Based on the theories of first and second language acquisition, how do you think the average Malaysian student learn English? Discuss your reasons.
Young children are natural language acquirers; they are self-motivated to pick up language without conscious learning, unlike adults. They have the ability to imitate pronunciation and work out the rules for themselves. The idea of “English is difficult” does not occur to them unless it’s suggested by adults, who themselves probably learned English academically at a later age through grammar-based text books.
The advantages of beginning early
Young children are still using their individual, innate language-learning ...view middle of the document...
Stages in picking up English
When babies learn their home language, there is a ‘silent period’, when they look and listen and communicate through facial expression or gestures before they begin to speak. When young children learn English, there may be a similar ‘silent period’ when communication and understanding may take place before they actually speak any English words.
During this time parents or teachers should not force children to take part in spoken dialogue by making them repeat words. Spoken dialogues should be one-sided, the adult’s talk providing useful opportunities for the child to pick up language. Where the adult uses parentese (an adjusted form of speech) to facilitate learning, the child may use many of the same strategies they used in learning their home language.
When children are first exposed to a second language, frequently they focus on listening and comprehension. These children are often very quiet, speaking little as they focus on understanding the new language-much, in fact, as adults do when travelling in foreign countries. The younger the child, the longer the silent period tends to last. Older children may remain in the silent period for a few weeks or a few months, whereas preschoolers may be relatively silent for a year or more.
Beginning to talk
After some time, depending on the frequency of English sessions, each child (girls often more quickly than boys) begins to say single words (‘cat’, ‘house’) or ready-made short phrases (‘Teacher, toilet’, ‘It’s my book’, ‘Not yet’, ‘This is a car’, ‘Time to go home’) in dialogues or as unexpected statements. The child has memorised them, imitating the pronunciation exactly without realising that some may consist of more than one word. This stage continues for some time as they pick up more language using it as a short cut to dialogue before they are ready to create their own phrases.
Building up English language
Gradually children build up phrases consisting of a single memorised word to which they add words from their vocabulary (‘a dog’, ‘a brown dog’, ‘a brown and black dog’) or a single memorised language to which they add their own input (‘That’s my chair’, ‘Time to play’). Depending on the frequency of exposure to English and the quality of experience, children gradually begin to create whole sentences.
Understanding is always greater than speaking and young children’s ability to comprehend should not be underestimated, as they are used to understanding their home language from a variety of context clues. Though they may not understand everything they hear in their home language, children grasp the gist – that is they understand a few important words and decipher the rest using different clues to interpret the meaning. With encouragement they soon transfer their ‘gist’ understanding skills to interpret meaning in English.
Children should not be told they have made a mistake because any correction immediately...