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Travis Early ITTT TEFL/TESOL 120 Hour Course Summative Task December 2019 Pressure Valves: How First and Second Language Acquisition Differ The ITTT TEFL course highlights many of the difficulties second language learners experience when trying to build their understanding of English. There are many challenges second language learners must overcome with respect to first language learners, and successfully acquiring a new language requires the teacher and the learner to structure their time toward working around these hurdles. The three major differences between native and secondary language learning are the natural versus structured skills acquisition, interference from a native language, and the availability of low-stakes opportunities for learners to test out each new skill. To begin with, native speakers learn their language gradually, by being exposed to native speech in all their daily activities. They first build their receptive skills by listening to their parents, and as their understanding grows they move into productive speech. Concepts such as modals and verb tense are understood through trial and error, and often are self-corrected as the child gains more experience speaking and listening. Modals are taught by parents modeling appropriate behavior to the children, so they might learn when do phrase an interrogative, or an interrogative. The rise and fall of normal speech is determined by what the connotative meaning of each sentence carries. Second language learners are often placed in to an environment where they must pay for a class which is meant to teach them a language they have very little exposure to outside that classroom. The structured approach means they do not have as many opportunities to receive feedback on their mistakes through trial and error. The pressure to pass tests and make the most of their time in the classroom also tends to inhibit their progress. Verb tense, must be taught piece by piece, and analyzed according to the conditions in which it would be appropriate for it to be used. Modals involve understanding the relationship between getting one’s point across, and knowing the audience to which they are speaking. All these require carefully-sculpted lessons in order for the learner to gradually improve their skills. Language interference refers to where the speaker’s first language prevents them from using their second language correctly, either through mispronunciation, or committing grammatical mistakes. In Chinese English, or Chinglish, for example, students struggle with the “L and R” sound in southern China, while in western China, they struggle with the “L and N” sounds. In all parts of China, TH sounds can be troublesome because that sound does not exist in their daily speech. Additionally, conditionals such as “would be” and “were it to have been” provide constant challenges to the Chinese learners, because subjunctive clauses are not found in their speech at all. Simple if and then clauses are accomplished by using present simple tense. Any translations into English will require the translator to move it into the continuous, perfect, or perfect continuous form, depending on the relationship of the speaker to the idea they are trying to convey. By contrast, a native speaker will only have their own speech modeled to them daily from birth, and so they will naturally develop the ability to form their mouths into the correct shapes and actions to produce a desired sound. In the even that they can not form a particular sound, children will be paired with professional speech pathologists, who will identify and address these errors at the source, but even so correction will be carried out using their own native language as a reference. Grammar is treated simply for small children, and their basic mistakes are overlooked, where they will usually begin to self-correct through exposure to more complex graded reading materials and by exposure to the myriad media available to them in their native tongue. In a sense, the native speaker never has to think about why they know the correct way to say something, they just do. Finally, there is the overarching problem of pressure. Native learners do not experience pressure to produce perfect speech until years after they have begun studying their native tongue. Children who want to use the past tense may be forgiven for saying “I goed” instead of “I went”, as their mistake demonstrates they have understood the purpose of the past simple, and they will eventually understand that the irregular verb “went” must be substituted. This is where a parent or sibling may correct them, but this is provided as hot feedback and in a gentle way, where there is no consequence for the child having made a mistake. It does not register as a mistake, but merely as a natural step in the learning process, and the correction becomes automatic for later speech. Children are generally not afraid of their role models correcting their speech, which is probably why it is safe to say most native speakers have no memory of how, when, where, or from whom they learned to speak as well as they do. It’s just natural. Compare this to the second-language speaker who, as previously mentioned, may have more distinctive pressures to perform placed upon them. To go back to the example of Chinese English learners, while they are not pressured into producing results before they reach the age of 6, once they enter primary school English classes become a graded assignment. Parents in China are motivated to push their children to achieve high performance results from the earliest age possible, because their future success in life may depend on the quality of education they receive along the way, and that reflects their scholastic achievement early on. As such, when they enter a classroom, they are automatically feeling pressured to get the language just right, but this pressure can have the opposite effect on their relationship with said language. Beyond that, people who pay for a course are going to expect results, but they may not have enough opportunities outside of the classroom to practice their newly-acquired skills, and so they will often develop better listening than speaking. This is why tests such as IELTS and TOEFL are important for second language learners to study and live abroad, because it makes a comprehensive assessment of their overall comfort in the language, which will later determine their success or failure in the country of their second language. In conclusion, there is a lot of gentle coaxing, and an overall lack of pressure to succeed, in the native language learner’s experience, that does not reflect the second language learner’s experience. While it is possible for families with money to employ a full time live-in teacher, such as an au pair, this is not an option that is open to most. It is essential for English as a Foreign Language, and English as a Second Language instructors to remain cognizant of these facts as they engage with their students, because their ultimate success or failure will hinge on whether they can identify the areas in which they are, for lack of a better word, blessed with their latent understanding of the minutiae of their language, where a new learner may feel cursed with the towering challenge of mastering said language “after the fact.”