Second or foreign language acquisition is often fundamentally different from first language (or mother tongue) acquisition.
The first language is acquired through a process of daily immersion and constant interaction in a nurturing “native language” environment – and small children have little else to do besides absorbing things like sponges from their environments. Second language acquisition usually implies actual conscious learning, in a formal classroom setting, with a teacher. As we get older – and our brains more tired and “saturated” – we develop strong “commitments” to the sounds and structures of our initial language, and we usually have less time, focus, and incentive as well.
Nevertheless, here are a few tips regarding second language mastery, for learners and teachers alike:
- Take advantage of the ideal age:
- Research shows that the early teens (10-16 years of age) are usually the best times to learn in a classroom setting. Cognitive capacities are at their best and the flexibility of the learners’ natural capacity for language is not yet lost.
- Consider personality and affective factors:
- Self-consciousness and a lack of interest/of empathy for the foreign culture impair learning. Self-confidence, low anxiety and a positive self-image help learners overcome their difficulties. Younger children overcome their inhibitions more easily and are more willing to experiment. Teenagers after puberty tend to become more self-conscious.
- Dull textbooks, unpleasant classrooms, an exhausting schedule of work are barriers to learning!
- Choose the right teaching method
- Learners have different learning styles, different needs and different expectations. They also have different reasons for taking the language class. So adjust your materials and teaching method accordingly, in order to reinforce their motivation and progress. Some prefer a more structured, grammar-oriented approach, others prefer functional communicative approaches or immersion.
- Focus should be on the learner
- A learner-centered approach which allows for the normal “mistakes” that are part of the acquisition process is usually beneficial; ideally, teachers should offer useful hints so that the learner can benefit from a positive transfer from his native language (or another foreign language) to the new language, but also keep interference of the native language in check.
- Understand the learner’s motivation (do they learn for a specific purpose/are only, for social life, for travel, or for personal development?) Remember, motivation may be just as much a result of success as a cause. If you’re a teacher, encourage students to try, guess, take chances, and have positive experiences. If you’re a learner, make the best of your time and try, guess, take chances, do not pin your self-image on getting it right the first time.
- It is important that learners be exposed to appropriate inputs. Task-based learning works. Beyond grammatical competence, sociolinguistic competence, cultural and strategic competence also matter. Develop/encourage development of a communication strategy to make up for gaps in knowledge and to ensure communicative success.
(based on Yule, G. – The Study of Language, 2014)
Enjoy learning English, Romanian or beginners’ German right here!