Age as factor in language acquisition and learning

Theories, research findings, and consequences for teaching of English as a Foreign Language (EFL)

Term Paper, 2013

25 Pages, Grade: 3,0


Table of Contents

2. Quantity Assignments
I. P-1: Stephen Krashen: “What Does it Take to Acquire Language?”
II. P-2: “Acquiring a First Language”
III. P-3: “Comprehensible Input”
IV. P-4: "How age may affect learning a second language."
V. P5: Learning Implications: the “good language learner” (interview)
VI. P6: Stages in Acquisition/Learning
VII. P7: Observing learning and teaching in the second language
VIII. P8: Six proposals for classroom teaching

3. Final Assignment

4. Bibliography

2. Quantity Assignments 19th October 2012

P-1: Stephen Krashen: “What Does it Take to Acquire Language?”

1. Acquisition describes the act of learning a new language with its particularities such as grammar, vocabulary and other rules which are essential.

A monitor reflects certain information. In this case, Armando’s conversation with a native Israeli is shown to people who are supposed to decide whether Hebrew is Armando’s mother tongue.

Concerning language acquisition, giving information which can be understood easily describes the progress of comprehensible input. Things a learner declares as incomprehensible at first, may be understood over the years.

An affective filter is a progress learners get into contact with by receiving negative emotional responses. The lower a person’s affective filter is, the faster the competence of speaking develops.

The silent period is a phase at the beginning of the language acquisition. The learner’s skills improve hardly, so real communication is not possible yet.

The period of reduced output is quite similar to the silent period. Learners get a lot of input, but are not able to participate in conversations.

A natural approach is the way pupils learn languages at school. Hereby, the first steps of acquisition are passed much faster because of a comprehensible input right at the beginning.

2. Learning a language with a natural approach which is the most common case or being thrown in at the deep and learn a language by listening to native-speakers in another country? I would like to balance these opportunities in the following. First of all, I have to admit that there is not just one way of learning languages which is right. The natural approach has its pros and cons as well as the way Armando acquired language has.

In my opinion, a natural approach is more effective as far as the first steps of getting into contact with a new language are concerned because this approach shortens the silent period enormously. Learners will rather be confronted with phrases they understand than with long ones in case of a learning-by-doing approach. Another advantage is that misunderstandings which occur very often at this stage of acquisition can be solved in class immediately. Therefore, the amount of mistakes the learners make will decrease quickly. One negative aspect is the lack of practical experience in speaking, so that a natural approach demands a lot of time.

On the other hand, it is of course a good way to confront learners with native-speakers as well. After having passed the silent period in which many beginners hesitate to talk being afraid of making mistakes, their ability of speaking will improve fast. The fact that Armando was judged as a native-speaker, for instance, is impressive. Moreover, the environment in other countries is much more exciting than a classroom in which grammatical rules are repeated several times.

Nevertheless, the social circumstances Armando came across with are rarely given, so that this approach cannot be conducted with every learner.

In conclusion, I think that an approach in which learners first learn grammatical rules in order to pass the silent period and then go abroad to gain practical experience in speaking is the most effective one.

3. Languages can be acquired either by a natural approach or by getting into direct contact with the language.

The act of acquisition is never finished.

29th October 2012

P-2: “Acquiring a First Language”

1. In the first chapter of “How Languages are Learned” by Patsy M. Lightbrown and Nina Spada three main perspectives which deal with first language acquisition are presented: behaviourist, innatist, and interactional/developmental perspectives.

The behaviourist perspective, which was the United States' most leading theory in the 1940s and 1950s, primarily concentrates on the fact that children imitate a lot of the words they have heard in advance; of about 30-40 per cent of 2-year-old Peter's sentences are the result of reproduction. Hereby, it is noticeable that children do not only repeat coincidentally but the most important aspects. Once grounded new elements in the language system, children tend to stop imitating them and go over to others. From a more recent perspective, the classical behaviourism is no more sufficient in order to explain the acquisition of grammatical structures with their particularities.

As a reaction to behaviourist theories, Noam Chomsky established the innatist perspective. According to Chomsky children already feature an innate knowledge of language and grammar. Children are biologically programmed for language as well as they are programmed for other functions. Furthermore, Chomsky presumes that children are born with a general knowledge of all human languages, the universal grammar. Therefore, just the way these principles are used in the concerned language have to be learnt by the children. The fact that even children with limited cognitive ability manage to acquire language supports the hypothesis that language learning is independent from other aspects of cognitive development. Even deaf people are able to acquire language, which supports Chomsky's thesis.

Last but not least, the interactional/developmental perspective is another theory concerning first language acquisition. Advocates of this theory rather concentrate on developmental stages of language acquisition than the final ability of speaking. According to them, children acquire language by interacting with advanced native speakers. Swiss psychologist Piaget, for instance, concluded that language sheds light on how much a child has interacted with other people.

2. According to what has been said before, I conclude that the interactionists' perspective of acquiring a first language (“Learning from inside and out”) is the most appropriate one. This theory combines the other theories' main aspects, namely the behaviourist aspect of imitating what has been said before and the innatist perspective of a child's innate knowledge of a language. That is why I consider the interactional perspective as a symbiosis of the two other perspectives. The importance of interaction between language learners and interlocutors is without doubts given. The extraordinary case of Jim, who is deaf, shows that oral contact with language is required. Not having interacted with him caused an absence of competence in all aspects of language, such as unusual word order. Nevertheless, by interacting at the age of four years he fast succeeded in improving his language skills. Therefore, I support Piaget's thesis that “Language can be used to represent knowledge that children have acquired through physical interaction with the environment.”

In Addition, the classical behaviourism does not deliver an answer the question of learning complex grammatical structures.

My main point against the innatist perspective of acquiring a first language is that this theory ignores all features of interaction with experienced speakers, which is, in my opinion, necessary.

All in all, I can say that I mainly confirm with Jean Piaget's and Lev Vygotzky's point of view.

4th November 2012

P-3: “Comprehensible Input”

1. Definition “comprehensible input”

“Comprehensible input” is a term which was first used by Stephen Krashen in 1977. It describes the parts of language the learner understands easily. In terms of being effective, the input should be at a level which is slightly above the learner’s knowledge (“comprehensible input +1”). In case of too much unknown vocabulary, the learner will not be able to pick up the context anymore. Gestures or the surrounding situation, for instance, may facilitate to understand what has been said before.

2. Usefulness of the “Comprehensible Input“ concept for foreign language learning/teaching

In the following, I am going to discuss whether the "comprehensible input" concept for foreign language learning or teaching is useful.

First of all, I could imagine that thanks to this concept many pupils of a foreign language have improved their language skills fast and constantly. There is no doubt that terms which are comprehensible for the learner go over into every day vocabulary after having them heard several times.

In my opinion, the most valid argument for Krashen’s “comprehensible input” theory is, that the learners get an immediate feedback so that wrong statements will be corrected and false sentences will not stay in the learner’s mind.

However, the teacher’s input often tends be not appropriate. It might easily occur that the level is far too sophisticated when speaking to the pupils, or, in reverse, they are not challenged enough. Therefore, it is a thin line to find the right words, as far as their linguistic level is concerned.

Due to the fact of an existing diversity in a class between pupils who might understand the teacher’s words easily and others who have great difficulties in this respect, it is very unrealistic that a teacher finds a balance concerning the level. As a result, the gap between these groups would increase further or better constituted students would not be challenged enough. Both cases are definitely not desirable. Especially newcomers in a class who emigrated will be overextended by the given input and there would be a lack of opportunities to practice language at their level of language.

Thinking of my own time at school, I often learned new words simply by their translation into German and not by a comprehensible input.

In addition, language learners in a class do not get enough comprehensible input in order to reach a good level simply because teachers may not talk enough to their pupils. Only if a lot of interaction is given, the “comprehensible input” concept can succeed. But if enough interaction is frequently given and the teacher succeeds in finding interesting topics the pupils like to talk about, new vocabulary will be acquired unconsciously simply by hearing it frequently and using it afterwards. This progress can be fastened by visualizing things in order to activate the pupils’ imagination.

Taking all the arguments into consideration, this concept can only be effective under circumstances which are rarely given. Therefore, it is not sufficient to reduce teaching languages in schools to this concept by Krashen. Nevertheless, teachers should accept the challenge of giving their pupils comprehensible input as much as they can. To sum up, it is rather an ideal conception of how to teach than a model which gives millions of learners in schools access to new languages.


Excerpt out of 25 pages


Age as factor in language acquisition and learning
Theories, research findings, and consequences for teaching of English as a Foreign Language (EFL)
University of Vechta
Spracherwerbs- und Sprachlehrforschung. Learning and Teaching Languages
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
558 KB
theories, english, foreign, language
Quote paper
Frederik Droste (Author), 2013, Age as factor in language acquisition and learning, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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