Age as a Factor in Second Language Teaching and Learning
It has been established in second language teaching and language studies that an adult’s second language learning is different from a child’s first language acquisition in terms of the learner’s attitude towards learning and the environment where learning is supposed to occur. For instance, a young child learning his mother language in his household is different from a young child learning a second language in a classroom setting. The same thing is true with an adult learning a foreign language in a classroom setting over an adult immigrant learning a foreign language without a formal education setting and environment. Many theorists believe that there is a critical period in learning a language (Lightbrown and Spada, Year).
The study done by Mark Patkowski proves the relationship of age and the ability in the learning and acquisition of a second language. He proved his hypothesis that only learners who started their study of a second language below the age of fifteen could achieve a native-like mastery of the target language. The research aimed to learn if there would be a difference for learners who learn the language beyond puberty and those who learn within the so-called critical period on the basis of comparing immigrant learners in the United States who learned English at various ages. The standard would be native-born Americans below fifteen years old with high level of education. In another study done by J.S Johnson and E.L. Newport, they found that learners who have began studying the language the earliest succeed better in judgment tasks than those who began late. Learners who began studying the language would not be able to acquire the native-like fluency and mastery in their linguistic ability (Lightbrown and Spada, Year).
Moreover, even those who have not heard of the concept of critical period hypothesis hold the belief that second language learning would be more effective when they begin at a younger age. There are many differences that are outlined by Lightbrown and Spada between learners who learned the language during the critical period and those who did not. There are various factors in second and foreign language learning that should be taken account for such as mental abilities, cognitive abilities, attitudinal, and cultural; differences. These factors seem to favor learning during the critical period. For instance, young learners leaned better because they have an access to “the innate language acquisition ability” that old learners do not have. Another advantage in the attitudinal aspect would be the norm that most child learners are willing to try and experiment with language use that adult learners would find stressful. However, the authors also warned learners and readers into adapting a generalization that young learners learn better than old learners because it should be seen in a case to case basis kind of analysis (Lightbrown and Spada, Year).
The class that I am trying to envision would be a group of Korean immigrants learning English as a foreign language. There are about fifteen of them in a class. They are university students who have been required to take English classes for them to be able to survive university requirements and university life. They have various majors ranging from engineering to accountancy to molecular biology. They are about 17-21 years old, a mixture of females and males. They have learned Basic English when they were in South Korea. They can converse in English for survival purposes but can never be considered as communicatively competent. Up to this time, Korean has always been their mother tongue tongue. They used Korean while speaking to their parents, family members, and friends. We meet eight hours a week for the whole semester.
There are many factors that should be taken into consideration in formulating the curriculum to be applied in this class. Apart from taking into special consideration the age group of the students, it should also be noted that there are a number of consequences that entail this factor. These consequences should be the bases for an effective language environment and treatment of students. According to Lightbrown and Spada, older learners do not feel comfortable in experimenting with the use of language. As a matter of fact, they argue that old learners feel stressed-out whenever they make a mistake in language usage. This attitudinal problem is important so that teachers should not be very careful in making error-corrections. The teacher should make them feel that they are in a natural and authentic setting so they would feel comfortable just like a first-language acquisition scenario. In this way, they should be encouraged to experiment and use the language fearlessly in any setting that is thrown their way. Moreover, since old learners can no longer access the innate capabilities of the brain to learn a language, they rely on their intuition, problem-solving skills, and metalinguistic abilities in learning a language.
When these factors are taking into consideration, the teacher would then be able to formulate exercises and in-class activities that would involve these skills. In this way, the proper faculty of the learner would be effectively tapped and taken advantaged for them to learn the target language more comfortably and efficiently. In addition, old learners are understood to have already learned a first language. This means that the teacher should also consider the similarities and differences of the native language and the target language. In the case of these students, the Korean language is totally offbeat from English. It is important that this should be pointed out so that students can avoid errors brought about by the interference of the first language in learning a second or a foreign language. All of these should be taken together so that teachers could effectively formulate an appropriate curriculum for students to not only learn but enjoy the classes that they are in to increase motivation.