From the category archives:

Learning a Second Language

Most current theorists of Second Language Acquisition see learning as a continuum. That is, there are predictable and sequential stages of language development, in which the learner progresses from no knowledge of the new language to a level of competency closely resembling that of a native speaker.
Their theories have resulted in the identification of several distinct stages of second language development.

These distinct stages of second language development are most often identified as

  • Stage 1- Silent/Receptive
  • Stage 2- Early Production
  • Stage 3- Speech Emergence
  • Stage 4- Intermediate Fluency
  • Stage 5- Continued Language Development.

As a parent, teacher or tutor of a second language student; understanding that students are going through a predictable and sequential series of developmental stages helps you predict and accept a student’s current stage, while modifying your instruction to encourage progression to the next stage.

Further to this, a concept endorsed by most language acquisition theorists is Stephen Krashen’s “comprehensible input” hypothesis, which suggests that learners acquire language by “intaking” and understanding language that is a “little beyond” their current level of competence (Krashen, 1981, p. 103).

For instance, a preschool child already understands the phrase “Get your crayon.” By slightly altering the phrase to “Get my crayons,” the teacher can provide an appropriate linguistic and cognitive challenge— offering new information that builds off prior knowledge and is therefore comprehensible (Sowers, 2000).

Providing consistent, comprehensible input requires a constant familiarity with the ability level of students in order to provide a level of “input” that is just beyond their current level.

Another theory that has directly influenced classroom instruction is Cummins’s distinction between two types of language

  • basic interpersonal communications skills (BICS) and
  • cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP).

Research has shown that the average student can develop conversational fluency within two to five years, but that developing fluency in more technical, academic language can take from four to seven years depending on many variables such as

Factors influencing Second Language Learning

  • age of learner
  • motivation of learner
  • aptitude of learner
  • personality of learner
  • degree of exposure to L1
  • formal vs informal learning
  • quality of instruction literacy in L1
  • degree of similarity between L1 and L2 (eg phonology,  orthography, morphology, syntax, etc)

Understanding that language learners are going through a predictable and sequential series of developmental stages helps you predict and accept  a student’s current stage, while modifying your instruction to encourage progression to the next stage.

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