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Language Acquisition

by Rebecca Javorsky

“Second Language Acquisition” asks you to observe and reflect on a student’s language production as s/he progresses through different stages of language development.

Have you ever wondered why some students seem to learn English much quicker and more easily than other students? Could individual learner differences have something to do with that? What about the impact that different teaching strategies might have on students’ language progress? Take a look at your program’s copy of the book “How Languages Are Learned” and think about how these ideas apply to some of your students.

Language Acquisition:  A Brief Comparison of Two Adult ESOL Learners

This paper will compare two students and their language progress.  I will look at three different aspects of their learning potential: immersion opportunities, former education, and tangible goals.   I will call the women Justine and Ivana.

Justine has only been in the United States 1 ½ total time.  She is at an advanced level in English, and says she had limited English learning in her home country.  Writing is her weakest point, because of intricacies of English grammar.  She speaks without a strong accent, uses some idioms.

Justine has learned how to drive and although she lives out of town she has social interaction every day in English.  She works at a nursing home as a CAN.

She studied medicine in her home country and would like to practice here.  But in order to practice here she will need to go to medical school, so she is highly motivated to learn English.

Another factor is that no one in our community speaks her language.  And because she already had learned a second language, I think the language learning process was already familiar to her.  Another advantage is that she does not live alone, but with a host family.  Because she needs to communicated everyday with people at home and work her English abilities have skyrocketed.   

Ivana has also been here a short time, around 2 years.  She is a high beginner in English.   Reading English is her strength and her oral and listening skills are her low points.  She speaks with a strong accent and has trouble understanding questions in English.   She has had one year of college, is intelligent and motivated to learn.

Despite living in the same community, her exposure to English is a lot less than Justine’s.  First she lives with her husband and two children, and as is natural, they speak their first language in their home.  Her father also lives with them for part of the year and watches TV in their first language.

The second problem is Ivana does not drive so will often be “stuck” at home limiting her exposure to English in the community. One other observation is that often Ivana’s husband will speak and translate for her when they are out. Ivana has several people in the community who have become friends, but they all speak her first language so they always communicate in it rather than English. 

Both ladies have struggled with depression, culture shock, and isolation.  Both ladies miss a lot of the social interaction of their respective countries.  Both are intelligent and quick learners.  Both ladies have study skills, although Justine has more advanced learning patterns and study habits. Despite Ivana’s language being a lot closer linguistically to English than Justine’s, her progress is a lot slower.  In my opinion, the main difference in English abilities is primarily immersion time and interaction with native speakers. 

One other observable difference is a tangible goal.  Justine has a goal of taking the TOEFL and going to grad school.  She is motivated to advance quickly because of this goal.  Ivana is motivated to learn, but does not have a tangible goal.

As their formal teacher, I work with them maximum 4 hours a week.  During this time we work on reading, speaking, grammar, civics, and writing.  I know that what happens in class will possibly teach a new concept of two each time we meet, but the majority of their language learning will have to come outside of class.  They have a perfect opportunity to learn because of their possibility of immersion.  I have encouraged both of them to get involved with the community.  It is possible for Ivana to go to school with her kids, to join a Bible study at a local church, and to possibly find a language partner. I think because Ivana lacks a specific goal and dreams of returning to her home country she sometimes lacks specific motivation to learn.  Ivana with have to gather courage and try to find a friend who doesn’t know her first language to communicate with. Justine has done well with her language because she is motivated, must communicate in English, and wants to go for further schooling.