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HugvísindasviðSecond Language AcquisitionThe Effect of Age and MotivationRitgerð til BA prófsEinar Garibaldi StefánssonMaí 2013

Háskóli ÍslandsHugvísindasviðEnskaSecond Language AcquisitionThe Effect of Age and MotivationRitgerð til BA prófs í enskuEinar Garibaldi StefánssonKt.: 030382-4209Leiðbeinandi: Ásrún JóhannsdóttirMaí 2013

AbstractThis paper looks into the competence of second language acquisition byinvestigating how second language is acquired. Furthermore it explores the age factor inlearning another language other than mother tongue and also attempts to answer if thereis enough current evidence that can demonstrate clearly that starting young makes anyreal difference in achieving better language competence. Moreover, research such as onmotivation in relation to the learning environment along with language exposure andattitudes will be discussed and data analysed to find out if it plays any significant role inaiding learners to achieve successful second language competence. It has been acommon belief that starting young to learn a second language makes a significantdifference in language learning. However, results indicate that this is not entirely true inall cases since there are further factors that affect successful second languageacquisition achievement such as language exposure and motivation. Consequently, ifthere is not enough language exposure, this might prevent the learners from succeedingin learning the language. Clearly, those factors, motivation and exposure, seem to play amore important role in the learning process than the age factor and therefore it isextremely important to implement motivation and provide sufficient language exposureto the learner right from the start of the learning journey regardless of how old thelearner is.

SLA, MOTIVATION AND THE AGE FACTORTable of Contents1.0 Introduction 22.0 Theories of Second Language Acquisition 23.0 Young Learners and SLA . .53.1 The Five Stages of Second Language Acquisition . .53.2 Children’s Language Acquisition . .63.3 Bilingual Children Better Language Learners? .74.0 Age and Second Language Acquisition . .104.1 Does age really matter in SLA? . 125.0 Motivation and the Learning Environment.145.1 Motivation . .145.2 Natural Setting and Instructed Setting . .165.3 Educational Context and Cultural Context . .185.4 Motivation in the Learning Environment . .205.5 Motivation and Young Learners in the Classroom . . 226.0 Conclusion . . . . .241

SLA, MOTIVATION AND THE AGE FACTOR1.0 IntroductionSecond Language Acquisition (SLA) refers to the study of how students learn asecond language (L2) additionally to their first language (L1). Although it is referred asSecond Language Acquisition, it is the process of learning any language after the firstlanguage whether it is the second, third or fourth language. Therefore, any otherlanguage apart from the first language is called a second language (SL) or also referredto as a target language (TL). To distinguish between Second Language and ForeignLanguage, The Collins Dictionary defines Second Language as the language that aperson learns after his or her native language and Foreign Language as a language thatis used in a country other than one’s native country (2013). There are different ways toacquire second or foreign languages. It can be in a formal way as in a classroomenvironment or informal way such as when the learner picks up the language by beingculturally active participant of the society. This can be done by attending school in thetarget country, watching local television, listening to radio or/and reading newspapers inL2. By being actively involved in the learning environment, the learner is constantly incontact with the target language through normal daily routines. It is extremely importantin second language acquisition to look at the learning environment and investigate if theage factor has any effect. Also, motivation is another significant factor of SLA thatneeds to be discussed to find out if it is related to higher language competences asGardner and Lambert (1979) have thoroughly investigated. Second LanguageAcquisition (SLA) and Early Language Learning (ELL) have been thoroughlyinvestigated over the years and there is a popular belief that second language acquisitionamong children is achieved relatively fast and without effort (Nikolov and Djigunovi'c,2006). However, more recent studies post criticism on this widely spread claim of theeffortless and quick second language competence among children (Haynes 2007,Genesee 2006). Although age plays a significant role in SLA, the benefit of motivationand exposure can provide better results in achieving complete second languageproficiency.2.0 Theories of Second Language Acquisition2

SLA, MOTIVATION AND THE AGE FACTORThere are various factors that have impact on learning a second language and it isimportant to discuss the theories behind second language acquisition and try to find outhow we learn a language and what elements needs to be present for a successfullanguage acquisition. This chapter will discuss three SLA theories, the CreativeConstruction Theory, Communicative Language Teaching and the Cognitive Approach.As indicated by Altenaichinger (2003) during the seminar about “The interfacebetween theory and practice”, the Creative Construction Theory, often referred to as theNaturalistic Approach, deals with the assumption that we are born with a speciallanguage system that we use to acquire a language. Altenaichinger explains that StephenKrashen is among scholars that singled out the differences between acquisition andlearning by explaining that acquisition supposedly is a subconscious process that resultsin fluency while learning is conscious process that involves learning rules andstructures. Additionally, Altenaichinger cites Krashen’s discussions and argues thatthere are three internal elements involved in second language acquisition. Thoseelements from Krashen’s book include a “filter”, an “organizer” and a “monitor”. Hementions that the “filter” deals with how the learner is influenced in a social context andhow he reacts in various social environments. The “organizer” determines thearrangement of the learners language system and “the usage of incorrect grammaticalconstructions as provisional precursors of grammatical structures, the systematicallyoccurrence of errors in the learner’s utterances as well as a common order in whichstructures are learnt” (Krashen 1983, as cited in Altenaichinger, 2003). The “monitor”operates the conscious learning part where the learners correct their speech according totheir age (Altenaichinger 2003). Those highly debatable SLA elements, which are oftenfuelled by criticism, are based on the following five hypotheses from Brown (2002) ascited in Altenaichinger:1. The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis: An acquisition is a “subconscious andintuitive process of constructing the system of a language” (p. 278) whilelearning is a conscious process that students are aware of their learning processand what is expected of them.3

SLA, MOTIVATION AND THE AGE FACTOR2. The Monitor Hypothesis: Is the learning process with the purpose to “monitor”the learning progress and propose improvements to what has already beenlearned.3. The Natural Order Hypothesis claims that we acquire the rules of a language ina predictable order.4. The Input Hypothesis bolsters the importance for the learner to understand thelanguage a bit beyond his or her understanding with an influence such asmotivation.5. The Affective Filter Hypothesis suggests that language is acquired more easily ifcertain emotion factors are met, such as being mentally stable and not angry,anxious or bored. This means that positive attitude seems to be important in SLA(Brown 2002 as cited in Altenaichinger, 2003, p. 8-9).The second theory discussed by Altenaichinger revolves around CommunicativeLanguage Teaching and is completely learner centred. Communicative LanguageTeaching has been highly favoured for the last 20 years and scholars agree that thistheory is excellent because it focuses on communicative proficiency in languageteaching. In fact, one of the most important aspects of Communicative LanguageTeaching is a language competence, or in other words, the knowledge and ability to usethe target language. As well, it is essential to incorporate activities that influence thelearner to communicate in the target language. Through these activities, students need tobe able to use the language in a meaningful way and they need to be motivated andaware of the importance of learning the language in order to benefit significantly fromthe learning process (Altenaichinger 2003).The 3rd SLA theory from Altenaichinger’s paper is the Cognitive Approach.Scientists claim that one of the main features of SLA is to build up a system ofknowledge that can be unconsciously automatically recollected. Due to that fact, thelearner has to be provided with knowledge and exposure to the target language tounderstand and socially participate in a social context. Once the learner has experiencedthe language enough, he or she should be able recall the language automatically andfocus on to improve other more complicated language skills. Indeed, the main function4

SLA, MOTIVATION AND THE AGE FACTORof the Cognitive Approach is the process of being able to construct and use the languageautomatically (Altenaichinger, 2003, p.10-11).Altenaichinger moves on to show the relationship between these three theoriesand how they inter-relate. Moreover, she mentions that many teachers will applyteaching strategies that involve all of the three theories. Those teachers who are nativespeakers of the target language might prefer the Natural Approach to others.Communicative Language Teaching today is an extremely important element oflanguage learning and can be found in almost every language classroom and nearlyevery language schoolbook. However, the Cognitive Approach is a relatively newtheory of Second Language Acquisition and might not be so popular yet to apply insidethe classroom (Altenaichinger 2003). Nevertheless, it is important for instructors tounderstand the three approaches and use them properly as a guide to aid their studentstowards successful second language acquisition.3.0 Young Learners and SLA3.1 The Five Stages of Second Language AcquisitionThe process of Second Language Acquisition occurs in stages. In order toexamine SLA, it is important to look at the 5 stages of second language acquisition.According to Haynes (2007), the first stage is Preproduction and is also referred to as“the silent period” where learners gradually build up their vocabulary to about 500words without speaking the language but more echoing the language. Then there is thesecond stage called Early Production and at this stage learners will have around 1000word vocabulary with the capacity of constructing words in short phrases and memorizeand use short language forms although not necessarily correctly (Haynes 2007). Haynestalks about the third stage, Speech Emergence, where learners have acquired around3000 words and should be able to speak short sentences and simple phrases. By now,learners should be able to engage in conversation and ask simple questions. Also theycan understand short stories if they are supported with pictures. The 4th developmentstage, Intermediate Fluency, he explains that the learners have an active vocabulary of6000 words. Also, he adds that students can now form longer and more complexphrases both spoken and written with grammatical errors but demonstrate excellent5

SLA, MOTIVATION AND THE AGE FACTORcomprehension. The last developing stage is called Advanced Fluency and as he pointsout, it takes around 5- 10 years to achieve proficiency in second language acquisitionand by now the learners are considered near-native. Indeed, Haynes says that on thesurface it might look quite effortless to learn a second language but there are variousfactors that can have impact on the learning process such as motivation and age.3.2 Children’s Language AcquisitionIt is argued that second language acquisition is learned among children in twoways, simultaneously or sequentially as demonstrated by Halgunseth (2009) as she citesTabors (2008). Young children acquire L1 and L2 languages what it seems to be almostwithout any effort through a process that is called simultaneous second languagelearning. According to her, simultaneous learners are children under the age of threewho are exposed to their mother tongue at home and another language in an earlyeducational context such as kindergarten or other early program. However, thoselearners can also be children from a multi-language home where the child is exposed totwo different languages at home, for example Spanish from mom and English from dad(Halgunseth 2009, as cited by Tabors, 2008). She points out that although beingexposed to two different languages at home, children learn both languages the same waywithout favouring one or the other. As their brain mechanism allows them to learn morethan one language, they construct two separate language systems in their brains for eachlanguage. Similarly, this language system is almost identical to the process that childrendevelop through exposure to one language (Halgunseth 2009). When the child reachesthe age of 6 months, they are able to distinguish between the two languages and at thispoint they may begin to favour one language over the other. If parents expose their childto one language more than the other, the child might focus more on the language that itreceives more exposure from (Espinosa, 2008; Kuhl, 2004; Kuhl et al., 2006; Tabors,2008).In sequential language learning environment, the child speaks its native languagebut is also exposed or introduced to a second language. For example, when a Spanishspeaking child attends class where English is the dominant language spoken.Halgunseth states that contrary to simultaneous language learning, sequential learning isnot related to any age factor, but it can be stimulated or influenced by elements like6

SLA, MOTIVATION AND THE AGE FACTORmotivation. There are four stages of sequential second language learning according toher, which are the following:Stage 1: Home Language Use: Children might refuse to use their native language eventhough others do not understand them.Stage 2: Silent Period: Children can hardly speak but rely on nonverbal communication.It is argued that the younger the child is, the longer the silent period might last.Stage 3: Telegraphic and Formulaic Speech: At this stage children will start to speak inthe target language but only using short phrases or repeat the words of others.Stage 4: Productive Language, children construct their own sentences. Those sentencesmight be very basic and incorrect but with time it will improve (Helgunseth2009).Although children are exposed to two languages at the same time at an early age,it does not have to mean that they confuse the languages easily. As mentioned, childrenbecome bilingual sometimes when one parent converses in one language while the otherconverses in the second language. Additionally, parents might converse to each other inboth languages so children are exposed to both languages. However, being bilingual hasits downside also (Helgunseth 2009).3.3 Bilingual Children Better Language Learners?Although many research, such as claimed by Halgunseth indicate that bilingualchildren tend to perform better than monolingual children in many language tasks,Bialystok (2001) shows that any language knowledge of a child is incomplete whencompared with the knowledge of an adult. Continuing with Bialystok’s discussion, sheexplains how bilingualism is acquired and mentions that some people live “in homeenvironments where the language of the extended family reveals an ethnic, cultural, ornational background that is different from that of the community” (p.3). In fact, childrenwho become bilingual in those family environments could become more efficient andproductive learners.7

SLA, MOTIVATION AND THE AGE FACTORDespite many studies favour bilingual children as being more effective thanmonolingual children, there are downsides of being bilingual. In an article by Genesee(2008), he raises concerns about bilingual acquisition in early childhood and points outthat it can be a difficult task for a child to learn more than one language and caneventually lead to delays in language development. However, it is extremely importantto take into account the individual learning differences in second language acquisitionand therefore have in mind the different learning abilities as some children learn fasterthan others. He explains how this “delay” does not have to be a negative aspect oflanguage gaining and explains that the process of acquiring the language for the childtakes longer time. The importance of sufficient exposure is confirmed as he states howimportant it is to provide learners with sufficient exposure to both languages all thetime. Also, how important it is to avoid any radical changes to the languageenvironment because that can create problems and difficulties for the child (Genesee2008)Another concern from parents and professionals and discussed by Genesee is theproblem that bilingual children might never master either language fully and incomparison to monolingual children, they might never become as proficient in thelanguage. He talks about how bilingual children might have different languagedevelopment patterns in the short term. Moreover, he points out in comparison withmonolingual children at the same age, that young bilingual children struggle invocabulary and they know fever words in one or both of their languages. His reasoningis mainly because all young children have limited memory capacities as bilingualchildren need to memorize words from two languages and not one like monolingualchildren. In addition, it is worth noting that bilingual children might know certain wordsfrom one language but not the other. However, these are “short term” problems thatmost likely will disappear by the time that the children begin their school journey(Genesee 2008).Continuing with the earlier concerns about bilingual children who mightencounter problems on their learning journey, Genesee shows how bilingual children’sproficiency and competence’s in the second language reflects the amount of time theyspend in each of the two language environments. He supports his claim by giving an8

SLA, MOTIVATION AND THE AGE FACTORexample of a child who just arrived back home after visiting grandparents for shortperiods of time and only one of the languages was used. The child might favour thatlanguage over the other for a while, and therefore the child loses proficiency in the otherlanguage. Note that this is just a temporary shift that will revert back once the exposureto the other language is sufficient (Genesee 2008).Another concern discussed by Genesee is the belief that young bilingual childrenare unable to keep their languages separate which mean that they can get confused anduse both languages at the same time. He points out that most bilingual children usesounds and words from both languages in the same utterances although people talkingwith them are using only one language. This particular problem has raised concernsamong childhood educators as they tend to believe that this is because the child isconfused and unable to distinguish between the two languages. Moreover, his claims arebased on the reason that children mix their languages simply because they lackvocabulary in one or both languages to express themselves entirely in each language

Second Language Acquisition (SLA) refers to the study of how students learn a second language (L2) additionally to their first language (L1). Although it is referred as Second Language Acquisition, it is the process of learning any language after the first language whether it is the second, third

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