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Archive for the ‘Language Acquistion’ Category

Linguistics - Universal Grammar

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

All humans are born with the ability and drive to learn language. Before we can even walk we start talking. From birth we are listening with intent, ready to learn our native tongue. Evolution has seen to it that we have an aptitude for language learning, but just how much of our abilities are we born with and how much to we acquire as we go along?

When we learn languages, we use the knowledge and skills acquired from the language we already know to understand this new language. That is, we take the rules of language, such as the use of verbs and adjective, sentence structure and syntax, and apply them to the new language. While these rules will always change and vary between languages there are some structures between languages that remain the same. This is known as universal grammar. Items than can be considered a part of universal grammar include tense, aspect and mood.

There are some rules that when applied to one language can be applied to practically any language. For instance, if a language has a name for the color red, it will have a word for the color purple. These rules do not always apply to every single language, which makes the theory of universal grammar difficult for linguists to prove. Universal Grammar forms part of the nature vs. nurture that has had scientists guessing for generations. Are we born destined to grow into a certain person with certain abilities, or do we acquire these characteristics along the way?

Within the field of linguistics there are two theories as to how we learn language as children. The theory of universal grammar was proposed by linguist Noam Chomsky. He believed that a set part of our brain was dedicated to language, and that this part of the brain had a set group of rules which we applied to language. It cannot be changed or altered, we do not learn it we are born with it. These structures appear in every language around the world. The alternative theory is that we are born with no pre-existing knowledge of language, rather it is something that we acquire.

Linguistics - Syntax

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

All languages do have rules which are called grammar. These rules are necessary to enable those who are learning the language to be able to continue to grow their vocabulary and speak in long sentences throughout their lifetime.

If rules did not exist in language acquisition, the student would find it a huge effort to learn a new language because then they would have to learn each sentence separately. The rules define how sentences should be constructed and what is right from what is the wrong way to put a sentence together. Using those rules helps the student to know how and when to use certain words, verbs, nouns and phrases in a sentence.

With those rules in place, the student will feel more confident in combining words into sentences and can create myriads of sentences on their own while administering these rules of language. The person who has knowledge of the syntax will see the sentence as more meaningful to them. Syntax is very important in constructing sentences and once the rules are learned, it comes quite naturally to the speaker.

In terms of language acquisition, Syntax is the study pertaining to the sentence construction rules and principles in a native language. It goes to the reference of the rules governing the structure of sentences in any language. There are some generic rules that apply to all languages as it relates to its syntax.

The rules include things such as how words are put together, how the word ending changes as it relates to the context of the sentence and how the parts of speech are connected.

In language acquisition, syntax in sentences is exemplified by a few methods below:

“The girl caught the ball”

Here is how you would describe the syntax rule of any sentence (noun or subject is followed by verb and then verb is followed by object or noun): In the above sentence, the subject is the girl and that is followed by the verb caught and then another noun which is the ball.

Conclusion

It does not matter how complex the sentence is because words can be embedded into the existing sentence to make the rules of syntax still work and still meaningful.

Language Learning Method - Suggestopedia (Lozanov)

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Suggestopedia is an approach to language acquisition that is communicative. Baroque music is used to set its atmosphere. Pre-session, Session and post session are the three stages of the lesson.

Georgi Lozanov is a psychotherapist from Bulgaria who developed this method of learning a new language. Suggestology is what he based this study on and this exact method of teaching has been used in learning different foreign language. This is an unconventional method of teaching new language that Lozanov claim to be much faster for students to learn than other methods.

The idea of this method that Lozanov wanted to get across is to lower the affective filter that learners use to adapt to new language.

Lozanov claims that his Suggestopedia method liberates the student from anything negatively connected to the language learning process and the influence of the society that they lived in. Students using this method do not feel the pressures associated with learning a second language. Their intelligence is not restricted and they use spontaneity to acquire the knowledge, skills and habits of learning.

The suggestopedia method is implemented by focusing on the student’s conscious level of thinking as well as the subconscious, which is the reservoir of the mind. The subconscious mind is unlimited in its capacity to learn and so suggestopedia uses this proven scenario to learn a second language in less amount of time it would take to learn it with other conventional methods.

The student is at their best when they combine the three phases that include elaborating, deciphering and memorizing.

1. The deciphering stage is when the teacher initiates grammar and content.

2. The elaborating stage is the practice phase where the student shows what they have learned through song, drama and games. The teacher reads the text with music and sometimes along with the student in the memorizing phase.

3. The memorizing phase is usually called the concert session because it is associated with music.

Conclusion

To learn a second language using this method of suggestopedia requires an atmosphere that is comfortable and relaxing. The student learns best when techniques are added to the learning process such as art and music. Suggestopedia is indicative of how the brain works in the scope of learning.

Language Learning - Submersion

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Submersion is the sink or swim method to learning a second language. Students who have acquired the language naturally and those learning the same language are put in the same learning environment and required to learn as much as they possibly can.

This approach does not provide any structural support to learning a second language. The student is pretty much on their own. An assumption is made that students will either fail or pass the learning acquisition model.

Only one type of language is used in the classroom or environment where students learn. Students, however, are provided with examples of the language, but are not given any kind of individual instruction in the language. They have to figure it out on their own. The student’s native language is not included and teachers are not able to familiarize themselves with the student’s culture and language.

There are some disadvantages to this approach as students may feel inferior intellectually from their peers. They may also be less motivated and have low self esteem as well as frustration and anxiety.

An example of “submersion,” or “sink or swim,” method of learning a new language in a classroom setting is when the teacher uses English as the main language and not being aware that a Spanish student is in the class. The Spanish student is left to fend on their own and either quickly learn the language or fail the class.

There are a few public schools in the United States that host submersion programs as a way to get students who speak a different language to learn English faster.

The submersion program offers students little or no help with the expectation that these students who speak a different language will use their language acquisition skills in a native language to learn a new language if they are placed into that environment.

Conclusion

In actuality, there are only a few schools that participate in programs like this because they realize that if you put a native Spanish speaking student into a classroom with English speaking students and expect them to learn the material without any assistance, it just would not work. The sink or swim method is not suggested by many linguist as being the best method for second language acquisition.

Language Learning - Learner Internal Factors

Monday, August 17th, 2009

There are many reasons that people choose to learn a second language. We may be planning to travel or looking for a job overseas. We may learn a second language from our family or while we are at school. Some people tend to learn language quickly while others struggle. Have you ever wondered why this is?

Within the field of linguistics, our level of competence in learning a second language is referred to as learner internal factors. Input is the exposure to the second language, and instruction is the method by which we are taught. Two people with exactly the same exposure to a second language will learn at completely different rates. While one learner may walk away from a lesson taking in all that they have learnt, another may leaving having recalled nothing.

Age is a major factor in language learning. Children seem to learn a second language much more easily than adults, and usually reach a high level of fluency as well. For this reason, many elementary schools have second language learning built into their curriculum. While it has not been proven conclusively, it is evident that a crucial period for language learning occurs before puberty, when we have a much greater aptitude for language learning.

Research has shown that those who have learnt a second language already will make better progress with subsequent language that they learn. The brain works like a muscle, so to speak, the more we exercise certain parts of it the stronger and more efficient they become. By learning languages, we utilize the parts of the brain involved and improve our own aptitude.

Even personality can have an effect on how someone learns a language. Of course, motivation has an effect. The more motivation you have will change the amount of effort that is placed into language learning. It has also been shown that people with generally low levels of anxiety and stress make for better language learners. Those who are extroverts tend to do better at language learning than introverts. This is thought to  be because extroverts have a lesser fear of failure and are more willing to ask for help.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Conclusion

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.

Language Acquistion - Natural Approach (Terrell and Krashen)

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Tracy Terrell and Stephen Krashen corporately developed the natural approach to language acquisition in 1977. They made an impact on the global community as this approach had an influence on many classrooms.

The goal of the natural approach is allow the beginner who is learning a new language to become an intermediate learner. It relies on the needs that the learner has.

Learning a new language using the natural approach is based on certain specifics, which include:

  • The Acquisition hypothesis – this is where language acquisition is more important than language learning. Language acquisition develops more competence in the students and not so much the rules of the language as language learning do.
  • Monitor hypothesis – this is the checks and balances of learning consciously.
  • Natural order hypothesis – this is the grammatical structure that is usually expected and will do the student no good to learn them in another way.
  • Input hypothesis – this is when students who are learning a new language are better able to comprehend it at a slightly higher level of competence.
  • Affective filter hypothesis – this is when the student uses their emotions to block the input that is needed for language acquisition.

Some of the techniques that teachers can use to enhance the language acquisition using the natural approach is to allow students to speak when they are ready to do so, put students in group to foster more communication and use comprehensible input in student’s native language with gestures and other forms of articulation.

Students that use the natural approach are able to use the new language to indulge in meaningful conversations and activities.

Conclusion

It does seem from the approaches implemented by Krashen and the methods used by Terrell that students would learn to apply what they have learned more outside of the classroom and more by communicating with their peers.

This constitutes why students will learn language in a natural way when they can identify with others. The natural approach indicates that the more exposure to the new language that a student has then the more successful they will be.

Immersion Programs - Language Learning

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

During the 1960s, Canada experimented with the French Immersion Program to allow students to understand their French culture, tradition and its language; both French and English.

Immersion programs can be either a full or partial instruction of a second language. A full immersion is more effective because of the intensive curriculum. The second language is the medium used to teach students and more time is spent on this especially in the early years of a student’s schooling. This includes both reading and the language arts.

Partial immersion cuts the time spent in half learning a second language. Language arts and reading are partially taught in English and the other half in the second language.

Teachers that use these immersion programs expect to accomplish one or all of the items listed below on a long term basis:

1.    To develop the student’s level of proficiency
2.    To create a positive attitude toward the native language speakers and their cultures
3.    Develop the student’s English Language skills dependent on their age and expected abilities.
4.    Acquiring skills and content knowledge according to the curriculum and the objectives of the school board

The success of an immersion program has to do with how much administrative support is offered. The support of the community and parents are also helpful. Teachers have to be qualified and must have the right teaching materials for the second language. Developmental staff training and time given to teachers for preparation of instructional materials are very important.

Total immersion programs give the students more exposure to the language to make them more proficient. Some students may find it too much and so teachers will make recommendations to move students to a less intense program. It is not easy to find a total immersion teacher and so schools will usually promote the partial immersion classes. Some parents don’t think that students can learn a second language just as well as their own.

Partial immersion programs does not need as much special teachers. Schools can utilize the services of one teacher for two partial immersion programs for two half-days. In some cases, it makes the parents feel more at ease that their children are not spending all day learning a curriculum in a second language other than English. The proficiency level, however, of part time immersion students is far less than those for students in the total immersion programs.

Conclusion

In an immersion program, the second language is not the subject matter, but only a tool used to teach students how to become proficient in another language other than their own.

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.

Conclusion

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.