Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Teaching a Second Language

Children in a classroom learning
Photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

Theories for Second Language Acquisition 

Developed as early as the 1960's, second language acquisition theories have evolved and been challenged by various theorists. Educators of Second Languages study such theories to successfully teach students learning a second language. Perhaps the most known and studied theorist of Second-Language Acquisition is Stephen Krashen (1980) who proposed a theory containing five hypothesis:

The Acquisition Learning Hypothesis
Acquisition of a language deals with a subconscious process similar to the process children undergo while learning their first language.

The Monitor Hypothesis
The Monitor Hypothesis explains the relationship between acquisition and learning. Students tend to use the monitor function as a practical result of the learned grammar. The monitor in this case is used to plan, edit, and  correct the second language while practicing it. According to Krashen this monitor use should be minimal.

The Natural-Order Hypothesis
The Natural-Order Hypothesis is mainly based on research suggesting that grammatical structures follow a "natural order" which can be predictable. Although Krashen acknowledges this theory he rejects grammatical sequencing stating that the ultimate goal is language acquisition. 

The Input Hypothesis
The Input Hypothesis is Krahsen's attempt to explain how a learner acquires a second language. He states that the students acquires a second language once they are given an "input" that is a step higher than their normal linguistic competence. For example if a student is at stage "i" his or her input will be i+1 this way they are more likely to be challenged and acquire the second language.

The Affective Filter Hypothesis
The Affective Filter Hypothesis is Krashen's way of stating that affective variables (motivation, self-confidence, and anxiety) play a strong role in second language acquisition.

Using Theory in the Modern Classroom

Krashen's theory can be applied when thinking about teaching a second language in a mainstream classroom. Some educators would suggest that second language learners should learn outside the classroom in a confined space where they will feel comfortable learning. Although it is true that second language learners might feel intimidated in a mainstream classroom, it is important to integrate second language learning and core curriculum.

  • Integrating language and content is essential for a student to acquire a language. If language is learned outside the regular classroom the focus of language will be seen as something separate from content, when it should be a medium of learning
  • Teaching both subject matter and language is a way to ensure that children's time in the classroom is as useful as possible.
  • Some proponents of language learning in the mainstream classroom suggest that "language is best learned in the service of other learning" which suggests that second language learners should learn the language they are trying to acquire by integrating it with other mainstream classroom content to speed up the process of acquiring the language. 
  • A culturally and linguistically diverse classroom can benefit all students.

Additional Resources:

Click here for a collection of second language learning apps that can be used with iPads in the classroom.

You can find more information on best practices for second language teaching in any of the following books.