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Archive for the ‘Linguistics’ Category

Language Learning - Indo-European Languages

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Many second language learners notice similarities between their spoken language and learner language. This often makes language learning easier, for instance if you speak English, you will find it easier to pick up Italian than you might Mandarin. The reason behind this is that many languages belong to a language group; Indo-European languages.Indo-European Languages are spoken globally by over three billion people, just under one thousand languages make up this group. There are ten major sub categories of languages that fall under this heading. The earliest is Sanskrit, with documented use of language dating from the third millennium BC. Other major categories include Germanic languages including English, Italic languages including Latin and Italian and the Indo-Iranian languages.

Similarities between Indian and European languages were first documented by missionaries in the 16th century who noticed the similarity between Indian with Greek and Latin. By the 17th century a theory evolved among scholars that a primitive universal language was spoken hundreds of years ago, from which modern languages are derived.

Linguists have devised what is known as a tree model. This is where the evolution of a language is traced back to its original, known as a proto-language, which is placed at the top of the tree. From here, languages which are derived from the proto-language are known as daughter languages. At one time, all languages from the indo-European group would likely have evolved form one common proto-language. Some of these daughter languages are also identified as proto-languages for further daughter languages.

Linguists have made many attempts over the last hundred years to reconstruct the proto-indo-european language, which is known within linguistics as PIE. Although there are many reconstructions, linguists have not reached a consensus over what such a language might look and sound like; opinions on this matter are diverse within the field. Some linguists have gone as far as to reconstruct stories and fables in PIE, you can find these easily on the internet. The King and The God is one such attempt.

It is proposed that native speakers of Indo-European languages have a genetic link, that is a common ancestor somewhere along the line from whence these languages started developing.

Of the twenty most spoken languages in the world, twelve of these belong to the Indo-European Languages. They include; Spanish, English, Hindi, Portugese, Bengali, Russian, German, Marathi, French, Italian, Punjabi and Urdu.

Language Learning - Stages of Language Development (PEPSI)

Monday, July 20th, 2009

There are four levels and stages of language development that helps anyone to learn a second language.

In level one, this is the silent stage where there is not much comprehending and production at this stage is nonverbal. The student is listening to the language to try and make sense of it.

This is the first level stage where there is a lot more imitation than anything else. There is a pretense in how much the student comprehends. A lot of gestures and body language take precedence.

Level two is the early stage of production with limited comprehending in which responses are only through one or two words. This is the survival stage where the student feels that they need to learn enough for basic functioning. There is a lot of uncertainty at this time in this stage.

The last two stages

Level three gives the student an opportunity to emerge from nonverbal to verbal interaction. Comprehending the language becomes much easier by using simple sentences. You will find that in this stage there are more mistakes committed in verbal communication.

Plural and past tense are not important at this stage. The student may understand the concepts of the language, but is trying to become comfortable with the new language. Grammatical errors don’t’ concern the student at this point. Words are used, but not necessarily appropriately.

Level four is the final stage that consists of excellent comprehension of language. The student is able to use more complicated sentences and language fluency is more noticed. A lot more generalization is used in this stage of the game.

In this stage, it is helpful if students ask the teacher to define words and concepts in the language by indicating if they do or do not understand. An experiment with words and phrase among peers is usually the result of this stage.

These stages are noticed specifically in young children two years old who are just beginning to form their new language. They usually start off by using a vocabulary of fifty words that are recognizable.

Their sentences consist of two or more words. They respond quickly to one word or short phrase instructions such as “get me the toy,” or “come.” The toddler will often do some self talk and takes time to name things and repeat what these things do. These are similar to the stages of language development.


In the first stage, the teacher should never force the student to speak unless they are ready. It is quite feasible to learn silently. The second stage is the production of words and phrases that highlight the answers to what, where and who questions.

The third stage enhances the student’s dialogue and they are able to ask simple questions, but with grammatical mistakes, which is quite normal. The fourth stage is the actual intermediate stage of learning where the vocabulary has grown so that the student can share their thoughts more clearly.

There is a fifth and final stage, but this is more advanced and may take up to seven years to acquire language proficiency.

Language Acquisition - Redsignation

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Redesignation is a reclassification of a new language speaker from limited fluency to proficiency. There are certain specific criteria to determine when a student moves from one phase of fluency to another. This is determined by the recommendation of the teacher, verbal fluency, reading, and writing as well as how the student does in other academic studies.

Teachers have to be accountable for making the decision whether a student truthfully progresses from one level to the next. Giving credit where credit is due should be the result of redesignation.

It is important for educators to assess the language proficiency of students by collecting and analyzing data effectively to get the best results.

They can use this data to adequately target and improve on the instructions necessary to help the student to become even more proficient.

Students that adapt to English language as their second language and pass through the redesignation phase do so from one level to the next. They move from being English Learners (EL) to limited English proficient learner (LEP) and then to fluent English proficient learners (FEP).

When someone is learning a second language such as English, they have to enter a reclassification process to determine fluency before they can enter a normal classroom. With additional assistance, they can perform even better and get to the next level.

To make sure that student’s progress, teachers are required to give the students language assessment and proficiency test. This kind of process will help the teacher to detect the student’s growth in language proficiency in the earlier stages of learning.

However, it does not detect little changes or proficiency shifts at higher proficiency levels. The reason for that is because second language students that communicate at a higher level of proficiency do so as closely in approximation as that of a native speaker.


It is easier for teachers to measure student’s proficiency progress orally than by written observation because it entails listening and speaking. It is just easier to compare proficiency in a more verbal communicative environment. It is difficult to measure growth by reading and writing because these do not grow as progressively as listening and speaking.

Linguistics - Morphology

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Morphology examines and studies how words are structured internally. It also looks at the way words are formed and the rules that go along with them.

Morphology spans three primary approaches that embrace the difference of each model in different ways. These three approaches are:

1.    The item and arrangement approach - Morpheme
2.    The item and process approach - Lexeme
3.    The word and paradigm approach – Word-based

These are strongly associated, but do have their differences and are not unlimited in how they are applied to the new language. According to the morphology model, a student will have knowledge of a word when they become familiar with:

1.    The spelling of the word
2.    The pronunciation of the word
3.    The definition of the word
4.    The part of speech of the word
5.    The history of the word
6.    If the word is improper
7.    If the word out of date
8.    Examples of the word
9.    Any slang associated with the word
10.    The root and stem of the word

With morphology, students who can analyze and identify a word in a second language; would have mastered the language to some degree. Rules in most languages determine how closely related words are.

For example in the English language, native speakers may be able to relate to the words, cats, cat, and cat food. They intuitively make inference to the fact that cat is to cats as bird is to birds. In a similar instance, cat is to cat food as bird is to bird feed.

The way that a student identifies both words; cat and cats as being related or similar is known as lexeme. On the other hand, bird and bird cage are different lexemes because they fall into different categories of word form.

The student understands the rules in terms of precise patterns in which the word is formed in a sentence or phrase.


So it is conclusive to say that morphology is an area of linguistics that is the study of the pattern in which words are formed within any language. It tries to form rules that are a representation of the knowledge of the students that speak the languages.

Language Learning - Mnemonic Devices

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Mnemonic devices are powerful tools for learning a foreign language. A mnemonic device is a word or sequence of words or images used as an aid to memory. The idea behind mnemonics is that meaningful information is easier to remember than arbitrary data. Words in a foreign language actually are not arbitrary, as they follow rules that are unique to that language. However, they can seem arbitrary to someone who is unfamiliar with the language system.
Word linking is one common mnemonic. This involves connecting words in your own language to words in the foreign language you are learning. For example, you could remember the Latin noun mensa, which means “table”, by picturing a table with a lot of men sitting around it. Or the Latin verb pugnare, which means “to fight”, could be associated with an image of a fighter with a pug nose in the boxing ring.

One ancient technique for remembering information is called The Roman Room. To use this mnemonic, imagine a room you know. Associate objects you visualize in the room with the information you want to remember. For example, to remember the French word for “boat”, bateau, associate bateau with a baseball bat learning in the corner of your room. To recall lumiere, the French noun meaning “light”, you could picture a weaver’s loom next to the lamp, beside the bat. Then you could imagine an elegantly dressed chap wearing a hat sitting at a table by the lamp to help you remember chapeau, the French word for “hat”.
Often the sounds of words you are learning can themselves remind you of similar words in English. These related words are called derivatives. Using derivatives as a mnemonic can be so easy, it almost feels like you are cheating! Illustrating with the same words from the example of the Roman Room technique, you could remember lumiere by thinking of the moon, shining with a luminous, golden light. And a chapeau is just a cap with a few extra letters added.

The practice of using of mnemonics is not without criticism. One drawback to mnemonics is that, if you can’t remember the device itself, it is useless. However, it is widely accepted that mnemonics are helpful tools for learning, because of the fact that mnemonics are not arbitrary data but are, instead, meaningful information.

When it comes to mnemonics, use whatever works for you! Any mental image you can conjure to help you remember a new word is fine, as long as it is vivid in your mind’s eye. The better you can visualize it, the easier it will be to remember.

Language Learning - Linguistics: Input +1

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Twenty five years ago, Stephen Krashen created five hypothesis of language acquisition theory that has been used successfully by students who want to learn a second language. Input hypothesis is one of the five hypothesis theory.

Input hypothesis indicates that language acquisition for individuals who are learning a new language is administered through the understanding of messages and the receiving input that they can comprehend.

The student learning that new language, as the input hypothesis suggests, develops by getting instructions in that language that is beyond their present state of language proficiency.

Learners acquire competence with language comprehension “i” when they are exposed to an input that is comprehensible at a higher level as Krashen indicates would level “i + 1”.

Krashen thinks that students who learn under less pressure and anxiety and adapt to the second language in their own time or comfort level of comprehending are usually the ones that learn best.

Their success and development of the language does not come from forced production and correction, but from communicating and comprehending the language at their own pace.

The input hypothesis is more geared towards language acquisition than the actual learning process.

A student who is at phase “i,” will comprehend not from that particular phase, but from a level that is a little higher, which would be level “i + 1”.

Not every student will be at the same level at the same time, so a teacher should consider this in preparing a curriculum that will address all students in the class at their own comfort level of learning a new language.

Students should learn naturally by communicating with their peers in the language that they are trying to acquire. This will put them at an advance level of comprehension that their stage would rely on.


Stephen Krashen tried to explain the idea of input hypothesis by giving an example of someone who spoke English, but was trying to comprehend Spanish from a program on the radio.

If you are a beginning Spanish student and have ever listened to a Spanish radio station, you know that it is very difficult to comprehend what you hear. First of all, the comprehensible input is too complicated and is lacking a context that you can identify with so as to get clues from it.  This means that the beginner Spanish listener is not at that level of comprehension. Its level is too high for the beginner to comprehend.

However, an advanced Spanish listener would be able to understand. The input hypothesis suggests only a comprehensible input a slighter level higher where the student can at least hear some of the words and phrases learned as a beginner.

Language Learning Methods - The Grammar Translation Method

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

The Grammar Translation Method was a traditional method used to teach Greek and Latin. It is also known as the classical method because it was developed centuries ago specifically to teach classical language.

This technique called for students to provide translation of an entire text on a word for word basis. They had to memorize a lot of grammatical rules and grammatical exceptions as well as a long list of vocabulary.

The main focus of using this method is:

•    Interpretation of words and phrases
•    Learning the structure of the second language by comparing it with the native language
•    Taking into account grammatical rules
•    Be able to read, write and translate a foreign language

The native language is used to conduct the class where a large vocabulary list was used that covered both languages; the second language as well as the first. Grammar points would be derived from the text and contextually presented in the textbook as it is explained by the teacher.

The Learning Process

Those grammar points were instrumental in giving the student a provisional rule of how to assemble words into appropriate sentences. The grammar drills and translations were incorporated into the learning process through practice and exercises. This helped to increase the knowledge of the student without them having to put too much emphasis on the content.

The student would break up different sentences as they were needed and translate them. By the time the student got through that process, they would have translated the entire text from the second language to the native language. In some cases, they would be asked to do the reverse (translate native language into second language) to make sure that they grasped the process.

There was hardly any emphasis placed on how words were pronounced or any type of verbal or nonverbal communication aspects of the language. Reading written text was essential to the learning process, but only to get the translation correct.


Conversational fluency is not important when it comes to grammar translation. You have to depend on your memory to be able to recall all the rules associated with the grammar of the second language you are trying to learn. The student who is learning using this technique will be able to read and write in the target language, but the spoken language is not a priority as well as emphasis on listening skills.

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.