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Principles of Language Learning
There are important principles that make younger learners grasp language better than old learners. In the paper, I will mention the principles from theorists" perspective. In addition, I will discuss my own perceptions from my experience of teaching English language to young learners. Each principle will be further illustrated on how to make use of it as a teacher.
2. A Child as a Learner in Theory
When we think of a child as a language learner, it is highly persuading to refer to the work of the famous theorists in the field: Piaget, Vigotsky, and Bruner. They set clear the most important principles that study a child in a learning context.
According to Piaget, a child is an active learner. He was more concerned with the way young children function in the surrounding world, and how this influences their mental development. The child is seen as continuously interacting with the world around him/her by solving the problems that the environment presents (University of Georgia, 2013). This theory implies that the child as an active learner and thinker, he/she gains knowledge by interacting with objects and ideas the environment presents. Considering Piaget"s idea, it can be said that if a child is learning by interacting with the "environment", then, there is a higher potential for an EFLT to create an environment that evokes leaning experiences. The word environment is used in this context to mean the English classroom or laboratory decoration with all its colors, posters, characters, as well as the variety of activities a teacher can supply in her classroom.
Another view of the child as a language leaner was put forward by Vigotsky. Vigotsky sees a child as a social, or an active learner who interacts with people around from birth onwards. The ability to learn through instructions and mediation is characteristics of human intelligence. It is logically agreed that with the help of adults, children can do and understand much more than they can do on their own (McLeod, 2007). Vigotsky introduced the concept of Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). It refers to the distance between what a child can do with assistance and what the child can accomplish without assistance. Basing on this idea, a teacher can skillfully maximize the accomplishment of her studenst, as well as their learning progress by offering them the help they need. Each child has his or her own needs and learning style. Therefore for effective teaching, a teacher can help her/his pupils by perceiving their needs. In addition, the teacher can talk to the pupil"s parents who can give her/him general ideas about the child. ZPD also offers teachers two important strategies to use in their teaching language: imitation, and collaboration. Vygotsky used the term imitation to refer to situations in which a child is able to engage in interaction with more competent students. This helps the child to perform specific tasks that the child would otherwise not be able to perform alone. This is made possible because of the presence of maturing psychological functions (Johnstone, 2002).Consequently, a teacher can be a model for her/his pupils in learning a language. This can be through illustrating the correct way of pronunciation of certain phonemes or by reading of certain words, as well as chunks. As for collaborative learning, as mentioned above, working with others offers some students a model of correct bahaviour to be immitated that they would otherwise be able to achieve on their own. ;
According to Bruner, language is the most important tool for cognitive growth and as a result, he calls for Scaffolding. According to the University of Georgia, scaffolding is the support given during the learning process which is tailored to the needs of the student with the intention of helping the student achieve his/her learning goals (2012).To use this principle in learning settings, teachers can help students to pay attention to what is important, suggesting, modelling tasks, reminding, explaining organization and so on (Sawyer, 2006). Young children in general are unaware of learning techniques, and it will be very helpful if a teacher directs his/her student"s attention to such learning strategies.
3. A Child as a Young Leaner of Language Vs. An Older Learner
The theories discussed above were put forward by prominent people. As humans, we can keep on coming up with new ideas. Such ideas do arise from different readings and the way we perceive the best way out concerning a given problem. In the subsequent paragraphs, the paper discusses advantages of young learners as language learners versus older ones basing on my own perception.
3.1. Native-like accent
The place of birth and the society more than often has an influence on the way one pronounces some words.A child acquires a good command of the sound system of language, not only through the pronunciation of individual sounds but also patterns of intonation (Alber,2011). This encourages teachers to offer their students opportunities of listening more to native-like accent, in form of recordings, authentic videos, or having a native-like accent for the teacher herself.
3.2. The limited effect of Competitive Model.
If we imagine language to be a "wall" with its foundation in the ground (sounds and meanings) and constitutes of bricks (words and chunks) that are used to construct the wall (Kozulin et al., 2003), for older learners, when learning a second language, there is always the barrier of the first language ( Competitive Model) which hinders the passing of any word or concept without figuring it in first meaning or translating it in other words. This is so because their foundation was already established and is hard to change it.But, for young learners, as this wall ( the system of first language) not much high, they are willing to acquire a second language as it is without the barrier of translation since their foundation is not yet established. Therefore children have more time and space to learn new words,pattern and concepts.
3.3. Less Anxiety
Studies showed that young learners of any language are less anxious as compared to older learners and hence may be more able to absorb language than block it out. According to McLeod, a learner loses 70% of what he/she learnt when feeling anxious (2007). For effective learning, a teacher can make use of their habits by taking advantage of more daring activities such as singing, role play, and total physical response and making fun in class to maximize learning.
3.4. Positive Attitude
Children on most occasion are enthusiastic, lively and active, and always want to please their teacher. This positive attitude towards learning a given language is augmented by use of informal style of learning. Examples of informal learning include games, songs and stories. This high motivation might decrease as the child gets older to more formal learning and less playing context.A teacher can make use of this by involving her students in more active and interesting tasks that keep their attitude positive and high.
As the famous quote 'The early bird catches the worm', there are a number of important principles that make young children better learners of a given language. Taking the discussed principles into consideration, such as engaging them in a variety of tasks, being a model, scaffolding, and collaborative learning, an EFLT has a great potential of maximizing the leaning progress of her students. Students will be able to understand most of what is thought.