Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pros and cons of language acquisition

Pros and cons of language acquisition

Nearly every day either a foreigner tells me that they wish they could learn Turkish more quickly or a Turk says they wish they spoke English better.

It seems that during the spring months a number of English Language Teaching (ELT) conferences will be held in different places to help English teachers learn new techniques and discuss challenges they face as ELT teachers. On April 1 there is an ELT conference that is planned to be held in Konya. I have been asked to give a presentation on the subject “Can English be learned?”

When asked to give a presentation on this topic it got me to thinking about a question I had not really given a lot of thought to; however, like most foreigners a similar thought crossed my mind with regards to learning Turkish. Will I ever learn Turkish? Any student studying a second language asks this question about the target language. A number of foreign friends over the years have certainly expressed the same thought, that is, whether or not they will ever really be able to communicate in Turkish as a second or third language.

If you have ever studied Turkish you will be familiar with the technique used to teach the language. Only in more recent years have some teachers begun to use games, songs, role play, etc. Generally the more “direct method” approach to learning a language is used. In other words the teacher uses examples of language in order to inductively teach grammar. Thinking about this reminds me of when I took Turkish classes at a language center in Ankara back in 1980. The teacher seemed to only want to give oral practice to the students who knew the answers. So the students who did not catch on as quickly soon fell behind because they were not given enough practice. Naturally those who kept being given opportunities to speak because they knew the answers excelled. The teacher probably should not have been teaching because he had no patience with those who did not catch on quickly. He also lacked the gift of encouragement.

The teacher can make or break a student. Teachers should inspire hope and motivate students.

In another class that I attended the next year in İstanbul the teacher was completely different. Although she was heavy handed with grammar and weak in teaching pronunciation she was loved by her students. In her class it seemed as though she pounded us with grammar drills in hopes that we would catch on. We were always trying to guess the rules of the language through the examples provided. We liked our teacher as she understood foreigners and she knew English well. She was well aware of which grammar points we would struggle with in trying to learn Turkish. She would bombard us with lots of questions trying to get us to give a reply using the grammatical structure of the day in the conversation. Accuracy is sought and errors are corrected. This method provides more comprehensible input than the methods discussed so far, but it still focuses too much on grammar. Unlike the teacher in Ankara, no matter how hard Miss Belgen tried to make us feel comfortable when it came to your turn to answer you felt some anxiety. Sitting in rows waiting for your turn to come and speak can be nerve-wrecking and really is unnatural.

I think Stephen Krashen in his book “Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition” hits the nail on the head when he writes: “What theory implies, quite simply, is that language acquisition, first or second, occurs when comprehension of real messages occurs, and when the acquirer is not ‘on the defensive’.”

In order to really learn a second language and understand the culture you need to spend time with people who speak that language. If you are studying Turkish spend time with Turks. If you are studying English spend time with English speakers and so on. By doing this you will hear, speak and observe much. You will acquire language.

Along with lessons, language acquisition is the key. It does not require extensive use of grammatical rules. It does not require tedious drill. Learning a second language does not happen overnight. Real language acquisition develops slowly, and speaking skills emerge significantly later than listening skills, even when conditions are perfect. These days for most of us the best way to learn is in low-anxiety situations that contain messages that we really want to hear.

SOURCE: http://www.todayszaman.com/columnist-239114-pros-and-cons-of-language-acquisition.html


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