First language acquisition. The sequence of development of L1. before the first words: listening, babbling, sounds; children can understand language before they speak it small range of first words between 12 and 18 months
Children’s acquisition of verb inflections - evidence for their active contribution to the learning process:
Children (and also adults) understand more than they can actuallyproduce.
A three-year old called herselfLitha.
*No, Litha, she maintained.
Before the 1960s, the study of child language was dominated mainly by the behaviorist approach to language and learning (B.F. Skinner):
Language is not a mental phenomenon: it is behavior.
Like other forms of human behavior, it is learnt by a process of habit formation (imitation, reinforcement, repetition, conditioning).
Child: Nobody don’t like me.
Mother: No, say “nobody likes me”.
Child: Nobody don’t like me. (repeated eight times)
Mother: No, now listen carefully; say “nobody likes me”.
Child: Oh! Nobody don’t likes me.
Children’s language is not simply being shaped by external forces: it is beingcreatively constructed by the children through interaction.
Examples of children using language creatively:
Mummy, I am hiccing up and I can’t stop.
(perfectly sensible analogy to picking up/standing up … )
A Czech child (age 4y 10m): Já snáším zelenou.(opak k nesnáším)
Father: I’d like to propose a toast.
Son, later: I’d like to propose a piece of bread.
(the child is discovering the full/limited meaning of the word)
A Czech child (age 4y 10m): další zítra (pozítří)
What are the implications of these ideas for the teaching of foreign languages?
Common belief, probably based on knowing that children living in a foreign environment pick up the local language with great ease (lots of exposure and attention, “survival” motives – do not apply to formal language instruction).
However, given the same amount of exposure to a FL, there is some evidence that the older children learn more effectively (with the exception of pronunciation); teenagers are probably overall the best learners (esp. better cognitive skills and self-discipline).
Critical period hypothesis – if you get too old and pass the age limit (approx. 13), you will have more difficulties learning a FL (no conclusive research evidence).
The optimum age for starting effective L2 learning is about 10 → early L2 learning is not cost-effective, but leads to better long-term results if learning is maintained and reinforced.
Adults in a formal classroom situation:
The problem is not the concentration span itself – children will spend hours absorbed in activities which really interest them.
Adults – can persevere with something of no immediate interest to them.
Yes, in a way, e.g. by selecting interesting activities but you can also easily lose it (monotonous lessons, pointless activities).
Young learner’s motivation is more likely to vary and is more susceptible to immediate surrounding influences; older learners tend to be more stable.