Immigration of individuals of different background into the US has led to a phenomenal increase in the number bilingual speakers in the Country. Children from these immigrant families often use their first language communicate at home. According to the US Department of Education, Center for Education Statistics, at least, 21% percent of school-age children speak a language that is not English while at home, and the numbers are expected to rise in the subsequent years. In this paper, theories of second language acquisition, advantages, and disadvantages of learning a second language, difficulties of learning the second language, and the possible ways of overcoming the mentioned difficulties, are explored.
Theories of Second Language Acquisition
The theory is one of the classical propositions about second language learning. The theory postulates that all learning as a behavior happens in response to certain stimuli, and the happening follows an associative chain. The proponents of the theory suggested that learning is the formation of a habit through a reward system. The learning tenet invokes the experiments of conditioning performed by Pavlov in articulating the concept of habit formation as the primary motivation for individuals to learn something new. According to this theory, the focus should be on drilling as explanations are not necessary for the process of learning. Also, little emphasis is put on understanding as the primary objective of the process is given to the results (Mitchell & Myles, 2015)
The Universal Grammar Theory
The theory proposes that the ability to learn is inborn, and the learning process of a language does not rely on the pedagogical prescriptions. The proponent of the theory, Noam Chomsky, suggested that the ability of an individual to learn a language rests in the mental grammar of the individual. Chomsky argued that every human has a Language Acquisition Device (LAD) and the device pre-program children to learn a language. The LAD is an allusion that the capacity of language acquisition is genetically determined. Chomsky presents a period that is referred to as the Critical period where the ability of a child to acquire language is most conducive. Research concurs with the hypothesis as the findings suggest that there is a sensitive period of language acquisition that ends at puberty. The studies reinforce Chomskys theory and findings from these studies indicate that a child who has been affected by aphasia has a higher chance of regaining language than adults ((Mitchell & Myles, 2015).
Krashens Monitor Theory
Krashens developed five hypotheses to explain the second learning process. The Acquisition-Learning hypothesis: the monitor hypothesis: the Natural Order hypothesis: the input hypothesis, and: the Affective Filter hypothesis. The Input hypothesis is concerned with the process of learning the second language. According to the Input hypothesis, the process of learning the second language follows a defined natural order and the learner improves along this natural order. The mentioned input is influenced by the type of pedagogical materials that the learner accesses. When designing the kind of learning materials, Krashen suggested that due consideration should be taken regarding the linguistic competence of the person. This introduces Krashens hypothesis of Affective filter where he suggested that variables such as motivation, anxiety and motivation and self-confidence lower or raise the individuals ability to learn the second language (Mitchell & Myles, 2015)
The cognitive theory suggests that the capacity of a child to learn a second language depends on the mental structures and the readiness of the mind. The theory postulates that cognitive learning is a constructive and self- motivated process that depends on the mental activities of a person. According to the proponents of the cognitive theory, second language learning is similar to any other type of learning as it depends on the willingness and self-confidence of the learner and thus, does not entirely rely on the level of intellectual development of the child. The mentioned position is explained when a child can learn a second language more quickly than an adolescent. The theory suggests that learning a second language is a conscious process that entails well-reasoned activities that are meant to enable the learner to acquire knowledge in the second language (Mitchell & Myles, 2015). These propositions contradict the Behaviorists who believed that learning is an automatic process.
How kids learn the second language
The simultaneous acquisition is one of the ways that children learn a second language. This type of learning happens when a child is raised bilingually from birth. Bilingual children can switch from one language to another in conversations. For, instance, a child may speak Spanish with one parent and switch to English while talking to another parent. Also, children learn through acquisition, which is an introduction to the first language has been established. School-going ages mostly experience such language exposures; at least five years old (Baker, 2012). The case can be illustrated when a child speaks his heritage language until the time of joining a school where English is a means of instruction.
Advantages of learning a second language
Research indicates that learning a second language offers positive benefits to the cognitive development of a child. Children who are proficient in a second language exhibit motivation to creativity and flexibility of mind. These kids have the ability to change responses depending on the situations that they are facing. As noted earlier, the cognitive process involves conscious processes that require the individual to keep the focus on the areas where she/he wants to improve regarding knowledge. The phenomenon gives credence to the findings that bilingual children have a high level of cognitive flexibility. In this regard, they can craft responses according to the demands of the situation. This explains the great problem-solving abilities that are manifested in bilingual children. These distinctive characteristics offer the bilingual child the better opportunity to solution of issues when faced with difficult situations (Cook, 2013)
Selective attention is also one of the benefits that are associated with learning a second language. Such children pay attention to the valuable things and ignore those that bring distraction. The executive functioning of the child is crucial to the cognitive development of the child. And since selective attention constitute executive function, children who possess such characteristics are bound to find motivation in what they are taught and also display conscious and self-sacrifice to acquire knowledge (Baker, 2012). The assessment implies higher chances of succeeding in the efforts to learn new things in life.
Bilingualism promotes the protection of cognitive damage. Protective of cognitive aspects of the body enables bilinguals to sustain their mental and physical activities that essential to their daily lives, For instance, the maintenance of high mental activity delay the start of symptoms in people who are suffering from dementia. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), bilingualism delays the symptoms of dementia by four years compared to those of monolinguals. These findings indicate positive aspects of encouraging children a second language as there is health implication later in life. ("Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease: bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve. - PubMed - NCBI," n.d)
Disadvantages of Bilingualism
Bilingualism interferes with the functioning of the brain as the two systems of the language are active whether an individual is using one language or not. These scenarios cause obstructions in the brain thereby reducing the performance of the brain. In turn, the persons ability to coordinate the cognitive activities that are taking place in the brain is extensively disrupted. Also, bilinguals have been found to have fewer words in a semantic category than those of monolinguals. These weaknesses may be reflected in ones speech and ability to communicate effectively due to the shortage in language vocabularies (Battle, 2012)
Difficulties and possible solutions
Children who learn a second language experience problems that create deficits in their expressions. In the country, there are no appropriate assessment techniques that are used to ascertain the reasons as to why a child is not doing well in grasping the language. Bilingualism does not cause disorder as the presence of the disorder as an underlying issue will always show in the both languages. To solve this problem, the instructors should assess the children so as to find out whether the child needs some time to master the language or there a manifestation of delay in learning both languages. The remedy can be implemented through an assessment of the bilingual speech and performance of language evaluation. The exercise may be done through an interpreter who would enable the assessor to decode and understand the speech issues that may be causing delays in the second language learning process (Battle, 2012)
Language is always full of metaphors and the expressions through these metaphors people create images in minds of the language users. These types of lexical choice affect the way children interpret certain concepts using a second language. Metaphors can influence the way children use the language. These metaphors are commonplace in languages and therefore, it may not be easy for the kids who are learning a second language because the lexical context of the metaphors may differ from one language to another (Cook, 2013). The approach to follow on solving this problem instructor should strive to unpack the metaphors from the tongue in question before initiating the instruction process.
The United States is increasingly become more diverse each year. The mentioned trend is an indication that there will be increased non-English speakers in the years to come. Learning the second language helps the children to develop superior cognitive skills. Also, second language acquisition has positive health implications on bilinguals. However, issues such disruption of the brain activities and speech inadequacies are suggested as disadvantages bilingual kid. Negative aspects notwithstanding, learning the second language is inevitable in all spheres of American life and therefore should be encouraged.
Baker, C. (2012). Key issues in bilingualism and bilingual education. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.
Battle, D. E. (2012). Communication disorders in multicultural and international populations. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier/Mosby.
Cook, V. (2013). Effects of the second language on the first. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease: bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve. - PubMed - NCBI. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21060095
Mitchell, R. J., & Myles, F. (2015). Second language learning theories. London: Arnold.
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