Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tips on mastering a second language (2)

Tips on mastering a second language (2)

Culture is designed to meet human beings’ basic needs and language is the expression of it. Living in a global world, it is essential to understand culture and be able to communicate with each other.

In my piece “Tips on mastering a second language” (March 26, 2011) we explored some of John H. Schumann’s eight social variables that affect the progress of a student studying a second language.

Let me just point out that Schumann refers to the location of the native speakers as the target language community. The eight points include social dominance, assimilation and adaptation, enclosure, cohesiveness, size, congruence, attitude and even intended length of residence. We will continue here by picking up with the fourth point:

Schumann says the fourth social variable is cohesiveness. Have you ever wondered when studying a second language just how you would progress if you really gave it your all and spent all your time in and with the target language group? Unfortunately, many English language learners, when they go to America or England or Australia or wherever, remain separate from the target language group. The same happens here in Turkey as foreigners try to study Turkish at the local language school but then do not have the opportunity to mix with the Turks after class. The result is minimal language practice and exposure to culture and more time with other students studying Turkish.

Linguists have been debating how far social distance can explain variation in the degree of language acquisition. To get around the dilemma of not having access to mix and mingle with the target language group, I have noticed more and more private schools in İstanbul, particularly preschools, are doing everything they can to create an effective English language learning environment for their young students. If you cannot live in the target language group community you must create an environment that is the next best thing.

Cohesiveness influences the level of success the student will have in learning the second language. You can find communities in every country that are cohesive. If you are in an English language learner group that has chosen to be cohesive, since it tends to remain separate from the target language group, the students will find it more difficult to reach proficiency. An example of this are the many Turks living in Germany who often do not learn German well because they are cohesive -- remaining in the Turkish communities for their social life, shopping and work.

The remaining social variables deal with size, congruence, attitude and intended length of residence. By size, Schumann explains that if the English language learner group is large, the intra-group contact will be more frequent than the contact with the target language group. This can hinder progress in your language acquisition. A Turkish friend of mine who lives in California now had her mom come to visit for three months. Mom, who was in her 40s, loved being with her daughter; however, she did not like being in America because she could not speak the language and did not make any friends while visiting there.

Schumann’s research indicates that congruence is key. The more similar the two cultures are, social contact and learning the second language is potentially more likely to happen. Our social and cultural access and process in everyday life is a necessity. Schuman states that language will come more naturally if you share common interests and places.

Attitude is crucial. It helps if the English language learner and target language groups have positive attitudes towards each other. If you can speak another language you can often earn a better salary. In China many Chinese have not studied English because they wanted to but their motivation was to receive a scholarship from the government or a better salary. The language learning experience will be good if the language learners have a positive attitude towards the target language group. On the other hand, if the student has a negative attitude towards the target language group, this can be a hindrance.

A final factor that determines progress in learning a second language is the intended length of residence. The longer the second language learner plans to remain in the target language environment, the more motivated he usually will be.

You can learn the second language if you develop a “can do” approach and maintain a positive attitude about learning the language and the target language group.

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey, 2005.” Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: c.mcpherson@todayszaman.com

SOURCE: http://www.sundayszaman.com/sunday/columnistDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=239414&columnistId=68


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