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ASSIGNMENT 1: KEY ISSUES IN SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION

20141116

ASSIGNMENT 1: KEY ISSUES IN SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION

Question: Discuss the key issues raised by R. Ellis (1989) paying particular attention to the TWO (2) following aspects: a) How these issues have been organized into a coherent framework with which to approach to the study of SLA. b) From your perspective, what should be the major issues of concern to TEYL teacher? State your reasons. ************************************ INTRODUCTION Second Language Acquisition or SLA has been a major topic discussed all over the world. It has been an important topic that attracted attention from theorists and researchers from many parts of the world. Therefore, a great number of researches have been carried out to determine many areas in this field. Before further discussion, let’s define what SLA is all about. According to Wikipedia.com, second language acquisition is the process by which people learn a second language in addition to their native language(s). The term “second language” is used to describe the acquisition of any language after the acquisition of the mother tongue. The language to be learned is often referred to as the "target language" or "L2". Second language acquisition may be abbreviated "SLA", or L2A, for "L2 acquisition". There are also many opinions regarding the term “acquisition” and “learning”. According to Wu Heping (1996), the term of “acquisition” is preferred by some theorists because they believe that the process of language acquisition was viewed as a biological process of growth and maturation rather than as social learning through experience, environmental influence or deliberate teaching that the learner go through. However, Rod Ellis (1989) in his book, “Understanding Second Language Acquisition” uses the term interchangeably even though the term “acquisition” refers the process of unconsciously picking up the language through exposure and the term “learning” as the process of conscious study of a second language. KEY ISSUES A lot of questions have been raised regarding second language acquisition. What is second language acquisition? How does it occur? How does it happen? And so many other questions that require answers and explanation from the experts of linguistics field. Due to that, a lot of researches have been carried out and finally, the experts managed to come up with many answers that later has become important issues in second language acquisition. Therefore, what are the issues in second language acquisition? There are many issues in SLA but Ellis (1989) has raised these five important issues that later have been organized into a coherent framework in SLA. The issues are situational factors, linguistic input, learner differences, learner processes and linguistic output as can be seen in the diagram below. All these factors or issues are interrelated to each other and it will be discussed one by one in this assignment before considering the major issue of concern to a TEYL teacher. A better framework for all these issues is as the following: SITUATIONAL FACTORS Situational factors can be defined as the environmental factors that influence the process of second language acquisition. For example, a Malaysian student studying in United States of America will eventually acquire English language effectively due to the constant exposure of the language. Ellis (1989) has identified two types of acquisition related to environmental factors that are naturalistic SLA and classroom SLA. I would like to discuss upon on classroom SLA. Classroom SLA is the formal instruction in second language learning and this definitely occurred in classroom where a teacher has to teach second language to the learners. From a teacher’s point of view, formal instruction is important in the acquisition of the language. This is because as mentioned by Ellis (1989), formal instruction or classroom SLA could enhance the process of acquiring the second language. In fact, it will accelerate the process if the right device or the right pedagogy is implied in the classroom. Even though that there is a great doubt that formal instruction could help the students to produce the second language effectively, at least the students have managed to acquire the language based on the different skills apart from speaking. Naturalistic SLA is actually the opposite of classroom SLA. This is because in naturalistic SLA, it is said that there is a “natural” route in acquiring second language and formal instruction would only distort this route. Furthermore, Chomsky (1980) believe that each person in this world is equipped with the innate capacity of learning a language and it is the matter of time for it to be triggered by the environmental factors. LINGUISTIC INPUT Wikipedia.com defines input as “a learner direct contact with a language.” In the process of acquiring second language, learner’s most direct information is the target language itself. The more input that the learner gains, the more he knows and learns about the language. The access to the input may be in the form of exposure both in natural setting or formal instruction. Krashen (1981) introduced The Monitor Model which proposed that a language input should be at the level comprehensible for the learners and this is where, the term “comprehensible input” occurred. In other words, the learner is able to understand the language but is unable to fully understand the input given to them. In the early stage of SLA, the importance of input is emphasized through the habit formation that involves the process of practice and reinforcement. In the Behaviourist view of learning, the learner is given a great number of practices until the learner manages to achieve the level where he or she has overlearnt or in other words, they could produce the input automatically. Behaviourist views learner as “a language-producing machine” where the success of the learner in acquiring the language is based on the external factors. However, this notion is criticized by Chomsky (1965) who believes that learner is “the grand initiator”. He believes that input is a trigger that works to activate the internal mental processes in the learner. Unlike the Behaviourist theory that sees input as an external factor. LEARNER DIFFERENCES Learner differences have been one of the factors widely discussed in SLA. This is because the learner differences are significant in determining the development of the learner. Some learners could not achieve the level of competency due to these differences. The worst case is when they could not achieve the competency level due to “fossilization” which occurs when the learner feels that he or she has fully acquired the language but at one point, they are still making the same mistakes. “Fossilization” is coined by Larry Selinker (1972) referring to the failure of the second language learner to reach the target language competency. There are five learner differences as mentioned by Ellis (1989). The key ones are age, aptitude and intelligence, motivation and needs as well as personality and cognitive style. The first difference is age which has been a major discussion among scholars. The language acquisition of adults and children is significant as many researchers have been carried out to determine which learners are superior compared to the other. A general view on language acquisition sees children as better learners compared to the adult. This view is supported by the Critical Period Hypothesis proposing that there is a period when language acquisition takes place naturally and effortlessly. Penfield and Roberts (1959) mention that this critical period is a before puberty period as it is the result of lateralization of the language function in the left hemisphere of the brain. However, this view is doubted due to the lack of empirical research. The second difference is aptitude and intelligence. Aptitude is defined as the specific ability a learner has in learning a second language. On the other hand, intelligence is defined as the general ability of well we master a whole range of skills, linguistic and non-linguistic. Aptitude is seen as the most important part compared to intelligence because aptitude greatly contributes to the success of second language acquisition. The third difference is learner motivation and needs. Motivation can be defined as learner’s overall goal or orientation. There are two types of motivation that leads to the success of SLA. The first one is integrative motivation. It is thought that students who are most successful when learning a target language are those who like the people that speak the language, admire the culture and have a desire to become familiar with or even integrate into the society in which the language is used. It is believed that integrative motivation could lead into a native-like pronunciation to the learner. Another type of motivation is instrumental motivation which refers to the desire to obtain something practical or concrete from the study of a second language. For example, in Malaysian education system, the requirement to enroll in public university is to sit for Malaysian University English Test. Due to that, the learner has to master the four skills of English language that are listening, reading, speaking and writing since the test requires these four skills. Indirectly, the learner tries to learn the language for specific purposes in his or in her life. This instrumental motivation is quite similar to the term “needs” as mentioned earlier. The last learner difference is personality and cognitive style. It is said that both are important in second language acquisition. However, there is not much of empirical research to prove the notion due to the lack of testing instrument that can measure the truth of the notion. LEARNER PROCESSES Learner processes could be divided into two which are cognitive and linguistic strategies. The cognitive strategies are often referred as learner strategies. Tarone (1980) divided the learner strategies into three parts which are learning strategies, production strategies as well as communication strategies. As for the learning strategies, it is the process where the learner consciously or unconsciously acquires the language through the activities such as memorization, drilling or inferencing. The second strategies can be defined as the process of using the language that he or she has acquired. One example is a Malay student trying to write a short story in English language which has never been done before. These production strategies involve the process of eliciting task as well as judgment towards the language that he or she uses. The last part of learning strategies is the communication strategies. The learner attempts to communicate in the second language but could not fully produce the language effectively due to lack of linguistic knowledge. As for the linguistic strategies, it is the process involving universal principles of grammar with the learner is innately endowed. Chomsky proposes that there is “language acquisition device”. Since the natural languages consist of highly abstract and complex rules, it is difficult for a learner to acquire certain languages without the innate principles that comprise Universal Grammar or UG. Cook (1985) defines Universal Grammar as “the properties inherent in the human mind”. In other words, Universal Grammar is widely accepted and its principles are suitable for all the natural languages. LINGUISTIC OUTPUT Linguistic output is in contrast of linguistic input as I have mentioned before. In linguistic output, it refers to the language produce by the learner. In linguistic output, the aspect of errors is emphasized. This is because errors are the most important source of determining the developmental level of a learner. This is the reason why Error Analysis occurred in the first place. The needs to determine the level of learner’s linguistic output has made this theory as one of the most important theories in SLA. Errors could be systematic and non-systematic. This is related to the theory of interlanguage that sees errors as systematic and non-systematic variability. However, systematic variability has gained more attention from the scholars compared to non- systematic variability. In systematic variability which is related to issue of contextual variation of language-learner language, contextual variation is divided into two which are linguistic context and situational context. In linguistic context, errors occur when the learner produces errors in more complex sentences. As for the situational context, the learner is able to produce language effectively at certain situations. However, when the the learner is pressured to communicate instantly, they are unable to produce the correct output and tend to make errors. MAJOR ISSUE CONCERNING TO TEYL TEACHER After defining and discussing each factor and relating the factors to the issue, I have decided on one issue that I feel is a major concern to TEYL teacher. The issue that I have chosen is situational factors. The reason why I choose situational factors is because it comprises all the issues related to SLA. Based on my readings, situational factors are seen as the most influential factor in the aspect of linguistic input and the strategies used by the learner. Ellis (1985) mentions that situational factors involve the external factor of second language acquisition which is the environment. As a teacher, I feel that it is my responsibility to carry out my lesson based on the environment. For example, if I were to be posted to rural areas in any parts of the world, I would have to change my way of teaching according to the level of the students. I could not teach English language to rural students like how I teach the city students. This is because rural area students are usually lack of exposure to the language and their low socioeconomic background disables them from learning the language or being highly exposed to it. Therefore, it is my responsibility to ensure that they are able to learn the language bit by bit. Ellis also mentions that there are two major types of acquisition which are naturalistic SLA and classroom SLA. I realize that there have been many discussions and debates regarding the effectiveness of acquiring second language in these two types of acquisition. It is said that naturalistic SLA is a better way to learn second language due to the rich exposure of the language and the learner that learns through this way has internalized the language. Compared to classroom SLA, the language that the learner learns in this way is said to be limited. This is because the learner would only learn the language in a classroom setting and they tend to forget what they have learnt when they go back to other informal environments. However, Ellis argued that the differences between these two should not be overemphasized. He suggested that it should be treated in the same manner. This is because the provided input given to the students is almost the same. The factor that differentiates them is the interaction that occurs. Naturalistic SLA might not be as good as the classroom SLA but still it is an important factor to be considered. Krashen (1976) comments that in a classroom, the learner go through a genuine communication process where in a naturalistic environment, the learner is engaged to the formal study. As a teacher, I realize that my time of teaching is very limited and it needs a lot of sacrifice if I want my students to succeed in learning English language. As Krashen mentions above, in a classroom, the learner would go through a genuine communication process. Due to this, I would encourage my students to speak up in the class. Since I will be teaching primary school students, I feel that in this situation, my approach to teaching English should suit my learner’s needs. I would approach my students through the approach of Total Physical Response as this approach could be fun and it involves the students’ physical movement. Hopefully, through this approach, they would be able to acquire the language effectively. CONCLUSION In conclusion, all the factors as well as the key issues are important in determining our action in teaching and learning of second language. However, in my point of view, situational factors are very important since it comprises all the other factors in second language acquisition. Situational factors help us as teachers to come up with the best method in teaching the second language. Hopefully, through the many researches to come, we would be able to be better teachers to our students in helping them acquiring the language. BIBLIOGRAPHY Ellis, R. (1985). Understanding Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge: MIT Press Cook, V. (1985). Universal Grammar and Second Language Learning. Great Britain: Harper Colin Pubications. Selinker, L. (1972). Interlanguage. Washington D.C: McGraw Hill Penfield, W. & Roberts, L. (1959). Speech and Brain Mechanism. New York: Atheneum Press Krashen, S. (1976). Formal and Informal Linguistic Environment. Oxford: Pergamon Press Tarone, E, (1980). Communication Strategies, Foreign Talk and Repair in Interlanguage. TESOL: Washington D.C Second Language Acquisition. Surf on 19 February 2009, from Wikipedia.com