Friday, 3 May 2013

Games and language learning

Hello everyone,

I am here after a long time. I did not write because I could not manage my daily duties. In other words, I was so, so busy by translating, by studying, by working and so on.
In this new post, I am going tell something about the rewarding ways of how young learners acquire their first words in English, especially those who are not native speakers of English. I will also present my "Diploma paper" because I wrote about it therein.


One of the most fascinating aspects of human development is the ability to learn language.We all watch and listen with absolute fascination as the first `coos` and `googles`.We all share in the pride and joy of parents whose one-year-old has uttered the first `bye bye`. Learning a language is an amazing feat.Language learning is hard work.One must make an effort to understand, to repeat accurately, to manipulate newly understood language.Games help and encourage many learners to sustain their interest and work.The contribution of drilling lies in the concentration on a language form and its frequent use during a limited period of time.Games provide the key feature of `drill` with the opportunity to sense the working of language as living communication.

Games and Language Learning

Traditional behaviourists believed that language learning is simply a matter of imitation and habit formation.Children imitate the sounds and patterns which they hear around them.They continue to imitate and practice these sounds and patterns until they form `habits` of correct language use.According to this view[1], the quality and quantity of the language which the child hears should have an effect on the child`s success in language learning.Children`s imitation is selective and based on what they are currently learning.Even when the child imitates, the choice of what to imitate seems to be based on something the child already knows, not simply on what is `available` in environment.Children appear to pick out patterns and then generalize them to new contexts.

They create new forms or new uses of words until they finally figure out how the forms are used by adults.The behaviourist explanations for language acquisition offer a reasonable way of understanding how children learn some of the regular and aspects of language.The linguist Noam Chomsky claims that children are biologically programmed for language and that language develops in the child in just the same way that other biological functions develop.The child does not have to be taught, most children learn to walk at about the same time.For Chomsky language acquisition is very similar to the development of walking.The environment makes a basic contribution.The child, or rather, the child`s biological endowment will do the rest.Chomsky argues that the behaviourist theory fails to recognize what has come to be called `the logical problem of language acquisition`.

This logical problem refers to the fact that children come to know more about the structure of their language.According to Chomsky, the language the child is exposed to in the environment is full of confusing information.The evidence seems very strong that children are by no means systematically corrected or instructed on language points.When parents do correct, they tend to focus on meaning and not on language itself.According to Chomsky, children are born with a special ability to discover for themselves the underlying rules of a language system.Chomsky refers to this special ability as being based on a language acquisition device(LAD)[2]. This device was often described as an imaginary `black box` which exists somewhere in the brain.This  `black box` prevents the child from going off on lots of wrong trails in trying to discover the rules of language.For the LAD to work, the child needs access only to samples of the natural language.

Once it is activated, the child is able to discover the structure of the language to be learned by matching the innate knowledge of basic grammatical relationships to the structures of the particular language.Chomsky and his followers no longer use the term LAD, but refer to the child`s innate endowment as Universal Grammar.Universal Grammar is considered to consist of a set of principles which are common to all languages.If children are pre-equipped with `UG`, then what they have to learn is the ways in which their own language makes use of these principles.Children seem to develop language in similar ways and on similar schedule, in a way different from the way all children learn to walk.The child comes to `know` certain things about the language simply by being exposed to a limited number of examples.

[1] How Languages are Learned,Pasty M.Lightbrown and Nina Spada, page 8

[2] How Languages are Learned, Patsy M.Lightbrown and Nina Spada, page 11 

The critical period hypothesis

Lennebreg observed that this ability to develop normal behaviours and knowledge in variety of environments does not continue indefinitely and that children who have never learned language cannot return to normal.He argued the the language acquisition device works successfully only when it is stimulated at the right time.The strong version is that children must acquire their first language by puberty.The weak version is that language will be more difficult and incomplete after puberty.

The interactionists`position is that language develops as a result of the complex interplay between the uniquely human characteristics of the child and the environment in which the child develops.To the interactionists' theory, what is important is the conversational give-and-take in which the adult intuitively responds to the clues provides as to the level of language he or she is capable of processing.One-to-one interaction gives the child access to language which is adjusted to his or her level of comprehension.

Theories of first language acquisition

The fascinating ability of child to acquire the native language has been a subject of interest for linguists and psychologists for many centuries.Even if we ask ourselves a very simple question:`How did we learn our own language?`, we will find that it is almost impossible to answer.However,if a child is given a normal developmental environment, he or she acquire the language fluently and efficiently.The most amazing fact is that will acquire it almost intuitively, without special instruction.As I mentioned previously, they are able to communicate efficiently by about age 3.There are two polarized positions in the study of first language acquisition.At the one pole, there are scholars who claim that language acquisition is a learned behaviour, which is not different from general learning system and that parents teach language to their children.They claim that children come into the world with tabula rasa, a clean state without notions about the world or about the language itself.At the other pole, there are scholars who assume that language is innate, that there are universal principles, which govern language acquisition and that children already have knowledge of language and the world.

Theories of second language learning

It is clear that a child or adult acquiring a second language is different from a child acquiring a first language in terms of both personal characteristics and conditions for learning.All second language learners regardless of age, have by definition already acquired at least one language.This prior knowledge may be an advantage in the sense that the learner has an idea of how languages work.The first language learners does not have the cognitive maturity, metalinguistic awareness or world knowledge of the older second language learner.Young secong language learners have begun to develop cognitive maturity and meta- linguistic awareness.

Behaviourism:The second language view

According to the behaviourists, all learning, whether verbal or non-verbal takes place through the same underlying process, habit formation.Learners receive linguistic input from speakers in the environment.Where there are similarities between the two languages, the learner will acquire target language structures with ease.The influence is simply a matter of `habits`, but rather a systematic attempt by the learner to use knowledge already acquired in learning a new language.

Cognitive theory:A new psychological approach

Cognitive psychologists tend to see second language acquisition as the building up of knowledge systems that can eventually be called on automatically for speaking and understanding.At first, learners have to pay attention to any aspect of the language which they are trying to understand or produce.Gradually, through experience and practice, learners become able to use certain parts of their knowledge so quickly and automatically that they are not even aware that they are doing it.Cognitive psychologists have also investigated a phenomenon they call `restructuring`[1]. They seem rather to be based on the interaction of knowledge we already have, or on the acquisition of new knowledge which somehow `fits into an existing system`. The theory itself cannot easily predict what kinds of structures will be automized through practice.Cognitive theory is also not able to predict which first language structure will be transferred and which will not.This theory is incomplete without a linguistic framework of some kind.

Creative construction theory

What is a distinctive about this theory is that it proposes that internal processing strategies operate on language input without any direct dependence on the learner.The creative construction theory which has had the most influence on second language teaching practice is the one proposed by Stephen Krashen. Krashen has developed an overall theory of second language acquisition.Five central hypotheses constitute his `monitor model`. They are:

1)The acquisition-learning hypothesis

2)The monitor hypothesis

3)The natural order hypothesis

4)The input hypothesis

5)The affective-filter hypothesis

The acquisition-learning hypothesis

There are two ways for adult second language learners to approach learning a second language: they may `acquire` it or they may `learn` it. He says, we acquire as we engage in meaningful interaction in the second language, in much the same way that children pick up their first language with no attention to form.For Krashan, acquisition is by far the more important process. He asserts that learning cannot turn into acquisition, citing that many speakers are quite competent without ever having learned rules, while other speakers may `know` rules but continue to break them.

The monitor hypothesis

Krashan argues that the acquired systemacts to initiate the speaker utterances and is responsible for fluency and intuitive judgements about correctness.The learned system acts only as an editor or `monitor`, making minor changes and polishing what the acquired system has produced. Krashan has specified three conditions necessary for monitor use:sufficient time, focus on form and knowing the rules.Thus, writing is more conducive to monitor use then is speaking, where the focus is on content and not on form.The obvious weakness in this hypothesis is that it is very difficult to show evidence of `monitor` use.It is impossible to determine what has been produced by the acquired system. Krashan`s claim that learning cannot turn into acquisition means that anything which is produced quickly and apparently must have been acquired rather then learned.

[1] How Languages are Learned, Patsy M.Lightbrown and Nina Spada, page 30

I will continue more in the next post. I hope that some of you will find this constructive for your studies.
I also want to thank all those people who visit my blog.

Everything the best
Best regards