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Learning Characteristics Of Non-native Speakers – Education Essay

Learning Characteristics Of Non-native Speakers – Education Essay
During the 1920s to the 1960s, students who were second language learners usually had to “sink or swim” in class since teachers thought that ELL students would learn content area material through their experiences in the

classroom. It’s not until recent years that general education teachers realize that ELL students do not learn the same way as their native speaking English classmates because of their lack of English proficiency. (Brown, 2003) One of the factors that affect how ELLs learn is age and there are also several factors such as gender, L1 literacy, social context, and personality. In this term paper I will discuss how age and personality affect second language acquisition and the factors can be used in the language classroom to facilitate second language acquisition.

Age and Second Language Acquisition:
How age affects second language acquisition is an interesting topic for most of the educators who have to develop appropriate curriculum and instructional strategies for immigrant students of different age. Some educator such as Chipongian (2000) believe” younger is better in the long run” but some educators think the opposite. The researchers who believe that younger children can acquire second language easier than adults attribute this to the human “critical period”.

What is Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH)?
A critical period was originally postulated by Lenneberg in 1967 for first language acquisition and the CPH is a biological determined period from birth to puberty during which the language acquisition is easier. Pathologists’ studies that child who failed before puberty to acquire their first language may lack adequate linguistic competence. This is because by the age thirteen to fifteen, “our cerebral hemispheres functions separate and become set which makes the language acquisition extremely difficult”. (Lenneberg, 1967) Jean Piaget outlined the intellecture development in a child through different stages: (Douglas Brown, 2000, P.61)
Sensorimotor stage — birth to two
Preoperational stage — ages two to seven
Operation stage — ages seven to sixteen
A. Concrete operational stage — ages seven to eleven
B. Formal operational stage — ages eleven to sixteen

In Piaget’s outline, the affects of age on second language acquisition appear to occur at puberty which is between the ages eleven to sixteen. At this stage, a person becomes capable of abstraction which is formal thinking of concrete experience in life.
As first language acquisition, second language researchers assumed that second
language acquisition has a critical time which is below puberty and children who want to succeed in learning a second language should start before this critical period of time. But some educators like John T. Bruer argued that “we always pay too much attention on when learning languages occur and too little attention on how learning might best occur” in his book The Myth of the First Three Years. (Chipongian 2000, P.1) These second language researchers suggest that “early start learning in a second language is neither a strict necessary nor a sufficient condition for the attainment of native-like proficiency”. (Chipongian 2000) They believe that timing is not everything. Studies have shown that there is almost five percent of adult bilinguals master a second language even though they are over the age of puberty. Researchers assume that the only aspect of language that has an effect following the critical period is accent. Second language learners who are above the puberty stage are unable to acquire a native-like accent. But we know second language learners still can master a second language with a foreign accent since phonological acquisition is not the only thing that we learn from a second language. We also have to consider with morphology, syntax, and grammatical structure. As Douglas Brown mentioned in his book “the acquisition of the communicative and functional purpose of language is, in the most circumstances, far more important than a perfect native accent.” (Douglas Brown, 2000, P.)

“Many research studies have found that a wide variety of skills and learning strategies that are developed in L1 reading and writing can have positive transfer to L2 reading and writing” (Ovando, 2003, p.130). The acquisition of the grammar and syntax of a second language are influenced by the first language knowledge instead of the learner’s critical period. For instance, a Chinese ELL student may be confused in verb transitivity, such as “I am run.” since Chinese doesn’t have the “ing” action verb tense. There is also no point at which vocabulary acquisition can be predicted to cease as Lisa (2000) mentioned in her article that “how we process our vocabulary does not change with brain maturation if it were a form of time-limited and it is influenced by a learner’s experience-expectant learning.”

As I mentioned before some researchers believe younger is better in learning second language but some had found that older learners have more advantages in acquiring second language because of their conscious awareness of language and ability to formalize linguistic rules, especially in production tasks which are speaking and writing.

Personality and Second Language Acquisition:
Personality can also affect second language acquisition and in combination with living environment, personality can act to stop or to encourage students to learn second language. There several different types of personalities that students possess:

Self-esteem has been shown to be related to second language achievement. Krashen(1981) mentioned the relationship between self-esteem and oral production in ESL performs. A person with higher self-esteem tends to achieve better than those because the person would not feel embarrass if they make mistakes. However, if teachers try to correct mistakes from those students with introvert personality, teachers need to properly correct them without embarrassing them in front of other peers. For example, if Mary says” I go to school with my sister yesterday,” the teacher would respond, “You went to the store with your sister yesterday?” She has effectively provided corrected input while also continuing the conversation. If a student shuts down after an outright correction then opportunity for more input and practice has been lost.

Risk-taking is an important characteristic of successful in learning a second language. According to Brown(2002), “learners have to be able to gamble a bit, to be willing to try out hunches about the language and take the risk of being wrong.” (p.149) Risk-taking seems to be a closely connected to a self-esteem factor. For those who have extrovert personality students, their ability to learn a second language is much quicker than introvert students because they have a higher self-esteem.

William Twyford (1988) mentioned that “Ease in acquiring a second language has also been linked to a low level of anxiety”. (P.6) Anxiety is a kind of feeling with worry or self-doubt and people can predicate it. Anxiety is also as important as self-confident for a second language learner and in Brown (2002) mentioned “three components of foreign language anxiety have been identified as followed:
1. communication apprehension, arising from learners’ inability to adequately
express mature thoughts and ideas;
2. fear of negative social evaluation, arising from a learner’s need to make a
Positive social impression on others; and
3. test anxiety, or apprehension over academic evaluation. (p.151)
According to Fishbein (2000), besides the different types of anxiety various, there are also different stages of anxiety. The three different stages of anxiety are before, during and after. In the before stage, the person would have anxiety on the anticipation of the event. In the during stage of anxiety attack, the person will be self aware of the event that is accuracy at the moment. In the after stage of the anxiety, the person would be concerned about the result of the event.

In language acquisition, every foreign student has different levels of anxiety barriers due to the various types of personalities. However, the comparison of older learners to younger learners when it comes to second language acquisition will vary due to the fact that older learners will be more self aware of themselves than younger learners. Older people’s self awareness is higher than younger learners and because the self awareness is higher, they will understand their personalities better than once they are more self aware of themselves.

Classroom Instructions:
Knowing the factors of age and personalities has an affect on language acquisition; it’s easier to come up with a classroom instruction that will provide a more comfortable environment for the second language learners. Ovando (2003) emphasizes the importance of activities that “help students get to know each other, build a positive sense of team identity, accept individual differences, provide mutual support, and develop a sense of synergy.” (P.96)
Therefore, in order to come up with classroom instructions that will benefit second language learners, the teacher will need to give specific instructions for classroom assignments or activities. Some of the classroom activities could be group oriented, where the classroom is split up into groups of three to five students of various cultural background and abilities. Since the group will consist of students with various cultural background and abilities, it will help build up their self-esteems because students in each group will have different roles in activities. The different roles that students contribute in the classroom activities gives students the opportunities to be part of a group in which the students might not contribute if it were just classroom discussions. Also one of the activities that the facilitators can use to build up students self-esteem that has various culture backgrounds is that through out the years, students could present about the different culture holidays. When students present about their own heritages, they might feel more comfortable since it’s their own background.

In order to help second language learners fit into academic learning environment, educators have a lot of work to do. Researches have shown that age and personalities play a major role in shaping a learner. According to different types of second language learners, educators need to build up different kinds of learning instructions because different age groups and different learner’s personalities needs different instructions. For example, if second language learner who has a shy personality, he would shy away in the classroom discussion and not participate as much. Educators need to put students with shy personality into a smaller group in order for him to be a little more comfortable in discussions. In contrary, outgoing students can play a role to assist students with shy personality to be more assertive in discussions. Once the student with shy personality is comfortable in small group setting, it will give them more opportunity in class discussions. Therefore, educators need to take the time and effort to understand each student and construct instruction according to the different types of learners in the classroom. By understanding each of the students’ different learning style, it is only the first step in having a successful classroom.

Brown C. (2003). “Who is responsible for English-Language learners? A case study from a third-grade classroom.” Academic Exchange-EXTRA:

Fishbein J. R (2000). Unsure How to Prevent or Respond to Anxiety Attack. Emotional first aid.

H.Douglas Brown. (2000). Principles of language learning and teaching. White Plains, NY: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

Krashen S D.,(1980). Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Pergamon Press Inc.

Lenneberg, E. (1967). Biological Foundations of Language. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Lisa Chipongian.(2000).Is there a critical period for learning a foreign language?.
Scientific Learning Website

Ovando, C., Collier V., & Combs, M. (2003). Bilingual and ESL classroom. New York,NY: McGraw Hill

William T.C. (1988). Age-Related Factors in Second Language Acquisition. New Focus.