Features of languages interaction in teaching a second foreign language

Foreign languages are very important today. Language learning is complex, whether the language is acquired in infancy as a first language or later in life as a second or third language. The learning process consists of acquiring a language system, rather than learning a series of disconnected components. A language system consists of not only grammatical rules and vocabulary, but also the proper way to use language, such as requesting information, inviting a friend to a social event, thanking a person for a kind act, or greeting a stranger. Bilingualism involves having a command of the linguistic system-the phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics that constitute the essence of each language, but it also means being able to keep the languages separate cognitively when necessary, and strategies to search the memory store in one language in order to use the information in the other language. Some languages will have very different sentence structures compared to English; others will appear to be more familiar. However, familiarity with the language system alone is not enough to enable students to engage in successful communicative activities. Learners also acquire the strategies that assist them in bridging communication gaps that result from differences of language and culture. Gardner (1985) studied a variety of psychological and social variables in examining the role of motivation in second language learning. According to Gardner, anyone who seeks to learn a second language recognizes the potential value of speaking a new language and must be motivated to learn the language for one of two reasons: instrumental purposes (e.g., to get a job or to meet a school graduation requirement) or for integrative purposes (e.g., to understand better how native speakers of the language think and behave). Motivation underlies the learning of language because it addresses the goals and expectations of the learner as well as the teacher. If a person is only interested in enough survival skills in a new language to be able to secure employment then the level of attainment will be different from learners who want to read and discuss the important literature of another culture. In an extension of Gardner's research, Sung and Padilla (1998) found an “ethnic heritage-related motivation” for learning Chinese, Korean, or Japanese. Students who wanted to learn the language of their ancestors were more motivated to learn these more difficult languages, especially if their parents also wanted them to learn the language. Thus, knowing students' reasons for learning a second language enables teachers to plan an appropriate curriculum. In language learning and teaching an important concept is comprehensible input. Students can only learn what they understand and in language teaching this means that the teacher must make content comprehensible. There is a theoretical debate about what exactly comprehensible input is and how it advances a learner's knowledge of a new language (Sanz, 2005). However, at practical level teachers understand that with early to intermediate language learners, teaching for comprehension includes providing many nonverbal clues such as pictures, objects, demonstrations, gestures, and intonation cues. As competency in the language develops, other strategies include using hands-on activities and cooperative or peer tutoring techniques. As learners' vocabulary and knowledge of the language expands, they are able to comprehend more information. Ultimately, mastery demands that learners understand what the teacher is saying in class or what a native speaker is saying in a real-life context as well as the appropriate conversational interactive exchanges in and out of the classroom. The demands of accuracy in a second language, as can be seen, are high. There are four modes of expressionlistening, speaking, reading, and writing-that constitute the paths by which information and concepts are transmitted from one person to another. Listening and reading are receptive skills; speaking and writing are productive skills. Students cannot create the language they are learning without first receiving input from teachers, peers, and the media. Thus, developing proficiency in each of these modes reinforces proficiency in the other modes. For example, learning to read in a new language facilitates vocabulary acquisition, which augments speaking and writing in the second language. Thus, all four modes of expression are important elements in language learning, and their use is required in all formal classroom contexts. Bialystok (2001) has shown that language input provided to language learners and the language output expected of them must be developmentally appropriate in two senses: (1) appropriate to the developing level of second language learning that the person has attained, and (2) appropriate to the cognitive and linguistic level of the student in his or her first language. In first language acquisition research shows that parents simplify their language input to their young children by speaking slower, frequent repetition, and simplified vocabulary and grammar. Hakuta (1985) argues that good language teachers use these same strategies in the early stages of ESL or FL instruction.

How long it takes to learn a second language is an important pedagogical as well as psychological question because the answer depends in part on the learner's age, aptitude, personality, and motivation. If a person wants just enough language to be able to interact on a social level with native speakers, he or she will spend considerably less time learning the new language than a person who wants to be able to succeed academically in a classroom in the new language and compete with native speakers. The time needed to master a second language for interpersonal communication is considerably less than the time required to master second language oral and literacy (reading and writing) skills in order to do academic level courses with native speakers of the second language. In sum, there is no one answer to the question of how much time is necessary to learn a second language. The answer depends on expectations of what language skills (oral, listening, reading, or writing) and level of proficiency are desirable in the student. If the goal is basic survival skills, the amount of time needed will be far less than if the aim is to develop a high level of communicative competency. A learner who is proficient in a second language is able to exhibit a

high level of accuracy in the second language. This includes being able to use the new language with grammatical accuracy in ways that are contextually and culturally authentic. Accuracy pertains to the precision of the message in terms of fluency, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and cultural appropriateness. When language practice reflects real-world use, it forms the foundation for developing proficiency. This is true regardless of age, grade level, and type of language instruction offered the student.

In addition, a language system includes discourse, whereby speakers learn what to say to whom and when. In an attempt to understand and explain first language (L1) acquisition and second language (L2) acquisition scholars have put forward many theories. These theories can aid language teachers to understand language learning and to assist their students in their language learning process. Many characteristics of L2 acquisition were highlighted by studies conducted on the issue of Interlanguage. Interlanguage theory was developed in the 1970s and 1980s to emphasize the dynamic qualities of language change that make the Interlanguage a unique system. Selinker (1969, cited in McLaughlin, 1987) defines Interlanguage as the interim grammars constructed by second language learners on their way to the target language. Interlanguage is the learner's developing second language knowledge and has some characteristics of the learner's native language, of the second language, and some characteristics which seem to be very general and tend to occur in all or most Interlanguages. It is systematic, dynamic and constantly evolving. Interlanguages have some common characteristics with L1 acquisition, because both share similar developmental sequences. Some of the characteristics of L2 acquisition show similarities with L1 acquisition, whereas others show differences.

Similarities between first and second language acquisition are developmental sequences, linguistic universals and markedness, input.

Developmental Sequences Researchers have carried out numerous studies to understand the nature of first and second language acquisition. These studies have revealed that both first and second language learners follow a pattern of development, which is mainly followed despite exceptions. Rod Ellis (1984) covers the idea of developmental sequences in detail and outlines three developmental stages: the silent period, formulaic speech, and structural and semantic simplification.

Research in natural settings where unplanned language, such as the learner language that results from attempts by learners to express meaning more or less spontaneously, is used to show that both first and second language learners pass through a similar initial stage, the silent period. Children acquiring their first language go through a period of listening to the language they are exposed to. During this period the child tries to discover what language is. In the case of second language acquisition, learners opt for a silent period when immediate production is not required from them. In general, however, many second language learners especially classroom learnersare urged to speak. The fact that there is a silent period in both first and second language learners (when given the opportunity) is widely accepted. However, there is disagreement on what contribution the silent period has in second language acquisition. The second developmental stage is termed formulaic speech. Formulaic speech is defined as expressions which are learnt as un analyzable wholes and employed on particular occasions (Lyons, 1968, cited in Ellis, 1994).

The literature points out that formulaic speech is not only present in both first and second language acquisition but also present in the speech of adult native speakers.

In the third stage the first and second language learners apply structural and semantic simplifications to their language.

Structural simplifications take the form of omitting grammatical factors (e.g. articles, auxiliary verbs) and semantic simplifications take the form of omitting content words (e. g. nouns, verbs). There are two suggested reasons why such simplifications occur. The first reason is that learners may not have yet acquired the necessary linguistic forms. The second reason is that they are unable to access linguistic forms during production. These three stages show us that L1 and L2 learners go through similar stages of development with the exception that L2 learners are urged to skip the silent period. However, learners do not only show a pattern in developmental sequences, but also in the order in which they acquire certain grammatical morphemes.

Linguistic Universals and Markedness There are two approaches to linguistic universals. The first approach was put forward by Greenberg (1966, in Ellis 1994) and termed typological universals. Typological universals are based on cross-linguistic comparisons on a wide range of languages drawn from different language families to discover which features they have in common (e.g. all languages have nouns, verbs etc.). The second approach is the generative school represented by Chomsky. The aim is to study individual languages in great depth in order to identify the principles of grammar which underlie and govern specific rules. This approach was later termed as Universal Grammar (Ellis, 1994). The most relevant aspect of both approaches that relates to L1 and L2 acquisition is that some features in a language are marked and some are unmarked. According to typological universals, unmarked features are those that are universal or present in most languages and which the learners tend to transfer. Marked rules are language specific features which the learner resists transferring.

Even though neither of these approaches aimed at explaining first or second language acquisition, the results of both are applicable. The findings show that unmarked features are learned earlier and easier than marked rules in both the first and the second language while unmarked forms require more time and effort by the learner.


Input is defined as "language which a learner hears or receives and from which he or she can learn” (Richards et al.1989, p. 143) and its importance is widely accepted. Behaviorist views hold that there is a direct relationship between input and output. In order to obtain favorable habits the language learner must be given feedback, which constitutes the input. Interactionist views of language acquisition also hold that verbal interaction, or input, is crucial for language acquisition.

There is, however, a contradicting view to the importance of input in first and second language acquisition. Chomsky (see Ellis, 1994; McLaughlin, 1991) argues that input is essential but that input alone cannot explain first language acquisition because it contains ungrammaticalities and disfluencies which make it an inadequate source of information for language acquisition. Children would not be able to distinguish what is grammatical and ungrammatical based on such input. Furthermore, input underdetermines linguistic competence. He argues that input alone does not supply learners with all the information they need to discover rules of the L1. Therefore, he points out that the child must be equipped with knowledge that enables the learners to overcome the deficiencies of the input. Later, Universal Grammar researchers have drawn implications to second language acquisition from these arguments. It is believed that the same arguments for the inadequacy of input in first language acquisition also account for second language acquisition.

Consequently, when learning a first language, learners must rely on the knowledge they are equipped with; and when learning a second language, learners must rely on the L1. These arguments show us that both input and the knowledge that the child is equipped with are important and should interact for learning and development to take place. Therefore, one should not be favored over the other.

To understand the nature of L1 acquisition, researchers have tried to explain how children progress from "no language" to their mother tongue. In L2 acquisition, however, the process is more complicated as learners already have knowledge of their L1. The Interlanguage Theory plays a crucial role in arriving at findings on how L2 learners move from their mother tongue towards the target language. This means that we cannot talk about the Interlanguage of a child but that we can talk about the Interlanguage of the L2 learner. Language learning to take place depends on various factors, which means that the language teacher has to account for these factors as much as possible. However, none of the theories or factors mentioned in this paper is on its own explanatory enough to account for the complex process of language learning. Every finding or explanation should be considered in interaction with the others. This means that a language teacher cannot base his/her teaching solely on any single theory or claim within the framework of L2 or L1 acquisition.

The above similarities and differences between first and second language acquisition provide the language teachers with information to aid them in their profession. This information can help the teacher in designing classroom activities, designing the syllabus, choosing an appropriate method, understanding the learning processes of his/her students, and guiding his/her students in the language learning process.

The first discussion in terms of the similarities and differences between L2 and L1 acquisition was related to developmental sequences which plays an important role in the cognitive development of learners. Knowing that in L1 acquisition learners have the right to keep silent and process the input would be quite beneficial under ideal teaching situations. Even though this silent period promotes language processing in L1 acquisition, it is quite hard, even impossible, to apply it in L2 acquisition. The teaching conditions and the grading legislations may force the teacher to ask students for immature production. Knowing the need for such a period but not being able to allow for it should at least make the teacher understand erroneous production, inhibited students, or high anxiety in the classroom. Even though the idea of silent period may not be applicable directly into teaching, it gives an idea of why some students resist or avoid to produce the language taught.

The notion of markedness also has implications for language teachers. It is asserted that marked features are learned earlier and easier than marked rules in both the first and the second language. On the other hand, unmarked forms require more time and effort by the learner and are more difficult to learn (Ellis 1994; McLaughlin, 1987). Considering markedness, language teachers could find out the unmarked features of the target language and plan their lessons so that they spend more time on unmarked features. Furthermore, the idea of markedness could help teachers understand why their students fail to learn or have difficulty in learning certain features of the target language.

The issue of input has an explanatory effect both in L1 and in L2 acquisition, which means that it has direct implications for the language teacherLanguage teachers are the main source of input in the classroom. A teacher wishing to provide comprehensible input will have to modify his/her language according to the level of students and speak at such a speed that the students can follow. The teacher can use lots of activities requiring the students to interact with each other or with the teacher. Pair work, information gap activities, and classroom discussions are a good source for input. However, overwhelming students with input that is quite above their language capacity might result in lack of selfconfidence and resistance to learn the language. So, using input to promote language learning is beneficial as long as it is aimed at the level of the students.

Even though the Behavioristic approach lacks to explain the creative aspect of language production, it helps to understand how in teaching/learning, stimulus/response helps to master both grammatical patterns and phonological patterns. To make use of this knowledge at the right time in the process of teaching depends on whether the teacher has been able to identify when stimulus/ response can be used for the benefit of the learning.

However, an important point here which is to be kept in mind is the age and level of the students in mind. While younger learners might find such an education enjoyable, older learners might get easily bored. In addition, learning language habits might be useful for students with lower levels of proficiency; students with a higher level of proficiency may not benefit the same amount.

The final issue related to the similarities of L1 and L2 acquisition is the ZPD. The importance of assistance and collaboration has useful implications for language teachers. Language teachers should try to assist their students as much as possible by providing them with language necessary to pass to the next level of language competence. The role of the teacher is to direct action within school activity in a manner appropriate to the learner’s level of development, the cultural and social environment (Daniels, 1996). It can also be suggested that teachers promote teacher-student interaction or peer-interaction. As Hawkins (2001) states, “It is via this kind of interaction that knowledge very gradually gets built” (p. 374). This is possible through the use of collaborative activities such as pair work or group work where students are required to negotiate meaning. Furthermore, teachers could benefit from the ZPD to understand aspects of students’ emerging capacities. That is, language tests should be viewed as both indicators of students’ achieved abilities and also students’ future capabilities.

When we come to the differences attributed to L1 and L2 acquisition, the starting point should be terms themselves, "acquisition" and "learning". Although it is argued that learning and acquisition are quite distinct processes, a language teacher should consider the possibility that extensive practice in the classroom can lead to acquisition. However, it should be kept in mind that not everything taught becomes acquired. So, expectations regarding the quality of learning should be set realistically.

The Critical Period hypothesis is one of the key differences leading to variations in L1 and L2 acquisition. It is widely accepted that children are better in pronunciation, whereas adults are faster and better learning in rules and pragmatics.

Knowing this may guide a teacher who is teaching adults towards practicing pronunciation, if this is one of the objectives in learning the language on the side of the learner. Another important point related to the critical period regards affective factors. While it does not cause a problem in L1 acquisition, the learners of L2 are faced with inhibition and attitudes. The affective states of our students are very important since these are the major factors intervening in language learning. Adult or young adult language learners need to be relaxed and comfortable to create positive attitudes to the language and the language learning process. In addition, teachers need to free their students from inhibitions so that students can freely interact and use the language. This can only be possible if they build up trust and understanding between themselves and their students. More positive than negative feedback, more praise than criticism might be the first step.

The issue of fossilization is only attributable to L2 acquisition. While all L1 learners reach full competence in the target language,some forms in the target language of the L2 learners might be fossilizedTeachers can prevent fossilization by correcting repeated errors of their students or they can practice problematic language more than non-problematic language. One should be aware that once fossilization takes place, it is very difficult to get rid of. Therefore, teachers should act with caution and help their students to prevent fossilization.

The last factor to be mentioned regards social issues. It was previously stated that second language learners may choose to learn a language variety other than the standard form depending on the speech community they are taking as a reference. Such is the case in natural settings and not in classroom settings. Therefore, it is the teacher's (or the teaching institution's) responsibility to decide on which variety of the target language to take as the norm. It is important to make students aware of the different varieties of the target language, but in terms of teaching, there should be consistency.

L1 and L2 acquisition are quite complicated processes. To understand these processes will enable the language teacher to be more sensitive to the factors involved. While L1 and L2 acquisition reveal some similarities, they also show differences. The teacher should understand that the phenomena in L1 and L2 acquisition are interacting, none of them being solely explanatory. So, teachers should not base their teaching on just a single claim or factor involved in language acquisition. They should rather understand, analyze, synthesize and even criticize before trying to implement any of the suggestions made for teaching.

It is also important to note that research as tried to make a distinction between “learning” and “acquisition”. Especially in L2 education, the terms “learning” and “acquisition” are very often used interchangeably.

The arguments considering L1 and L2 acquisition are inconclusive and that's why many studies were conducted to explain the nature of L1 and L2 acquisition. L1 and L2 acquisition are affected by many variables. Thus, the student's profile itself is an important determiner at the decision making phase of language teaching. Finally, language teachers should combine their theoretical knowledge with their teaching situation.



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Year: 2014
City: Almaty
Category: Philology