Learning a Second Language
Acquiring a second language is a goal many adults set for themselves. Students have the ability to take foreign language courses early on in their education, but not many adults who attended school years ago had that option. The level of ease or difficulty in learning a second language is dependent on the stage of brain development and the style of learning. There are different options for learning a second language, and it can be most effective at a young age.
Children who are introduced to the second language within their first year of life are much more likely to become fluent speakers of the language. By the age of ten to twelve months, the brain is already beginning to lose its ability to discriminate sounds between its native and nonnative languages (Sousa, 2006). The reality of this fact is that you would need to start teaching the child the second language as they are learning the first. Learning a language early has a direct effect on the presence of an accent and the ability for the speaker to be proficient. As a child ages, the brain recognizes sounds and can distinguish those that are foreign making it more difficult to introduce the words and meanings into their thinking. Studies have shown that people who started speaking between ages of 8 and 10 have about 80 percent of the proficiency of native speakers; those who started between the ages of 11 and 15 spoke with only half the proficiency, and those who started after age 17 had only 15 percent (Sousa, 2006). This is why it can be much more difficult for an adult to become skilled at a second language. By the time a person is an adult, they have already learned the importance of grammar and the rules of their native language which can interfere with the syntax of the second language. This is an example of negative transfer, where the previously learned information negatively impacts the brain from learning new skills. Adults must focus more and have a deeper concentration on the learning than their child counterparts. The important period in which the young brain responds to certain types of input to create or consolidate neural networks is called a Window of Opportunity (Sousa, 2006). It is a crucial time when the child’s brain needs specific input in order to maintain long lasting structure. During this time, a child learns individual skills such as language. The window of opportunity for language is primarily from birth to age ten or twelve. For example, if a child doesn’t hear words by the age of 12, the person will most likely never learn a language (Sousa, 2006). Skills learned during the window of opportunity are usually developed perfectly and often affect other aspects of learning. How quickly and successfully the brain learns to read is greatly influenced by the spoken language competence the child has developed (Sousa, 2006). Many studies have shown that babies and infants who hear their parents converse regularly are more likely to speak earlier in life and develop stronger learning and language skills. They are also more likely to become more sociable and confident as they get older when there is regular conversation that takes place at home. Language is the key element that separates humans from other animals and allows us to thrive in the world. The human language is unique and keeps all of us connected.
There is increasing evidence of right hemisphere involvement in early language learning but less in later learning. Both males and females use the left hemisphere for language learning, but females have a greater density of neurons in language areas than males (perhaps this is why women are considered better communicators!) (Sousa, 2006) The left hemisphere concentrates on linguistic functions and most non-emotional aspects including writing, spelling, speaking, and verbal memory. Spoken language is so important to human development and its estimated that the human voice can...
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Oral Proficiency in the Immersion Classroom" ACIE Newsletter, Volume 2, Number 3
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