The observations you made were quite predictable. Those students whose parents supported the learning of English and participated in the home had more probability of learning the formal as well as conversational second language. Those students whose parents did not support the learning of English did not have as much success with their second language. Education of any content supports the same observations. Parental support and participation is key to student success. Another key factor is the concept of “total immersion” in a second language.
People are totally immersed in their first language from birth. Therefore the spoken language becomes almost automatic. Many students even have difficulty learning the ins and outs of their first language grammar because of this immersion, making the learning of the written first language difficult. Add to that the study of a second language out of the context of living. Even the observations of the second student, the 7th grader who was “truly immersed” in both her first and second languages, supported the value of immersion.
But even though the first student, the 5th grader, was totally immersed in her second language at school, it was the absence of the second language spoken at home that counteracted the learning she acquired during the school day. I also found it very interesting when the difference in the pronunciation of the word “way” was discussed. It was the sound specific to the ear that the observer could not distinguish. I had a similar experience in a class when discussing the words “ma” and “ma” in an Asian language.
The Asian character was not only written differently, but both words were pronounced differently. I could barely notice the difference in writing (thus posing a literacy issue on my part), nor could I hear the difference. When explained to me, how the inflection of one word went up (like an English question), and the inflection of the other word went down (like an English declarative sentence), I still could not hear it. I could not make the distinction much like the Asian student could not hear the difference in our letters “L” and “R.
” Even though I explained that the sound was made by different parts of our mouth and throat, she could not hear it. I was finally able to understand my deficit with “ma” and “ma”, I would be wise to learn the difference since one meant “mother” and one meant “horse. ” I wouldn’t want to misuse them! Allison Hill Your discussion about autism was interesting. It is difficult to determine how much cognitive ability is there and how much language acquisition is there in an autistic child.
Through the descriptions of the boy’s behaviors, abilities and habits, along with the theories presented, the severity of autism is not clear. As you stated, autism is “characterized by a lack of social skills and relationships, difficulty with communication, and rigid and repetitive behavior. ” This child was described as having “relatively developed social and communication skills”. Thus it would be initially assumed that this child had mild autism. The descriptions and examples of the child’s behavior go on to note that he does form social relationships but uses language only when he wants something.
While some use of language indicates he understands the words, meanings and uses, other uses of language suggest he does not. He certainly understands that verbal communication is a tool. So is autism a situation where one does not have the capacity to understand language, or where one makes the choice to use or not use language? It is an interesting question; one that is not easy to answer. Behavior of this subject supports either answer. Your observations also suggest that language acquisition may be based on individual need.
Autistic children have different needs than other children. Autistic babies do not respond to faces and voices as other children do because they simply do not have the same need to do so. Autistic children do not use language like other children simply because they do not have the same need to do so. When one word can get the desired results, why use more? This particular child has learned the words he needs to get the results he wants in his world. You noted in these observations that this child does make errors when attempting to use language to get desired results.
Mostly though, the errors seem to be made when he is attempting to please another person, or give another person their desired results. It seems autistic children are less concerned with pleasing others. You concluded by stating that this child’s language learning experience is typical of that of a more severe case on the autism spectrum. Again, it is difficult to determine since it is unclear whether it is cognitive ability or social need that affects the language acquisition.
This discussion reminds me of an article I read about requiring a deaf person to interact in a hearing world based on the rules of a hearing world. Once the deaf person understood the rules of a language based on sound and hearing, she was able to communicate appropriately in the hearing situation. It was as if this deaf person was bilingual; she had to know her language (ASL) and the ins and outs of spoken English. It seems that an autistic child must learn the rules of two vastly different languages: one language based on a very social world, and one based on a less social world. Amy Lambert
Your observation confirms the theory that total immersion in a foreign language produces a more fluent speaker of that language. Studying a foreign language in a school setting usually only focuses on the written aspects of that language; reading, writing, grammar. Without that constant hearing and speaking, the language acquisition is lost. It was interesting that you made a distinction between learning a foreign language and learning a second language. There is a difference between speaking a language based on learned rules, and speaking a language based on “feeling” the language.
Motivation also seems to be a factor in learning a language. Whether it be learning a foreign language or learning a second language, one must have some important reason for the study. With this woman, her interest started first with the desire to do well in the subject and improve. For some, that is enough to learn a foreign language. For others, the motivation increases as the learner desires not only to know the language, but to become a part of the culture and speech community of that language and thus it becomes a second language.
It was interesting that this woman’s heritage was connected to her second language of choice which may have initially contributed to her original motivation. Her father and grand parents were native speakers of Spanish but her mother did not know the language. Speaking Spanish in the home was not stressed. Therefore there was an added challenge in becoming immersed in her chosen second language. This further confirms the theory that parental involvement and support in a child’s learning is a major contributor to the success of that child’s learning.
My own experience learning a foreign language was similar to the observed woman’s experience. I studied formal rules of the reading, writing and grammar of Spanish beginning in 10th grade. After three years of study in high school (which included a conversational Spanish course), I cannot say I am a fluent speaker of the language. I was never totally immersed in the language so I never truly HAD to learn to survive and communicate in that language. In addition, I never have many opportunities to use my knowledge and sharpen my skills. It just goes to show; if you don’t use it, you lose it.