Language acquisition

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Language acquisition

Post by acr9944 on Sun Sep 27, 2015 10:00 pm

In Wendy Saul's very useful and valuable newsletter post about topics of research interest from the Pan African Reading Conference, she indicated the following, among others:

   "What we know:

       There exists a major confusion at the university level between “language learning” and “literacy learning.” Most literacy courses in teacher training institutions focus on grammar and
       mechanics rather than how to teach reading, writing, speaking and listening."

Most of my current work is involved in teaching a national language to students who speak only a local language.  Where I am working in Kazakhstan, Russian-speaking students need to learn to understand and speak Kazakh (the national language) and Kazakh-speaking students need to learn to understand and speak Russian (a language of wide regional utility).  And all students are expected to learn to understand and speak English (a language of international use) in this forward looking trilingual education program.  Traditional approaches focus on grammar, under the assumption that a student must know the grammar in order to understand and speak a second or third language.  We are working toward a communicative approach in which grammar follows learning to understand and speak a language.  Babies are almost always able to learn successfully to understand and speak their mother tongue without grammar, which is taught later.  It is at school, studying grammar, that students fail in learning to understand and speak a language, usually a second language.  Research and our own personal experiences indicate that using a communicative approach, such as the natural approach and TPR, may be a useful direction to follow.  Let's consider thinking about correct usage as the goal, rather than knowledge of grammar.  If one considers the IELTS and the TOEFL, examinations widely used to test English proficiency, there is not a single grammar question on either examination.  Students are asked instead to select the best way to say or write something correctly from among four possibilities.  They are not asked to identify or explain the grammatical concept that supports their choice, only to select the best way.  I am interested in experiences that teachers have had in successfully teaching most students to understand and speak a new language.  I am also interested in countries where the local language or mother tongue is preserved and valued as a heritage language as the second language is acquired.


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