“I don’t think that’s too hard”
Adopting Preconditions of Language Acquisition into Classroom Context
Written by Herri Mulyono
I’ve been learning Japanese by myself and books. Many factors lead me to a condition that Japanese is such a difficult language to learn both from written language and spoken as well. Of course, it comes across to my mind as what I’ve been learning for couple months result nothing even to speak a single sentence in Japanese. Then, I start to think of finding out why Soekarno, – first president of our Republic- for example, was able to speak about 24 languages and one of my colleges, -when I was a lecture at Polytechnic of Bina Indonesia-, was able to speak about 10 languages. Although there are many differences between children and adult language acquisition especially on the psychomotor achievement of language, chances of acquiring second, third or some other language are still widely open. From literature I find out that language acquisition has to cover preconditions of universal grammar, environment, opportunity and social being. This means any kind of language could be either acquired or learned at a time by whch one is able to fulfill those four preconditions. This article would expose briefly the four conditions which have become requirements for those who are learning second language. In describing the preconditions, I would recall some materials from Approaches in TEFL and Ms. Dr. Santi Djonhar, MA’s comments related to the issue. Finally at final session, I’d like to share ideas on how to adopt those four preconditions of language acquisition in classroom context. In this session, some teaching methods would appear to provide more information on class situation and what should be done by teacher for classroom design and activities that might be suitable for such purposes.
A. Four Preconditions of Language Acquisition
I highlighted an interesting sentence in Richard-Amato (2003) when they discuss Chomsky’s arguments (1959) that some aspects of language are innate. Richard-Amato (2003: 20) say “He (Chomsky – red) reminded us that language is not ‘made’ by us but rather develops as a result of the way we are constituted when we are placed in the ‘appropriate external environment’ (1980: 11).” This quotation conveys meaning that we are born with potentials of acquiring any languages. Our brain has been gifted by some aspects of language that might be devised to learn not only a single language but couple more. This gift of amazing brain is then called by Chomsky as language acquisition device or LAD that gratefully provides us function of language universal grammar.
The universality of grammar (or some would say as UG) is viewed from two investigations; they are language similarity of the linguistic components and on how those components are arranged into meaningful sentences or utterances. All languages spoken by all people around the world obviously comprises of subject, verbs, objects, noun, adverb, adjective and some other linguistic components. Theses correspondences among languages have clearly shown us what is called as language principles. These language principles convince us about possibilities of acquiring some more languages after our first language acquisition. Instead, one still has to consider typical parameters used in the second language s/he is learning. Language parameter then is explained as particular ways those linguistic components are arranged orderly into constructing meaning. The parameter is shown particularly on arrangement of sentence used to deliver meaning. In Japanese, for example, a meaningful sentence is constructed by Subject (S)+ object (O) + verb (V) while both English and Bahasa are well arranged by the SVO.
In brief, universal grammar would be valuable input for human to acquire any other languages after his/her first language acquisition. That is because the universal grammar provides valuable information for human to understand the work of language in composing meaning for communication purposes. The language principle provides basic elements of linguistics constructing language while the other language parameter exhibits the arrangement of those elements to be meaningful communication.
The term environment here does not have something to do with place or setting but more on situation where the language is spoken and written. It shows atmosphere by which people in certain area expose the language where an individual is in process of learning language. Simple instance for the effect of language exposure on one’s language learning can be drawn obviously from baby first language acquisition. Language exposure in baby’s surrounding has been the main factor that assist baby to acquire his/her first language. Baby first words are mainly due to process of imitating spoken words from his/her surroundings. The more people speak out the language the more baby would imitate the same they utter.
Environment factor, – that I’d rather to call it as availability of language model, is an influencing factor of one’s second language acquisition for it exposes the language in two ways, written and spoken discourse. Written media exhibits the use of language symbols conveying meaningful information while spoken language is delivered in oral mode of language with its emphasis on language utterance and clarity of message.
Within process of language learning, the presence of environment is to build up learner’s receptive abilities of language. Receptive abilities show one’s skill to catch out information or message which is carried out by the two ways of language transference, written and oral mode appropriately as intended by speaker or writer. In such understanding, the presence of environment is to develop ability of reading and listening. Ability to read is understood as one’s capability to receive and understood message transferred by written symbols of language. Another ability of listening covers one’s competence in understanding information delivered by means of spoken language.
To sum, environment seems to be a language model which is provided by people in learner’s surrounding both for model of written and spoken language as well. For learner, environment is influencing factor that give valuable input on the basis of appropriate use of language symbols and utterance.
One’s chance to produce the language in particular context and situation is regarded as “opportunity.” Opportunity is a moment that learner has gathered information on language elements and feel ready to deliver message using it. In process of language learning, opportunity seems an active behavior and is in production stage. Active behavior means that learner actively makes use of his/her knowledge on the language to perform it both in written and spoken communication context.
Social being is human activities and interaction as social element in a community. For defining term of social being for issue of language acquisition, I would rather mention it as interaction a learner carries out by using language s/he learn. Providing interaction means to create particular condition where elements of communication; speaker and receiver can play their role in exchanging information or messages. In such interaction, learner can make use their language competence; reading, listening, speaking and writing as well to deliver their intention. Learner may receive information and understanding it that later s/he responds it in other language modes, either written or spoken discourse.
B. Adopting Preconditions of Language Acquisition into Classroom Context
In this session, I’d like to adopt those precondition concepts of language acquisition into classroom context. Within such effort, I would interpret some teaching methods for they might suit teaching and learning activities under the basis of the above language acquisition preconditions. The adoption of those preconditions of language acquisition in classroom context would be explained with pointers; shown below:
- Since human has been gifted by knowledge of language elements, it seems beneficial for teacher to teach the structure of language at the beginning of the lesson. By the universal grammar students have been equipped already with some basic elements that compose language, the teaching of language structure might be able to awaken those hidden potentials and bring it up to the surface of their use. The teaching of structure of language is directed to give more understanding of language parameters by which students are supposed to make use their gifted potential to create meaningful utterance both in written and spoken mode of language.
On the theory of language learning, ways of teaching English through language structure seems to be parts of structural view. It explains that English learning is shown by comprehensive understanding of language systems which common are exhibited by phonological unit, grammatical units, grammatical operations, and lexical units as well (Richard and Rodgers, 1986: 17). On other words, throughout learning students are expected to have appropriate utterance as native does, adequate ability in composing language elements in order, and acceptable arrangement of language elements to convey meaning. Some language teaching methods like grammar translation method, direct method, and Audiolingualism could be employed to teach English for such purposes. What to remember is those methods are under behavioristic approach that language teaching is performed by conducting drillings to make language become a set of habit. Teaching English begins by providing stimulus that later students are supposed to make response. For such response, teacher has to attribute reinforcement in order to keep positive behavior to occur another time.
- Creating environment by which target language (in this article is English) is exposed visually and orally in classroom situation would be beneficial to students’ learning. Direct method can be devised to serve such purposes by which English is directly use to provide visual and oral exposure. For instance, using authentic materials (or some teaching sources that are originally made, written by English natives) might be of ways to visual exposition of English language although teacher’s interference to those authentic materials is still needed to make them readable to students (especially to make it correspondence to students’ mother tongue).
Yet, having authentic materials for reading discourse and inviting native speakers of language to expose the use of language in real context are not really fundamental requirements especially for the expense learners have to cost. In school context, classroom environment can be created by providing all written text, discourse, brochure, article, school newspaper, school wall-gazette and some others are written in English while for oral environment, teacher might have certain English speaking zone, English instructions, or may obligate their students to use English and punish them who don’t (punishment types might be varies regarding to teacher, students and certain conditions
- Production stage becomes the third of language acquisition preconditions that provides chances for language learner to expose language either in written or oral mode of delivery. Production stage seems to be final session of language learning process by which learners have his/her opportunity to perform certain part of language competence they have learned already.
There are many methods as well as their activities that suggest language productions. In classroom teaching and learning activities, particularly concerning to the above universal grammar on the conduct of audio lingual method or army method, drilling can suit learning activities. Drilling activities, although it has been argued critically by the humanist, stimulates language production with its emphasis on oral mode. The delivery of spoken language is merely a sequence of stimulation provided during learning activities conducted over period of time. The repetition of oral language production is purposefully planned to form a habit. In addition, from functional that exhibit language as a mean to express functional meaning (Richard and Rodgers, 1986: 17), stage of language production in classroom condition can be carried out by having dialogues, question and answer activities, situational writing and some other activities. What to keep in mind that all activities carried out in production stage under any method should provide wide opportunities for language learner to produce the language in two ways of delivery, speaking or writing.
- The last precondition of language acquisition suggests teacher to provide atmosphere where learners can use language in actuality as mean of communication. This is what I understand about using language to interact among people in a society. Teacher might create certain learning condition that learners can naturally communicate their ideas or thought to other people. Within Interactional view that shows language proficiency as communicative competence rather than competence of language structure (Chomsky: 1957 in Richard and Rodgers, 1987: 64), classroom activities has to lead students use the language to build and maintain social interaction that learners themselves have particular roles, right and responsibility in the society.
To carry out that fourth precondition of language acquisition, I think the use of Suggestopedia method might be appropriate. Classroom might be set or designed by pictures, posters, lights, colors that all represents real communicative situation. For example, while a lesson of “giving direction” takes part, classroom might be managed similarly as bus station, subway station, railway station or certain atmosphere that expression of “giving direction” can be used. For the extent of such activities, I suggest the use of project base materials (although there is another term of real-life task). Project base materials are particular learning discourses that learner can find and investigate in their daily life. Teacher might instruct students on particular things that they can have the answer from their daily life or surrounding. Of course, it seems to be out door activities, that learning language is not constrained to classroom walls anymore rather than real situation where students can use the language to buy carrots, for example, stop taxi, bargaining, order meals and other things.