Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tips on mastering a second language

Tips on mastering a second language

Are you wondering if you will ever master a second language? Disillusioned that you have not made more progress in your language study than you have by now? Believe it or not, language learning is not all about going to class and doing your homework.

I came across some interesting research that may be helpful for you if you are studying a second language. According to second language acquisition researcher John Schumann, who has conducted research on those studying English as a second language in the US, there are eight variables that affect the language acquisition of the student. Let me just explain that Schumann refers to this group as the English language learners and refers to those whose mother tongue is English in the US as the target language group. Let’s just look briefly at the eight social variables which he claims affect the quality of contact that English language learners have with the target language group:

Social dominance is the first social variable. Schumann states that when English language learners, such as an Arab or Japanese person learning English in the US, are politically, culturally, technically or economically superior to the target language group, which is in this case Britain or the US, then it tends to hinder learning the target language. In his research he also points out that on the other hand if the English language learning group, such as Cubans or Mexicans in the US, has a lower socio-economic status than the target language group, they may resist learning the target language. You can see that in either case, there is resistance to learning English well. This is not to say that English is never learned well when this is the case, but to illustrate the fact that attitudes affect progress in language learning.

Using your communication skills, whether it is orally or silently, you can command social dominance. Every culture has its own form of body language. Perhaps you have noticed some of these in your dealings in social settings where you are. For example, one very common signal is learning to listen and not interrupt when another person is speaking. However, in some cultures interrupting another person is not considered rude, and the one who speaks the loudest earns the right to be heard.

Other signals associated with language and communication is to understand how people in another culture tend to listen. Do they lend a sense of attention and perhaps lean forward?

Giving the correct greeting in another culture is one of the best sources to help you gain some sense of confidence and social dominance. A cheerful and smiling greeting (as culturally appropriate) can win the heart of your community. Also different cultures use their eyes to communicate in different ways. For anyone learning English and speaking with an English speaker, you will usually notice that eye contact is important with a normal amount of blinking. Also native English speakers do not tend to make a lot extra arm, body and leg movements.

Assimilation, preservation and adaptation are another social variable. Schumann says if a person chooses assimilation as a way to integrate, it means he gives up his own lifestyle and values and adopts those of the target language group. Similarly, reservation means that the English language learning group maintains its own lifestyle and values and rejects those of the target language group. Adaptation means that the English language learners adapt to the lifestyle and values of the target language group, but maintain their own lifestyle and values for intra-group use. Each of these variables can involve personal choice. If you really want to “fit in” with the target language group and develop your knowledge and ability to speak on different topics with confidence, you need to adapt, be motivated and work hard. The question here is how much do you really want to “fit in”? Why is it important for the English language learner to learn English, or we could ask how important is it for the foreigner living in Turkey to learn Turkish?

Enclosure is the third social variable. Enclosure refers to the degree to which the English language learning group and target language group share the same social constructs such as schools, religious places, clubs, recreational facilities, crafts, professions and trades. If the two groups share these social constructs, enclosure is said to be low and second language acquisition is more easily facilitated.

We have considered the first three points and can look at the other factors -- cohesiveness, size, congruence, attitude and intended length of residence -- in my next piece.

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=239212&columnistId=68


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