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Studying Second Language: Vygotsky’s Methods and Gee’s Ideas Research Paper


Introduction

Since it is natural for a person to have a single native language, the studying second language has always been quite a problematic issue for the mankind. At present, there are a number of theories that claim to enhance the process of studying, yet it is only the efficient combination of theory and practice that can provide desirable results.

Since it is important to develop various skills in mastering English, it is necessary to consider the theory of Vygotsky as the set of key principles of studying the second language and at the same time make effective use of the modern technologies, which James Gee suggests.

Where Vygotsky’s Theory Leads to

It cannot be denied that the theory suggested by Vygotsky proves the most efficient when it comes to teaching a second language. It is important to keep in mind that the researcher emphasized the importance of the early childhood care and education, explaining that the process of knowledge absorbing flows faster and more efficiently in early childhood. According to what Archakova says,

The basic provisions by L.S. Vygotsky and his collaborators are addressed with regard to contemporary issues in ECCE, such as main approaches to ECCE all over the world, quality of ECCE, etc. Today, there are, broadly speaking, two different approaches to understanding the prospects of ECCE development (Archakova)

It is also worth paying attention to the fact that Vygotsky’s theory stated the importance of the multilateral aspect of teaching, emphasizing the two priorities that the modern linguistics must be preoccupied at present.

On the one hand, it is necessary to mention that Vygotsky’s works stress the need to work on a “mediation that is both necessary and sufficient for a satisfactory account of the social, cultural, historical formation of mind” (Daniels); whereas, on the other hand, the scientist explained the necessity to shape “a sufficiently robust understanding of the ways in which mediational means are produced” (Daniels)

Considering the specifics of Vygotsky’s vision of the teaching and learning process, one can claim that the researcher “has made the distinction between two axes of development: natural and social/cultural” (Ginder 214), thus emphasizing that the process of mastering the second language is a multilateral problem. It is only with encompassing both the natural, that is, inborn aspect that a child can possess, together with the social one, that the studying can be successful.

The Key Ideas: Managing the Learning Process

With help of the research conducted by Vygotsky, it has become obvious that, to achieve a successful learning of the second language, a child has to possess two active qualities that are bound to serve as the means to learn the language in a more efficient way. With help of the natural skills that concern attention, the ability to respond quickly and the skill of memorizing things quickly.

However, Vygovsky explained, even when the natural skills developed well enough, children might lack the specific social skills when trying to master a foreign language. Thus, the sociocultural aspect of the issue remains one of the key components of effective second language learning. As Gindis put it,

Thus, children with normal or even highly developed natural abilities, such as spontaneous attention, simple memorization, practical problem solving, phonetic hearing, or imitative behavior, may nevertheless remain deprived of the important symbolic tools offered by their culture as a result of educational neglect and cultural deprivation. These children, according to Vygotsky, display a syndrome of cultural “primitivity” (294)

Therefore, it is necessary to take into account both aspects of teaching the second language for students. With help of the approach that will help them to activate both their skills and their cultural background, it will become possible to achieve higher results in teaching the second language.

According to what the scientist suggested in his works, it is of utter importance to analyze each student’s skills that are potentially likely to lead him/her to mastering the second language successfully. To be more precise, the law of compensation is being touched upon in the given situation. Thus, failing to develop certain skill, a student can prove rather developed state of the other one. As Vygotsky noted, this is evident even when working with challenged students:

It is important, however, to remember that underdevelopment of natural functions may be compensated for by acquisition of cultural tools, while even superior development of natural functions cannot guarantee the establishment of higher mental functions that employ cultural tools-mediators (Gindis 295)

Therefore, Vygotsky in his theory came close to the idea that in teaching a second language, the teacher must act on the premise of the students’ personal abilities and capacities, as well as taking into consideration their background. Unless such approach is undertaken, there is very little hope that the teaching and studying processes will come to a logical end.

Going into Details: On Pedagogical Niceties

It must be mentioned that the theory suggested by Vygotsky presupposes specific approach that brought time and space together. Such peculiar method was designed to make the process of learning the second language easier and at the same time more gripping and demanding, developing the necessary qualities and skills.

Called ZPD, or zone of proximal development, it was defined by its inventor as “the difference between what an individual (or group) can accomplish independently and what the same individual (or group), through imitation and assistance, can accomplish in joint activity” (Thorne 806). Stressing the importance of the ZPD, Vygotsky clarifies that with help of this tool, the boundaries of teaching process can be stretched considerably.

As the author claimed, ZPD helps to simulate the usual environment that is natural for the students, thus helping them to develop their skills in their second language in full: “Within the theory, object regulation describes instances when artifacts in the environment make possible otherwise inaccessible forms of activity” (Thorne 806). Therefore, with the opportunities that the ZPD theory opens for the foreign language learners and their teachers, it proves a gold mine.

Concerning the ZPD theory itself, as well as its application, one has to mention that it concerns mainly the methods of maintaining the balance between the inborn traits of the child and his/her culture. To demonstrate the difference between the tow, Veresov uses a perfect metaphor:

First, the child development is not a linear process. Simultaneously, there are different levels of development in different functions in the child. At each age there are functions, which are already matured (developed) – they are “fruits” of development; and there are functions that are in a process of maturation – the “buds” or “flowers” of development (Veresov 13)

Thus, it can be considered that Vygotsky incorporates the two notions to create even more efficient, all-embracing theory of teaching and learning second language. Only understanding the processes of children’s perception of the foreign language, one can work out a plausible paradigm for teaching a foreign language to students.

As Rubtsov (2010) mentioned, “A very important argument of Vygotsky’s school psychologists indicates a specific character of preschool education and certain requirements towards the education process” (9). Indeed, considering the theory closer, one can see clearly that each detail in the studying process has been fixed in Vygotsky’s theory.

Another important aspect that bridges the theory of Vygotsky and the modern pedagogical approaches together is the idea that a child’s world can be accessed with help of elements of a game. Thus, including certain game aspects in the process of studying, one can achieve considerable results in teaching the second language, Vygotsky claimed: ”Vygotsky (1978) viewed play as a unique opportunity to free the child from the constraints of concrete perception, typical of early childhood” (Wohlend 3).

Indeed, such approach is quite promising, since a child can adjust the process of learning to the usual traditions of playing a game, which is very important for both cognizing the object under discussion and correlating it with certain elements of game-playing.

Therefore, the theory proves a workshop for creating unusual and original approach fro studying and teaching the second language. Taking into consideration the peculiarities of children’s vision of the world, one can teach the latter from the position of an adult and a peer altogether, which means that the children will accept the learning material eagerly and with more enthusiasm.

When It Comes to Practice: The Plausible Obstacles

However, it must be kept in mind that certain problems connected with the abovementioned ZPD phenomenon can hinder the process of knowledge absorbing. It is peculiar that the scientist himself noticed the flaws of the theory and predicted the possible obstacles on the way to put the theory into practice.

It must be admitted that the plausible obtrusions concerned the typical behavior of a child in the process of game playing. Logically, a child cannot focus on both the importance of the learning material and on the game-playing aspects that it possesses. Wohlend explained this phenomenon in the following way:

But in play, things lose their determining force. The child sees one thing but acts differently in relation to what he sees. Thus a condition is reached in which the child begins to act independently of what he sees (Wohlend 3)

Therefore, implementing the approach that Vygotsky suggested, one has to keep in mind that children’s game-playing process takes peculiar shapes and is not always followed by paying closer attention to details. In this case, the process of game-playing intertwined with the studying atmosphere reminds of tailoring the way to interpret the knowledge to the needs of the children and their vision of the world.

Without this approach, there is no doubt that children would take the numerous pieces of knowledge in much more complicated way. It is only with help of learning the mechanisms that trigger children’s attention, memorizing process and interest that a teacher can succeed with teaching certain subject to the students. It is peculiar that such position can be applied not only to the foreign languages, but also to studying in general.

In addition, it is worth mentioning that the theory of Vygotsky can be applied to people of any age, not only children. According to the followers of Vygotsky’s ideas, the theory of acquiring knowledge through playing activities is one of the basics for teaching English as a foreign language in general. Thus, the theory can be tailored to the people of other ages.

“A very important argument of Vygotsky’s school psychologists indicates a specific character of preschool education and certain requirements towards the education process for this age” (Rubtsov 9)

Therefore, it cannot be doubted that the theory of Vygotsky not only suggests ultimate scheme for creating lesson plans when teaching children their second language, but also offers a range of opportunities to be explored. Like some of the best theories, it leaves a great sphere to be explored, which means that the theory will not remain frozen, but is going to develop with help of the innovations that will gradually fill the world.

James Gee and the World of the New Opportunities

One of the people who decided to develop the theory of Vygotsky and apply it to the existing situation, James Gee incorporated the theoretical approach created by the Russian scientist and added specific details to it, taking into account the progress which the civilization made.

With help of the existing means of transmitting media and helping to reach the studying materials scattered all over the world, Gee managed to create the system of studying foreign language that proves the most efficient. However, it must be taken into account that the scientist based entirely on children’s preferences.

When teaching foreign language in a group of children, it is important to realize what motivates the students and if there is any motivation at all.

Consequently, one has to approach the studying process in the way a child would and consider the issues that might possibly motivate a child., Since studying a foreign language is quite complicated process that involves the ability to focus attention on particular details, to use the obtained skills appropriately and to play active part in simulating various situations, one has to realize what can motivate a child in learning the second language.

On Theoretical Issues: What Do Students Need?

Diving into the depth of the philosophical aspect of the second language studying, Gee emphasizes that the main aspect of the theory is the so-called discourse – with a capital letter, which one has to pay a special attention to.

As MacKay explained it, “The basis of Gee’s theory is revealed in the distinction between ‘discourse’ and ‘Discourse’ (denoted by the use of lower-case d and upper-case D)” (2). Explaining the position of the scientist, MacKay drives a comparison between discourse the way it is understood in the sphere of traditional linguistics and the ways in which Gee utilized this term:

While sociolinguists have typically used the term discourse to refer to verbal interactions and sequences of utterances between speakers and listeners, Gee’s distinction is designed to recognize the interrelationships between social relations, social identities, contexts, and specific situations of language use (MacKay 3)

Therefore, in Gee’s understanding, Discourse is something more self-sufficient, a notion that is all-embracing and at the same time especially focused on certain aspect of people’s speech. Thus, Gee designed the following idea of Discourse to fit his theory: the famous Discourse is…

…a socially accepted association among ways of using language, other symbolic expressions, and artifacts, of thinking, feeling, believing, valuing and acting that can be used to identify oneself as a member of a socially meaningful group or “social network” (MacKay 3)

Thus, introducing the link between Vygotsky’s pedagogical theory and the social network, Gee offers to use the technological developments of the XXI century in the sphere of teaching and studying the second language. Gee makes the audience think of Discourse as of an “identity kit” of a person (Journal of Education, 18).

According to the calculations of the scientist, this is bound to prove one of the most efficient methods to teach the second language fast and at the same time highly qualitatively. Developing his idea of discourse as the means to achieve the teaching goals, Gee expands his ideas in “What Is Literacy?”:

It is important to realize that even among speakers of English there are socioculturally different primary discourses. For example, lower socioeconomic black children use English to make sense of their experience differently than do middle-class children; they have a different primary discourse (Gee, 5)

Technology and Studying: Mixing Leisure and Business

It is quite peculiar that Gee was the first to think of a creative mixture of leisure and studying. A simple and yet impressive idea, this was practically a new step towards more efficient and positive second language learning, since it encouraged children for further lessons and included training under the disguise of a game-playing. As Bridge mentioned,

Videogames produce a genuinely novel exchange between designer and player and, on a more abstract level, producer and receiver; sender and reader. James Gee suggests that playing a game is closer to “living inside a symphony than reading a book or watching a movie” (Bridge 11).

Thus, Gee suggests that a completely new method of teaching the second language should be introduced. Based on video games, it must offer must more options for the second language skills development than the average means including textbooks and various types of visual aid. With help of the new approach, the author claims, children will be able to learn the foreign language times faster.

A Cartoon World for L2

Another important aspect that Gee touches upon is the use of various technological innovations. Claiming that with help of video games the process of studying a foreign language can increase sufficiently, Gee makes it possible to develop a specific approach to learning the second language with help of Vygotsky’s theory.

Acting on the premises that the learning process can be enhanced by utilizing the means to attract students’ attention, Gee creates a theory that incorporates the ideas of Vygotsky and his own speculations. Based on careful analysis and precise calculations, this method of teaching the second language is bound to prove successful.

As Gee himself admitted in Educational Leadership, “A crucial first step in promoting student engagement is to rethink literacy for the 21st century. One path to this new learning equation comes, perhaps paradoxically, from popular culture” (48).

Therefore, the impact that the mass media and the technological innovations have on the studying process is truly impressive. One of its greatest advantages is that it both entices students and involves them into active participating in the language studies. This is what Gee’s approach can be considered really worth for.

Another aspect of the multimedia and technologies significance in the given case is that it will help to intertwine the cultural and the individual aspects that Vygotsky was talking about. Making children absorb the new knowledge, the multimedia helps them to adjust to the existing environment and even triggers certain interconnections with their original one. As Gee said in “Welcome to Our Virtual Worlds”,

[…] some students come to school without this language-based preparation. This is where digital media in school can make perhaps their most important contribution. This technology requires action in an environment; it generates vocabulary used in actual situations, which makes meanings clearer and easier to remember (49)

What Seemed Incompatible at First: Theory and Practice

Basing his idea of utilizing the modern technologies and media innovations in teaching the second language, gee establishes a firm link with the ideas of Vygotsky. It is important to point that Gee created his own approach based on the ZPD theory that Vygotsky worked on. Therefore, it can be suggested that Gee’s ideas, grounded on Vygotsky’s theory, can produce a considerable increase of students’ efficiency in learning the foreign language.

Finding the link between children and science, Gee created more than a new approach – he created a new system of learning the second language. Indeed, what can be more natural than learning the language while playing a game or watching a movie? It is the necessity to utilize the language in certain sphere that brings children to learning it. As Gee himself put it in Video Games, Mind and Learning,

Video games turn out to be the perfect metaphor for what this view of the mind amounts to, just as slates and computers were good metaphors for earlier views of the mind. To see this, let me now turn to a characterization of video games and then I will put my remarks about the mind and games together (256)

Therefore, it is important to realize that in the given case, video games and other media proves to be not only a source of entertainment, but also a means of plunging into the environment where the second language is used in the most natural way. In addition, such means presuppose that the peculiarities of the students’ culture can be taken into account, which is quite important. In is nonetheless essential to mention that there should be no confusion between the culture of the native and the foreign language.

Show It to Me! Video Materials and PowerPoint Presentations

Perhaps, one of the most frequently utilized modern media in schools and colleges are various video materials and PowerPoint presentations. It cannot be denied that the efficiency of videos and slide shows is tremendous.

With help of these pieces of visual aid, one can incorporate the theoretical material together with bright and colorful visual aid. According to gee’s calculations, such method will have a striking effect on students’ abilities development. Once video games and PowerPoint presentations are introduced into the daily school routine, there will be much more opportunities for learning.

In terms of video games, one can claim that Gee’s ideas are rather convincing. Since numerous video games project the image of the player onto the character, it will be possible to create a specific artificial environment that is close to actual atmosphere of the foreign language.

In Good Learning, he mentions, “Good video games incorporate good learning principles, principles supported by current research in Cognitive Science” (Gee 2). Thus, plunging into the natural environment where the foreign language is used, a student is likely to learn faster and utilize the newly acquired skills with greater efficiency and certainty. As Gee mentioned in Video Games, Mind and Learning,

The player can make a new landscape, a new set of buildings, or new characters. The player can set up the world so that certain sorts of actions are allowed or disallowed. The player is building a new world, but is doing so by using and modifying the original visual images (really the code for them) that came with the game (Gee 4)

Speaking of the PowerPoint presentations, it is important to mention that they are much more effective and easier to handle than posters and other sorts of paper visual aid. As M. Apple mentioned,

PowerPoint group projects (PGP) can be considered identical to any other kind of scaffold­ing, cooperative group project, or tasks for students to do in the language classroom—except that the students are using a computer. In that sense, the strengths of task-based teaching may also hold true for using PowerPoint for group project work (110)

Thus, it can be considered that the theory of Vygotsky has been applied by Gee in the most efficient way. Indeed, the use of video games and PowerPoint presentations enhances the process of the second language learning, which corresponds fully to the theory of ZPD, “the limit to which someone can learn new information with the assistance of an “expert” such as a teacher or a fellow learner at the same level or slightly higher level of competence than the learner.” (Apple 111).

Skype, Blogs and Social Network: Viva Communication!

Establishing the connection between the modern technologies and the methods of teaching the second language, one can come to the conclusion that not only video materials and PowerPoint presentations, but also such novelties as blogs, social network and Skype, can be utilized for the purpose of students’ active learning.

As Blackstone noticed, one of the most reasonable arguments for creating a blog communication between students and the teacher was based because making a hard copy for each work is unpractical. “Due to such limitations, a student in the traditional writing class has typically presented his or her work to the teacher alone, or at most, to a group of peer reviewers and then to the teacher” (1), Blackstone explained.

Another popular and successful idea is utilizing such resource as Skype. According to what Godwin-Jones says, “In a recent discussion on Slashdot, prompted by a question about best ways to learn another language, using podcasts was one of the very first suggestions made” (12). There is no doubt that with help of the voice-recording function and the ability to speak to a person directly, Skype creates an illusion of a natural conversation.

In addition, with help of Skype, one can create his/her own podcasts with help of the program (Godwin-Jones). This will contribute to students’ confidence about their knowledge and will serve as perfect practice.

The last, but not the least, social networking is another step in mastering the second language. This is the sphere where the theory of Vygotsky proves efficient as well. Indeed, the Internet is another perfect opportunity for the theories of Vygotsky to be applied to the reality. According to Scolastra and Spina, Elledueo, the social network created for the University for Foreigners in Perugia, has proved most efficient in reaching high level of productivity among the students.

It must be mentioned that social networks help students to adapt to the new environment and share their experience with each other. With help of this “chain reaction”, specific gaps in students’ personal experience will be filled, and they will finally enrich their system of knowledge in the foreign language.

As Scolastrs claims, “The network, based on a social learning approach, offers them an environment in which everyone shares resources in learning the Italian language and culture” (77). Therefore, the theory suggested by Vygotsky and developed by Gee ahs proved correct once again.

Conclusion

Once established as the foundation of learning the second language, Vygotsky’s theory is nowadays gaining more and more popularity within the system of education. Incorporating the profound and well-grounded theory of pedagogical approach towards children in teaching the second language, the modern methods include the use of technological novelties.

It is obvious that the idea suggested by Vygotsky can be implemented in the modern teaching with stunning success – considering the peculiarities of the target group, the participants’ likes and dislikes, as well as their background and their skills, a teacher can achieve great progress with help of the new technologies.

It must be well kept in mind though that such things as communication in Skype are still simulations of the real-life situation. Taking into account the abovementioned peculiarities, on can claim with certainty that success in studying foreign language is guaranteed.

Works Cited

Apple, Matthew and Keita Kikuchi. “Practical PowerPoint Projects for the EFL Classroom.” The JALT CALL Journal. 3.3 (2007): 110-122. Print.

Archakova, Tatyana Olegovna. “Development in Early Childhood and ECCE: Vygotsky’s Perspective”. WCECCE 27-29 Sep. 2010. Print.

Blackstone, Brad, John Spiri and Naeko Naganuma. “Blogs in English Language Teaching and Learning: Pedagogical Uses and Student Responses.” Reflections on English Language Teaching. 6.2 (2007): 1-20. Print.

Bridge, Jean, and Sarah Pruyn. “Preserving New Media Art: Re-Presenting Experience”. Digital Arts and Culture [Irvine, CA: Berkeley] 12-15 Dec. 2009: 1-13. Print.

Daniels, Harry. “”. Counseling Psychology and Psychotherapy. 2 (2010). Web.

Gindis, Boris. “Cognitive, Language, and Educational Issues of Children Adopted from Overseas Orphanages”. Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology. 4.3. (2005): 290-315. Print.

Gee, Paul J. “Video Games, Mind and Learning”. Games and Culture. 3.3/4 (2008): 253-263. Print.

Gee, Paul J.” What Is Literacy?” Journal of Education, 171.1 (1989): 18-25. Print.

Gee, Paul J., and Michael H. Levine. Educational Leadership. Welcome to Our Virtual Worlds. Literacy 2.0. 66.6 (2009): 48-52. Print.

Godwin-Jones, Robert. “Skype and Podcasting: Disruptive Technologies for Language Learning”. Language Learning & Technology. 9. 3 (2005): 9-12. Print.

MacKay, Tim. Gee’s Theory of D/discourse and Research in Teaching English as a Second Language: Implications for the Mainstream. Manitoba, CA: University of Manitoba, 2008. Print.

Rubtsov, Vitaliy V. and Elena G. Yudina. “Current Problems of Preschool Education.” Psychological Science and Education. 3 (2010): 5-15. Print.

Scolasta, Francesco, and Stefania Spina. Elledueo: Integrating “Formal” and “Social” in a Language Learning Environment of Italian as a Second Language. Je LKS. 6.1 (2010): 77-84

Thorne, Steven L., Rebecca Black and Julie M. Sykes. “Second Language Use, Socialization, and Learning in Internet Interest Communities and Online Gaming.” The Modern Language Journal. 93 (2009): 802-821, Print.

Veresov, Nikolai. “Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD): The Hidden Dimension?” Language as Culture – Tensions in Time and Space. 1 (2004): 13-30. Print.

Wohlend, Karen. More than a Child’s Work: Framing Teacher Discourse about Play. Interactions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, 3.1 (2007): 1-25. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, April 23). Studying Second Language: Vygotsky’s Methods and Gee’s Ideas. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/studying-second-language-vygotskys-methods-and-gees-ideas/

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"Studying Second Language: Vygotsky’s Methods and Gee’s Ideas." IvyPanda, 23 Apr. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/studying-second-language-vygotskys-methods-and-gees-ideas/.

1. IvyPanda. "Studying Second Language: Vygotsky’s Methods and Gee’s Ideas." April 23, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/studying-second-language-vygotskys-methods-and-gees-ideas/.


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IvyPanda. "Studying Second Language: Vygotsky’s Methods and Gee’s Ideas." April 23, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/studying-second-language-vygotskys-methods-and-gees-ideas/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Studying Second Language: Vygotsky’s Methods and Gee’s Ideas." April 23, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/studying-second-language-vygotskys-methods-and-gees-ideas/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Studying Second Language: Vygotsky’s Methods and Gee’s Ideas'. 23 April.

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