Second Language Lightbown and Spada Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

While I understand why non-literal meanings are particularly difficult for speakers to comprehend, it seems to me that interlanguage would be easier for people learning second languages, because they can draw from examples of interlanguage from their native language. After all, even elementary school children have difficulty understanding the existence of idioms, homonyms, and other examples of words and phrases that have alternate definitions.

I appreciated the description of the developmental stages for language acquisition in Chapter 4; the progression from subject to direct object, indirect object, object of preposition, possessive, and object of comparison provided a useful classification of the progression of language acquisition. However, I was confused by the author's contention that "Developmental stages are not like closed rooms. Learners do not leave one behind when they enter another" (Lightbown and Spada, 92). While it is true that different people absorb material at different rates, it seems very difficult for someone to understand more difficult stages before comprehending earlier ones. For example, I do not understand how someone could understand objects of preposition without having a strong understanding of direct and indirect objects.

Chapter 5 was particularly useful in that it closely examined the activity that occurs within the classroom. In particular, I agree with the belief that substantial time should be granted for students to answer questions. I feel repetition and recasts are more useful than explicit correction or techniques that occur in more instruction-based classes. Students should learn from their mistakes in a manner that does not punish them but instead works with them to transmit the material. I also feel that asking more informational questions are more productive than display questions as they resonate more closely with the student's personal experience.

Chapter 2 (the stages of second language acquisition) and Chapter 3 (Setting objectives and providing feedback), Hill and Flynn

The material presented in chapters 2 and 3 was reminiscent of that from How Languages are Learned. For example, Hill and Flynn are similar to Lightbown and Spada in stressing the immense difficulty in learning a language, regardless of whether it is a person's first or second language. They also raise the interesting observation that just because someone sounds fluent, this does not necessarily mean that they are fluent in the language. I was also interested in the fact that there are also varying degrees of fluency involved in language learning; someone may have conversational fluency (which is easier to achieve) while lacking academic fluency (characterized by the ability to write, converse, and express ideas on an academically advanced level. It is necessary to establish the inherent difficulties involved in primary and secondary language acquisition because people often underestimate the timetable involved and expect to become fluent after a relatively short period of time.

Despite the similarities between the two books, I found the Hill and Flynn text to be more rigorous in providing taxonomies regarding the progression involved in acquiring a second language. Specifically, chapter 2 provided the 5 Stages of Learning Acquisition. For the most part, the table was intuitive and understandable, although this was difficult to judge because I cannot remember how advanced my language learning was during my infant years. That said, it was remarkable to me that advanced fluency was not considered to be attained until ages 5-7; it seems to me that most people achieve advanced fluency by age 5 at the latest. I think that it would have been more beneficial for the authors to more forcefully explain the impact that people's varying backgrounds have on their language development. While I am fairly certain that I had advanced fluency prior to age 5 (and was able to read and write by this age), this is due in large part to the fact that I was by parents who both held advanced degrees and stressed the importance of strong linguistic acumen.

The most interesting theme addressed in chapter 3 was the importance of learning languages in context; people should be able to relate to the questions and draw from personal experiences in answering questions. I also appreciated the discussion of the usefulness of incorporating different modalities (particular emphasis was placed on incorporating visuals), which acknowledge the fact that different people learn best through different sensory modalities. For example visual learners benefit from posters, videos, and slideshows, while those who learn best through hearing benefit from the use of audio and dictation. This placed an even greater emphasis on motivating the student than Lightbown and Spada in their textbook. Indeed, I appreciated their point that students should be it is best for students not to be overtly corrected when they make an error. Certainly, students should be corrected when they make a mistake, but when they are explicitly corrected, this can negatively affect their confidence and decrease their motivation. On a personal level, I have always absorbed material more efficiently when I am able to apply material to my own life.

After the description of the negative effects of overtly corrective evaluation, it was surprising to read that Hill and Flynn advocate evaluation through rubrics. It seems to me that rubrics constitute a form of overt correction and can easily discourage students who perform poorly on an exercise or evaluation. Thus, it is imperative that the rubric is constructed in a sensitive manner that would not have the potential to be discouraging. Still, I feel that students should not be evaluated through rubrics but instead through interpersonal dialogue and written evaluations, which can be phrased in a more sensitive manner. Nevertheless, I appreciated the emphasis that Hill and Flynn gave on ensuring that students are motivated as this is instrumental for keeping them focused on working efficiently in absorbing the vast amounts of material.

Chapter 4 (Non-linguistic representations) and Chapter 5 (Cues, questions, and advance organizers)

Because languages involve words, it was surprising to see that chapter 4 addressed nonlinguistic representations, which I feel are typically ascribed to lie outside language. It seems to me that nonlinguistic aspects of language attest to the inextricable attachment between language and culture. For example, the Spanish language that is spoken in Hispanic culture is often punctuated by effusive gestures; while such gestures are not technically part of the vocabulary, they nonetheless affect the meaning of the phrase in which they are spoken.

Chapter 4 also reiterated the importance of employing different modalities and kinesthetics. Incorporating bodily exercises and physical movements within the classroom seems particularly useful for classrooms with younger children or those with less developed attention spans. Learning the language in conjunction with physical exercises makes sense as it allows the learner to connect the language to a physical exercise. For example, students can learn the definitions of their body parts through physical exercises that incorporate the body parts. However, I feel that while physical exercises provide an indexical component that is very useful (and easier for people to remember than rote memorization), kinesthetics also seem as though they would be much slower-paced than reading or writing. I do not understand how a person can absorb material quickly through physical exercises, particularly compared to memorizing a list of vocabulary terms from a sheet of paper. It would have been useful for the authors to provide additional examples of physical exercises that have been not only successful in retaining the material but also efficient in absorbing a high volume of information. Hill and Flynn also stress that it is impossible for English language learners to absorb material solely through reading and writing. While I agree that different modalities, as well as physical exercises, should be utilized in the classroom, I feel that the authors exaggerate the influence of nonlinguistic representations.

Chapter 5 was particularly useful in that it provided specific exercises that are successful in the classroom, and indeed it was easy to understand why they were effective. For example, utilizing the prior knowledge of students makes intuitive sense; every student brings a different background, and people should be engaged on a personal level that acknowledges their past experience and their specific interests. I appreciated this approach on two different levels: not only does it increase students' motivation for learning the material, but it also allows them to place the material in the context of their lives, thereby individualizing the foreign language to their particular sensibility. One of the other salient topics addressed in chapter 5 was the importance of questions in the classroom. Specifically, questions should concern important material; it is imperative that students are not presented with superfluous material, and questions should concern the most important subject matter. I agree with Hill and Flynn that questions are useful in learning a new language because they keep the student inquisitive and transform the classroom into a dynamic environment with interplay between student and instructor.

For the most part, I was able to relate to the…

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