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Second Language Learning Pre-‐Quiz Popular beliefs
The field of Second Language Acquisition, or SLA, is relatively young. As such, there is still a good deal of research being conducted by many highly skilled researchers that serves to define the discipline. However, there are a number of important researchers in SLA whose work is viewed as seminal in this area. These key people still actively contribute to the field in varying degrees, and include Noam Chomsky, Stephen Krashen, and Jim Cummins. The early 20th century Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky is also acknowledged for his contributions, although they did not emerge wholly from a linguistic perspective.
Chomsky and first language acquisition
Chomsky came into the field of language acquisition in the 1950’s. At that time, it was commonly believed that (first) language acquisition was a result of imitation, from the Behaviorist philosophy. However, Chomsky challenged this view and posited that language acquisition was innate and that humans are ‘hard-‐wired’ to learn language. He suggested that humans have the inborn ability to learn and use language, and that the language to which a child is exposed will serve to determine the mother tongue, or first language (L2) that s/he will first speak at home. The notion referred to by Chomsky is that of ‘Universal Grammar’ (UG) and is explained as the innate blueprint all humans have to learn language. The rationale he provided for this theory included the fact that all humans do indeed have language, and in the case in which it is withheld, they will create it-‐ to differing degrees of success. In some cases, such as the recent case of Deaf children in Nicaragua who were brought together, but who had no mutual language, the children created their own language. The critical age hypothesis is also relevant in such a situation. This notion is supported by the unfortunate situations known as ‘naturally occurring experiments’ such as when children are not allowed to speak until they reach a ‘critical age’
these cases, the children whose language had been withheld from them, were unable to attain nativelike fluency in their first language
Krashen and SLA
Stephen Krashen was an early researcher in second language acquisition and is responsible for a number of theories (that while not wholly unchallenged) are nonetheless stalwart and sill highly influential in SLA today. Importantly, Krashen applied what had been done in the area of first language acquisition and took these ideas to a second language context. Specifically, Krashen maintained that first and second language acquisition were similar, and felt there needed to be ‘comprehensible input’, or language that is understandable, for second language learners to have at least some comprehension of the target language. In his important theoretical model called the ‘Monitor Model’, Krashen also addressed other concepts, making the distinction between conscious and unconscious learning, or the ‘acquisition/learning hypothesis’; the ‘monitor hypothesis’ in that learners of a language must have time to check or monitor their output for correctness; the ‘natural order hypothesis’ that learners learn pieces of a language in predictable stages and that these stages are generally set; and the ‘affective filter’ which states that when learners are nervous or stressed, they may not be able to acquire a language most optimally.
Cummins and academic language and literacy
Jim Cummins is a contemporary researcher in the field of second language and literacy education whose ideas are highly respected. Like Krashen’s , Cummins’ theories have been challenged in ways that have provoked some revisions, but are nevertheless critically important. Cummins maintains in his ‘dual iceberg theory’ that there is a ‘common underlying proficiency’ or CUP, that represents what a bilingual knows. This knowledge can be manifested in either language, with appropriate assistance. He also says that there is linguistic threshold which can positively or negatively affect ones’ cognitive development. That is, if a child has a high level of bilingualism that s/he can benefit cognitively, and if they have a low level of knowledge in one or both of the languages, that the cognitive benefits are likely to be lower. Further, Cummins maintains that it can take 5-‐10 years to develop a high level of bilingualism and biliteracy in school, with one’s first language level of literacy playing an important role. Additionally, Cummins’ distinguishes between ‘academic language’ or ‘CALP’ (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) and ‘social language’ or BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills), and holds that the former (CALP) takes much more time to develop than the latter (BICS). Cummins also acknowledges that issues of culture and power are inextricably linked to the education of language minority children.
Vygotsky and language
Lev Vygotsky died many years before the field of SLA came about, but his ideas are still relevant to the education of bilingual children today. Specifically, the notion that there is a ‘Zone of Proximal Development” or ZPD, in which learners must be in order to acquire linguistic and cognitive concepts successfully, and that ‘scaffolding’ or assistance while the learner is in the ZPD, can help them to comprehend concepts, are long lasting. As well, Vygotsky’s beliefs regarding learning are widely accepted. He wrote that learning was a social activity and also held that the sociocultural environment in which a child is exposed and raised play an important role in the child’s learning and language acquisition.
Second Language Learning Post-‐Quiz Popular beliefs
Have your responses changed after the reading?
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