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by: Marisol Barraza
Do children and adulthood, and differences between them, hold some keys to language acquisition models and theories?

The increased pace of research on first language acquisition in the last half of the twentieth century attracted the attention of: linguists educators

Learning a second language, particularly in an

educational setting, can meet with great difficulty and sometimes failure, so learning something from a systematic study of first language learning experience can help us understand things better.

Important questions that need answers:

How should second language teachers interpret

the many facets and sometimes conflicting findings of first language research? Do childhood and adulthood, and the differences between them, hold some keys to language acquisition models and theories?

The first step in investigating age and acquisition

might be to dispel some myths about the relationship between first and second language acquisition.

H. H. Stern summarized some common arguments that cropped to recommend a second language teaching method or procedure on the basis of first language acquisition: 1. Repetition. 2. Imitation. 3. Natural order. (sounds >words > sentences) 4. Speech development. (listen > speaking. Understanding always precedes speaking.) 5. Natural. Order. (listening > speaking > reading > writing) 6. There shouldnt be any translation. 7. It is unnecessary to use grammatical conceptualization in teaching.


REPETITION: In language teaching, we must practice and practice, again and again. Just watch a small child learning his mother tongue. He repeats things over and over again. During the language learning stage' he practices all the time. This is what we must also do when we learn a foreign language. 2. IMITATION: Language learning is mainly a matter of imitation. You must be a mimic. Just like a small child. He imitates everything. 3. NATURAL ORDER: First, we practice the separate sounds, then words, then sentences. That is the natural order and is therefore right for learning a foreign language. 4. SPEECH DEVELOPMENT: Watch a small child's speech development. First he listens, then he speaks. Understanding always precedes speaking. Therefore, this must be the right order of presenting the skills in a foreign language.


NATURAL ORDER: A small child listens and speaks and no one would dream of making him read or write. Reading and writing are advanced stages of language development. The natural order for first and second language learning is listening, speaking, reading, and then writing. 6. TRANSLATION: You did not have to translate when you were small. If you were able to learn your own language without translation, you should be able to learn a foreign language in the same way. 7. GRAMMAR: A small child simply uses language. He does not learn formal grammar. You don't tell him about verbs and nouns. Yet he learns the language perfectly. It is equally unnecessary to use grammatical conceptualization in teaching a foreign language.


These statements imply two things:

They represent the views of those who felt that "the first language learner was looked

upon as the foreign language teacher's dream: a student who mysteriously laps up his vocabulary, whose pronunciation, in spite of occasional lapses, is impeccable, while morphology and syntax, instead of being a constant headache, come to him like a dream" (Stern, 1970, cited in Brown, 2000, p.50).
They also tend to represent the views of those who were dominated by a behavioristic

theory of language in which the first language acquisition process was viewed as consisting of rote practice, habit formation, shaping, overlearning, reinforcement, conditioning, association, stimulus and response, and who therefore assumed that the second language learning process involves the same constructs.
This shows us that we need to enrich our understanding of the second language learning

process itself.

So what happened? What is the history behind all this?

As cognitive and constructivist research on first

language acquisition, second language researchers and foreign language teachers began to recognize the mistakes in drawing direct global analogies between first and second language acquisition. One mistake was identified by David Ausubel (1964, cited in Brown, 2000, p. 51).

Ausubel outlined a number of problems with the thenpopular Audiolingual Method. He issued the following warnings and statements: The rote learning practice of audiolingual drills lacked the meaningfulness necessary for successful first and second language acquisition. Adults learning a foreign language could, with their full cognitive capacities, benefit from deductive presentations of grammar. The native language of the learner is not just an interfering factor- it can facilitate learning a second language. The written form of the language could be beneficial. Students could be overwhelmed by language spoken at its natural speed, and they, like children, could benefit from more deliberative speech from the teacher.


The comparison of first and second language acquisition can easily be oversimplified. At the very least, one needs to approach the comparison by first considering the differences between children and adults: It is, in one sense, illogical to compare the first language acquisition of a child with the second language acquisition of an adult. It is much more logical to compare first and second language learning in children or to compare second language learning in children and adults. Nevertheless, Child 1st language acquisition and adult 2nd language acquisition are common and important categories of acquisition to compare.


Critical period: a biologically determined period of line when language can be

acquired more easily and beyond which time language is increasingly difficult to acquire. Eric Lenneberg (1967) argued tat the LAD, like other biological functions, works successfully only when it is stimulated at the right time a time which is referred to as the critical period This notion that there is a specific and limited time period for language acquisition is referred to as the critical period hypothesis (CPH). There are two versions of the CPH: The strong version suggests that children must acquire their first language by puberty or they will never be able to learn from subsequent exposure. The weak version is that language learning will be more difficult and incomplete after puberty. The Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) claims that there is such a biological timetable. Initially the notion of a critical period was connected only to first language acquisition. This must be viewed in the light of what it really means to be successful in learning a second language.

How might neurological development affect

second language success? Does the maturation of the brain at some stage spell the doom of language acquisition ability? To examine these issues, we will look at: Neurological considerations Phonological considerations Cognitive considerations Affective considerations Linguistic considerations

Hemispheric Lateralization
Left hemisphere seems to control intellectual,

logical, and analytic functions including language functions, while right hemisphere controls functions related to emotional and social needs. Then when does this lateralization take place, and how does that lateralization process affect language acquisition? Some scholars contended the lateralization is completed about at the age of puberty, and some said its about five. Thomas Scovel applied this lateralization concept to the second language acquisition.

Biological Timetables
Thomas Scovel cited evidence for a

sociobiological critical period in various specis of mammals and birds. He concluded that human beings native accents may be a genetic left-over just like animals. Walsh and Diller concluded that different aspects of a second language are learned optimally at different ages: Lower-order processes are dependent on early maturing and less adaptive macroneural circuits, while higher-order language functions are more dependent on late mature neural circuits. However, those were mainly about the acquisition of an authentic accent.

Right-Hemispheric Participation
Another branch of neurolinguistic research focused on the role of the right hemisphere in the acquisition of a second language. Olber noted that in second language learning, there is significant right hemisphere participation especially at early stages. Genesee concluded that there may be greater right hemisphere involvement in language processing in bilinguals who acquire their second language late relative to their first language and in bilinguals Second language learners, particularly adult learners, might benefit from more encouragement of right brain activity in the classroom context.

Anthropological Evidence
Jane Hill cited anthropological research on non-

Western societies that yielded evidence that adults can acquire second languages perfectly. Sorenson studied the Tukano culture of South America and reported that during adolescence, individuals actively and almost suddenly began to speak two or three other languages to which they had been exposed at some point. Hill suggested that we have to explore the influence of social and cultural roles.


Although there are some exceptions, most of the

evidence indicates that persons beyond the age of puberty do not acquire authentic pronunciation of the second language. There had been some studies to contradict Scovels strong CPH such as Gerald Newfelds, Moyer and Bongaerts, Planket, and Schils. However, these studies at the end have left the strong CPH unchallenged. We are left with powerful evidence of a critical period for accent, but for accent only! Great accent only doesnt mean that the learner is a successful second language learner. Even though poor at accent, one can have fluent control of a second language. Instead of focusing only on the accent, studies on the effect of input, on lexical acquisition, on UG, and on discourse acquisition are very important research fields

Jean Piaget outlined the course of intellectual development in a child through various stages: Sensorimotor stage (birth to two) Preoperational stage (ages two to seven) Operational stage (ages seven to sixteen) Concrete operational stage (ages seven to eleven) Formal operational stage (ages eleven to sixteen)

A critical stage concerning SL acquisition is at puberty (age eleven in his

At eleven, a person becomes capable of abstraction, of formal thinking

which transcends concrete experience and direct perception.

According to this model, one can expect that adults could profit from certain

grammatical explanations and deductive thinking.

But children do learn SL well without this benefit. How? Young children are

generally not aware that they are learning, while adults are too consciously aware of it. Does this make learning SL difficult? There were evidences of successful adult SL learners.
So, if mature cognition is a liability to successful SL acquisition, clearly some

intervening variables allow some persons to be very successful SL learners after puberty.
There are many areas to consider when studying the cognitive differences

between child and adult language acquisition.

One is lateralization hypothesis, another is the Piagetian notion of

equilibration, which is related to the concept of equilibrium, the other is the distinction that Ausebel made between rote and meaningful learning.

Caracteristics of the Sensorimotor Stage:

The first stage of Piagets theory lasts from birth

to approximately age two and is centered on the infant trying to make sense of the world. During the sensorimotor stage, an infants knowledge of the world is limited to their sensory perceptions and motor activities. Behaviors are limited to simple motor responses caused by sensory stimuli. Children utilize skills and abilities they were born with, such as looking, sucking, grasping, and listening, to learn more about the environment.

Characteristics of the Preoperational Stage:

The preoperational stage occurs between ages

two and six. Language development is one of the hallmarks of this period. Piaget noted that children in this stage do not yet understand concrete logic, cannot mentally manipulate information, and are unable to take the point of view of other people, which he termed egocentrism.

Characteristics of Concrete Operations:

The concrete operational stage begins around

age seven and continues until approximately age eleven. During this time, children gain a better understanding of mental operations. Children begin thinking logically about concrete events, but have difficulty understanding abstract or hypothetical concepts.

Characteristics of the Formal Operational Stage:

The formal operational stage begins at

approximately age twelve to and lasts into adulthood. During this time, people develop the ability to think about abstract concepts. Skills such as logical thought, deductive reasoning, and systematic planning also emerge during this stage.

AFFECTIVE CONSIDERATIONS The affective domain includes many factors.

A case in point is the role of egocentricity. Very young children highly egocentric. In preadolescence children develop an acute consciousness of themselves as separate and identifiable entities but ones which need protecting. They therefore develop inhibitions about this self-identity. native language and ego development.

For any monolingual person, the language ego involves the interaction of the
Guiora suggested that the language ego may account for the difficulties that

adults have in learning a SL. A new language does not pose a threat or inhibition to the ego of a child.
Younger children are less frightened because they are less aware of

language forms, and the possibility of making mistakes in those forms does not concern them greatly. But mature adults manifest a number of inhibitions.
Among other affective factors is ego identification. The role of attitudes is

another important factor. Younger children are more likely to succeed in learning other languages because they dont have negative attitudes toward races or cultures yet.
Finally, children are under high peer pressure. They want to be like the rest

of the kids. It can lead them to learn the second language.

Affective considerations

Empathy, self-esteem, extroversion, inhibition, imitation,

anxiety, attitudes, egocentricity. A. language ego The childs ego is dynamic and growing and flexible through the age of puberty. Mature adults manifest a number of inhibitions. B. Attitudes Very young children are not developed enough cognitively enough to possess attitudes. C. Peer pressure Adults tend to tolerate linguistic differences more

than children.

Bilingualism Children learning two languages simultaneously acquire them by the use of similar strategies. They are learning two first languages. Researches show a considerable cognitive benefit of early childhood bilingualism, supporting that bilingual children are more facile at concept formation and have a greater mental flexibility.

Interference Between First and Second Languages The linguistic and cognitive processes of second language learning in young children are in general similar to first language processes. Similar strategies and linguistic features are present in both first and second language learning in children.

Interference Between First and Second Languages

Interference in Adults Adults appear to operate from the solid foundation of the first language and thus manifest more interference. But adults, too, manifest errors not unlike some of the errors children make. The first language, however, may be more readily used to bridge gaps that the adult learner cannot fill by generalization within the SL. In this case the first language can be a facilitating factor, and not just an interfering factor.

Order of Acquisition Researchers claimed that transfer of L1 syntactic patterns rarely occurs in child second language acquisition. Children learning a SL use a creative construction process, just as they do in their first language. Data about the acquisition order of eleven English morphemes in children learning English as a SL supported this claim. The younger, the better is a myth that has been fueled by media hype and, sometimes, junk science. There appear to be some potential advantages to an early age for SLA, but there is absolutely no evidence that an adult cannot overcome all of those disadvantages save one, accent, and the latter is hardly the quintessential criterion for effective interpersonal communication.


What are the implications of the following issues for SLA?


Competence and Performance It is as difficult to get at linguistic competence in a second language as it is in a first. Therefore, teachers need to be cautiously attentive to the discrepancy between performance on a given day or in a given context and competence in a SL in general.


Comprehension and Production Teaching involves attending to both comprehension and production and the full consideration of the gaps and differences between the two.


Nature or Nurture? Adults and children alike appear to have the capacity to acquire a SL at any age; though accent is a different matter. If an adult does not acquire a SL successfully, it is probably because of intervening cognitive or affective variables. Defining those intervening variables appears to be more relevant than probing the properties of innateness.


Some researchers strongly claim the existence of

Universal Grammar. But therere also partial- or no-access claim. So keeping an open mind as teachers and an inquisitive spirit as researchers is required.


Systematicity and Variability SLA, both child and adult, is characterized by both systematicity and variability.


Language and Thought Language helps to shape thinking and vice versa. The second language teacher needs to be acutely aware of cultural thought patterns as well.


Imitation Meaningful contexts, rather than surface structure, for language learning are necessary.


Practice Contextualized, appropriate, meaningful communication is the best possible practice.


Input Teachers should be deliberate and meaningful in their communications with students. That input should foster meaningful communicative use of the lg in appropriate contexts.


Discourse Research on the acquisition of discourse is very important.