When observing children, the speed and accuracy to which they acquire their native language is quite remarkable to adults. There are many different cultures and many ways in which children are raised, but the rate at which they acquire this information is consistent all over the world. In the scientific community, language acquisition by humans is one of the most unexplainable and highly studied feats in our everyday lives. Parents do not teach their children the grammatical structure of language or how to speak it, rather it is something that is acquired early in life and continues to progress into adulthood. It is said that by the time a child enters pre-school, he or she already has mastered most of the mechanics of their mother language (Galasso). By studying the mistakes and the environment surrounding children when learning their mother tongue, we are able to get an insight into the mechanics of learning a second language later on in life.
The building blocks of all languages seem to be consistent. First we are taught sounds, then we are taught words, which are then put into sentences. Children between the ages of 2 and 6 acquire language so rapidly by the time they are 6 they are competent users of the language. It is thought that if children are not exposed to any language in this time frame, that their use for language later on in life would be quite difficult. When learning a first or a second language a stimulating and rich linguistic environment will support language development in either case (Clark, 181). While the ?critical? time frame of being exposed to language is controversial, the affects that age have on language acquisition are not. There have been several studies conducted in which there is a negative correlation between the fluency and grammatical understanding of a second language with the age at which it is introduced (Lock and Mayberry, 370). This is not to say that it is impossible to learn a second language as an adult, but that age does affect its acquisition. From this study, it was shown that there are striking similarities between the mistakes made by first language learners when they are small children to the mistakes made by second language learners later on as adults.
It is understood that the acquisition of a mother language is somewhat mysterious, but the acquisition of a second language seems rely more on cognitive function and problem solving skills rather than an innate skill that is needed in order to learn foreign languages. The way in which children solve puzzles in early language acquisition, is similar to the problem solving skills employed later with second languages. If a child wants to know something, but makes a statement rather than a question, they inherently know that a statement is not going to give them what they want to know. As adults we follow this same path, but more often than not, the grammatical structure is examined and manipulated to turn our statement into a question. The same components of the language are missing, but are solved using different cognitive functions. While this is just one example out of millions of the similarities and differences between first and second language acquisition, it gives a clue on how to approach teaching second or third languages. While it is up to the linguist to study the striking regularities between early speech developmental mistakes and second language acquisition mistakes, it is important to realize that there are many factors that affect language acquisition. In teaching English as a Second Language, it is important to recognize the factors which affect our student?s ability to acquire the language and to deliver the information from several different aspects. References:
Clark, Beverly A. ?First and Second Language Acquisition in Early Childhood?. Clearinghouse on Early Education and Parenting. http://ceep.crc.uiuc.edu/pubs/katzsym/clark-bl
Galasso, Joseph. ?First and Second Language Acquisition?. California State University, Northridge. http://www.csun.edu/~galasso/lang1
Lock, Elizabeth and Rachel I. Mayberry (April 2003). ?Age constraints on first versus second language acquisition: Evidence for linguistic plasticity and epigenesist?. School of Communication Sciences and Disorders. 87(2003), 369-384.
Author: Annette Rose
Date of post: 2007-04-02