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HOW CHILDREN LEARN

LANGUAGES
Looking back on those days…
How did you learn Spanish
(L1)?

How old were you?

Who taught you?


HOW CHILDREN LEARN
LANGUAGES
In this unit:
-Stages through which children acquire
their first language( L1)
-Different views of L1 and L2 acquisition
-Are the L1 and L2 acquired in the same
way?
-Does younger mean better?

Brewster, Jean. “The Primary English Teacher’s Guide”.Chapter 2 Pearson 2004


HOW CHILDREN LEARN LANGUAGES
Take this quiz about children learning
languages and make a note of your
responses:
1.How do you think children learn
their first language?
a. by imitating adults
b. by experimenting and trying
out hypotheses about how the
language works.
c. both of the above.

Brewster, Jean. “The Primary English Teacher’s Guide”.Chapter 2


Pearson 2004
HOW CHILDREN LEARN LANGUAGES
2.Do children with a high
intelligence quotient (IQ) score
learn to speak foreign
languages quicker and better
than others?
a) IQ is a crucial factor.
b) IQ is not a crucial factor.
c) Setting and context are more
important.

Brewster, Jean. “The Primary English Teacher’s Guide”.Chapter 2 Pearson 2004


HOW CHILDREN LEARN LANGUAGES

3. How important is high


motivation in successful
language learning?

a) not really important


b) the most important factor.
c) an important factor but not the
only one.

Brewster, Jean. “The Primary English Teacher’s Guide”.Chapter 2 Pearson 2004


HOW CHILDREN LEARN LANGUAGES
4. Is it better for pupils to learn a
foreign language when they
are below the age of puberty?
a) definitely yes.
b) probably yes.
c) it depends on all sorts of other
factors.

Brewster, Jean. “The Primary English Teacher’s Guide”.Chapter 2 Pearson 2004


HOW CHILDREN LEARN LANGUAGES

5. Should teachers use materials with


only language structures which
have already been taught?
a) definitely yes, learners must always be
supported step-by-step.
b) no, learners must quickly become
independent.
c) if new language is contextualized well,
learners often welcome a challenge.

Brewster, Jean. “The Primary English Teacher’s Guide”.Chapter 2 Pearson 2004


HOW CHILDREN LEARN LANGUAGES
Stages through which children acquire their first language( L1):

Stage Age
•Babbling •From birth to around 8 months
•The first “word” •At about 11 months children put names to
the objects and people around them.
•Two words: •Between 18 months and 2 years, they enter a
syntactic phase of acquisition by placing two
words together (e.g. look Daddy)
•Third and fourth years are periods of great
•Phonological, creativity when the essential language
syntactic and elements are put in place.
lexical norms
•Between 6 and 12, children continue to
•Syntactic and expand their reading vocabulary and to
lexical complexity improve their understanding of words. They
and richness like learning chants, poems, song lyrics and
love tongue twisters or jokes.

Brewster, Jean. “The Primary English Teacher’s


Guide”.Chapter 2 Pearson 2004
HOW CHILDREN LEARN LANGUAGES
Different views of L1 and L2 acquisition
• Understanding more about similarities and
differences in L1 and L2 acquisition processes
can help teachers in the foreign language
classroom.
• Explanations of early L1 and L2 acquisition
have changed a great deal in the last fifty
years.
• The most influential views arise from different
schools of psychology:
*Behaviorist
*Nativist (innatist)
*Cognitive-developmental
*Social-interactionist
HOW CHILDREN LEARN LANGUAGES

Views Characteristics
Behaviorist -Language learning is like any other
(1950s-1960s) kind of learning in that it involves habit
formation.

-It emphasizes repetition in the form of


drills, accuracy and the avoidance of
errors.

-It stresses the importance of positive


reinforcement in L1 and L2 acquisition
where correct learning behaviour is
rewarded by praise.
HOW CHILDREN LEARN LANGUAGES

Views Characteristics
Nativist ( or - Children are pre-programmed to learn
Innatist) a language and are highly sensitive to
(1960s- the linguistic features of their
1970s) environment.
- Chomsky (1959) suggested an internal
or innate Language Acquisition Device
(LAD), now referred to as Universal
Grammar (UG), which allows children to
process all the language they hear and
to produce their own meaningful
utterances
HOW CHILDREN LEARN LANGUAGES

Views Characteristics
Cognitive- -Language development was an aspect
developmental of general cognitive growth.
(1970s -1980s) -Certain thinking skills must first mature in
order to create a framework for early
language development.
-In L2 learning, the Critical Period
Hypothesis (CPH) (Lenneberg,1967),
suggested that there is a specific and
limited time for language acquisition.
-Researchers have found that there are
many other important factors to consider
aside from age , such as motivation and
learning conditions.

-Brewster, Jean. “The Primary English Teacher’s


Guide”.Chapter 2 Pearson 2004
HOW CHILDREN LEARN LANGUAGES

Views Characteristics
Social- -stresses importance of child's interaction with
interactionist parents and other caregivers.
(1980s)
-crucial element: The way language is modified
to suit the level of the learner.

-Bruner(1983) showed how an innate device


was not able to function without the help given
by an adult.

-LASS: Language Acquisition Support System


-Language: LAD+LASS
-Vygotsky: Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)
explains the fact that children can do much
more with the help of someone more skilled
than themselves than they can do alone.
Brewster, Jean. “The Primary English Teacher’s
Guide”.Chapter 2 Pearson 2004
HOW CHILDREN LEARN LANGUAGES
Are the L1 and L2 acquired in the same way?
-L1 and L2 learners are different in terms of what they bring
to the language learning situation, but similar in their
ability to acquire language.
-Some L1 and L2 acquisition processes are very similar,
although many of the learning conditions are very
different.
-Phases:
1) Learners work out rules about how the language
works.
2) They generalize these across a group of similar
instances.
3) They go on to over generalize, or use rules where
they are not appropriate (e.g. young children
learning English go through a phase of saying goed
and putted for past tense instead of went and put)
before finally going on to use the language items
correctly.

Brewster, Jean. “The Primary English Teacher’s Guide”.Chapter 2 Pearson 2004


HOW CHILDREN LEARN LANGUAGES
Does younger mean better?
-Scovel (1988): “…language is best learned during
the early years of childhood”
-Ellis (1994): “… the critical age for native-speaker-
like pronunciation is six years, provided good
pronunciation models are available, while for
learning grammar the critical age is around
puberty and onwards”
- An early start is not, in itself, automatically an
advantage.
- An early start is influenced by many learner
factors: levels of motivation and confidence,
differences in language aptitude an personality.

Brewster, Jean. “The Primary English Teacher’s Guide”.Chapter 2 Pearson 2004


THE YOUNG LANGUAGE LEARNER
• Five to seven year olds:
-They talk about what they are doing
-They can tell you about what they have done or
heard.
- They can plan activities.
-They can argue for something and give reasons.
-Their own understanding comes through hands
and eyes and ears.
-They have a very short attention and
concentration span.
-Young children enjoy to play, and learn best
when they are enjoying themselves.
-Young children are enthusiastic and positive
about learning.
Scott,Wendy. “Teaching English to Children”,Longman.1994
THE YOUNG LANGUAGE LEARNER

• Eight to ten year olds:


-Their basic concepts are formed.
-They can tell the difference between fact
and fiction.
-They ask questions all the time.
-They are able to make some decisions
about their own learning.
-They are competent users of their mother
tongue.
-They are aware of the main rules of syntax
in their own language.

Scott,Wendy. “Teaching English to Children”,Longman.1994


THE YOUNG LANGUAGE LEARNER

Teaching the young learner means:


- Words are not enough: most activities should
include movement and involve the senses. Have
plenty of objects and pictures to work with.

- Play with the language: Make up rhymes, sing


songs, tell stories.

- Language as language: the spoken word is often


accompanied by other clues to meaning –facial
expression, movement, etc.

Scott,Wendy. “Teaching English to Children”,Longman.1994


THE YOUNG LANGUAGE LEARNER
- Variety in the classroom: since
concentration and attention spans are
short, teachers must vary their activities.

- Routines: children benefit from knowing


the rules and being familiar with the
situation.

- Cooperation not competition: Avoid


rewards and prizes. Other forms of
encouragement are more effective.
Group the children together whenever
possible.

Scott,Wendy. “Teaching English to Children”,Longman.1994


THE YOUNG LANGUAGE LEARNER

-Grammar: Children can absorb language


through play and other activities which
they find enjoyable. How good they are in
a foreign language does not depend on
whether they have learnt the grammar
rules or not.

Assessment: make regular notes about each


child’s progress.

Scott,Wendy. “Teaching English to Children”,Longman.1994


1.How do children learn their first
language?
2.Do children with a high intelligence
quotient (IQ) score learn to speak
foreign languages quicker and
better than others?
3. How important is high motivation in
successful language learning?
4. Is it better for pupils to learn a foreign
language when they are below the
age of puberty?
5. Should teachers use materials with
only language structures which have
already been taught?