Comparing first and second language learning
Comparing first and second language learning
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‘Comparing First and Second Language Learning` should be a master level essay based on the theory, principles, approaches, methods and techniques of TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.
First Language Learners include people whose English is the Mother Tongue and those who are in the `outer circle` like the Singaporeans, Indians, Nigeria and mostly previous British colonies - Comparing first and second language learning introduction. Reference: Kachru (1985) – suggests the division of the English-speaking world into 3 concentric circles.
Second Language Learners are those who are in the `extended circle` like the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Russians, Spanish, etc.
Language Varieties 6
Learning Abilities of Children 7
First and Second language Acquisition 9
Theories of Second Language Acquisition 14
English Language Teaching 18
A first language (popularly known as ‘mother tongue’ or ‘native language’) or ‘L1’ is the language which the child learns relatively first. It is passed on from one generation to another through the family and may be learnt also through social interactions. Usually the first language is not learnt through formal education. First language may be different from mother tongue and native language. Mother tongue usually refers to the language learnt at home from the parents and the family. Native language refers to the language an individual uses in this resident country. However, these terms are often intermingled and are utilized interchangeable. The first language need not be an individual’s dominant language. Sometimes families’ shift to new linguistic and cultural societies, and in such situations, there could be a shift from the dominant language of the individual. A child who develops good skills in learning the first language can perform well at learning, because language usually forms the basis for thinking and other cognitive functions (such as memory) (Clark, B. A., 2000). However, if a child is unable to develop sufficient skill at the first language, it may become very difficult to learn other things including languages (Clark, B. A., 2000). Sometimes an individual may have two or more native languages. However, the orders in which that language is acquired do not always suggest the level of skill. Several associated factors (such as environment in the child is brought up in) play an important role.
A second language or ‘L2’ is a language that is usually learned during the process of formal education or is that language that is learned after the first language has been learned. It can include any other language other than the mother tongue or the first language. A lot of importance has been given to second language nowadays because of the increasing use of it as a universal medium of education. In many countries people, second language is becoming more dominant that the first language. The name second language is usually used to suggest the level of fluency and comprehension an individual achieves (Wikipedia, 2006).
Studies conducted by Hyltenstam (1992) demonstrated that after the age of 7 years, it was difficult for a native to learn a second language and acquire skills in it as perfect as that of the first language. Beyond the age of 7, if a language was learned, the individual utilised it with a lot of grammatical errors, often demonstrating to others that it was not their first language (Clark, B. A., 2000).
Hyltenstam and Abrahamsson (2003) suggested that there was no specific cut-off age in order to become fluent in the second language as well as that of the native language, but it was a little more difficult. They suggested that developing skills in the second language as well as that of the first language might even be possible in adulthood (Clark, B. A., 2000).
English is one of the most utilised languages throughout the world. It actually originated in England. Presently, English is the second most spoken language on earth (after Mandarin), and the third most extensively dispersed spoken first language after Mandarin and Hindi (Kachru,2006). Many countries have adopted English as their official language, and have extensively used it as a second language. Depending on the distribution of English, three broad groups of regional varieties of English have been developed. Many countries such as Britain, US, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Caribbean nations, etc, have adopted English as their primary language and this contributes the first band of English-speaking countries (or inner circle). In India, Philippines, Nigeria, Singapore, Ghana, South Africa, Philippines and several African nations (especially those that were former British colonies), have adopted English as their official language and has undergone acculturation, and these countries compromise the second band (outer circle). In certain other countries such as Japan, China and Korea, English is only used as an international means of communication, and this set compromises the third band (expanding circles) (Kachru,2006). English is the first language of about 350 million people throughout the World, and the total number of people in the World (including those who use it as a second language) using it is over a billion (Kachru, 2006). It is also the language most often utilised during International Business and Academic Instruction. English belongs to the Germanic language group that also includes other European-based languages such as German, French and Dutch. It has developed from Old English, which was utilised by the Anglo-Saxons. Modern English started developing in the 15th century, but had its origins, as early as the 5th century. English language began to take a new position following the discovery of America. The English language originated in England and later spread to the entire British Isles. Following the colonisation period, English spread to the colonies and territories of the English (such as Canada, India, Pakistan, Singapore, New Zealand, Southern Africa, Caribbean, etc), and the United States. The American Revolution was able to effective produce a new type of language from English. The Americans began to adopt a different type of English. They began to pronounce and spell English words differently. The even developed new words or produced new meaning of English words. On the whole, the Americans were more tolerant to mistakes made during the usage of the English language, and also accepted commonly utilised variations. The number of natives speaking Mandarin, Spanish and Hindi is much greater than English. However, both Hindi and Mandarin is not as widely dispersed as first and second languages compared to English. Also, unlike English and Spanish, Mandarin and Hindi do not seem to be dispread in other continents of the world, compared to English and Spanish. In several countries, in which English is spoken as a second language, India tops the list, followed by China, Philippines, Germany and the United States (Britannica, 2006). The United States has more first-language speaking population compared to England. The US, England, Canada and Australia, make up 95% of the Worlds’ population where English is spoken as a first or native language (Kachru,2006).
In Asia, the users of English are of the largest numbers in the entire world. Many nations are adopting an education system conducive to the development of English (Kachru, 2006).
Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) is a unified term referring to ESL (English as a second language) and EFL (English as a foreign language) which is created to help teaching and learning English throughput the World. It helps individuals in the country to learn the English language through community learning and classroom activities. It also trains teachers in this field and develops educational material. Several activities such as computer-assisted learning packages, testing the second language acquisition, evaluation, designing new programs for the curriculum, developing new material, communication between individuals of different cultures, etc have been organised to enable the student to learn English (Celce-Murcia.M., 2001).
Dialect or a ‘language variety’ is a way of using vocabulary and grammar in a way that the social and regional background of the individual becomes obvious. Accent on the other describes a regional method of pronouncing words. Dialects of a language may be specific to a country (e.g. American English), to a region a country (e.g., Scottish English), or even in a city (e.g. the dialect of New York City). Geography plays a very important role in the development of a dialect, however several other factors such as speech differences between ethnic groups, age groups, sex and education can also affect the development of a dialect (Kachru, 2006). In India, different dialects may appear in the regional classes, castes and religions.
American English and British English are being considered as the recognised varieties of English for academic and official purposes. Many other varieties of English, such as Australian and Canadian are seeking recognition (Kachru,2006).
English has become one of the most often utilised global instruments for communication and conducting international business. However, concern has also been expressed that English is becoming to disintegrate due to the several variations adopted (Kachru, 2006).
Learning Abilities of Children
Second language acquisition is a process by which the individual learns any other language other than language other than the first language or the native language. The pattern in which the child and the parents interact varies, but children tend to learn languages at the same rate, that is often determined inherently. The rate varies because children are exposed and interact with others at a different rate. Children may develop language acquisition as a general process of development along with other developmental processes such as cognitive, physical and social functions (Clark, B. A., 2000). The process of learning a language is very high between the ages of 2 to 6 years, and later, there is a high risk that the child may never learn a language (Clark, B. A., 2000). Children may know the basics of a language even before they enter school. They often engage in communication activities, and the process of learning a language should be considered very active in the child. A child develops relationships and interactions with others, and through these relationships, it tries to relate the meanings of several objects, thus helping to learn a language. The seemingly competent communication skills of the child help them to comprehend grammar and gain details of the language. Childs may show a lot of variation in the rate at which they learn languages, but between different languages, a similar pattern exists. All languages seem to be equally easy to learn, and children can demonstrate this through the speed at which they learn various languages. Languages have several components such as phonology, vocabulary, grammar, discourse, and pragmatics, which need to be put together in order to learn it. At first, the child learns languages through direct experiences, which later expand to include other situations. There is a lot of creativity involved whilst a child is learning a language. It may be the only instrument they could use to explore the world around them.
The child constantly changes the manner in which they use the language. They speak to adults and younger children in different ways (Clark, B. A., 2000). Through acquisition of language skills, the child begins to learn the process of behaving in an appropriate manner in social situations. We can assess a child’s comprehension of the language through the way in which they express themselves. Language development tends to occur gradually in a child, along with development of other cognitive functions. Children often encounter new situations and try to develop their language in such situations by relating these new situations to previous ones. One of the best ways of introducing new situations to a child would be through play (Clark, B. A., 2000). Thinking and behaviour of the child depend immensely on the language development. Often their inner voices can be heard when they begin to utter their thoughts in a particular language. Vygotsky considered language development to be the most important milestones in the child’s development.
First and Second language Acquisition
Majority of the children of the world learn two languages (Ellis, 1994). This may occur in almost every part of the world and in all segments of the society. United States is one of the only cultures in the World in which a mono-linguistic culture is being followed in their education system. Only a small proportion of the population in the US, usually considered minorities may learn 2 languages. Cummins (1981, 1996) does not consider that learning two languages plays an important role in the child’s development, but considered that the social interactions were more beneficial to the child. Studies have shown that the language development in children learning one or two languages was similar, and hence no obvious negative effects could be made out (Clark, B. A., 2000). Studies have also shown that children have very good adaptive skills when related to language learning, and can easily learn a second language and use it in the same way as their native language to think, communicate, question and socialise (Clark, B. A., 2000). Children can easily transfer their language learning capacity from a first language to a second language.
Variations may exist at the pace children learn a second language. No concrete evidence of the time period within which children can learn a language, and surprisingly no evidence suggests that children are always faster in learning a language compared to adults. Children may have several problems when they are learning a language including pronouncing words, following rules of grammar or comprehending sentences. It may be difficult to explain as to why some children find it easy to learn a language, whereas others find it difficult. Several factors such as environmental factors, educational factors, and individual factors (such as age, sex, motivation and personality) may play an important role (Clark, B. A., 2000).
McLaughlin (1973) considered that age of learning might not play an important role compared to the cultural situation, value of knowing the language, motivation and opportunities gained through use. Children will use both the languages during communication provided that they get a positive response. Some children may find it difficult to use a second language in their native region. Children usually have similar attitudes to the first and second language. Some children, especially the younger ones tend to learn the second language faster because it has fewer complexes compared to the first language. They may also learn to speak the second language relatively easier, but often use the native-pattern of pronouncing words. Studies by Collier (1995) have shown that even adults and adolescents have the ability to learn a second language.
The cognitive characteristics of a child often translate into better retention capacities of learnt languages. Hence, children are in a better position not to forget the first language after acquiring the second. However, these view differ. Some researchers feel that children who learn a second language at a very young age and within a very short period may in fact lose the skills and knowledge of the first language (Bialystok & Hakuta, 1994). Others consider that introducing a second language to a child at a very young age can be damaging, and hence teachers should try to impart both the languages equally (McLaughlin, 1973). The outcome between learning the first and the second languages vary. Children become more fluent in the first language compared to the second, because of cultural exposure. Acquiring the first language and the second language may be equally difficult, but the role of certain variable is greater whilst learning the second language. Several controversies exist on the kind of education system that should be followed to support bilingual education, and authorities are confused whether they should implement a bilingual system, a transition system (that slowly imparts English) or a total English system of education. Bilingual systems of education tend to concentrate more heavily on the native language than on English (Clark, B. A., 2000).
An environment should be created for children that are conducive to learn both the first and second languages. Language learning can often be extended and supported by the manner and the extent to which the parent communicate with the child using the language. Children can develop cognitively and also improve their language skills if they are allowed to express themselves before their parents in either of the languages (Clark, B. A., 2000). The parent should engage and interact with the child more so as to create a language learning process. They should also help the child utilise knowledge of existent language to real-life situations. Situations also exist in which children may use one language at home and another at school or in social settings. This may be because the child is not equally proficient in both languages or conditions are not conducive at home or in the school to use the other language. Sometimes children may suddenly find it difficult to use the language as they begin to learn new thing about the language. This may be a temporary situation that tends to occur during all learning processes. The children may not function well at learning a language when they are not allowed to use it. The development of the first language may also be affected when the second language learning process is hindered. Language learning is a dynamic process which is improved whilst use. Formal education may have only a limited role to play, and more importantly use of the language is considered the key.
Learning a second language can often be a difficulty and a time-consuming task and hence children may have to be motivated to learn the language (Clark, B. A., 2000). Some people feel that children having problems in learning their first language may later have problems whilst learning the second language. There should be strong interactions between the language and cognitive development of the child, and parents should develop a relationship with the child by which language is more often used. Both cognitive development and learning of the second language is not hindered if the child uses the appropriate language in the home with parents. In order to develop cognitively, the child has to experience new situations and have new ideas. Development and experience in the first language will immensely help in learning the second language. The skills, and knowledge and experience develop through the first language will help the child to do well academically in the second language. They child may also find it easier to read the second language even when it is completely different from the first language. Studies have shown that children excelling in one language may do equally well in the other (Clark, B. A., 2000). Through reading not only is the language learnt better, but also a lot of knowledge is gained which will help in developing the second language. Reading in one language has numerous benefits, such as improving comprehension, grammar, thinking better, organising ideas, and learning the language in a new way. It is very important in bi-linguistic system of education, that the first and the second language be given equal importance. It may often be seen that schools tend to focus only on English, and neglects development of the first language in the child. This could have severe cognitive implications, as the child would be losing the first language. Such children score worse than those who study in education systems that maintain the first language. Traditionally, the second language is introduced to the child between the ages of 5 to 7 years. It is important that the development of the first language is continued so as to ensure cognitive growth. This cognitive growth would ensure that an adequate platform to learn the second language exists.
Theories of Second Language Acquisition
Stephen Krashen had developed a widely utilized theory for acquisition of the second language in the 1980’s (Schütz, R. 2005). He considers five points in his theory, which includes:-
Natural Order hypothesis,
Affective Filter hypothesis
The acquisition-learning hypothesis considered that 2 individual components, namely the acquired system and the learned system. The acquired system may be a subconscious activity, experienced when the child learns the first language. Meaningful interactions with the family members and others are required. The learned system on the other hand is a conscious process and is experienced during formal education. It is not as powerful as the acquired system.
The monitor hypothesis suggests the manner in which the acquired system affects the learned system. The acquired system acts as an initiator, whereas the learned system monitors, plans, edits and corrects the second language function.
According to the natural order hypothesis, grammatical framing is learned in an orderly fashion, which can often be predicted. The age of the child, nature of the first language and the use of the language did not play much of a role in the development of grammatical framework. Children instead tend to learn grammatical framing in a specific order.
According to the input hypothesis, when the individual is learning a second language, he increases and develops the natural order. The ability to learn and acquire the second language may lie a little beyond the individual’s present language skills.
According to the affective filer hypothesis, several factors or variables may play a role in the development of the second language. These include self-confidence, motivation and anxiety. Self-confidence and motivation may play a positive role in second language acquisition, whereas anxiety plays a negative role.
Krashen considered that teaching grammar and facts associated with grammar such formulating rules and demonstrating complex facts of language did not result in the development of the language, but only helped the students to appreciate the language. Educating the students about grammar may need when the language is being utilized as a medium of instruction. People consider that it is important to learn grammar for developing language acquisition. However, this will not help as much as language usage.
Merill Swain et al (1995) has modified Krashen theory and has developed a new hypothesis, known as ‘comprehensible output’. Students have to be provided with an opportunity to use and express the language acquired, so that further development could occur. This is as important as providing inputs of the language (NWREL, 2003).
In the outer and extended circles of the World, English is being learned as a second language. A lot depends on the psychological (as mental abilities are utilised), cognitive (as learning plays an important role) and academic (social interactions and instruction in schools) status of the individual (Kachru, 2006).
Freeman and Freeman (2001) have conducted several studies to determine the theories of second language acquisition and have shown that several facts such as linguistics, psychology, sociology, and anthropology, played an important role. Researchers suggest that a continued process of learning, in which the individual moves from of ‘no knowledge of the new language’ to a stage in which his language can be compared to that of a native (NWREL, 2003). Using this theory the process of language acquisition has been broken up into five stages. In the first stage or ‘preproduction stage’, the student can understand about 500 words, but may not be comfortable using them. The student may not be able to speak the language, but can respond when spoken in the new language. The students are not forced to speak the language, unless the students are really comfortable with it. It usually lasts for not more than six months. The second stage or the ‘early production stage’ consists of knowledge of more than a 1000 words of the new language. The student may be able to understand the language and also be able to speak in a few words. It usually lasts for about six months. The speech emergence stage (or the third stage), involves speaking in short sentences. It usually lasts for about a year. Students even attempt to speak in longer sentences, but these contain a lot of grammatical errors. In the intermediate language proficiency stage or the fourth stage, the student has knowledge of more than 6000 words and can starts speaking in complex sentences. In stage five or ‘advanced language proficiency stage’, the student has gained advanced knowledge and skill in using the language. To achieve this stage, it may take at least six to seven years. Students have also acquired specialized skills in using the language. Teachers should be aware of these stages of language development so that the method of instructions can be suitable modified (NWREL, 2003).
Jim Cummin’s has adopted a technique of teaching languages, and also provided a distinction between basic interpersonal skills and cognitive academic language proficiency. Studies have shown that a student could be fluent in language conversations within 2 to 5 years, whereas to academically learn the language, an individual required at least 4 to 7 years, and several factors such as proficiency level of the language, time of entry into the school, age, proficiency in the first language, etc, played a very important role (Cummins, 1981). Cummins also considered that cognition plays a very important role during learning. He considered 2 situations in which cognition was required during learning, namely cognitive undemanding communication and cognitive demanding communications. In the first type of communication, not much or abstract or critical thinking was required, whereas in the second type, required a lot of abstract and creative thinking for the learner to understand the information and produce a meaning from it. Cummins also considered that communications played a very important role in understanding the language, and developed 2 situations in which it could be used, namely, context embedded communication (use of gestures, signs, body language, etc, during communication which made understanding easier), and context-reduced communication (situations in which fewer hints were being provided) (NWREL, 2003).
English Language Teaching (ELT)
During teaching English, the teachers usually have to make a distinction between native speakers and non-native speakers. In countries like Japan and China, English is being considered as a foreign language by the education system. Davies (2003) considered that the level of confidence and identity was the basic difference in learning the English language by native and non-natives. Children tend to learn languages more easily and quickly as compared to adults, and hence early impartation of language learning is required (Klien, W., 1986). Motivation, creative response, use of the language with others and evaluation of the language used by others, helped in language learning. Toward the end of the 20th century, the ELT professions began considering that non-natives were experiencing different types of problems in different parts of the World, when using English for business purposes and social interactions. These problems were so severe in some countries that children were not allowed to learn the English language. Hence, a variation had to be made and immigrants to the inner circle had to learn English as a second language (ESL), users worldwide belonging usually to the extended circles had to learn English as a foreign language (EFL). The differences between EFL and ESL have to be kept in mind. EFL learners could not use English with the natives and the purpose of learning English was basically for academic reasons. On the other hand, ESL learners studied English more seriously and often interacted with the other people in English. Hence, considering the level of competency, ESL was being considered higher than EFL. A distinction should be made between primary language and secondary language. Primary language is the language learned basically in the family and neighbourhood, whereas the secondary language is learned for business and academic proposes. Foreign language is a language that is not spoken in the household or neighbourhood, nor is the usually language for medium of instruction. ELT professionals have not considered EFL and ESL as different situations and had different requirements (Kachru, Y., 2006).
There may be several problems that students may be experiencing, whilst learning English, and usually these problems occur due to a great degree of difference between the native language and English. This may be a general problem. Usually errors are produced during pronunciation and construction of sentences. They may also use vocabulary in the wrong context, transferring words in inappropriate positions.
People learning English, tend to make mistakes which spelling words. This may be because of differences that exist between pronouncing words and spelling them. Even the native users of English find it difficult to spell words.
The English language contains relatively higher number of consonants, which are lesser in other languages including the other languages belonging to the Germanic family.
Many English words have relatively larger number of vowel sounds. Student’s native of Spain and the Middle East may find this particularly difficult because of a lower number of vowel sounds in their native language.
The English syllabi structure may seem to be very difficult to natives of many countries including Japan. Usually in an English word, up to 3 consonants can exist before a vowel, and a maximum of 4 consonants can exist after the vowel. Japanese, on the other hand, use vowels and consonants alternatively and hence find it difficult to pronounce English words. Often Japanese use vowels in between consonants in order to pronounce the word more easily.
Natives of other countries may find it difficult to stress on certain consonants and vowels, and also find it difficult to keep consonants and vowels silent.
The English language may also have several complex grammar issues that may be difficult for individuals belonging to other native-speaking regions. There are a higher number of tenses in the English language compared to other languages. Several articles exist in English, which have to be used appropriately. Before a word starting with a noun, an article should not be used. The learner may find it difficult to use articles, because articles are usually not utilised in other languages. They tend to either fully omit use of article, or use them improperly. These complexities may be different for individuals belonging to other natives to follow
Several issues also exist in vocabulary, which the learners may find it difficult to identify. Using prefixes can negate several words in English. Foreign languages may not have such criteria, and hence the learners tend to use them inappropriately.
Many people consider that ESL/EFL teachers many not understand the difficulties the students are facing unless they undergo the same kind of problems during learning. It may be important that teachers undergo some amount of learning using similar situations as the ESL/EFL classrooms. Often volunteering in other programs can help gain knowledge of advanced English learning programs (Camenson, B, 1995).
Lydia Stack a former President of TESOL considered that volunteering in TESOL is very beneficial for their future.
A TESOL trainer has the responsibility of conducting a certain number of training sessions in a week. A record has to be kept of the attendance, and monitoring of the student’s performance is needed. Besides, the trainer has to ensure that an environment conducive for learning the language is created. Any disciplinary problem has to also be taken care of by the teacher. The teacher has to also be available for the students to ensure that their doubts are being cleared, for a certain number of hours every day. They should also be spending doing evaluating the student’s homework and designing new problems, so that the amount student’s language development is closely followed up. The teacher may also have to spend time monitoring practical sessions (Camenson, B, 1995).
TESOL as a mean of teaching English should improve by utilising the latest findings obtained through experimental research, case studies, class room findings, ethnographies, quantitative research, course analysis, etc. Several issues such as the nature of the English language, language learning problems, and teaching techniques have to be kept in mind. Research findings from diverse areas including those in the outer and the expanded circles have to be taken into consideration. Local techniques adopted in certain countries should be studied in detail and published, to determine if these techniques could be improved upon and applied to other settings. TESOL has achieved a status of a serious academic and professional discipline. Through modification in the construction and layout of TESOL, this system of education can attain a better scientific status (Canagarajah, A. S., 2006).
TESOL has apparently ignored local knowledge and research, and has instead concentrated on Western findings. People have been thinking of using modern techniques. However, alternate ways of establishing language communications and teaching also need to be established. There have been a number of instances in which methods and problems suggested by researchers in Southeast Asia, India and other Asian countries have been ignored. Most of the TESOL teachers in Asia adopt methods utilised in the US and Europe. One possible reason why this problem could be occurring is due to the fact that the Asian countries are hardly being represented. TESOL teachers should also be able to adopt differences in teaching techniques so that it could be applied for the local population. Besides, in teaching areas where students from different countries are undergoing training, the teachers should employ methods keeping their local needs in mind (Canagarajah, A. S., 2006).
TESOL as a system of education is gaining importance, increasingly outside the US. Teachers should be able to adapt the latest research findings and methodologies. English varieties have to be developed after recognising them as a local standard. Teachers and researchers have to be allowed to develop a standard variety of English in each and every country, which could be accepted by the local masses and be considered as theirs.
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