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The influence of age on sla in terms of route


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The influence of age on sla in terms of route

  1. 1. 1  Thao Le Thanh TESOL4‐37  1. Abstract This article gives the readers an overview of theoretical views and important empirical findings about how age affects route, rate and success of second language acquisition, examining how critical period affects to language learning and who learns better, the older or the younger in what ways. Consequently, this paper tends to give out some suggestions for teaching and learning a second language to various kinds of learning subjects. 2. Introduction Purpose and rationale With the bigger and bigger demand of studying foreign languages nowadays, it supplies chance as well as challenges for foreign language teachers. Public schools cannot afford to meet this great demand. This leads to the mushroom growth of foreign language schools and centers. The problem is that our education has gradually commercialized. Learners are put into wrong classrooms with wrong peers. One class with different levels and range of ages is a bitter but common phenomenon nowadays. Commonly, the classrooms where the age range varies create not least difficult for the teachers in dealing with the most suitable methods. Therefore, teachers find it difficult to determine which method is the best to teach their variable subjects. Furthermore, in second language processing and acquisition of learners, teachers found that almost learners make mistakes which are common among them regardless to their age differences. A question is arising whether they follow the same route in SLA process. Another question appears that who learns better and more successful, adults or children. 3. Literature review There has been a debate whether “the younger the better” or “the older the better”. Actually, many findings gave strong evidence about “the younger the better” found in David Birdsong (1999), Michael H. Long (2007), Barry McLaughlin (1984), etc. and vice versa, “the older the better” (Carmen Muñoz, 2006). Therefore the question seems to appear, “what and when the younger better is; what and when the older better   The Effects of AGE on SLA in terms of ROUTE, RATE, and SUCCESS   
  2. 2. 2  Thao Le Thanh TESOL4‐37  is?”According to David Birdsong, the outcome between second language acquisition among adults and first language acquisition among children is demonstrably different. Many other researchers also try to find out the relation between age and the ability to learn a second language. David Birdsong (1999) “there may well be a correlation between age of initial learning and ultimate achievement” (p. 162). The differentiate outcomes among adults and children is the explanation of the critical period. 3.1 Critical Period Hypothesis and SLA Since the outcome appears to be demonstrably different from younger and older learners, researchers start to find the causes or stems causing this matter. Critical period theory has gradually noticed more and more in researches about teaching a second language; it is generated from the fundamental work “Biological Foundations of Language” by the biolinguist, Eric Lenneberg, 1967 for L1 acquisition. It implies the idea that there is a certain age appropriate for leaning a language and it’s tough to achieve full competence before and after it. The ability to acquire a language is determined by biological factors. While the brains of children are plastic, the brains of adults are rigid. The work is also well-known with the idea that the acquisition of language is blocked after puberty. It means the rapid growth of second language acquisition will cease after puberty. Penfield asserted more “the time to begin schooling in second languages was between the ages of 4 and 10.” (cited in Carmen Muñoz, 2006) This idea implies that the ages between 4 and 10 are the best time for children to fully acquire a second language. After 10, the brains become more rigid and less flexible, so the ability to fully learn a second language becomes tougher. Another researcher, Krishna K. Bista, does agree that there is a link between the relation between age and success in SLA and the critical period hypothesis (CPH) (p.3) In Carmen Muñoz’s work (2006), he makes a clear vision about critical hypothesis through empirical studies in the 1970s. And he gives out some important generalizations: (1) Adults proceed through early stages of syntactic and morphological development faster than children (where time and exposure are held constant).   The Effects of AGE on SLA in terms of ROUTE, RATE, and SUCCESS   
  3. 3. 3  Thao Le Thanh TESOL4‐37  (2) Older children acquire faster than younger children (again, in early stages of syntactic and morphological development where time and exposure are held constant). (3) Acquirers who begin natural exposure to second language during childhood generally achieve higher second language proficiency than those beginning as adults. He also comes to an agreement of the distinction of Krashen et al. (1979) between “rate” and “ultimate attainment” through those generalizations, “Older learners have a superior learning rate, particularly in the first stages of the acquisition of morphosyntactic aspects, while younger learners are slower at first, but eventually show a higher level of ultimate attainment” (p.2). Concerning about this distinction, Carmen Muñoz gives out a query whether children or adults are more successful. He points out some studies about this matter, especially in naturalistic settings, “the younger children are first exposed to the L2, the more chances they have of coming to be considered native, or near native L2 speakers” (p. 129). In addition, he queries whether children might surpass older language learners in an instructional setting in a long period of time. In classroom setting, Paul SZE states that adults have two advantages when acquiring a second language. First, adults have a much larger vocabulary and do not have to learn the thousands of new concepts in the L2 again as children do. Second, they have a more superior ability to make grammatical generalizations since they have a firm foundation of knowledge, advantaged more from experience in L1 (p.53). Obviously, through adults’ experience, they profit much more advantages to acquire skills which related to rules. They have a skill in generalizing the rules they’ve learnt, especially in a place such as classroom where formal instructions are given, whereas children get a slower progress at first in those skills related to rules or grammatical generalizations. Mark S. Patkowski (1990) states that “the age limitation as one which prevents adults from ultimately passing for native in a second language, but not children” (p.75, cited in Patkowski, 1982). This explains why adult learners get more difficulties and problem in acquiring a second language.   The Effects of AGE on SLA in terms of ROUTE, RATE, and SUCCESS   
  4. 4. 4  Thao Le Thanh TESOL4‐37  3.2 The effects of AGE on ROUTE of SLA Rod Ellis (1985) asserted that “age does not alter the route of acquisition” (p.105). He supported more with evidence from Bailey et al (1974) and Fathman (1975). The studies showed that children and adults acquired the same set of grammatical morphologies and grammar items. Second language processing and acquisition is a natural process. Learners follow nearly the same route of second language development. Errors play an active and crucial role in learning a second language. Also, errors appear naturally in learning process. Florence Myles states that the route “remains largely independent of both the learners mother tongue (L1) and the context of learning”3.3 The effects of AGE on RATE and SUCCESS of SLA3.3.1 The younger the better There are numerous arguments that children acquire language more quickly and easily than adults. David Birdsong’s (1999) informal observation and empirical studies show “children to be more successful than adults in mastering a second language.” (p.176) What’s more, Barry McLaughlin (1987) first shows out the work of Penfield and Roberts (1959). In that, the children of immigrant families acquire the new language in a short period of time and can speak easily and with little accent whereas their parents never learn to speak without an accent. This explains why they are superior to their parents in speed and efficient of acquisition. In another aspect, he points out that “the children have more exposure to a second language than adults do, it also very likely that children are more highly motivated to acquire the language than their parents are” (p.54). The children are highly motivated to constantly communicate and interact with their peers both in the classroom and playground whereas their parents tend to restrict their social interactions among their friends and neighbors who speak the same language. They seem to be more flexible in skill activities then adults. In addition, children feel like they have more freedom to state their ideas in an effort of obtaining success in communication with their peers and conveying the message. He supports more about this idea by giving out   The Effects of AGE on SLA in terms of ROUTE, RATE, and SUCCESS   
  5. 5. 5  Thao Le Thanh TESOL4‐37  the study of Ramsey and Wright (1974) that “the older the child was when introduced to English, the poorer the performance on various tests of English language skill” (p.54). This state is closely related to critical period hypothesis. A question seems to arise: is there a critical period for L2? If yes, at what age? There is no obvious evidence for this idea. There is an explanation of low ultimate attainment of older learners. David Birdsong notes in his work that “the possibility of a connection between brain volume decreases in aging and declines in L2 acquisition and processing” (p.29). For adults, brain plasticity will have been gradually decreasing according to the aging process. Therefore, there are problems they are facing with acquiring a full competence of second language. Michael H. Long (2007), “Young children tend to make slower progress in the early stages of learning the grammar of second (third, ect.) language, but given sufficient time and exposure, they can eventually achieve very high level of proficiency, even native-like levels, if they start early enough. Older children and adults, conversely, tend to go faster in the early stages, but very few of them, if any, reach such high standards in the long run.” In other words, “older is initially faster, but is better in the long run” (p.46-47). Carmen Muñoz (2006) also points out his agreement on this through Krashen et al., 1979’s work and Singleton and Ryan 2004’s work: “in the long term those who have an earlier exposure to the second language reach a higher ultimate attainment than those with a later exposure.” (p.12) (figure 1)3.3.2 The older the better Rod Ellis (1985) states that “younger learners do not acquire phonetic skills as rapid as older learners” (p. 107). Rod Ellis believes that “older learners are better” because of their higher level of proficiency, but adolescents progress most rapidly. He asserted more cognitive development is a factor helping to explain why adolescents learn more rapid than children (not supporting for pronunciation). Additionally, adolescents once again outperform adults since they have better memories (p.109). What’s more, Carmen Muñoz (2006) states that “older learners show higher mastery of L2 syntax, morphology and other literacy-related skills, such as vocabulary and reading comprehension.” (p.11)   The Effects of AGE on SLA in terms of ROUTE, RATE, and SUCCESS   
  6. 6. 6  Thao Le Thanh TESOL4‐37  (found in the works of Snow and Hoefnagel-Höhle, 1978; Cummins, 1986). In those findings, there is an emphasis on those skills related to rule acquisition, not for oral fluency and accent. In other words, the older learners seem to have more advantages in acquiring a second language since they have “greater cognitive maturity, which allows them to better handle cognitive-demanding tasks which are also context-reduced” (p. 11, cited from Cummins, 1982) Especially in classroom setting, adults have two advantages when acquiring a second language. First, adults have much more vocabulary and general concepts which play as a base for acquiring new concepts in second language. Second, they have a more superior ability to make grammatical generalizations since they have a firm foundation of knowledge, advantaged more from experience in L1 (Paul SZE , p.53) Ultimate attainment Younger student Older student Time Figure 1: ultimate attainment differences14 Discussion Because of these findings, teachers need to be aware of the possible limitations in both children and adults in processing a language. Teachers should be patient to learners and give them appropriate time to become immersed in the language before being expected to produce the new language. Also, teachers should encourage as much interaction with the new culture                                                            1 From Problems in SLA, Michael H. Long   The Effects of AGE on SLA in terms of ROUTE, RATE, and SUCCESS   
  7. 7. 7  Thao Le Thanh TESOL4‐37  as possible and maximize the amount of exposure to the L2. Teachers encourage interactions among learners, especially adults since they are more reserved than children. Using right methods to right subjects needs to be more noticeable since there are some methods inappropriate to adults and children as well. As for adults, teachers should make some modifications to encourage adult learners learn a language. Teachers should know how to help adult learner reduce anxiety and build self- confidence since adults have a tendency to have the fear of failure or the fear of losing face. Don’t try to direct them to the thought of speaking with a native-like accent. In addition, classroom activities should be paid more attention to. The activities are set with the main purpose that learners have more chance to expose to the target language and to practice pronunciation though repetition, etc. Be tolerated and let the learners feel free when making errors in their speech. Usually, teachers try to correct all the mistake learners make with the hope of helping them grasp native-like accent. In fact, this can increase anxiety and the feeling of failure among learners, especially for older language learners. In addition, choosing materials for teaching is also very crucial. Those are interesting and comprehensible enough with lots of speaking practice conversation models and listening comprehension as well. Take advantage of “greater cognitive maturity” of adult or older learners, teachers should explore this and help them gain confidence since they advantage enough the development of literacy skills in both L1 and L2. One warming should be noticed that teachers shouldn’t generalization of adult’s proficiency just through skills grasping from rule acquisition. Have a clear and sufficient understanding about what their strong and weak points are, teachers are those who point out their own strengths to create motives, motivation. This likes a leverage which helps them make for their own springboard to gain what they are considered to be unprofitable. As for children, with the understanding that “younger learners tend to make slower progress in the early stages” teachers shouldn’t have a generalization that they are unable to learn a foreign language.   The Effects of AGE on SLA in terms of ROUTE, RATE, and SUCCESS   
  8. 8. 8  Thao Le Thanh TESOL4‐37  Through Carmen Muñoz’s work, teachers should help students expose to the target language as soon and much as possible. Teachers, especially in lower levels, tend to use native language in order to make clear the ideas. This leads to a common habit of using native language instead of target language in a foreign language. Teachers sometimes, underestimate their students and are always afraid that learners cannot understand if they speak English all the time. Therefore, let them expose to the language as much as possible.5 Conclusion Understanding about the natural route of second language acquisition helps teachers know where their students going through. Teachers will have a new vision about errors which appear naturally in learning process. Rate and ultimate attainment in SLA gives teachers a broader vision to partly explain the differences among learners. From researches, I have a general view about SLA process. First, the route of acquisition is not affected by age. However, the rate of acquisition is quite different depending on the language skills acquires. Many researchers show that children make slow progress in early stages but get high ultimate attainment in a long run.   The Effects of AGE on SLA in terms of ROUTE, RATE, and SUCCESS