The video that is going to be analyzed in the paper was recorded at a language school in Melbourne. It demonstrates an adult ESL class studying English at a pre-intermediate level. The major challenge for the teacher consists in the fact that all the students have different cultural backgrounds, which implies that none of them share the same mother tongue. The class is comprised of students coming from Korea, Peru, Brazil, and Italy. The teacher, Monique, who is British, has been teaching these students for about five months.
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The major language focus of the class is the oral practice of Past Continuous and Past Simple tenses in their application to real-life situations. The students are asked to tell a story about a special occasion from their experience. The task starts with a brainstorming activity for students to recollect vocabulary on the topic establishing connections and associations that constitute one semantic field. Since all the students come from different countries, their cultural and stylistic traditions, as well as structural contrasts of their mother tongues, account for the fact that they conceptualize language differently. Theoretically, this implies that:
- the students are supposed to segment the input coming from the teacher using different criteria and, therefore, understand the task differently;
- they may select different language units when verbalizing a similar idea;
- they use different links to connect events in discourse (Ortega 2014).
Practically, these implications are taken into consideration by the teacher who creates an interactive environment encouraging students to assist and check each other. Besides the evident purpose of collaborative grammar and vocabulary acquisition, this is also done to share the students’ peculiar models of language conceptualization that reflect their worldviews.
The paper at hand is aimed to investigate the major theories of second language acquisition in their application to the given lesson. It is going to analyze the way the language is taught and perceived by the students, the strategies applied by the teacher, the learning activities the students perform, and the feedback that they provide. The content and the structure of the lesson have been briefly summed up in the introductory part; the main body of the essay will be devoted to the analysis of SLA theories and aspects of the classroom language and activities exemplifying them; the conclusion will draw together the central points of the analysis and attempt to provide future directions for linking theory and practice.
Key Theories of SLA and their Reflection in the Lesson
There exist at least forty theories of second language acquisition; however, none of them manages to explain its nature exhaustively and completely. The task is complicated by the fact that the process of language learning is not linear and cannot be reduced to a set of simplified mechanisms as most theories attempt to do (Ortega 2014). Thus, it would be logical to assume that the real practice of SLA may unite features of several models as it can be demonstrated using the materials of the given lesson.
Behaviorism understands SLA as a stimulus-response mechanism, which consists of acquiring positive automatic learning habits. The major emphasis is made on an external linguistic environment that impacts the learner through a sequence of stimuli and responses in the form of repetition (Larsen-Freeman 2015). Thus, acquiring a language relies not on internal mental processes but rather on inductive discovering of repetitive patterns in the stimuli provided by the environment with subsequent formation of the whole language system in the mind of the learner. The model is fully applicable only in the field of phonetics as acquiring correct pronunciation is largely based on repetition (Ortega 2013). Despite its one-sided approach, behaviorism gave birth to profound error analysis that is aimed to investigate the impact of the first language on SLA (Mitchell, Myles, & Marsden 2013).
The lesson given by Monique does not explicitly demonstrate the application of the model. However, the teacher stresses the importance of students’ checking each other’s sentences and correcting mistakes, which allows them to learn something about each other’s first language alongside with SLA. In general, the teacher gives the students numerous stimuli for encouraging them to provide feedback and ensure understanding of the task. Moreover, she praises the desired behavior providing positive reinforcement. However, no direct repetition is involved, which implies that Monique does not rely fully on the power of the language environment in SLA.
This environmental model suggests that SLA is successful under the condition that learners manage to overcome the existing cultural and psychological barriers between them and those who speak the language they are trying to acquire (Mitchell, Myles, & Marsden 2013).
In the given case, the teacher attempts to bridge the gaps by emphasizing similarities the students have despite their different cultural backgrounds. She intentionally encourages them to verbalize what actions they are performing while trying to complete the task to make them acquire the feeling of belonging as all the students can see that they use the same techniques (non-verbal language, reading, writing, discussing the task with each other, etc.)
Learning the second language deals primarily with the acquisition of meanings in their correlations with previously unknown forms of words. According to the semantic theory, there exist four major types of meaning: lexical, grammatical, semantic, and pragmatic. Thus, acquisition of languages is a basic understanding of the way meaning is connected with form, structured in sentences, and applied in real-life situations (Hasko 2013).
During the lesson, we can observe how the teacher encourages her students to notice different types of meanings: e.g. she gives them the task to create a semantic field based upon semantic and lexical associations that are stored in their mental vocabulary; then, she draws their attention to the connection of the grammatical form “was” with the idea of the past that it expresses; moreover, the teacher touches upon the pragmatic aspect speaking about smileys and body language.
Universal Grammar Theory
Chomsky’s theory of Universal Grammar states that there are common parameters and properties that all languages share as well as those that are specific for each language. Therefore, the success in learning grammar is predetermined by the accurate setting of the required parameters (Edmonds 2014).
The problem with the application of this theory in the class described is that all the students have different first languages, which means that it is hardly possible for the teacher to track the transfer of their mother tongues’ structure upon the target language. However, the idea of a common pattern for expressing the past is still expressed.
The hypothesis states that the most exhaustible source of information about the language you are trying to acquire is the language itself. The term “input” signifies the immediate contact with the language while “intake” stands for the processing of the language to extract information valuable for learning (Slabakova 2016). The quality of the input is supposed to be the most influential factor of SLA success. Thus, the level of the input must be comprehensible to students following the i+1 principle. It implies that the language should contain new complicated structures that are not familiar to learners for them to increase their competence gradually (Gass 2013). However, the level of the input should not be too high as it may hinder intake. It is also essential to alter input for being able to draw the attention of learners to some important language phenomena (Edmonds 2014).
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The lesson under discussion demonstrates various modifications of input aiming to achieve better understanding. The teacher uses long and short sentences interchangeably for students to receive the impression of natural communication at the level that is understandable to them. She asks numerous questions and resorts to repetitions of the most complicated phrases to help students understand the task accurately and fully. Moreover, the teacher also prompts the students to write down their ideas and exchange them, which provides additional input as they can enrich each other’s vocabulary this way. It means that each of them can provide input for his/her task partner maintaining the process of intake at the same time. This develops multitasking and assessment ability.
Krashen’s monitor model distinguishes between the processes of language acquisition and actual learning. According to is, the first process is subconscious and does not have anything in common with academic studying. It means picking up a language as children do, without any reflection upon its structures or vocabulary (Richards 2015). On the contrary, the process of learning is intentional and is connected with traditional language classes. These approaches are drastically different. However, language acquisition may transform into learning under the condition that the learner attempts to analyze and understand the rules of the language that he/she uses and obtain greater control over the speech production through this understanding. Such monitoring of your speech production helps adjust your language to the required parameters (VanPatten & Williams 2014).
During the lesson, we can observe how the teacher fosters the monitoring activity of her students. They are asked to perform the task together and compare the words and sentences that they have written. The idea is that it allows evaluating your level of vocabulary as compares to your partner’s. Moreover, the analysis of another person’s mistakes helps reflect upon the correctness of grammar structures in your sentences. The student goes from the subconscious language acquisition to intentional learning.
Long’s interaction hypothesis states that the success of SLA is determined by the constant use of the language in communication. The hypothesis stresses the significance of the input and claims that its effectiveness is enhanced when students do not understand each other initially and have to put effort into negotiating for meaning (Larsen-Freeman & Long 2014). This comes as a result of receiving negative experience: if a student pronounces something that his/her teacher or partner does not understand, he/she has to modify the utterance in such a way that comprehension becomes possible. In this way, students start reflecting upon their grammar and word choice more carefully (Madeira 2016). The process of input for the interlocutor is slowed down in such cases but that quality of it increases. Moreover, learners can realize differences between the idea they have of their language knowledge and the way other people perceive it, which makes them review their approach to learning in general or direct their attention to bridging some particular gaps (Bygate, Swain, & Skehan 2013).
During the class, Monique used interaction as the major technique of SLA. The students almost did not have any opportunity to work individually – they were involved in the unceasing interaction with their group mates. The major factor that allows using this approach is the cultural diversity of the class. The point is that the students had no other common means to express their ideas and achieve mutual understanding. They are forced to use their limited second language skills to get understood. However, the teacher also emphasized their ability to facilitate the process with the help of non-verbal communication that is highly important in real-life communication and can serve as a useful tool in class.
Output Hypothesis or Lingualization
Swain’s output hypothesis stresses the significance of the output in second language practice as compared to the role of the input. It is claimed that only observing the way utterances are produced, the student becomes capable of understanding the language mechanisms (Kormos 2014). The observation of the output makes students transfer from the semantic perception through strategic processing towards grammatical excellence. Seeing the discrepancy between what they say and what can be said, they realize what things they still do not know and manage to acquire this knowledge more quickly and effectively. This brings about a metalinguistic function of the output (Tarone, Gass, & Cohen 2013).
The experience of the students from Monique’s class shows that the output is no less significant than the input as all the students attempt to speak even when listening is the major activity they are currently performing. The teacher is sure to realize the importance of expression and asks a lot of questions that encourage students to verbalize and repeat her ideas enriching them with their own. This way she involves students in the process of explanation of the task and makes them combine the input and the output, which helps imitate real-life conversation.
As we can see from the analysis of the lesson, smart teaching, and well-structured learning environment are capable of opening a wide variety of opportunities for second language students to receive and share knowledge. Moreover, context-aware systems are highly advantageous in terms of the teacher’s ability to track the individual progress of each student within the scope of each task (Breen 2014). This allows stepping aside from the traditions of the instructed learning of languages.
As far as the application of various theories, hypotheses, models are concerned, it would be fair to notice that none of them provides a clear-cut comprehensive system that could eliminate the necessity to look for new approaches. Currently, the most problematic point concerning linking theory to practice consists of the fact that proponents of each approach tend to stick to their view excluding the possibility of the models to enrich each other (Carter & McCarthy 2014). The analysis of the lesson proves that many of the popular views upon the teaching and learning process can be selectively combined. This indicates the direction for further research as it is highly important to find out which theories complement each other to improve students’ experience and results.
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