning process. If you remember when you were a child and your parents never really gave you a formal education in language acquisition, here lies comprehensible input that naturally supplies children: it is slower and simpler. Moreover, it focuses on the here and now, it focuses on meaning over form, and it extends and elaborates on the child’s language.

I think the students should not be treated like kids but you should allow the students to speak and acquire more language as they use their already known language such that the process will follow that the students will acquire more in your interesting natural approach classes.

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