Monday, September 24, 2012

Richard-Amato Chapter 1 "From Grammar-Based to Communicative Approaches: A Historical Perspective"

Richard-Amato; Chapter 1: "From Grammar-Based to Communicative Approaches: A Historical Perspective" p. 22-38

            Some of the different grammar-based approaches are: audiolingualism, direct method or Berlitz method, and the cognitive-code approach. These approaches generally do not place enough emphasis on socio-cultural factors. When I was young I tried using Berlitz tape to learn German. I simultaneously listened to a dialogue on a tape recording in German and read the written script. Then the tape would prompt me to repeat what was said. I found this method restrictive and mostly unsucccesful.
Chomsky’s asserted that children are not blank slates but bring important experiences and prior knowledge to language learning. He posited that each child has a “language acquisition device” that enables them to learn language. It is like a computer with built-in programs for SLA that include: “meaning, syntax, relationships among various types of words and their functions.” He suggested that a universal grammar exists that is shared among languages. The theory of connectionism argues that the brain has patterns of neural networks that “control and constrain the types of information that the brain can internalize” (R-A 29). I am still somewhat confused about the contributions and accuracy of connectionism.

Making it Happen by Richard-Amato, Introduction

Patricia A. Richard-Amato. Making it Happen: From Interactive to Participatory Language Teaching: Evolving Theory and Practice. Introduction pp. 1-17

            A new idea expressed in this reading that I had not thought of before is that teaching English is a political act. It is debatable whether the teacher empowers the student or whether power is negotiated between the teacher and the student. The end goal of language learning is “political empowerment in a global society from being able to establish one’s identity” (3). This author stresses the importance of “sociocultural factors” influencing language learning. The source culture for English language learning is typically American or British culture. One of the important points stressed is that teachers, like children, are not blank slates. Therefore, during teacher education programs teacher should be actively involved in integrating their understanding of the “disciplinary knowledge base.” The author suggests that pre-service teachers start a professional development journal. I love that idea. I think this blog serves that purpose.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

VanPatten Chapter 3: The Developing System

VP Chapter 3: The Developing System

            The common purpose of learning language is communication. Communication consists of comprehension, speech production, learning, and social interaction. There are networks of forms and lexical items in the brain that map out the relationships between words. For example, semantic relationships have to do with the meaning of words (i.e. interesting and boring). Lexical relationships are formed between words with the same root (i.e. interesting and interested). 
            Some of the rules that govern sentence structure are very difficult to articulate. These form the abstract syntactic system. This system informs the learner of which sentence constructions are possible and which are not. Other important aspects of language development are pragmatic and sociolinguistic competence. A learner with pragmatic competence can infer meaning or a speaker’s intent.
            The linguistic system is a developing system. Since learning a new language is a dynamic process the learner’s understanding of the language undergoes two main types of changes: accommodation and restructuring. Accommodation refers to incorporating new lexical terms and grammatical structures. Restructuring is forming different sentence structures and types of possible sentences. Finally, the role of explicit knowledge is to facilitate the development of an implicit linguistic system. Explicit knowledge does not “turn into” an unconscious system. 
            I am still somewhat confused by the abstract syntactic sytem. Most of what I have gotten out of the text so far is that the acquisition of language is primarily rooted in an unconscious system with rules that we can’t articulate. As teachers we need to expose learners to input in the students’ second language that will help them begin to form a more sophisticated implicit linguistic system. Is there any value in learning the complex grammatical rules that govern language usage? Or is it mere exposure to these rules in practice (input) that teaches language learners how to use them successfully?

VanPatten Chapter 2: Input

VP Ch 2: Input

            In order for second language acquisition to take place the learner needs to be exposed to language input. Input is the language that is read or heard by the learner. The two types of input are conversational, where the learner is involved, and non-conversational input such as listening to the radio or watching TV. Immersion learners are more likely to gain mastery over a language because they receive more input. The more language input someone is exposed to the more likely the person is to develop an implicit linguistic system. Parsing refers to a learner projecting or predicting the sentence as they hear it or filling in the gaps in the language. L2 learners tend to assume the first noun in the sentence is the subject. Lexical semantics are what is required of a subject to perform an action and can be used by language learners to interpret sentences.   
            Second language learners need input but too much input can be overwhelming. One way they lessen the input burden is by negotiating meaning, or confirming what that they understood what they heard. Another way to ease the burden on the learner is by simplifying input or modifying input. For example, when adults talk to babies they simplify their statements. VanPatten lists several ways of modifying input: “using shorter sentences, adding pauses, using more common vocabulary, repeating something” (VanPatten 39). Modifying input and adjusting input to match the learners’ level increases their chances of noticing important aspects of language.
            I have always heard that the most important thing for language development is being exposed to the spoken language. My AP Spanish teacher encouraged us to watch Spanish television and listen to the radio outside of class. Now I made the connection that that was because she wanted to increase the amount of input thereby increasing our likelihood of attending to important aspects of the language and forming an implicit linguistic system. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

VanPatten Chapter 1

From Input to Output: A Teacher's Guide to Second Language Acquisition
by Bill VanPatten

Chapter 1 summary and response:

The first chapter of VanPatten is about the "givens" of second language acquisition. VanPatten emphasizes that in order to learn a new language one must acquire an implicit linguistic system. An implicit linguistic system is a set of rules about the language that you possess unconsciously. It helps the speaker of that language differentiate between what can and can't be said in a language. On the flip side, second language learners also learn explicit knowledge or explicit rules. This is how I was taught my second language, Spanish. The teacher taught us explicit knowledge about how to conjugate verbs, use the subjunctive tense, and decide which past tense to use.

VanPatten's five main points of second language acquisition (SLA) are: "1. It involves the creation of an implicit (unconscious) linguistic system) 2. SLA is complex and consists of different processes 3. SLA is dynamic but slow 4. Most L2 learners fall short of native-like competence 5. skill acquisition is different from the creation of an implicit system" (VP 10). The idea that SLA is complex seems like a no-brainer. But there are many components to it that I had never thought about. The learner has to develop the lexicon, phonology, morphology, syntax, pragmatics, sociolinguistics, discourse competence and many other aspects of language simultaneously.

One of the main things that I gathered from this chapter is the importance of the learner acquiring an implicit system. The learner becomes skilled when he or she can use the system productively for rapid speech. I was surprised to learn in this chapter that language learning takes place the same way no matter what the context. I have always heard that a second language context is preferable to a foreign language context.  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Re-purposing this blog

I started this blog to discuss my teaching internship placement for EDIS 5440: Applied Teaching with Technology. However, since that placement finished up last fall but I still have the blog I would like to continue using it for a new purpose.

I am going to start using this blog to respond to readings for EDIS 5480: Second Language Acquisition and Modern Language Teaching Methods K-12 taught by Professor Ruth Ferree.

I am majoring in Elementary Education but I am also a Spanish major. I hope to one day teach English as a Second Language in a Spanish-speaking country. I am passionate about Spanish language and culture, and I am fascinated by how children learn and acquire language skills.