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Language Acquisition

Adult Second Language Acquisition
In Negative Environments

Robert A. Cote

November 9, 2004
PSYC 408
Dr. LouAnn Gerken

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Language Acquisition

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Adult Second Language Acquisition
in Negative Environments
Gass and Selinker defined second language acquisition as learning a nonnative language in an environment in which there is considerable access to speakers of the target language (2001, p. 5). One of the most widely accepted theories of language acquisition is Krashen’s Monitor Model, which contains several components or hypotheses, one being the Affective Filter. This theory, according to Krashen (1985), focuses on the learner’s emotional state, which can act as a filter either permitting or preventing input that is necessary for language acquisition (p. 7). This affective filter includes factors such as one’s motivation, attitude, self-confidence and anxiety (Gass and Selinker, 2001, p. 201). “If the filter is up”, explained Garcia and Hasson, “input is minimized and acquisition is blocked; if the filter is down, input enters freely, and acquisition is facilitated” (1991, C-4). A major aspect of this filter is that it is unique to adults. Gass and Selinker wrote: According to Krashen, the Affective Filter is responsible for individual variation in second language acquisition and differentiates child language acquisition from second language acquisition because the Affective Filter is not something children have/use. (2001, p. 202) This statement implies that adults, unlike children, have the ability to consciously acquire languages. Though most research in support of this theory is intended for application to classroom situations, low filter environments in unstructured natural settings would also aid in language acquisition. Garcia and Hasson stated, “a comfortable, nurturing environment is of the utmost importance for promoting communication. A stress-free, low anxiety atmosphere will facilitate the language acquisition process” (1991, p. C-4). This distinction between classroom settings and the real world is vital, as Pinker (1994) claimed that “most learning takes place outside the classroom

Language Acquisition

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lessons, by generalizing from examples” (p. 432). Krashen (2003) expanded this concept when he declared “...adults, given enough comprehensible input and a reasonably low anxiety environment, typically achieve very high levels of competency in second languages” (p. 3). This indicates that one’s interactions with people who speak the target language as their first language plays a crucial for the language learner. It is also believed that the more positive the relationship between the native speakers and the learner, the more the target language will be learned. Richard-Amato (1997) observed that “attitudes towards self, the target language, and the people who speak it...all seem to have an influence on acquisition” (p. 58). The way the learner views those around them who speak the target language will either promote or retard acquiring the language. In the words of Krashen (2003), “we acquire language...when we understand what people say to us and when we understand what we need” (p. 3). This sounds logical, but what if one’s native tongue is far-removed from the target language? Furthermore, what if the learning environment is so stressful that it is not conducive to language acquisition? Is it still possible to acquire a second language merely by being enveloped by it? This paper will present cases of successful adult second language acquisition under conditions of extreme duress, a subject which has rarely, if ever, been explored. It is widely believed that learning of any kind takes place best in pleasant surroundings by persons with a positive attitude. These external and internal variables are part of what is known as the affective domain. Richard-Amato (1997) wrote, “The affective domain includes several variables that can either enhance...
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