Research Paper (undergraduate), 2013
2. PERTINENT OBSERVATION
3. AGE AND DIVERSITY IN LEARNING
4. HETEROGENEITY AND DIVERSITY
5. THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE AND DIVERSITY
6. COGNATES AND FOREIGN LANGUAGE LEARNING
7. DIVERSITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING
8. MICRO- ANALYSIS OF DIVERSIFIED LEARNING
9. BLOOM’S TAXONOMY AND DIVERSITY IN LEARNING
10. STRATEGIES FOR STUDENTS WITH DIVERSE TALENTS AND CHALLENGES
11. DIVERSITY AND THE CURRENT CHANGING TRENDS WHICH HAS AFFECTED LEARNING IN GENERAL
It is an open fact and observation that has been done and analyzed over time that language is always used to communicate meaning, convey information, control social behavior and solve problems and challenges which humanity encounters. This is a reality in all the languages in the world.
The teaching aspect of the languages takes both formal and informal approach. Within the societal set-up where a particular language is common, oral transmission and communication becomes the key approach on how the linguistic concepts of a particular language are acquired. Learning is through imitation, talking and listening and executing the tasks as per the oral instructions. The formal approach which involves classroom learning the challenge of writing and creating linguistic meaning from the graphic representation of the language becomes a challenge to the learner. Herein I note the first diversity in language learning because the mastery of the graphic presentation takes time and each learner devises personal implicit strategies to imbibe this particular skill.
Language learning and language teaching is a multi-faceted social activity. It is a complex affair. In foreign language teaching learners are exposed to other people’s values and the perception of these people on how they see and analyze the world in other words foreign language learning is some sort of a learning adventure which is loaded or is full of ‘adventures’. It is these ‘novel’ or fresh encounters from a neutral perspective that create the diversity in learning and also variety in the perception of foreign language learners.
Diversity allows students to grow individually. They always take charge of their own learning and analysis much as the learning is done in a fairly larger group, in the classroom or in a particular designated learning space.
From my personal experience: foreign language learning can be frustrating and quite a challenging experience. The students I have taught French and English in Kenya, a majority of them have always encountered serious challenges at acquiring the French linguistic skill and the overall flair and distinct acumen.
To corroborate the above observation I would wish to cite the Canadian educator, Jim Cummins (1980) did some research involving 1,210 immigrant children in Canada learning a foreign language and he observed that it takes these children much longer(approximately five to seven years) to acquire good cognitive skills in a foreign language. Cummins further observed that these learners encountered some sort of a ‘linguistic façade’ whereby their oral fluency was compromised because the flair to speak the foreign language well had not been well mastered during the learning and formative stages of acquiring the linguistic competence of the foreign language.
In another research done in Britain which involved about 17,000 British children indicated that fairly older students aged eight and above, older children are better learners of second and foreign language than the fairly younger ones (Stern,Burstall& Harley , 1975). A similar research was also done in Switzerland and Denmark and similar results were realized ( Buehler,1972, Florander& Jansen, 1968).
This implies that the mental composition of the fairly older pupils is able to grasp certain abstract concepts of the foreign language. The fairly younger ones still encounter some challenges.
The researchers however observe that the fairly younger learners develop good oral skills in the foreign language because speaking always involves motor patterns that have neurophysiological mechanisms and the repetitive-cum-play nature and pattern of learning assist them to imbibe the appropriate pronunciation that is actually akin to that of the native speakers of the foreign language being learnt. The older pupils occasionally encounter challenges in this area. They are competent in writing and comprehension skills.
Within the Kenyan context, learners are introduced to French at the secondary school when they are about 13 or 14 years old. They learn for four years and sit for the national examination. Going by Cummins observation after some pertinent research, the reality I have encountered is that the majority of the learners graduate with the basic French linguistic skills. Those who gain some sort of absolute mastery are the ones who proceed with the study of French as a foreign language in our local university because they continue learning it for another three of four years before they attain their first undergraduate degrees.
Despite the varied views about age which is some subtle diversity into the foreign language learning. An early start for foreign language learning gives room for the learners who are interested irrespective of their age to encounter long sequence of instruction this motivates some good communicative proficiency. They also get inducted into another culture and they will assess it as a normal and integral part of their learning experience at school.
Two schools of thought about diversity in learning which also involves foreign language learning have come up with two diverse views or observations: Heterogeneity and diversity per se.
On heterogeneity they observe that learners are perceived to be different. Adjustments in the learning process are made to come to terms with their different needs. The differences of the learners is seen as a challenge which should be dealt with as they ambitiously seek for some integration.
The school of thought which advocates for diversity per se believes that the learners should be perceived to be different. These differences should be taken as worthwhile resources for the individual and mutual learning and development. The varied differences should be seen as valuable assets and opportunities for the learners. This is what should motivate their inclusivity into the actual learning process.
From my personal experience I will concur with the second school of thought where inclusivity, diversity and extreme differences of the individual learners should be taken into consideration in the learning of a foreign language. It is always an assumed generalization that the actual learning in the traditional classroom format (four walls, chalkboard and the teacher as the facilitator) is homogenous and uniform to the extent that the linguistic skills will be imbibed in a ‘uniform’ version. This is a misnomer because each and every student within the ‘homogenous’ learning environment have their own subtle personal strategy on how they imbibe the linguistic skills exposed to them in the learning space.
From my personal observation the way the learners acquire the four basic skills of language also vary. There are those who acquire the listening and speaking skills faster and they become quite slow or quite incompetent in writing and hearing skills. On the other hand there those who grasp the writing and comprehension skills faster and they encounter serious challenges with their speaking and listening skills.
Igoa (1995) observes that writing when combined with other forms of visual expression could be a safe haven for learners experiencing a silent stage in their transition to a new culture. The reference to the new culture here implies learning aspects of foreign language which implicitly or explicitly touch on the culture of the foreign language.
My observations are well summed up by Majorie Hall Haley , Associate Professor at George Mason Univeristy.
“When learners come into the classroom, they don’t divest themselves of their cultural experiences or their linguistic background. They bring all of that with them to the classroom. So it’s incumbent upon the teacher to accommodate that wide array of learners.”
Successful language learners have to be psychologically receptive to the target language’s community; ethnocentric attitudes hinder acquisition of the target language. (Gardener & Lambert, 1972; McVeigh, 2004). Learning a foreign language involves certain indispensable psychological parameters which should be taken into consideration. Gardener and Lambert’s observation hold the same veracity for foreign language learning.
I would wish to give a close knit link of diversity in language learning as defined by the Council of Europe and how their objectives are actually in tandem with the objectives of teaching foreign languages in the Kenyan context.
The pragmatic objective: learning foreign languages serve to facilitate the private and professional mobility of the citizens and the exchange of ideas. Learners of foreign languages in Kenya gives the learners a working knowledge to help them work in the larger Eastern African community and beyond where francophone countries use French as the official language. Ambitious Kenyan citizens with the requisite qualifications plus French as a working knowledge always gives them advantage to secure the jobs with multinational companies and International Non-Governmental organizations within the African context and beyond.
The intercultural objective: Learning foreign language should contribute to overcoming prejudices and developing mutual interest and tolerance among European citizens. This philosophical statement is true to the Kenyan context because the stereotypical notions about the origin of foreign languages and their cultures are ‘demystified’ when the actual learning of these languages take place. The learners appreciate the larger francophone world and they come to realize that they end up being ‘Francophiles’ (people who love and use the French language ) and they appreciate the orientation they acquire about the French language and its varied and diversified francophone culture.
The socio-political objective: learning foreign languages serves to protect and support the rich heritage of linguistic and cultural diversity as a source of mutual enrichment. This objective is in subtle tandem with the intercultural objective already discussed above. The pertinent observation of this socio-political objective places and ranks all languages on the equal footing hence no language or culture should be discriminated against. The objective of the foreign language teaching aims at creating interest in the cultures of the different European communities and to develop an attitude of openness, of tolerance and respect of the otherness and difference.
In tandem with our Kenyan objectives, foreign language teaching not only aims at developing pragmatic-cum-practical skills, but it also comprises the socio-cultural background which is closely connected with every language. In our Kenyan context we always draw close comparisons of English, French and German.
Within the Kenyan context the close link of these three European languages which are now internationally recognized they have embraced certain elements of the Romance languages .As learners acquire the new linguistic skills in these foreign languages as mentioned earlier in this particular paper they acquire vocabulary, grammatical structures, pronunciation and orthography. The concept has been cited or mentioned by other scholars as ‘learning to learn a foreign language ‘.This to some extent is a pluriligual didactic approach.
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