A theory of second language acquisition needs general knowledge about children’s learning their first language. This knowledge is vital because it provides the essential insights of understanding the process of SLA. Various theories and approaches have been propounded for the past fifty years to facilitate the study and analysis of the process of second language acquisition. The three key schools of thought that provide theoretical paradigms, which guide the language acquisition course, include behaviorist, innatist, and international/developmental perspectives.
Behaviorists propounded that children learn a particular language gradually. Lightbown & Spada (1999), reports that the behaviorist school of thought proposes that children learn language through the processes of imitation, repetition, controlled drilling, and reinforcement. In addition, this theory emphasizes that the environment is the principal source that facilitates the learning of language among children. I strongly agree with the theory’s assertion that imitation and mimicry are essential in facilitating easier learning of language among children. However, imitation helps children develop correct pronunciation of different words while mimicry is not related to understanding the use of words in different contexts.
Naomi Chomosky, a famous innatist, asserted that children are biologically programmed for language and that language develops gradually in a child as other biological functions do. Smith (2004), points out that the theory finds the environment the only contribution.
The innatist theory received a lot of criticism from different quarters because of the less emphasis it put on the environment’s contribution to the acquisition of language. Linden (2008) asserts that cognitive and developmental psychologists and psycholinguists have focused on the interplay between the innate learning ability of children and the environment from which they grow and develop. These studies confirm that children are capable of advancing to a higher level of performance and knowledge in an environment that is interactive and supportive. This is because of continuous contact between children and the environment, which facilitates the acquisition of better and improved ideas at different instances.
I find this theory perfect in its assertion because it combines the ability and readiness of the child and interaction with the environment. This is significant as it indicates the origin and the systematic acquisition of language among children. Furthermore, I find the theory the key foundation of SLA because it emphasizes that information should be presented in a similar situations to those it was acquired. I think that this is in line with the idea of communicative language approach that I am extremely interested in. It simplifies the entire process of communication in different situations among individuals hence promoting in depth understanding of ideas.
In the context of SLA, I cannot hold that the concept of imitation adopted by behaviorists is wrong. This is because of the fact that, at each instance, we learn a second language, we literally imitate the native speakers. Gass & Selinker (2008) assert that this idea is vital because it formed the basis of the audio-lingual method of language acquisition. Despite the fact that mimicry is an effective way of learning language, it should be noted that the process of learning language should not be part of the real life situation. In our school, we are experiencing a gap in the acquisition of language and its effective application. This means that students learn particular ideas in language but are not able to apply it to other significant situations that affect their lives.
A child should start learning language when he is ready, as this would promote understandability and application of the learnt language effectively. A key question that exists in relation to this is, should we start teaching our children another language at an early age? Various studies have been advanced to discuss the best age at which a child should start learning a second language. I have a feeling that the earlier the child is introduced to a second language the more native he becomes. In some instances, parents fear that the learning of a second language could affect their children’s mother tongue. I think this can be simply solved by parents trying to use their mother tongue more often.
With these assertions, I do not mean that adults cannot learn a second language. According to Singleton & Ryan (2004), it should be noted that the best way to master a new language is by being more exposed to it. Thus, I believe that adults would understand a new language better in case natives teach them, as this would force them to practice the use of the language more often.
On the issue of exposure to language, I find the task-based syllabus design and method extremely effective. This is because the approach presents language as an entire unit as opposed to chunks. More so, it focuses on meaning, which helps students learn correct forms. The procedure it follows develops autonomy among students and encourages them to use the language for communication.
It is natural for human beings to make mistakes when learning a new thing and it is vital to correct this. Therefore, a student needs effective feedback as it has many strategies. With my interest in the task-based method, I find the recast strategy excessively effective because a teacher corrects mistakes without addressing a student, which helps maintain the student’s courage and determination to use the language for communication.
Another significant thing that would help students in their journey to learn a second language is a teacher. In order to be successful, a teacher should be caring and supportive as this would decrease pressure on students and encourage them to learn and use language effectively.