The Language Acquisition Process (in terms of teaching grammar)

(Reading time: 4 - 7 minutes)

The whole second language acquisition process is cyclical and it involves six stages. They are: input, noticing, intake, structuring, proceduralization, and output.

First of all, in the input stage, it is learners’ new exposure to the second language and therefore, the input should be comprehensible for them in order to learn the language.

Input can be divided into two aspects: inside classroom environment and outside classroom environment. In the inside classroom environment, teachers play the major role for presenting information.

In the initial stage, teachers should expect learners to know or get familiar with the second language. They see language learning as a receptive skill.

To accomplish the two goals, in the case of teaching grammar, there are four perspectives of pedagogical grammar that help teaches prioritize and sequence their teaching. They are: prescriptive grammar, descriptive grammar, internalized grammar, and axiomatic grammar.

In prescriptive grammar, there are sets of rules indicating how a language should or should not be learned. The use of rules can be quite effective when we generalize rules that are useful to beginning learners. We can also use explicit rules to make things salient for learners.

In descriptive grammar, it stresses the role of grammar in terms of the three foci of language: use, meaning, and function. Description helps people recognize words that they have learned. Teachers should make choice of the degree of details included according to learners’ level of proficiency.

In internalized grammar, we apply our knowledge of both native and non-native speakers by the combination of competence and performance.

After getting to know how people learn a language, we can make insightful decisions in teaching grammar. For example, it is easier for learners if we teach simple present tense first and simple past tense second.

In axiomatic grammar, there are true and effective “rules” to explain how human acquire and learn a language. The word “rules” in quotations indicates that we are not sure if learners have rules in their mind.

Noam Chomsky proposed the notion of language acquisition device, suggesting that babies are born with the competence in acquiring first language.

We can apply these “principles” in grammar teaching. For example, we can assume that it is easier for children to learn a second language compared to adults and therefore, adults may need “rules” to guide them in grammar learning.

Next, teachers can introduce the given-new principle in grammar teaching. The principle is based on the phenomenon that people perceive new information by referring it to something they already know.

The introduction of pronoun here would be appropriate as it reduces redundancy and connects ideas smoothly.

When teachers present information, it can be a focus on form instruction. Teachers can design tasks carefully that help learners notice or focus on specific aspects of a language.

Through the tasks, learners begin to notice and internalize the input. Focus on from can be explicit (notice for learners) or implicit (notice by learners).

Then, teaches may consider learners’ learning styles and accordingly select the appropriate presentation methods and materials. This is based on the theory of educational psychologists that people have multiple intelligences and they lean differently.

For example, some learn better with visual aids such as videos and graphs. Others may learn better with kinesthetic activities such as field trips.

Teachers also have to consider the types of feedback and correction that are appropriate for effective learning. Different types of feedback and correction can have different influence on learners’ learning attitudes.

For example, overcorrection may result in learners’ avoidance of taking risks while encouragement can promote further risk taking of learners.

The outside classroom environment is another source of input for second language learners. Native speakers of the target language give learners input of the language through interaction.

The more the conversation with the target language speakers, the more the input learners receive. Our environment provides lots of materials for learners to get exposed to the new language. For example, TV shows, movies, songs, radio and the internet are the popular sources of input for learners.

The second stage is noticing. Through saliency, we can make things noticeable for learners. There are several principles for making things salient for learners.

They are: exaggeration, relevance, appropriate feedback and correction, and palatability. These principles are in fact guidelines for choosing teaching materials.

Noticing can be either explicit (notice for learners) or implicit (notice by learners). In noticing grammar, some people may form formulaic chunks.

To a certain extent, due to redundancy, less motivation, and satisfaction, learners may stop paying attention to the constant input. They may persist in using formulaic chunks and fossilization takes place. This prevents further progress of learning.

The third stage is intake where learners begin to process and internalize the input they receive. Learners play the main role in this stage and their effectiveness of intaking is affected by variables like age, aptitude (natural ability to learn a language), motivation, attitude, experience, culture, and personality (risk taking).

The fourth stage is structuring which is when learners try to build their hypotheses. Through the constant input, they can test their hypotheses. If it is correct, it confirms their belief. If it is wrong, they reconstruct a new one.

The fifth stage is to turn the factual knowledge into application. The process is called proceduralization. Through opportunities to practice in communication, learners become automatic in language use.

The goals of teachers at this stage are to see learning as a productive skill and expect learners to use the language. Therefore, they should provide opportunities for learners’ application by two types of activities.

They are: manipulative activities are very controlled activities in which learners do not have much choice in language use such as drills on pronunciation.

The second activity is communication or so-called extra-curricular activities where learners are given more freedom in language use such as debate.

The sixth stage is output. This is the outcome produced by learners after going through the sages of learning. In the case of grammar teaching, learners may produce sentences indicating different psychological and social distances towards different events and people.

For example, to indicate a distant and past relationship, learners use the past form, in schema, learners may activate their background knowledge and apply it in their output.

For example, to talk to the principal, learners realize they should use formal and polite language. In rhetoric, learners learn the different patterns of organizing ideas. For example, they begin to use the given-new principle after sufficient input and practicing.

After output production, reflection provides opportunities for both teachers and students to measure the gap between how learners perform compared to their original expectation.

Thus, reflection provides chances for improvement. What learners produce will generate further input and it is called input enhancement. Then, learners will go through the process of renoticing, restructuring, reproceduralization, and produce improved output.

It is important to note that the whole second language learning process is not like a conveyor belt, but is a cycle. The more the learners go through the cycle, the better the acquisition of the language and they eventually become communicative competent of the second language.

In regard to the process of second language acquisition, there are three perspectives in teaching grammar. The first one is teaching grammar as a product. The emphasis is on the component parts of the language system, divided up into several forms.

Each form is the product of analysis. The term focus on form is associated with this approach. Teachers carefully design tasks that help learners notice by focusing on specific forms of a language.

Through the tasks, learners may begin to notice explicitly (notice for learners) and implicitly (notice by learners). Teachers should maintain a balance between explicit and implicit noticing.

The second approach is teaching grammar as a process. Learners are given opportunities to practice in communication in order to proceduralize their language.

This is based on the belief that learners cannot master automatically with what is presented. Communication activities can range from manipulative to highly communicative activities, with the gradual increase of freedom and spontaneity.

The third approach is teaching grammar as skill. Teaches should turn the factual knowledge into procedural knowledge because it is focused on form with meaning-focused activities that makes learning meaningful and effective.

As a result, teachers should carefully guide learners to utilize grammar for their own communication.

 

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