The second language can be termed as another language apart from your native language. According to LLAS (2012), learning a second language is highly systematic and variable. It is highly systematic because students who learn the second language go through some steps in attainment of the language; it is also variable; this is related to how fast, or slow the learners get to know the second language, and also how skilful they become in writing and reading this language (LLAS, 2012). It is argued that if we can understand what makes students of language learn and understand faster, then we can be in a position to know how to become better learners and teachers of the second language. Understanding learners becomes a crucial factor that contributes to how learners are going to comprehend a new language.
According to the Department of Linguistics at the University of Oregon, second language acquisition is related to social and cognitive factors that lead to failure or success in the learning of a second language. On the other hand, second language teaching is related to the means put in place to enhance or improve the attainment of the learning (Department of Linguistics, n.d.). Namrich (1996) claimed that one of the useful sources of information to the teacher is his or her diary studies. According to Namrich (1996), a diary study can be referred to as a first-person case study. Learners’ beliefs about a language dictate how fast or how slow they will understand the language.
According to Vibulphol (2004), this is so because second language learners come to class with set attitudes towards the language they are to study. This shows clearly what expectations the learners have. Huang (2010) highlighted that if the language learners are not in a position to deliver a message using the second language, they may feel uncomfortable hence being anxious about learning the second language. This happens mostly in the first stages of learning a second language. In this paper, my discussion will revolve on my prior language and teaching experience, observation of second language lessons of peers, observation of second language lessons of practising teachers, the role of teachers, and peers in second language learning and also the stages that are involved in as one attains second language skills.
Prior Language Learning and Teaching Experience
From my experience, I found out that my background makes a huge contribution to the way I teach language. This is in line with the argument of Ariogul. Ariogul (2007) argued that some language teachers are influenced by their backgrounds as they learn and teach a second language. He highlighted that the key threes factors that influence language teachers are prior teaching experience, teachers’ prior language, learning experience and pre-service and in-service education of professional coursework. Ariogul (2007) argued that teachers’ practical knowledge involves the first-hand experiences of the learners’ learning styles, challenges, strengths, needs, and also students’ interests. He further argued that teachers’ practical knowledge is rooted, in particular, teachers’ practice and understanding of the circumstances in their working environment and that of teacher’s background moulds the teachers’ learning of the second language.
Gholami (2007) argued that practical knowledge of teachers includes all the informative and other influential cognitions concerning different elements that teachers may consider helpful in guiding them in the execution of their duties. Ariogul (2007) argued that different backgrounds of the teachers shape their practical knowledge in a great way. Professional coursework, disciplinary knowledge, and teaching experience also shape the practical knowledge of the teachers, and they are vital in their teaching profession.
The experiences that I have gathered in teaching language and interacting with students have proved to be of significance to me. According to Ariogul (2007), teachers’ prior learning experiences are responsible for commencement and also serve as the foundation of their second language learning, and this continues to be evident even in the rest of their professional lives. Their beliefs in the prior language learning and experiences form their knowledge foundation. Ariogul (2007) argued that those teachers who are fully determined towards excelling in their work are keen to use their observation and their prior knowledge to excel in their development in the second language learning and teaching. Prior teaching experience of teachers influences their knowledge greatly as language learners. Ariogul (2007) further argued that whether these experiences are negative or positive, they have their contribution in shaping the teachers’ instructions in the classrooms.
I have also found out that professional coursework of language teachers in pre-service and in-service contributes to the quality of their teaching. Ariogul (2007) pointed out that most students prefer and value practical experience since it is a successful way of teaching. In-service foreign language teachers have a positive development in the belief system since they already have an experience in language teaching, and therefore, it is not a new idea to them, but rather they build on what they already know. This becomes very easy for them to catch-up with the learning. Ariogul (2007) observed that teachers who have no teaching experiences depend on their own understanding of a language unlike those who have an experience in teaching who just needs to refer to what they already know (Griffiths, 2000). I found this to be very applicable in my case; when I attempted to teach for the first time, I found it to be quite technical. At times I was mixing up my ideas and at times, giving too many ideas at the same time for students to grasp. With experience, I have acquired skills on how to organize my ideas and teach in a manner that will not help the students not to be confused. With the experience I have gained, teaching has become easier to handle, and I often find myself using less energy and effort to teach as compared to the time that I had no prior experience in teaching.
According to Gholami (2007), the meanings of formal knowledge and practical knowledge have been controversial in their definition. However, he argued that formal knowledge as the know-how that is produced by the researchers through systematic research methodology while practical knowledge is looked at as the know-how generated by the teachers in their teaching profession through interaction with their work.
Zhang (2008) highlighted three fundamental assumptions of teachers’ knowledge. He argued that enhancing the learning of the teacher can result in the improvement of student learning because teachers are critical in regard to the knowledge students get in class. The teacher can enhance their learning either through formal training or through personal socialization in teaching. Teachers also need to look at the educational reform and the systematic improvement of their learning in order to be effective while teaching (Zhang, 2008). This equally is applicable to my case; actually, for my case, each extra academic year I have gone through in my learning experience has added some more confidence of handling teacher. Further learning has been quite significant in enhancing my effectiveness in teaching because I realized that I have always grown more bold and sure of what I am doing as I advance in my studies. It has exceedingly been easier to identify when students have a problem and solving these problems has been quite easy as I have learnt how to go about it.
Observation of Second Language Lessons of Peers
Observation is significant in learning of a second language. Khen (1999) argued that learners observe a lot from their teachers and also from their peers. The learners observe a lesson by carrying out observation tasks. This is relevant since the learners get to learn more from each other. It is important that the learners listen attentively to what the teacher is pronouncing, failure to which it becomes difficult for them to understand the language they are learning.
According to Rijlaarsdam et al. (2008), if one is writing then it is important he listens to the reader, the writer must hear both the text and the sound at the same time, failure to which the writer will not have written what was intended. There must be a relation between the teacher and the learners of a second language. This is because, in the learning of a second language, learning should be looked at as a process of participation. Through participation, learners are able to clarify, ask questions and get responses which help in the development of a second language.
Huang (2010) argued that peers play a key role in the learning of the second language. This is so because they spend most of the time together and they share common language difficulties, and through practising together, they are able to perfect their language. Colorado (2007) noted that cooperative learning is very important, beneficial, and essential to any student learning a second language. This is because it creates a platform of interacting hence students learning both concepts and contents together. I am not a native speaker and socializing with my friends who are not native speakers of English has given me the confidence to speak English. This is was especially the case when I was a fresh lady in college. I find the arguments presented in this section to be quite true and especially applied when I was starting to learn English.
Observation of Second Language Lessons of Practicing Teachers
According to Rijlaarsdam et al. (2008), teachers need to ensure that the learner’s experience language since learning develops from experiencing language. Unless the learners develop a positive attitude towards a second language they may not be in a position to be competent in the learning of their language simply because the desire for that language will enable them to desire to learn more and in this way they develop their skills and knowledge of this very language. Rijlaarsdam et al. (2008), advocated for learners to undergo and analyze all that pertains to learning a second language. He argued that peers cooperation might lead to meaningful learning and easier understanding of the language since they are practising what they are learning (Hakuta, n.d.).
Students of a second language are anxious since they feel uncomfortable to use the second language at the initial stages. This is so because they are not sure of whether they are pronouncing words correctly or even not very sure of whether whatever they are understanding is the right thing. Huang (2010) argued that besides the teachers identifying the anxiety in second language learners, they also need to help them to overcome it, cope-up with it and try to reduce their anxiety. Huang (2010) further noted that anxiety develops from the complexity of beliefs, feeling and self-perception towards the language being learnt. Sometimes teachers teach students a language that they also do not fully understand. Ulanoff (2002) observed that teachers need to learn more so as to develop their skills towards the language that they are teaching otherwise they will not have an effect when they are teaching, and the students too will gain very little.
Huang (2010) observed that second language teachers need to always create a learning environment that is free of stress for the learners to overcome the anxiety associated with second language learning. The teachers should bear in mind that some students get intimidated by the language, and if they are not fully supported, they might shrink back. Huang (2010) also advocated for teachers to be formally educated to know how to deal with and handle the students. Through this, they will have helped the students to acknowledge and discuss and at the same time, help them cope-up with anxiety. Wadhwa (2006) argued that all teachers who are involved in teaching languages should be familiar with some fundamental aspects of second language acquisition. According to Kuo (n.d.), teachers should ensure that they practice scaffold, this means that they are to disseminate the knowledge that they have to the students who are eager to learn the second language (Numrich, 1996).
Role of Teachers and Peers in Second Language Learning
Learners of the second language need to be supported in order to excel in the learning of the second language. Huang (2010) argued that students’ academic achievement could be influenced by the social support of the teachers and their peers. He argued that students tend to work extra harder when they know that they are being supported emotionally by their teachers; hence teachers support becomes paramount in this case. In addition, Huang (2010) noted that since peers spend most of the time together they are likely to learn together and this becomes a vital second language learning mode since they will not learn together out of friendship but also as a way of facilitating learning. Through such ways, students can learn the second language without fear of each other since they are all students and no one can claim to know more than others hence this becomes a foundation of discussing language from the same level.
Huang (2010) argued that both teacher support and peer support is important in the learning of a second language despite that the peer friendship might be out of the equal status shared by the student while teachers support may be from an authoritative relationship. If second language learners are to succeed, they need these two supports in their learning; this makes their learning easier since they help each other to understand the language better. Smith (1992) argued that teachers should be in a position to help the student learn a second language in a way that they will be in a position to communicate and deliver in the second language that they are learning. According to the Education Alliance (2006), teachers can use different effective strategies that involve learners and engage them in active listening hence understanding what the teacher is teaching.
Stages of Second Language Acquisition
Learning a second language takes a long process since it involves learning many different things at once. Oregon Department of Education (2007) observed that individuals go through different stages, just as those they went through during the time they were learning their first language. During the learning of a second language, an individual makes similar mistakes just as they were making when they were first learning their first language.
If a learner is learning English as a second language, the rate at which that individual will get to learn the language will depend on whether there was past exposure to English. At the same time, there will be interference of the first language they already know. According to Hill (2006), until an individual understands the language; for example, English, it is hard for that person to solve some issues or even communicate better. According to the Oregon Department of Education (2007), there are four stages involved in acquisition of a second language.
This is the early stage of learning a second language; Tapestry (n.d.) argued that it is the time between 10 hours to 6 months of learning. At this time, the learners are shy and they only respond to questions non-verbally. This stage is sometimes referred to as silent period and some teachers teaching English tend to push students to speak in the language when they have not gained confidence to speak (Cohen, 1996). Teachers need to use body language, gesture, and facial expression in order for students to understand better. According to Oregon Department of Education (2007), this stage is characterized by one word answers, if it is English which the second language being learnt, the answers will be either yes or no. According to Walsh Family Services (2010), this stage requires the teacher to do a lot of repetition since students are not familiar with the language.
Early Production Stage
At this stage learners can communicate some few words. This stage is between 3 months to one year. According to Handbook of Cross-Cultural Psychology (1996), vocabularies are separated with occasional code mixing only. In this stage, learners can use 1 to 3 word phrases to respond to questions and answering questions (Oregon Department of Education, 2007). At this stage, it is important for teachers to ask students the questions that fit their stage to avoid using vocabularies that they might not understand. When learners use simple language to communicate to each other in the language that they are learning, they get to teach each other since their understanding differs (O’Grady, n.d.).
This is another step whereby the learners are able to respond to some complex issues. This is because at this point they have understood some number of vocabulary and words which they can use to respond to questions and also express themselves. Tapestry (n.d.) observed that at this stage they use some phrases and they are also in a position to construct some sentences and have also known almost 7000 words of the language they are learning. This stage is characterized with increased comprehension and continued grammatical errors. The department also argues that the students are able to recall and retell some of the things they have learnt. Each time and in each stage that learners have showed communication breakdown there is a need for the teacher to use the strategies that are used in the first stage such as use of gestures, acting and showing pictures for the learners to understand better what they are teaching them through simple illustrations (Oregon Department of Education, 2007).
Tapestry (n.d) gave an example of English as a second language learned and highlights that, at this stage which is about 3 to 4 years of exposure to English there is a shift that occurs. The learners are able to understand and use English and also read articles. At this stage learners are beyond speaking in simple sentences and phrases to more complex discussions. Oregon Department of Education (2007) argued that at this stage learners have improved comprehension, they have few grammatical errors and more extensive vocabulary, and they have gained confidence to communicate face-to-face with fluency. Tapestry (n.d.) stated that learners can answer more complex questions which demand them to review the language in a deeper way.
Having reviewed many literature texts as researched by authors, I have learnt that learning a second language requires both the learner and the teacher to cooperate. This is because one begins to learn a new language just as he/she learnt his/her first language. Development as a second language teacher comes through formal learning, socializing with other teachers and learners and it is also linked with the past experience on the language (Gasser, 1990). It is also clear that there are some factors that affect the rate at which an individual gets to learn a second language. Factors such as an individual’s mother tongue and age might be related to how the learner get to comprehend a second language.
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