Teach English in Siziwangqijishengtai Zhen - Wulanchabu Shi — Ulanqab

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First language acquisition (FLA) is the process where infants learn their mother tongue language and gain the initial capacity to communicate. Second language acquisition (SLA) on the other hand is the process of learning a second language. The main differences between first and second language acquisition is that FLA is a complete instinct, triggered by birth whereas SLA is a personal choice which requires motivation and can be learned at any time during someone's life. With regard to first language acquisition, there are various theorists that have come up with language acquisition theories to explain how we acquired our first language. For example, Noam Chomsky argued that innate knowledge of the principles of Universal Grammar permits children to acquire the language of their environment during a stage linked to the Critical Period Hypothesis. This is where humans are genetically programmed to acquire skills and knowledge at certain times in life from their environment. Learning a language, whether it is first or second, learners must learn phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics, however the ways in which they are taught are significantly different. First languages are argued by theorists to be acquired, rather than learned because children do not have the brain capacity or knowledge of the world to learn a language so young, and that it is acquired from experience and imitation. B.F Skinner argues that the mind is a tabula rasa when we are born, and positive reinforcement builds up when children acquire language from their environment. Babies at a very young age do not necessarily have a teacher that teaches them their first language grammar or vocabulary, like the majority of second language learners require. Learning a first language occurs very early in a child’s life, within days of birth, infants attend to their mother’s own voice (as well as developing sensitivity to sound in the utero), child-directed speech known as Motherese which is based on exaggerated rhythm and also the ambient language in a child’s environment. Second language learners are taught in the order of tenses and vocabulary, the present tense followed by past, future and conditional. Babies learn holophrastic (single-word) utterances, for example saying ‘down’ might be a request to be put down, followed by two-word utterances such as ‘apple me’ to signal the desire for an apple. At around the age of three, there is a dramatic change in a child’s language where they learn connectives such as ‘and’ and ‘because’. Second language learners do not learn in this manner, but it is more categorised into grammar and vocabulary sections. As someone who has learnt five second languages, I have been taught in stages of each tense, prepositions, connectives and vocabulary based on different topics which is not the case for babies. First language learners instead learn from their environment and if they come across a table, they learn from imitating this word from hearing it in their surroundings. The Logical Problem is the question of how children acquire a first language when they do not have enough information at their disposal to do so, however, they are born equipped with Universal Grammar which is a distinct system of the mind, separate from intelligence. Many people are introduced to a second language after they have achieved competence in a first language. A learner’s knowledge of a second language goes beyond what can be induced from the input and reconstruction from their first language, however second language acquisition is never as good as a native speaker, though good competence can be achieved. Whereas first language acquisition is a natural process that does not require much instruction, learning a second language requires cognitive (aptitude, intelligence, strategies) and affective (motivation, confidence, attitude) variables, which are down to the individual. Past the Critical Period, a concept put forward by Lenneberg which states that the ability to acquire a language fades at the age of puberty, it is harder for older people to learn a language and therefore it requires motivation and effort to achieve a goal. Learners of second languages experience confidence issues and language anxiety which can be due to a fear of failure, communication apprehension, tests, the class and relationship with teacher. However, first language learners do not experience these deficiencies and therefore, their language learning is less likely to be impacted negatively. First languages can be acquired by imitation and stimulus responses learned from an environment, as B.F Skinner puts forward in his Behaviourist theory, whereas all second or foreign languages courses are based on theories of language and learning, which shape the learning objectives, syllabus and teacher/learner roles. SLA follows various methods, some which have been widely used since the 1840s. For example, the Grammar Translation, Audio-Lingual, Comprehension and Communicative Language Teaching Methods all contribute to second language learning and focus on different learning procedures and goals for second language communicative competence. Particular concentration is placed on teaching vocabulary and grammar through receptive and productive knowledge to ensure accuracy and fluency of second language learning and these activities include matching pictures to words, gap fills, role-plays and class discussions. These techniques are not so much practiced when a child is learning a first language. In essence, there are many differences between first language acquisition and second language acquisition, largely because SLA is dependent on factors such as personality and motivation, whereas with FLA, there is no personal choice involved and it is an instinct. Due to these reasons, the way that first and second languages are taught are different. Babies must be spoken to with techniques such as motherese at first, however they do not grow up speaking this way – this is not used with beginners of a second language. FLA is ultimately connected to cognitive development acquired from a child’s surroundings when they learn about the world, whereas with SLA, the cognitive structures necessary to deal with learning a language are already present. References: LIGHTBROWN, Patsy, How languages are learned, Oxford: Oxford University Press, c1999 NUNAN, David, Language teaching methodology: a textbook for teachers, Harlow: Prentice Education: Longman, 2000