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Principles of language learning and teaching: Book Review and Critique

Updated on December 6, 2014

Languages are learned and taught in different places. While others occur in formal settings, there are others which take place in informal settings. However, it is acknowledge that with disregard to the method employed, learners in the second language realize the fluency of the targeted language in different levels. For instance, although 10 people may participate in the second language class for say, a year, there final level of the language proficiency and profile will differ from one another. This owes to a combination of factors plus the methods used in teaching the learner. Individuals learn to communicate basic information through conversing in the second language during the early phases of the language learning process. It is paramount to note that mare exposition to contact with another language in most instances is not a guarantee of the acquisition of the proficiency in the language skills.

Learning a different language other than your first language is along and complicated endeavor. The whole personality is affected by the conflict that reaches beyond the confines of a first language into the second language, novel thinking ways, new culture, feelings, and actions. It also requires total involvement, commitment, emotional and intellectual responses which are all necessary in successively sending and receiving information and messages in the second language. During the acquisition process, many variables are involved. As Brown, (2000) points out, learning language does not involve a set of simple steps which could be programmed in a do it yourself kind of kitty. Moreover, the courses offered in the foreign languages do not provide sufficient training grounds about of themselves so as to making the learning of the second language successful. Not very many people could achieve fluency in the second language by basically confining to the classroom standards (Brown, 2000).

Age and Acquisition

In accordance to stern (1970) dispelling some myths with regard to the association between the first and second language acquisition should be the first step to examining the age and acquisition. The author posts some common arguments raised on regular basis in recommending an effective teaching method for the second language acquisition. Among the arguments he posts includes that in teaching language, the learners must be made to constantly practice the language in the learning process. Other issues includes making the learners to learn mimicking others, making learners understand first the words before actually speaking, presenting reading and writing skills only at the advanced stage of the learning process, and avoiding the necessity of translation or grammatical conceptualization in the initial learning process. The author points out that the points mentioned above represents the perceptions of those people who feel that a learner in the second language was considered by the teacher as a foreign language learner. The author however, observes that some of the arguments posted regarding the acquisition of the first and second language have flaws. Some of these flaws may be based on either on the implication or analogue which is derived. Some of these flaws are the common misunderstandings that require to be demythologized for the second language instructor or teacher.

The author points out that there is a critical period for language acquisition among human beings. He relies on the work of researchers such as Bickerton (1981) and Lennerberg (1967) who supports the assumption of a biological timeline for language acquisition. He further notes that humans are emotional beings. At the epicenter, their thoughts, action and meaning is emotional aspect. As creatures of intellect, people are normally influenced by emotions. Therefore, it becomes logical then looking at an effective domain in finding the answers in relation to the existing variations between the first and second language acquisition. Some of these factors in this domain according to the author include: extroversion, self esteem, empathy, anxiety, attitudes, imitation, inhibition, attitudes and so on.

The author’s articulations are well supported by a number of literatures, both neural and behavioral, which point out the existence of a critical and sensitive period for acquiring the language. Studies of children under abuse or individual feral that were prevented from being exposed from their mother tongue or rather first language until after the point of adolescence indicated extreme deficiencies of morphology, phonology, and syntax which emanate from this deprivation(Curtiss, 1977).

Many myths concerning second language acquisition are profound both in the literature and in our society today. In many studies that have compared children with adults in their ability to learn the second language, it has been confirmed that teenagers and adult were quick to learn the second language when compared to children. However, children may outperform adults in the pronunciation area. It is indeed true that children acquire easily the social language. However, some profound myths in language acquisition such as children surpassing adults in language acquisition have been greatly disputed. The variations in the adults and children’s capability of language acquisition could be attributed to social aspects rather than biological aspects. Children may have more time in interacting with other children. Additionally, there communication requirements at this stage are much lower in comparison to their adult counterparts. Children usually don’t have much to learn so at to associate or interact with their peers.

Human Learning Principles

In this section, the author presents and outlines various theories and principles of second language acquisition. These theories include: Pavlon’s classical behaviorism, skinners operand conditioning, Ausubel’s Subsumption theory, and Rodgers humanistic psychology. Under this perspective, He argues that readers have much more to gain from the theories and principles that he has presented in this section. The theories and principles according to him could give the readers insight of specific ways of understanding the real aspects of intelligence. He also clarifies on how studies with reagard to learning the second language have been used in the teaching of language. The author reveals that while some language aspects may necessitate the use of a conditioning process, other language aspects would need a meaningful cognitive process; and still others depend on the security of cognitive support of the co learners freely associating with one another. More still, others are associated with an individual’s sum of structure. The author affirms that each of these aspects is hitherto crucial and that there is no regular incorporation of the theory or principles that work for each setting in the learning process of the second language. Rather, every teacher ought to adopt a kind of intuitive process of identifying the best synthesis of a particular theory for an effective analysis of a specific context at hand. The author suggests that such kind of an intuition will be nurtured through an enhanced understanding of the effectiveness of both the strengths and weaknesses of the different learning perspectives.

In addition to the learning theories, the author also in this chapter presents the types of learning taxonomies and the various universal mental processes. He argues that the types of learning differ in accordance to the setting and the learning subject to be tackled. A complex operation such as language learning incorporates each aspect of simple learning signal to solving the signal. These eight types of learning in accordance to this author includes: signal learning, stimulus response learning, chaining, multiple discrimination, concept learning, principle learning, problem solving, and verbal association. Concerning these types of learning elements, there are those which could be better explained through particular theories than others. For instance, the first five types could easily fit in framework of behaviorism, while the last three could be better explained by either Rogers or Ausubel learning theory. The implication of the eight learning types to the second language acquisition is particularly at lower level of aspect learning and is sufficiently handled though the approach of behaviorism technique. Other “higher” order learning type could be successfully taught by those techniques that are derived by cognitive learning approach.

Freeman and Long (1991) observes that more than forty theories of second language acquisition have been proposed by researchers. These theories and principles have failed to satisfactorily explain the phenomena in the second language acquisition. Just like any learning type, learning of language can not be described as a linear process, and hence can not be predicated the way many of such theories have hypothesized. Indeed many theories and not just concerning second language acquisition have been proposed but many of them basically emphasize on the acquisition of syntax structures while at the same time, ignoring other crucial aspects. Freeman and Long add that the views of interactionist prove to be more influential in comparison to other theories since they involve both environmental and innate factors in their explanation of second language acquisition. Therefore, it could be construed that language should not be regarded as only a matter of syntax structures but also that of discourse.

Styles and Strategies

In this section, the author posts that the theories and principles of learning, the types of leaning, transfer processes, intelligent and aptitude models are all measures of describing global human traits in learning. These elements focus on explaining on how individuals perceive, store or filter and recall information. However, according to the author’s perspective, such processes do not account for the individual variations in the manner they learn, or the differences within any particular individual while all human beings may portray the intrinsically the human traits of learning. In this perspective, each individual approaches a specific problem or learns a set of facts or organizes a combination of feelings from a distinctive perspective.

In this section, the author tackles cognitive variations in the process of second language acquisition. In other words, he is dealing with learning styles variations across the different people and in strategies used by individuals by attacking specific issues in particular settings. The author expresses that these cognitive variables identified represents a complicated system of factors that should be channeled into the cognition of the totality of the process of second language acquisition. These factors, in accordance to the author will assist the educators in perceiving in their learners wide ranging variations. This is because each learner is different from one another; consequently, no learner could be pigeonholed type. With the various strategies and styles working within one individual, many other cognitive profiles ought to be recognized. If people could realize some pervading and overriding variables that categorizes learners as either being successful or unsuccessful, then as the author notes we could make a case for learners who are of the “typing” type. However using a study done by Stevick (1989) the author argues that that could not be the case, rather educators need to understand and recognize the various variables of cognition that are apparent in the second learning acquisition process. In addition, these teachers should also deduce proper judgments regarding these individual learners, interacting with them where they are and also offering them the best opportunities in the second language learning process.

In this perspective, many studies have been done concerning the aspect of learning variability by different learners while at the same time preserving the aspect of IL system (Huebner, 1985). This has been maintained though the cognizance that variability is systematic, in other words, its explicability with the appeal to particular contextual and linguistic factors, leaving out a section of free variation that is no systematic . It has been hypothesized that in particular point of the learners IL is a variety of the speech style. Whereby, the style is defined as the attention offered to form in a language. With the least attention offered to form, learners mostly depend on their first language style which portrays the biggest systemacity (Labov, 1969). This kind of style is easily influenced by other languages and therefore, being the most variable or least systematic (Labov, 1969).

As observed in this section, it should be presupposed that individual second language performers would differ on the perspective of the extent at which they use the monitor in the acquisition of the second language. At one part of the continuum, some other individuals may use their conscious knowledge of the language in target if it becomes possible. Those who utilize the monitor intensely may be extremely concerned with regard to editing their outputs so as to make them conform to their conscious regulations that their fluency may be seriously affected. At another continuum end are individuals who do not bother to monitor their output. Hence these sorts of people as identified in the study do exist and their history of cases are revealing with respect to the role which training or instruction should play in assisting the second language learners to improve their skills.

This will avidly translate to mean that an effective language learner is one who is capable of obtaining adequately the second language acquisition. An effective language leaner may or may not be regard as a conscious leaner especially in the case when he is an “optimal monitor user”. Such a learner could therefore post a superior or average aptitude in language learning. Carroll, (1977) bad language learners are of three types: The worst type, who neither have the learning or acquisition that goes for him. This may be caused by factors relating to attitudes, such as lack of serious interest in the targeted language and those involved the high anxiety, self consciousness, and also the low aptitude or grammar interest. The learner who appears to be obtaining nothing from the teaching is of this type.

Personality Factors in Second Language Acquisition

This section basically tackles the issue of the facets of the effective domain in the acquisition of the second language. Among these factors explained here is the intrinsic side of affectivity, constituting of personality factors within an individual which contribute in one way or another to the achievement of the second language acquisition. The author argues that devising theories of second language acquisition or teaching methodology that are based on cognitive aspects only should be cautioned as people would be omitting the most crucial side of the behavior of humans. The author claims that it is important to examine personality issues so as to establish a theory in the acquisition of the second language.

Advising teachers on how to handle intrinsic motives in students, he points out recognition of intrinsic drives as not being harmful or bad is one of the paramount attitudes a teacher should have. The teacher under this perspective is mandated to capitalize such factors through their own innovations. The teacher additionally ought to add their own interesting techniques which should be basically leaner centered and also paired activities which offer to these students choices both in the approaches and topics. The author explains that the crucial notions of receiving, responding, as well as valuing are all common. The second language ought to be receptive both to those that they are communicating and also to the language itself. They also need to be responsive to the communication setting and to persons and also be capable and willing to place particular value on the communication aspect of interpersonal aspects.

Supporting the sentiments of this author that personality factors is the determinant of the rate in which individual acquire the second language Gardner and Lambert (1972) also emphasizes on an individual’s internal influences on the learning of the second language. However, there have been no agreements concerning the categorization of variables that are deemed effective. Although other researchers come to an agreement that personality variables are theoretical concepts which are cumbersome to defining and that the soundness of psychological tests which try to measure them is in most cases challenged and criticized. However, there categorization is still important in the learning process of the second language.

Gardner and Lampard also explain that intrinsic motives are crucial in the learning of the second language. The authors define motivation as constituting desires, attitudes, efforts, direction, persistence, energy and intention. These factors serve as an impetus of generating learning both at first and later as sustaining force to the cumbersome process of the second language acquisition.

Social Cultural Factors

In this section, the author has focused on the intersection of culture and effect. He tries to resolve issues on how learners overcome the personal and transaction obstacles caused by the two cultures that are have come into contact as well as the association of culture learning and second language acquisition. According to the author, since culture is an ingrained set of behaviors and modes of perception is an important aspect in the process of learning the second language. This is because according to the author, language is part of culture and vice versa, the two are interwoven intricately in such away that if one is isolated between the two, then the relevance of either language or culture is lost. The process of second language acquisition except in specialized cases such as instrumental acquisition is also considered as the acquiring of the second culture. Under this perspective, the author advises that both teachers and learners of the foreign language ought to understand cultural variations, to openly realize that people are unique to each other. The language classes could celebrate the cultural variations as well as engaging in the critique over the utilization and the bases of the stereotypes. The author tells educators and scholars to strive in understanding the cultural contexts and background of there learners. By being sensitively attitude to the perception of cultural identity, participants will then be able to change perception into appreciation.

The social aspects of the second language can not indeed be ignored since language is particularly used in communication with other people. Generally, the process of language learning is asocial context where learners where learners relate with the teachers, fellow students as well as other speakers. It is through this kind of interaction, where the learner obtains new vocabularies, word and sentence structures and also attempts the new structures in this new language. Though the classrooms in the second language setting may develop substantial time in developing a linguistic for learners of the second language, this may not always result into the communicative fluency. The competency in language fluency necessitates that the learner master both social and linguistic aspects of the second language. This translates that the learner ought to form sentences that are structurally correct and appropriate in specific social contexts.

Communicative Competency

Concerning communicative competency, the author uses Hymes’ (1972) articulation to define communicative competency as that aspect of human’s competency that enables them to interpret and convey information as well as to negotiate meaning interpersonally within particular settings. The author notes that communicative competency has a special role in the general understanding of language. He also notes that many scholars have been mandated to evaluate communication with regard to the impact which utterances realize. Such effect has an impact for both the production as well as the comprehension of an utterance, both of which serve in bringing the act of communication in its role. The author affirms that learners in second language ought to understand the role of communication, developing an awareness regarding what the real role of communication is and how one could achieve that aspect by use of linguistic forms.

He goes on to say that various roles of language are neither mutually exclusive nor are they discrete. For instance, one sentence or conversation ought to incorporate various functions simultaneously. The important thing however, is to employ linguistic forms in realizing these functions of language which are also comprised of the root nub of the second language. A second language learner may be able to acquire the right word order, lexical items, syntax but may not be able to realize a desired and intended function through a careful selection of structure, intonation, non verbal signals as well as the astute perception of the context in a specific discourse stretch

To finalize this section, the author explains that cc is an intricate web of social cultural, psychological and linguistic characteristics which makes it to be easily entangled in one section of that web. He further, notes that some of the distinctive characteristics of human discourse have become clearer and that the methodology in language teaching has portrayed an aspect of improving capacity in the teaching and learning communication in the classroom. These trends according to the author indicate a positive move and creative direction towards the teaching of the second language.

It is indeed true that communicative competency has been one of the essential elements of language teaching for along time. However, just more recently, there has been controversy with regard to what the concept comprises of and whether with all that, leaner’s has to learn through talking. We can content that communication is not merely a language matter. As individuals speak, the speech is followed by either a lesser or greater extent by the non verbal communications including facial expressions, gestures, distance, body attitudes, sighs and so on. Many signals about ourselves are transmitted through such aspects such as the hairstyle, clothing ware, films, and visual text images et cetera which have become more significant with regard to language learning and teaching in recent times. This makes the aspect of communicative competency a complex and comprehensive phenomena.

The aspect of non verbal communication is not only on human beings but also on other living creatures; however, language is the specific mode of human communication. This constitutes a comprehensive unit of meaning that is expressed through the assistance of sounds produced through organs of speech or through the assistance of the written word. On the other hand, the verbal part of individual’s communicative competency comprises of four skills such as speaking, writing, listening and reading. These elements are emphasized since it has become a common norm that communicative competency is only the ability to speak as most authors articulate. It should be noted that communicative competency is both receptive and productive.

Most individuals develop communicative competency in their native languages, orally and later if possible written proficiency. Hence acquiring communicative competency in the second language takes place on the basis of the fact that all people already possess a native language. Therefore, we are made to deal with the development of two interacting systems. Communicative competency is dealing with a competency which an individual already has or is in the process of developing.

Linguistic Factors: Cross Linguistic Language and Learner Language

In this section, the author examines language as the most important component of the second language acquisition. He considers the historical progression, which is an era of preoccupation with contrasting studies between the native and foreign language and also the effect which the first language has on the second. The author further examines on how the era of contrastive analysis gave way to an era of error analysis with inter-language as the guiding concept. Other aspects addressed in this aspect section includes: interaction, input acquisition, feedback, error treatment and awareness. The author also evaluates the impact of classroom instructions, more especially on debates that focus on form and most of pose some obvious practical implications for the language educator.

With regard to the study of errors in the learner’s linguistic system, the author affirms that the learner should be operating creatively on a foreign language, either consciously or subconsciously, a system for understanding and production of verbal expressions in a language. According to this author, such a system ought not to be considered as a defective system. Rather, it is only in so far as first language speakers compare their own understanding of that language to that of the second language learners. The author affirms that this aspect should rather be viewed as a variable, approximate and dynamic system, which is to a great extent logical to the learner’s mind. The author points out that the processing of the language on the part of the learner is largely based on their understanding of their own inter-language. This systems basically lies between two languages should not have the value judgment of either language on top of it. Therefore, the teacher is mandated to place great value on learners and their attempts at communicating. In addition, he should offer optimal feedback for the system to transform into successive phases until the time when the learners are capable to effectively communicate and without being ambiguous in the foreign language.

In ascertaining the right kind of corrective feedback that is paramount in a specific moment, the teacher, according to this author requires to establishing the instinct, not only by experience but also through solid eclectic theoretical foundations, in ascertaining the right kind. In addition, he should also consider the right type of uptake that should be anticipated. In this perceptive, he observes that all the principles of human leaning, reinforcement theory, social cultural and cognitive factors, plus the communicative language teaching ought to be combined in forming these theoretical foundations.

The learner’s problem of first language interference while learning a second language has been noted to be one of the crucial issues in language acquisition, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics and second language learning. In the process of second language learning, the learner may be tempted to arbitrarily utilize his or her native language as support for, contrasting and comparing the lexical, phonetic, grammatical aspects of both the native language and the second language that is being learned (Corder 1981).

Corder defines psychology interference as the transfer of skills, presenting as a comprehensive human psyche phenomena, a process that enables an individual employ his or her acquired intellect and motoric operations upon either absolutely or relatively novel circumstances. Researchers and psychologist have noted that such a formation of separate skills could not be an isolated or independent process, rather, its collaborated and influenced by the earlier experiences of a human being. Stated differently, interference is an interaction of skills where the previously acquired skills influences the creation of new ones (Vereschyagin, 1976).

Languages interaction is regarded as a probable varieties of mutual impact, interpretation of two or more dialects and languages. Borrowing of specific linguistic features by a particular language from another as well as the outcome of language interaction is regarded as an enrichment process. However, as Corder, (1981) realizes, subjection and dominance could not be avoided. In linguistic interactions, there can not be language equity; rather one of the interacting languages must dominate another. Hence, in learning a second language, it is beneficial for an individual for figure the world from another angle which may not be necessarily common.


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