TEFL and Child Development In this essay I review some issues


In this essay I review some issues related to child development which are useful for ESL teachers to be aware of as they may enhance or constrain language acquisition.

Stages of Language Acquisition: Much evidence suggests that basic sounds, vocabulary, negating phrases, forming questions, using relative clauses, etc., are developed in stages. This appears to be independent from the learning situation (in the classroom or on the street) and is generally applicable across a spectrum of learners from different language backgrounds. It is analogous to the learning stages that babies go through when acquiring language: babbling (bababa), vocabulary (milk then later milk drink), negation (no play), question forming (where she go) and so on.

Interestingly, error correction does not seem to have a direct influence on learning of very young children. Instruction may affect the rate of learning, but the stages remain the same. Yet, at an older age, this pattern appears to change. Hence, adolescents and adults that know the rules of grammar, etc., learn faster than those who do not. For these older second language learners, success is less certain. Older learners may become fossilized or stuck with ungrammatical items (language errors can become a permanent feature). The difference between learners may be significant. Some may never fully become native-like in the use of the second language. However, second language learners generally do gain knowledge that goes beyond that gained in acquiring a first language, e.g. use of phrases, sentences and questions.

Effects of Age: Several theorists believe that a critical period occurs during childhood. A "critical period" in developmental psychology and developmental biology is a time in the early stages of a person's life during which he or she displays a heightened sensitivity to certain environmental stimuli. If the person does not receive the appropriate stimulus during this "critical period", it may be difficult, or even impossible, to develop some functions later in life. For example, the critical period for the development of a child´s binocular vision is thought to be between one and three years; another critical period has been identified for the development of the auditory system (hearing). These observations have led some to hypothesize that there is a critical period for language acquisition (see Chomsky, below). Hyltenstam found that around the age of 6 and 7 seems to be a cut-off point for bilinguals to achieve native-like language proficiency. After that age, second-language learners could get near-native-like-ness but their language may have enough errors that would set them apart from those who learned an earlier age. However, Hyltenstam later noted that this age is not exactly fixed and that there is no clearly defined cut-off point.

Language Acquisition Theories: Most researchers acknowledge the importance of both biology and environment in acquiring language ability. One of the predominant theories of language development is referred to as Universal grammar (UG). Noam Chomsky argued that language acquisition is 'hard wired.' Children acquire a language even before they are able to accomplish relatively simple tasks and even though it can sometimes be degenerate, with false starts, slips of the tongue and grammatical errors. Moreover, although not all parents correct errors in their young children, the children still overcome errors. Thus, Chomsky has argued for an innate ability (and critical period) for language acquisition.

While UG is predominantly a theory of first language acquisition, the Monitor Theory of Krashen is currently the main theory for second language acquisition. According to this model, the learner focuses on messages and meanings. Krashen distinguished learning from simple acquisition and highlighted the fact that language is developed in stages as the student is exposed to meaningful and varied input. He emphasized that the student must be motivated to learn the new language. Thus, in this theory, learning and motivation are considered primary factors.

Sources: All of the information came from entries in Wickepedia (online encyclopedia).