Importance of Language Acquisition and the Functions of Brain in Education
Language learning and its acquisition plays a pivotal role in our society. Language teaching in a class room involves interaction among the learners and the teacher. The aim is to bring about a change in the learners. Language teaching does not operate in isolation from other aspects of life. If we view second language teaching in its totality, we find that it is a very complex task indeed. In order to understand the nature of this complex task, it is necessary to approach it in a systematic manner.
It is imperative to organize the various components, map out their relationship and analyse the way in which they operate. A language teacher has to keep in sight the ultimate outcome and at the same time be alert to what is taking place in the classroom. According to Chomsky, an American linguist and philosopher, the linguistic competence of human beings is due to the existence of innate language knowledge. This innate knowledge is an essential element in the acquisition of language.
LANGUAGE AND THE BRAIN
E.H. Lenneberg, in his book Biological Foundations of Language (1957) points out that the slightly unusual features shown by the human brain and the vocal tract can be viewed as partial adaptation of the body to the production of language. It is possible to distinguish the area of the brain which is involved in the actual articulation of speech. This is located in the cerebrum, the front of the brain, also known as the ‘primary somatic motor area’. The section of the brain involved in the articulation of speech seems to be quite distinct from the areas involved in its planning and comprehension. However, two areas are particularly relevant.The neighbourhood of Broca’s area (in front of and just above the left ear) and 2.The area around and under the left ear known as Wernicke’s area. These areas are important for speech comprehension and production.
The left hemisphere of the brain is known as ‘analytic’ while the right hemisphere is ‘creative’. It is the left hemisphere which develops the power of acquiring and using language. Further, interpretation of metaphors, understanding of discourse, telling a story, understanding of ambiguous sentences and production of intonation patterns in sentences – all seem to be controlled by the right hemisphere.
Chomsky’s believes that children somehow know that all sentences have a deep and a surface structure. This knowledge enables them to infer abstract deep structures which are not visible on the surface. A number of ways have been suggested in which people think that children learn language. One of these is imitation or mimicking. Others are overt connection of form by adults. It has also been suggested that ‘motherese’ or the way mothers talk to their children help them learn. Research suggests that imitation and overt connection of form does not have much effect on children’s learning. However, parents’ talk seems to be important since it provides a rich environment. By five years of age, most children are able to produce most of the essential structures of their language learning. Passive and other complex structures are acquired later. Some of the problems our children face are – speech impairment of various kinds, stuttering, and repetition of one word only, making grammatical errors and language delay, etc.
SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION
Jean Piaget, a biologist and a psychologist, whose ideas have been influential in the field of first and second language acquisition studies, probed into the overall behavioural development in the human infant. His view was that the development of language acquisition results mainly from external factors or social interaction. An understanding of second language acquisition can improve the ability of mainstream teachers to serve the culturally and linguistically diverse students in their classrooms. Current theories of second language acquisition are based on years of research in a wide variety of fields including linguistics, psychology, sociology, anthropology and neurolinguistics.
There are several distinct stages of second language development and they are –
1. The silent/receptive or reproduction stage (teachers should not force students to speak until they are ready to do so in this stage)
2. The early production stage (in this stage students can usually speak in one or two word phrases and can demonstrate comprehension of new materials)
3. The speech emergence stage (students usually develop approximately 3,000 words and can use short phrases and simple sentences to communicate)
4. The intermediate language proficiency stage (students develop close to 6000 words and begin to make complex sentences, state opinions, ask for clarification, share thoughts and speak at a greater length)
5. The advanced language proficiency stage (in this stage students develop some specialized content-area vocabulary and can participate fully in grade-level classroom activities if they are given occasional support).
Understanding these theories can help teachers develop appropriate instructional strategies and assessments that guide students along a continuum of language development. A basic knowledge of language acquisition theories is extremely useful for mainstream classroom teachers and it directly influences their ability to provide appropriate content-area instructions.
MEASURING TOOLS OR RUBRICS
Measuring language acquisition is not as easy as measuring distance or weight. Language knowledge is not directly accessible and we rely on learners to display their knowledge in some way so that it can be measured. We must encourage students to get involved in interactions.
UNIQUE STRATEGIES TO BE IMPLEMENTED
Some of the strategies that parents and teachers can use to support children in learning to express themselves, to hear and understand language and to become competent communicators:
1. Build Relationships — be an Empathetic Language Partner
2. Respond and Take Turns — be an Interactive Language Partner
3. Respond to Nonverbal Communication
4. Use the Four Es Approach:
i. Encourage children to communicate by listening, responding, and not correcting their language
iii. Extend the sounds, words,
iv. Expand on both semantics and the syntax of a child’s words and conversational turns.
1. Aitcheson, Jean.1983.The Articulate Mammal, Second Edition, London etc. Hutchinson
2. Newmeyer, F.J.(ed) 1988.Linguistics,the Cambridge Survey, Vol III, Language: Psychological and Biological Aspects ,Cambridge etc. C.U.P.
3. Steinberg, Danny D.1982.Psycholinguistics .Language, mind and the world. Essex: Longman Group Ltd.
4. Hudson , R.H.1980.Sociolinguistics,Cambridge:CUP
5. Krashen, Stephen D.1987.Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning .London, Prentice-Hall International.
6. Lenneberg, E.H.1967: Biological foundations of language. New York: John Wiley
7. Brown, H.D.1987.Principles of language Learning and Teaching .New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc
8. Braindi ,S.M.1999.The Acquisition of second Language syntax
9. Practical and Proven Strategies For Teaching Dual Language Learners: Linda M.Espinosa and Elizabeth S. Magruder
10. Netaji Subhas Open University Study Materials(Paper 2)
11. Hyms,D.1974.Foundations in Sociolinguistics :Philadelphia :University of Pennsylvan Press
12. D.S.Wittmer/S.H.-Peterson-Person Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall Updated on July 20,2010.
Biswajit Majumdar, a senior English teacher, has been in the field of education and researching on English Language for more than two decades. He is the Senior School Co-ordinator at M C Kejriwal Vidyapeeth, Liluah, Howrah, West Bengal. He is zealous about making education relevant to the needs of the present times. His focus is on addressing the diverse interests and abilities of the students by presenting information in a variety of ways. He has presented a paper at the International Conference for School Leaders at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi in December, 2017. He regularly conducts workshops both for teachers and students in various parts of the country for the betterment of learning. He continues his educational voyage with excellence, undeterred determination and indomitable spirit. He is a keen learner and fosters true learning and critical thinking in students.