Choose Your Language

Archive for June, 2009

Language Learning - Grammar

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

In any language, structural and consistent rules do apply and serves as a governing factor to the arrangement of sentences, words and phrases. There is generative grammar and transformational grammar.

In generative grammar, initiated by Norma Chomsky, is how the study of syntax is approached. It is how a student would calculate what combined words would form a grammatically sentence accurately.

It identifies and analyzes the correct structure of words and phrases. For example, individuals who speak English would know intuitively that the words cat, cats and cat chaser are very directly related. Most aspects of generative grammar indicate that a sentence is either correct or not pursuant to the rules applied in the language.

Transformational grammar is an earlier version of Chomsky’s generative version. It is representative of deep structures and surface structures. Of course, Chomsky has abandoned this idea and embraced generative grammar instead.

However, deep structure focuses more on the meaning of sentences. Chomsky’s theory was that all languages were conducive to deep structures that revealed their properties. The deep structures were usually hidden by the surface structures. The meaning of a sentence was established by its deep structure.

The generative grammar identifies with just the knowledge that motivates the student’s ability to speak the language and to understand it. Chomsky thinks that this knowledge is inherent, which explains why a baby can have previous knowledge about a language structure and only need to learn the language features by listening to the parents and siblings speak that language.

He also suggests that every language has specific essential things in general and the inherent theory became believable and dominated the attitudes that others had toward learning a new language.

Competence and performance were distinct to the grammatical theory structure that Chomsky embraced. It is obvious that individuals learning a new language will make mistakes when it came to how sentences were structured.

This has nothing to do with competence as long as they had the understanding of grammatical sentences.

Different types of grammar progress by the continued use of the language. When expressing language in written form, grammar has many formal rules that the student has to abide by.

Students learn prescriptive grammar in elementary school, which gives them a better idea of the different grammatical rules to apply in a sentence structure. Prescriptive and descriptive grammar are opposite in nature because one is how language is and the other is how language should really be.

Language Learning - The Communicative Approach

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT hereinafter) is a paradigm for teaching foreign languages in which it is explicitly stated that language is a medium for communication and not an end in itself. That language is a medium for communication might seem a no-brainer, but CLT asserts that traditional methods of teaching language proceed as though they were oblivious to that fact.

Communicative Language Teaching, or CLT as it is sometimes called, is not so much a formalized method as a loosely grouped collection of techniques. It departs from traditional methods which rely upon repetitive drill of grammar and vocabulary. CLT proponents claim that these exercises are meaningless to students, leaving them frustrated and failing to achieve any degree of mastery over the language they are trying to learn.

Also known as the communicative approach, CLT was first developed in Britain during the 1960s and 1970s as an effort to make language study interesting and relevant to young children. Communication was achieved in the classroom through interactive means like role playing and games. In CLT, students are taught not to fear making mistakes, since they can learn from them. Slang is permitted, and media like newspapers, magazines, and telephone books are used, along with textbooks. Ideally, grammar is still taught, but not as systematically as in the traditional approach.

In a traditional French classroom, the teacher might drill students by having them repeat the phrase, “What are you doing this weekend?” (“Qu’est-ce que tu fais ce week-end?”). Students could learn to parrot the words without ever learning about anyone’s weekend plans. Conversely, a teacher using CLT might start a conversation in Friday’s class about the upcoming weekend. He could tell the class about his own plans, thereby introducing new vocabulary. He might pull out a copy of a French newspaper, flip to the theatre section, and facilitate a discussion of the different movies that are playing.

In one sense, CLT is to language study as the Suzuki Method is to learning a musical instrument. With the Suzuki method, as in CLT, students are able to enjoy even the earliest lessons. They learn to love music first, and mastery of reading music comes later. CLT and Suzuki both provide timely gratification that leaves students wanting more.

Critics of the communicative approach accuse CLT proponents of being dogmatic, dismissing other language learning models as useless. Recently, however, CLT teachers have been more willing to take an eclectic approach. In spite of its critics, CLT has gained widespread acceptance in the world of language study because it is fun. CLT can succeed, as long as teachers don’t completely jettison the need for the structure provided by grammar.

If you want to incorporate CLT into your language learning program, strive for moderation and don’t neglect the merits of other methods. CLT, in the hands of a balanced teacher, can bring new life and joy to the classroom. Its vitality makes it an important contributor to the lexicon of language learning approaches.

Language Learning - CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) Learning Approach

Friday, June 26th, 2009

CALP -Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency hereinafter referred to as CALP

With the CALP approach, students have to be able to master the language.

This type of language acquisition and learning is more formal learning than the basic and informal BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills hereinafter referred to as BICS). Teachers will describe students in terms of CALP and BICS  depending on their language adeptness.

Students that develop more in BICS, which is more conversational fluency, may not be strong in CALP because it is more academic in nature and requires more cognitive skills.

For a child to master CALP, they have to be able to learn how to listen, speak, read and write their second language.

CALP is an essential part of academic learning and students need this to be successful in school. It requires learning over time to gain proficiency in specific academic studies that are prerequisites of passing a grade.

The learning curve

It takes between five to seven years to learn CALP and can take up to even ten years if the child does not have teacher and parent support or previous schooling in the development of the language they are trying to learn in. Catching up with their peers in a classroom setting might be more difficult than socializing using BICS.

CALP is more than just being familiar with the content of the vocabulary. It does need certain skills that include classification, comparison, evaluation and making inference.
The difference between BICS and CALP is that BICS is contextualized in specific social situations while CALP is more context reduction. A textbook is used to teach the student and this kind of academic language is necessary for CALP. As the student increases in age the tasks for academic context becomes more reduced.

The more context reduced the academic language becomes, the more demand there will be for cognitive learning. This is why college work is much harder than middle school or high school because new concepts, language and ideas are presented to student simultaneously.

Jim Cummins, who created the Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills approach to language, thinks that in the event of comparing two languages, there is a familiar basic proficiency known as CUP. This means that the same skills and concepts that children learn in their native language will be carried over to the second language.


Teachers that use CALP know that it is far more advanced than BICS. They also know that BICS is easily adaptable and students that have knowledge of Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills are not necessarily good at Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency.

Language Learning - CALLA - Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA)

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

CALLA - Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA)

Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA) was created specifically for students that spoke and wrote limited English. Anna Uhl Chamot and J. Michael O’Malley should be credited for the program. CALLA enables students to become more proficient so that they are able to take part in content directed instructions.

The cognitive model of learning is used to help students to comprehend and retain language skills and concepts of the content being taught.

There are three modules of CALLA, which include learning strategies, development of academic language and a related curriculum. Many public schools incorporate this into their ESL programs.

It specifically assists students that are forced to learn English as a second language in order to survive in the American public school systems.

The method involves an instructional model that helps teachers know how to implement learning strategies so that students can grasp the concepts much easier and faster.

The goal and focus of CALLA is to afford students the opportunity to learn a new language independently and to become self-regulated as learners by consistently dominating the various strategies of learning in a classroom setting.

The Main Goal

The main objective and goal of the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA) for the student is to be more effective in the learning process is:

• To place value on what the student previously knew as well as the experiences of their culture, and using this knowledge in their academic learning of a new language.
• To develop an awareness for the language that they are learning
• To learn the content and skills necessary to be successful in their future academic pursuits
• Choosing an appropriate strategy of learning that also can enhance both their study skills and academic knowledge
• To develop the ability to work in a group setting successfully.
• Using specific tasks that require hands-on instructions to learn
• To develop motivation for academic studies and the confidence to complete a successful academic program.
• Doing a self evaluation of their learning progress and making plans on how they can become more efficient.
• Be capable of independent learning

It needs to be noted that CALLA is used in about 30 district schools in the United States and also in other countries.

Teachers using CALLA must first prepare the students for learning using this strategy and to do so they must find out more about their background and take a look at how students previously approached an academic task.

The teachers will then incorporate the right learning strategies for a specific task. Students will then practice the strategies on those tasks. The teachers will then evaluate how well they worked, encourage more practice and add the use of other strategies to nonverbal tasks.

BICS - Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

BICS - Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills hereinafter referred to as BICS

BICS is conversational ease attained by language learners who are just beginning to learn a new language and this is less challenging than Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency. It is actually what some would refer to as “surviving the language.”

This basic form of language calls for communicating with others on a face to face level using gestures and it relies on the particular situation. It is easy and quick to learn this kind of language, but not adequate enough to be used in a classroom for academic studies because it does not require cognitive skills

This type of language skill is best used in social settings where there is a lot more interaction with people. This is similar to the kind of language communication that preschoolers and toddlers first learn.

Taking it for granted

Jim Cummins is to be credited for the research of BICS as it relates to language acquisition. It can take up to three years for students to adjust to BICS in a second language.

Therefore, Cummins suggested that students who master the aspect of BICS should not be put in a classroom setting that demands more cognitive skills and assume that they will do just as well.

Conversational fluency in a second language does not necessarily mean that students will perform well academically in the same language. This is why CALP is combined with BICS that completes the full learning phase to operate confidently in a second language.

With BICS, there are parts of the communication process that include routine gestures and exchanges even while eating, playing and dressing. These are automatic modes of communication that represents the familiar aspects of social conversation.

Children that can master the art of BICS will be able to identify word and phrase combinations that are new to them and still be able to use them to produce short sentences or single words.

Second language learners use BICS skills to interact with their peers on the playground, on the school bus, in class, at home, on the telephone, at parties and while playing sports.

Children that immigrate to the United States, for example, can learn English through the BICS process a minimum of six months and a maximum of two years. The younger they are when they arrive in the United States, the quicker they will be to adapt to their new language and social surroundings.


The mistake that teachers and administrators make is to think that once the child masters BICS and socially interacts with other students, they will be just as strong academically.

Language Learning - Total Physical Response Revisited

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Total Physical Response, or TPR, is a method developed by Dr. James J. Asher to teach foreign languages through a kinesthetic, movement-based paradigm. TPR was developed by observing the way babies learn language from their parents.

Before a baby learns to talk, she first learns how to respond physically to simple commands, like “Stop!”or, “Look at Mommy.” The child’s physical response assists her to internalize the commands, and subsequently helps her crack the code of her mother tongue. When this has occurred, the child learns to reproduce the language spontaneously. TPR seeks to reproduce this learning process in the classroom.

TPR is very compatible with what mainstream educators refer to as the kinesthetic learning style. Kinesthetic learners absorb new information best when they are in motion. Students whose primary learning style is kinesthetic frequently struggle in a traditional classroom, because most teachers prefer quiet, well-behaved children to students who jump out of their seats and fidget.

However, as educators become more familiar with various learning styles, special accommodations are more and more often given to kinesthetic learners. A pre-school teacher shows children how to form letters by having them trace the letters in sand. An elementary teacher tosses a ball to a child who tosses it back as they take turns counting by twos. Total Physical Response is very kinesthetic, as its major premise is that babies process language through movement and that older students can do the same.

TPR became popular with some educators during the 1970s but has failed to gain acceptance in the mainstream. Critics of TPR believe that it relies too heavily on imperatives–in other words, giving students commands to perform a certain action. What is the use, they argue, of knowing only how to give commands in the target language? TPR may be difficult for shy students, and a TPR classroom may seem loud and unruly. However, for kinesthetic language learners, TPR could be a lifeline. Proponents of TPR claim that it works well for students from a variety of ability levels, including those who have learning disabilities.

Although TPR is probably not adequate on its own to teach fluency in a second language, it might be useful for teachers to stick into their back pockets and pull out on occasion as a compliment to other teaching models. The kinesthetic aspects of learning should not be ignored, because everyone has some degree of kinesthetic intelligence. Certainly, knowledge of Dr. Asher’s research into language assimilation can only be an asset to any language teacher, whatever his or her primary mode of instruction.

Language Learning - Total Physical Response Learning

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

To assist with learning a second language, Dr. James Asher invented the Total Physical Response method. The concept assumes that learning a second language is an internal process which requires a long listening and comprehension period.

Looking at the example of how children learn their first language by naturally communicating with their parents, it is safe to say that they respond physically to the parent while they internalize and absorb the language until they are fully able to speak.

When the child gets through this process of internalizing and breaking the language barrier code, then language becomes unprompted and natural. This method of learning is what the Total Physical Response (TPR) method incorporates when it comes to teaching adults a second language. The method institutes different classroom tactics that add to the rate at which students adapt to this second language faster.
In the classroom, the teacher becomes the parent and the student becomes the child in the example of how children learn their first language from their biological parents.

The student is required to respond physically to the words of the teacher. The student’s participation is paramount in the success of learning a second language. The teacher may use simple teaching methods such as “Simon Says,” or story telling where the student acts out the story.

The advantages

Learning a second language can be a boring process depending on the method used. With TPR, participants have to move around and interact with teacher and classmates and it makes it less boring and learning becomes more enjoyable.

The use of imperative moods, which is a mood that communicates a direct command or demand, is expressly used in TPR as a means to get students to come out of their comfort zone. An example of this would be to have the student respond to commands such as “Sit Down, and “Get Up.”

Students will use this as a stepping stone to adapting to their new language in a more active way and the commanded actions help them to retain the knowledge of these phrases and words if asked to do it again.


It is evident that TPR is not the traditionally way to learn any language, but this unique method makes learning a second language simpler, fun and adaptive because of its intense participation. It is already been proven to work for babies that learn their first language.

Linguistics - Generative Grammar 2

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Generative grammar is a branch of theoretical linguistics developed by Noam Chomsky in the late 1950s. The main idea behind generative grammar is that language is developed according to innate, universal rules which are inborn endowments, not man-made ideas devised at an intellectual level. This explains why children absorb language, including grammar, in a short period of time, with little effort. The principles which enable people to communicate, Chomsky found, are deeply embedded within the brain and are so predictable, they can be quantified mathematically.

According to generative grammar, some linguistic constructs resonate within humans as being grammatically correct while others, in their essence, are ungrammatical. The four major categories in which universal linguistic similarities have been found are phonology (the study of sounds used in a language), morphology (the study of the formation of words), syntax (the study of sentence structure), and semantics (the study of the meaning of words). As it turns out, the linguistic constructs in various languages are, in fact, simply different ways of accomplishing the same things.

Generative grammar is not counterintuitive, given the fact that we all are part of the “family of man”. All the different flavors of humankind have basic linguistic traits in common which are more deeply embedded than the mores and folkways that separate us.

As a study of the underlying principles of human languages, generative grammar consists largely of empirically gathered observations of reality. These principles have been studied since Chomsky first researched them in the 1950s. While the theory has undergone many modifications over the years, its basic premises are widely accepted by the linguistic world as true.

For the language student, this is good news. On the surface, it might seem that some languages bear absolutely no similarity to one another. What do the languages of a !Kung bushman of the Kalahari Desert, a Tibetan Sherpa, a Midwestern American farmer, and a Chinese businesswoman have in common? Not much, we might be tempted to think. However, if these four people were sequestered in a room together, sooner or later, they would find ways to communicate. Furthermore, if they studied each others’ languages, they would ultimately find common ground amongst those languages, despite the obvious differences.

Thus, although the knowledge of generative grammar will not help the language student learn a language in any practical way, it could be a great encouragement to the student who feels like a stranger in a strange land. We people are all, in fact, brothers and sisters, and the fount of our speech rises up from a common wellspring.

Linguistics - Generative Grammar

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Generative grammar is the method of how to effectively study syntax. In any language, this sets the rules of how grammatical sentences are formed using predictable combined words.

The mind has a controlling Language Acquisition device that knows how to engage the rules of generative grammar unconsciously.

Noam Chomsky, in the late 1950s initiated this method of learning any language. According to Chomsky, his theory, Minimalist Program, an offset to other previous versions, suggest that there is an instinctive universal grammar in all of us.

In addition, generative grammar may be more than just a communication aspect of language acquisition, but more of learning from the environment around us. This is what sets it apart from cognitive grammar.

The previous versions of generative grammar, which includes transformational grammar, distinguishes sentences as either being grammatically correct or not. The rules of engagement for a generative sentence concludes that it is either right or it’s not. It does not give place to much error.

The hierarchy of words

Chomsky constructs a hierarchy that explains the difference between what we consider regular grammar and formal grammar. According to him, regular grammar is not a model to the representation of human language because all language should allow for the embedding of a string of words within a string.

An example of this would be the phrase, “The man ate.” We do not know what the man ate, so this is a regular form of grammar. To expand the string from a regular grammar to formal grammar, you would complete the sentence to make it more descriptive by adding, “The man ate his dinner.”

For someone who intuitively knows their own language, generative grammar enables them to understand the scope of the sentence knowing that the man ate something and expressly knowing that it is some type of “food” would be the word or phrase that comes after the sentence, “The man ate.”

At the conception of generative grammar, it created a set of rules that helps an individual who know their natural language to express grammatical words correctly. Chomsky seemed to reject that claim by saying that language acquisition is not a suggestion of the process involved to making it real, but rather an intuitive mindset.


The rules of generative grammar continue to change as different types of methods emerge, but one thing remains the same, which is the mind’s ability to generate its own rules of learning a language.

Second Language Learning Methods - Communicative Approach

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

The communicative approach to learning a new language makes the teacher the facilitator. The interaction between student and teacher is paramount as well as collaborative learning.

This type of learning uses techniques that help to convey the ideas, thoughts, feelings and information to reach others.

Using content based approach (CBI), it takes the focus off of the language and its structure, but rather on the acquisition of skills or a specific knowledge. An example of this would be teaching someone to repair a computer using French as the language of choice. The student will learn to communicate in French as well as the learn how to repair the computer.

This approach has both the teacher and the student engaging in the process of selecting and organizing the content of the curriculum.

The most critical aspect of this approach is the negotiation for meaning. The Task-based approach is carrying out certain task using the target language. An example would be to have students shop for a specific item. The teacher would first instruct them in the target language how to do this and then have them essentially do it.

Notions and Functions

The idea of communicative learning is broken up in notions and functions called Notional Functional Syllabus. A notion is a specific framework of communication and function is a particular purpose for a speaker in a precise context.

As an example, the notion of shopping would require a variety of language functions that relate to asking the price or an item, being able to bargain for the product and identifying the features of the product.

Students use the target language in different context and the main focus is to help the student find meaning rather than the development of grammatically structures or the acquisition of proper pronunciation.

To be competent and proficient as a communicative speaker of a foreign language, it requires the learner to apply the knowledge of formal and sociolinguistic features of the language.

By linking the classroom learning to outside of the classroom using student’s personal experiences helps the student to take a broader approach to learning. This is why the classroom is used as a means of more interaction through working in groups and pairs as opposed to individual participation.


The communicative approach is only deemed successful if the teacher understands the student. The goal is to have students speak the language fluently enough for native speakers to understand what they are saying.