Teach English in Qingfu Zhen - Baotou Shi

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The process by which children acquire their native language appears to be almost effortless. “By the age of five we have learned a reasonable vocabulary and many of the structural/grammatical rules of our native language.” (ITTT EFYL, Unit 2) This is impressive, as most of us have had no formal training in our native language as children. “As children…we simply absorbed the language around us, processed it and through trial and error formulated internal ideas and rules to be able to use the language fluently and accurately.” (ITTT TEFL, Unit 3). As an adult, learning a second language seems a much more daunting task. When my boyfriend learned to speak French (his second language) he was already an adult. He had already been living in France for two years. He equipped himself with a little note pad and used a little tattered dictionary as a supplement. He then set about the task of basically listening to others speak, following along, and fumbling. He didn’t take any courses. He learned to speak the language in a similar way to how children learn their first language. He was corrected and encouraged by the people around him. Sometimes these people were children. They would say things like “tien” when passing an object and he learned to understand that they meant “take this.” That was 20 years ago. You could say that he’s fluent. He can converse freely on every topic with anyone and he can decipher even the most difficult regional accent but his friends warn jokingly, that I should never learn French from him. He absorbed the words that he heard phonetically and he sees them that way in his head. So, while he can hold an intelligent and interesting conversation, he is always asking me to confirm the spelling of words and I make sure to proofread everything he writes. His friends sometimes tease that my pronunciation and grammar is better than his even though I am only at the elementary level. A little formal training can come in handy. I get my practice form speaking to others but I also learn from textbooks. In this essay, I will highlight some of the differences in language acquisition between L1 and L2 and how the ESA methodology can bridge them. Children normally achieve perfect L1 mastery, while adults are unlikely to do the same. The L2 learner may be more content with less than target language competence. This is true for my boyfriend. A sort of imperfect conversational fluency is enough for him and I feel myself heading in the same direction. This is where, I believe, teacher motivation can be helpful. An enthusiastic teacher can push a student to go further than he/she expected. A friend, who had recently completed an English course, said to me that she didn’t like the teacher because she always seemed tired and depressed. As many students are already willing to accept a mediocrity level in their mastery of L2 this type of attitude is not encouraging. Fossilization refers to a process where incorrect language becomes a habit and cannot be corrected. Chenu and Jisa state that,” L2 learners often return to earlier stages of language development. Children develop clear intuitions about correctness but L2 learners are unable to form clear grammatical judgements. For L2 learners correction is generally helpful or necessary.” This supports the idea of allowing students to figure out correct responses for themselves. You remember things better through experience. Being given the correct answer, all the time, does not allow the student to gain this experience and it can often leave them feeling embarrassed. Another way of reducing the likelihood of fossilization is Activity based learning. This will ensure that students are constantly reinforcing what they have learned. Giving feedback after activities would also be helpful. “A two to three year old child is exposed to 5000-7000 utterances a day” (Cameron, Lieven, Faukner & Tomasello 2003)” There is a clear correlation between amount of language exposure and lexical development in bilingual children.” (Pearson, Fernandez, Lewedeg & Oller 2002). Chenu and Jisa site that child directed speech is highly repetitive and filled with child centered questions and comments in comparison to adult directed speech. It is more grammatical and fine tuned to the child’s particular interest. Even if some L2 learners receive as much input as L1 learners, the quality is very different. Hatch (1978) Compares interactions between L1 learners and adult L2 learners and finds that in the second type of learner, interaction exchanges are initiated overwhelmingly by the native speaker adult and thus challenged the adult learner with identification of the topic. Chenu and Jisa find this “very different to child-mother interactions where topics are child initiated.” “Lexical development is slow for children in the beginning. Adult discourse to children is very rich in feedback concerning appropriateness of word usage.” (Chouinard & Clark 2003). In my experience, when you are learning a second language and have only a limited number of words at your disposal, having to speak about something that doesn’t interest you will not help to draw you into the conversation. The ESA method encourages student talk time and engagement which would naturally increase the exposure that a student has with the language. Additionally, teachers are encouraged to gear the lessons to the students interests whenever possible thereby further increasing the students involvement in the lesson. Feedback and encouragement can further imitate the L1 learning process. Chenu and Jisa go on to say that first and second language learners do not perceive the same signal when they listen to the language to be acquired. During the first year children are exposed to countless hours of language input, which helps their language processing and rapidly attunes their perception to ambient language. In the emerging first language, children rely on the prosodic cues, in the language around them. Doughty (2003) states that, in beginning stages of second language development, learners bring the processing capabilities set by their first language to the task of processing their second language. Children remember and extract sequences of phenomes naturally, without meaning. This is not the case for second language learners. N.Ellis (2003) sites that “both types of learners need a phonological representation in long-term memory which results from frequent repetition of sequences.” From the research, it is clear that there is no getting around the fact that children absorb the phonology of language effortlessly and that adults are impeded by the already established phonology of their L1. The ESA method cannot change this, however, the constant use of English in the classroom can ensure that the student is always exposed to the sound of the second language. Lessons that develop listening skills will further help with L2 problems with phonology. Students could also be encouraged to listen to authentic material outside of class, especially those which have subtitles in the L2. In summary, classes that are conducted in the second language and that also utilize the ESA method will give students practice in the L2. Incorporating lessons where students are able to listen to authentic and inauthentic material can prove to be extremely helpful. Finally, the teacher’s attitude and use of prompting, eliciting and encouraging can help to foster a learning environment that bears a resemblance to the environment inherent at the time of first language learning. REFERENCES Chenu, F; Jisa, H (2009) Reviewing some similarities and differences in L1 and L2 lexical development. Aile…Lia 1. Retrieved from http://journals.openedition.org/aile/4506