Journal Article Quest Analysis: Acculturation in Relation to the Acquisition of a Second Language

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Sociolinguistics
QUEST Analysis of a Journal Article:

Acculturation in relation to the acquisition of a second language. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development
Mei Jiang , Raymond J. Green , Tracy B. Henley & William G. Masten

Date submitted: 22/03/2012
Overview
In this article from the Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, ‘Acculturation in relation to acquisition of a second language’ (Jiang, Green, Henley, & Masten, 2009), the authors explore the connection between acculturation and second language (L2) acquisition in a naturalistic environment on late learners of English, in this case Chinese university students who arrived in the United States within five years of the study and were attending a large Texas university. Specifically, the authors look for a link between the degree of participants’ integration with the host society in order to “see whether the acculturation process towards US society was associated with higher speaking proficiency levels and more native-like pronunciation of English language” (p. 481). The focus of this study on late learners is particularly relevant as there is much debate whether L2 learners can acquire native-like English proficiency after a certain age, known as the critical period hypothesis (CPH) (Lenneberg, 1967). There is much empirical evidence to suggest that older learners rarely achieve the native-like fluency in L2 that younger learners display (Krashen, Long, & Scarcella, 1979). Knowing this, what hope can the social context bring for the late L2 learner?

Themes

Age and learning

Citing the ‘critical period’ of language acquisition hypothesis popularised by Lenneberg (Lenneberg, 1967), which suggests that language acquisition ability is biologically linked to age, the authors give an overview of the research supporting the idea that learners who begin to acquire L2 after puberty are at a distinct disadvantage. (Krashen et al., 1979) wrote “Acquirers who begin natural exposure to second languages during childhood generally achieve higher second language proficiency than those beginning as adults.” (p. 573) According to (Singleton & Lengyel, 1995), older learners may have an opportunity “…in situations of ‘naturalistic’ exposure, … older beginners tend to outperform their juniors – at least in some respects – in the initial stages of learning…” however, they go on to say: “…in terms of long-term outcomes, generally speaking, the earlier exposure to the target language begins the better.”

Environment: acculturation

Acculturation can be described as cultural and psychological change that comes from the meeting of two cultures. Different to assimilation, which is when the individual rejects their original culture in favour of the host culture, acculturation is considered as the level of integration with the host culture (Sam & Berry, 2010). In this study, the greater the degrees of acculturation, the more favourable language learning results were in both males and females.

Gender: sociolinguistic variation

While it has been shown that females may hold advantages over males on verbal tasks (Tittle, 1986), there has been no agreement on whether there is a language learning difference owing to gender (Pavlenko, 2001) rather, differences have been attributed to the effect of social activities and practices of particular speech communities (Ehrlich, 1997). Although gender was not a primary focus of this study, the results did find that more native-like L2 pronunciation favoured females. Some research has shown that women use more standard forms in speaking (Holmes, 1992).

Strengths
In addition to being well written in clear terms, the authors were well read and provided relevant references to numerous prior studies and current thinking on the issues surrounding L2 learning, age, gender and acculturation. However, the real strength of this...
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