Perspectives on Language Acquisition

Anyone who has ever tried to learn a new language will almost certainly agree that it is a long and daunting task. Students from a Linguistics class at Cedarville University were granted only four months to accomplish this intimidating mission. Over the course of a semester, they attempted to learn a new language and documented their efforts in essay responses. Some of the students found benefit to this assignment, while many felt that their language acquisition attempts were unsuccessful. When their essay responses were analyzed, it became clear that each language-learning experience will be unique and different. This essay analyzes the students’ essay responses and seeks to find pattern in the many attitudes, pitfalls, useful practices, and benefits experienced during their language acquisition processes.

One of the most important factors during any language acquisition process is one’s attitude and motivation for learning this new language. Oftentimes, the person learning this new language is interested in the country and the culture that is associated with it, but not always fully driven to learn the new language. Learning a new language is no easy task, and lack of proper motivation makes this task even harder. In their reflection essays, many of the students propose that they did not successfully learn the new language as much as they would have liked. A lack of motivation is the most commonly cited reason for the students’ failure. For example, in essay 10, the student promotes the idea that “…it is easier for someone to learn a language out of necessity than for leisure. Whether it be the person is submerged in a culture and needs to understand the language to go about daily life, or the person is planning on going into a culture of different language, both are equally more motivated than a person who is not planning on using the language they wish to learn.” This idea is supported by every one of the reflection essays analyzed. While the students had a desire to learn a new language, they simply did not have the right attitude and motivation to learn it due to the lack of necessity. Many of the students also complained that they did not have enough time to learn the language because of their busy schedules. These students felt pressured into learning the new language and, in result, lost much of their motivation to continue the learning process. Ultimately, many of the students approached this assignment by choosing a language that they simply had a small interest in. In essay 12, the student states, “I think that the only problem that I had issue with was because I lacked the motivation to learn it and wasn’t as devoted to learning it as I could or should have been… Although I like the language, I do not plan on ever visiting a country that speaks Portuguese.” Although many of the students expressed an interest in a new language and the culture accompanying this language, they did not have the right attitude and motivation to fully acquire this new language.

All language acquisition methods will have their pitfalls. As previously stated, negative attitudes and lack of motivation seem to be the largest pitfalls to language acquisition. Another pitfall experienced by the students was the difficulty of learning individually.  In five out of the six essays, the authors mention the difficulty of learning a language without a teacher or learning group. The author of essay 10 states, “It’s… hard when you’re not being taught the language but must teach yourself.” This student goes on to explain how he or she had an instructor for their entire experience in public school and was not used to learning in an isolated environment.  “I grew up in public schools all of my life, and my teachers would teach me all the information, and if I didn’t understand it, I would ask them for help.” One of the students who felt the most successful about their experience was the student who wrote essay 9; one reason that this student felt so successful was because someone in the student’s learning group was more experienced with the German language and helped along the way. This student says, “While German was frustrating, it became easier as LL became my teacher.… We made the experience more positive and beneficial for me by making LL a kind of teacher for me.” This student saw the benefit in having a tutor when learning a new language.  Many of the other students, however, did not find a tutor and experienced difficulty as a result. It is clear from the students’ essay responses that the difficulty of learning in an isolated environment is a definite pitfall during language acquisition.

Despite pitfalls, the students discovered useful practices to aid them in the learning process. The writer of essay 13 says, “I had developed a systematic way of learning language because I had taken the methods that I had usd to learn Spanish and applied them to learning French.” This student knew what methods were beneficial in the language acquisition process and was able to use that knowledge to enhance the language-learning experience. As this student discovered, a proper understanding of one’s unique learning style is necessary for success. In addition to discovering one’s personal learning style, one of the most useful practices used by the students was group learning. As mentioned previously, one of the biggest pitfalls experienced by the students was the difficulty of learning in an isolated environment. The author of essay 9 combated this difficulty by effectively meeting with a small group. The author says, “A big part of our success… came from the accountability of the meet-ups.” The authors who met with groups regularly and had accountability during the learning process felt more successful learning their chosen language, as opposed to those who didn’t meet regularly. Another useful practice discovered by the students was incorporating the correct type of motivation into their study. The author of essay 13 describes the two types of motivations: integrative motivation and instrumental motivation. The student says, “Integrative motivation is the motivation that results from the learner wanting to incorporate himself or herself into the language’s community or culture and comes simply out of the desire to learn more about the language and culture.” This is the type of motivation that will provide the greatest drive for a learner to be successful. In this particular instance, integrative motivation is, essentially, wanting to learn the language for the sake of gaining the knowledge and using it in the future. The author then continues to describe the second type of motivation: “instrumental motivation, which results from wanting to learn a language in order to get some sort of practical benefit from it, such as getting a higher salary or fulfilling an academic requirement.” Neither of these motivations are necessarily bad. The author of essay 13 even states that he or she had both types of motivation. However, integrative motivation will drive one to learn for the sake of gaining practical knowledge and accomplishing something useful, while instrumental motivation largely lacks the drive to learn and stems from simply wanting a benefit. The students all agreed that, even if they had both types of motivation, the instrumental motivation was usually stronger than the integrative motivation, causing them to not be as successful as they could have been. Students generally experienced more success in their efforts if they incorporated the useful practice of seeking to have more integrative motivation.

While many of the students experienced failure, the also experienced various benefits from their experience. The author of essay 10 states, “I was not successful in my attempt to learn the Russian language due to my lack of motivation, but I did learn some things about the Russian language in the process.” All of the papers had a similar ring to them with failure in the forefront and benefits finishing last, but nonetheless, each student admits that they gained beneficial knowledge in some area despite their failures. For example, in essay 10, the benefits may not have outweighed the failure, but there were, nonetheless, still benefits. The student still knows more now about Russian language than he or she did before, which is quite a benefit. The author of essay 9 describes some of the benefits of this experience by saying, “overall the experience was very eye-opening and I feel like I learned more about the process of how someone acquires a language as a second language.” This student took on the daunting task of learning German and felt as if he or she failed. However, this student grew through the task. This experience became more beneficial when the student made his or her partner LL more of a teacher than a peer, or when the student realized the amount of work that goes into learning a new language. A similar situation occurs in essay 12, where the student discusses how learning another language was a good experience, because it revealed that learning another language wasn’t impossible. This student found benefits in growing closer to women in her unit who were also trying to learn Portuguese. In particular, there was one essay where the benefits most outshined the negative aspects: essay 13. A positive vibe flows through this essay with success thick in every line: “I was able not only to dive into the Russian language but also learn a little about the language’s rich culture and its people as well.” The benefits of learning a language are not limited to simply learning the vocabulary words and rules of grammar: rather, learning a language opens one up to new experiences such as learning about another culture or expanding one’s view of the world. It is clear from the students’ essays that, no matter how their experiences turned out, there were indeed positive benefits that bloomed from the experience of learning a new language.

Language is necessary for life. These students took on the task of learning a new language to gain a new experience and expand their repertoire of communication. Each student that undertook this task experienced different attitudes, encountered pitfalls, applied useful practices, and uncovered benefits to get to their intended destination. Some students felt empowered through their attempts while others felt defeated, but each student undoubtedly came out of the experience with something unexpected yet valuable: a new perspective on a new language.

The Art of Learning a New Language Pt.4

Our eyes silently swept from right to left as the four of us sat huddled around a laptop analyzing our peers analysis of other peers. I would like to coin this analysisception as it felt just as dense as that word looks. We took Group 4 and critiqued their paper first. We came to the consensus that it was very repetitive, although the subject matter itself was good, it just said the same thing over and over. We took Group 3’s paper and did the same thing. Group 3’s paper was really interesting and full of good subject matter, but it lacked any kind of transition or conclusion. We hastily finished out last notes as people were gathering up their thoughts and their belongings. We quickly read over comments and chatted about how to make our own paper better. Yet again everyone in the group put in effort and we worked well.

I know it’s hard to believe, but that was the last installment of our breathtaking, jaw-dropping series of the process of a group writing an analysis paper on Linguistics. I hope you enjoyed the ride mis amigos.

Language Analysis Paper

Learning a new language is not only an art, it can also be a very long and daunting task. Students from a Linguistics class at Cedarville University were granted a semester to learn a new language. We discovered that a resounding failure echoed throughout the essay responses written by these students. While some of the students say they found some benefit to this assignment, many of the students felt they were unsuccessful on the acquisition of a new language. There are many reasons for this defeat that were emphasized throughout the essays, but we were able to deduce a few common themes that reverberated in the papers. Having the right motivation and enough time set aside will assist in the acquisition of a second language with traits such as attitudes, pitfalls, benefits, and useful practices, but each experience will be unique and different.

There are many factors that come into play when there is either a desire or a need to learn a new language. It can be argued that one of the most important themes that comes into play during this language acquisition process is your attitude and motivation for learning this new language. Often times, the person learning this new language is interested in the country and the culture that is associated with it but not always driven to learn the new language fully. Learning a new language is no easy task and if you don’t have the proper motivation to learn it, it prompts for an even harder task. Many of the students had proposed that they did not successfully learn the new language as much as they had liked. Often times, they accounted this to the fact that the motivation to learn the new language was just not there. In essay 10, they promoted the idea that “…it is easier for someone to learn a language out of necessity than for leisure. Whether it be the person is submerged in a culture and needs to understand the language to go about daily life, or the person is planning on going into a culture of different language, both are equally more motivated than a person who is not planning on using the language they wish to learn.” This idea holds true throughout most of the essays that were written during this assignment. While they had a desire to learn it, they simply did not have the right attitude about learning it due to the tight time schedule and lack of necessity to learn it. Expanding on this idea, many of the students complained that they did not have enough time to learn the language with all of the other classes and busy schedule that were accompanied with this assignment. As a direct result of the lack of time granted for the assignment, the students felt much more pressured into learning the new language and as a result lost much of their motivation to continue this language learning process. Ultimately, many of the students approached this assignment by choosing a language that they simply had a small or even a fairly significant interest in. In essay 12 it was stated that “I think that the only problem that I had issue with was because I lacked the motivation to learn it and wasn’t as devoted to learning it as I could or should have been…Although I like the language, I do not plan on ever visiting a country that speaks Portuguese.” Although many of the students expressed an interest in the language and the culture that accompanied this language, they did not have the right motivation to fully acquire a new language.

 

In addition to lack of motivation, another pitfall to this method of language acquisition is the fact that learning individually without a teacher was difficult.  The student who wrote paper 10 explains how their experience in public school led to them being used to having an instructor instead of learning on their own.  “I grew up in public schools all of my life, and my teachers would teach me all the information, and if I didn’t understand it, I would ask them for help.”  One of the students who felt the most successful about their experience was the student who wrote paper 9; one of the reasons that she felt so successful was because someone in her group was more experienced with the German language and helped her along the way.  (CITE THIS PERSON’S PAPER)  It is clear that language acquisition in an isolated environment is a definite pitfall to learning.

“I had developed a systematic way of learning language because I had taken the methods that I had usd to learn Spanish and applied them to learning French.” The writer of Essay 13 knew what worked in his or her learning and what wasn’t beneficial to the learning process. Each of the essays followed the theme that everyone learns differently, one needs to have a proper understanding of how they learn. However, there were common themes that were useful for each author in learning a new language.

One of the bigger themes in each of the essays was that it is hard to learn a new language on your own. The author of Essay 10 says, “It’s also hard when you’re not being taught the language but must teach yourself.” Five out of the six essays we read, at one point in the essay, focused on the difficulty of learning a language without a teacher or a group. The author of essay 9 combats this difficulty by effectively meeting with a small group. The author says, “A big part of our success, however, came from the accountability of the meet-ups. The authors who met with groups regularly and had accountability during the learning process felt more successful learning their chosen language, opposed to those who didn’t meet regularly.

The theme that appeared in all of the essays was the theme of motivation. The author of essay 14 says, “Also, I do believe that my failure had to do with lack of effort and motivation partially as well.” The author of essay 13 describes the two kinds of motivations, “Integrative motivation is the motivation that results from the learner wanting to incorporate himself or herself into the language’s community or culture and comes simply out of the desire to learn more about the language and culture.” Integrative is the type of motivation that will drive the learner to be successful even without a teacher. Wanting to learn the language for the sake of gaining the knowledge and using it in the future will create a successful learning program. The author then continues to describe the second type of motivation, “, instrumental motivation, which results from wanting to learn a language in order to get some sort of practical benefit from it, such as getting a higher salary or fulfilling an academic requirement.” Neither of these motivations are necessarily bad. The author of essay 13 even told the reader that he had both type of motivation. However, integrative motivation will drive to learn for the sake of gaining knowledge and accomplishing something, while instrumental motivation lacks the drive to learn and stems from wanting to benefit you. The authors all agreed that, even if they had both types of motivation, the instrumental always overrode the integrative motivation, causing them to not be as successful as they could have been. Motivation is key. With the correct motivation you can accomplish almost anything you set your mind to, even learning a new language on your own.

“I was not successful in my attempt to learn the Russian language due to my lack of motivation, but I did learn some things about the Russian language in the process.” (Essay 10, Paragraph 1) All of the papers had a similar ring to them with failure in the forefront and benefits finishing last. Though there were some benefits in each paper, each person would say that from every failure they experienced they gained beneficial knowledge in some area. For example in Essay 10 the benefits may not have outweighed the failure, but there were still benefits. He still knows more now about Russian language than he did before, and I would dare say that is quite a benefit.

Essay 9 talks about how, “overall the experience was very eye-opening and I feel like I learned more about the process of how someone acquires a language as a second language.” This student took on the daunting task of learning the German language and like all of those before him, felt as if he failed. Also like all of those before him though, he felt as if he grew through the task. His experience became more beneficial when he made his partner LL more of a teacher than a peer or when he realized how much you really have to work to learn a new language.

We uncover a similar problem in Essay 12, but they made the benefits of their situation stand out. She discusses how learning another language was a good experience for her, because it showed her that learning another language wasn’t impossible. She found benefits in growing closer to girls in her unit who were also trying to learn Portuguese. Unlike all of these experiences above, there was one essay where the benefits definitely out shine the negative aspects.

A positive vibe flows through the entire paper with success thick in every line. “I was able not only to dive into the Russian language but also learn a little about the language’s rich culture and its people as well.” (Essay 13, Paragraph 15) The benefits of learning a language are not held only to learning the words and how to communicate. Learning a language opens you up to new experiences such as learning about a whole other culture of people and how they live, and it can expand your view of the world in general. No matter where or how your experience falls, there are benefits that bloom out of every situation, especially when one is learning a new language.

Language is something necessary to life. These students took on the task learning a new one to expand their repertoire of life. Each one of these students that undertook the task to learn a new language experience different attitudes, encounter pitfalls, uncover benefits, and apply useful practices to get where they are trying to go. Each one came out with a new perspective on cultures and languages. “Without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry, to savor their songs.” -Nelson Mandela

 

 

The Art of Learning a Language Pt.3

It was an automatic response as each person stepped into the room today to begin their drafts. We sat down at our computers and began clicking away. Silence lay think in the room as cogs turned in people’s minds. I could see the words stacking up in our magical little Google Doc. We took each other’s words and altered them. We took each others ideas and ameliorated them.

Ideas were getting tight little bows and people were wrapping up their final ideas. The wrapping itself was still very rough, but hey, that’s the point of a rough draft right? Again there were rustling papers and legs as people stood up and shuffled towards the door. I looked down and smiled at our little creation. Each of us had contributed well and I couldn’t wait to see what the final product would be. I bet you can’t either.

The Art of Learning a New Language Pt.2

Ideas and motivation were rippling through the room today. We all sat down at our respective computers and began writing away. I don’t know if you believe in magic, but I do. Today I witnessed magic before my very eyes. It comes in the form of Google Docs. We all cozied up to our computers in our own ways. Some pulled the monitor close to their face and leaned in, another sat relaxed and stretched out while casually typing, and I myself sat cross legged with my chair pulled tight up to the table. And then before my eyes we were all working on the same document at the same time, and we could see each other typing in real time. If that’s not magic I don’t know what is. We each worked on our own topics while starting to piece together the introduction together. I typed a basic outline and then someone else would mold and improve it. We worked like that until we all felt the rustle of restless bodies begin to slowly pack up their belongings. Again this is only the second installment of a four part thrilling series.

Stay tuned folks.

The Art of Learning a New Language

No, this blog is not actually about me learning a language. It’s about a Linguistics class taking a semester to try to learn a new language and me analyzing their accomplishments through papers they wrote about their experience. I am doing this for an English Composition class and we have been put into groups to analyze and write a paper about it. So in essence I am writing about the goings ons in my little analytical group of four people. Sounds fun right? I will pain to make this sound like an adventure without adding or taking from the actual events, but instead to pull the story together to help you be in the moment itself.

The harsh light in the room made a fitting combination with the washed out chairs and the murmur of words bumping through the room. I sat with my small group and felt the wanton attitudes thick in the air. I love doing this kind of thing, writing and analyzing, but I think all of us would have much rather been doing it on our own. I have that odd personality where I’m introverted, but I love to lead at the same time. We had some limited discussion and people threw out half-hearted ideas while we all glanced at the clock impatiently. We ended up delegating a page per person and pieced together our thesis as the minutes drew by. What an adventure right? If I’m being serious though each person in our group worked together well and we have a good plan set before us. This is part one of four heart-stopping installments of a small group of college students analyzing other peer’s papers. Don’t get too excited.

Stay classy mates.

From the Eyes of the Pages

Being opened for the first time is something every one of us long for. Some of us have waited years and years on a shelf with dust slowly collecting on the edges of our yellowing pages. We try to cry out for you to pick us up, but we are simply words on a page. We can only speak to you when you open us up. That was all I wanted. To be loved and read. Then it happened.

Her mother was the one that found me first. She scanned the shelves of books until they stopped abruptly onto me. A smile broke onto her face as she reached out and took the copy of Goodnight Moon off of the shelf. My heart leaped for joy inside of me. I had finally been chosen. Now I would go to a home and be read. This was every books dream.

When I was pulled back out of the bag it was by much smaller hands. They gripped me tightly and as I emerged from the bag there were two big brown eyes looking down at me. Soft caramel curly ringlets framed her face that was plastered with a huge smile. Her mom who was standing behind us knelt down, “Do you want me to read it to you?” The little girl bobbed her head up and down and gave a little cry of delight. My excitement was boiling over as the mother gently took me back from the girl’s hands. I took that moment to look at my new home. We were in the girl’s room. It had soft lavender colored walls and flowers everywhere. There were a lot of toys strewn across the floor and a tower of stuffed animals in the corner.

Then I was drawn back to the present as the mother began to open me up. Finally I could speak! She held me up so that the girl could see me and began to read. My story was a great one, no matter how short. By the end she was grinning sleepily. Her mother slid me into a new spot on a shiny white shelf. I watched from there as she picked up her little girl and laid her in the bed across the room. We both drifted off to sleep.

Over the next few years my spot on the shelf became more and more permanent. In the beginning she loved to read. I would watch from the bottom shelf as she was read more books and even began to read them herself! I remember watching her eyes sweep over the lamp lit pages late at night. Her dad and brother would come in and they read The Chronicles of Narnia together. Her mom would read Little House on the Prairie and every time she finished a chapter it went the same way.

“Mom just one more chapter!”

“No, it’s late you need to go to bed.”

“Aw, come on just one more. Then we’ll go right to bed.”

“… Well alright, just one more.”

I knew I wasn’t going to be read much more, but it brought me joy to see how much she loved it. As time drew on and she got to be a little bit older things began to change. Her room changed from the soft lavender to a blush pink. The toys began disappearing. I watched the change take place tucked away quietly on the bottom of the shelf. She began to hardly be in her room during those years I heard the older books refer to as middle school. She wasn’t as girly and dramatic as usual middle school girls were (I have heard many stories from other older books), but she had lost her love to read. I remember one night in particular when her mother walked into to her room as she was climbing into bed.

“Have you read that book for school yet?” She rolled her eyes and puffed out her breath, “No I just hate reading so much it gives me a headache.” Her mother frowned and gave the girl a disbelieving look.

“You didn’t hate reading a couple of years ago.”

“Well the books they make us read are so boring and gross. Do you remember The Giver? I couldn’t sleep for weeks after I read it.”

“That was one book. You really need to get over that and try reading on your own again. I think I found one you might like.”

She pulled out a colorful thick hardback with birds all over the cover. Butterflies erupted through my pages as the likes of a new friend was hovering above me. I wonder what wisdom lay through his pages. The title of the book read Swordbird by Nancy Yi Fan. Her mother went on to explain how a seventeen-year-old girl wrote it, and how it was all about birds and quests. I could see her minty green eyes light up as her mother told the story. Her eye color had changed right along with the color of her walls. As much as her preteen rebellious spirit told her to resist she couldn’t help but break out into a smile and pluck the book from her mother’s hands.

“Thanks mum, I guess I’ll try it out.” Her mother smiled and kissed her goodnight.

It was like this book had been the match that was needed to reignite her flame. She flew through books and as that happened she seemed to grow up right before my eyes. Her room transformed yet again into bright teal walls. Posters and Christmas lights were hung on the walls along with John James Audubon paintings and pictures. Candles were littered throughout the room leaving it feeling warm and cozy all of the time. Cube bookshelves were stacked everywhere and seemed to always be filling with new books. A fuzzy white circular chair that was the perfect “curl up and read” seat was tucked into the corner. I would watch everything from old classics to young adult fiction stacking up on the shelves. I got to know older wiser books like Anna Karenina and young rebellious ones like The Hunger Games. I loved to watch her face light up as she opened a new adventure, but I couldn’t shake the growing pit in my stomach that she would never lay eyes on me again, that I would never be read again. My thick cardboard pages were beginning to peel apart along with my spirit. I had always held out hope, but now she had so many books she would never lay eyes on me again.

Then it happened. She began to write. At this point her long brown waves fell past her shoulders and her striking green eyes sparkled. She always seemed to be smiling when she blew in and out the room, then she sat down at her desk one day and began to create. She was writing stories. She had taken the leap from a consumer to a creator. I watched her pen scratch across the white pages as her brows furrowed in concentration. It was a euphoric experience watching her create the adventures herself. She was giving words to the blank pages. She was giving them speech. I couldn’t have been happier for her.

One day, as I was having a chat with my good friend Fear and Trembling, he was one of the wisest book I knew, the girl came stumbling into her room, sobs racking her body. She fell to the floor and hugged herself tight, as if she was afraid she might lose herself. She laid like that for a while with silent tears now running down her face. She sat up and frantically looked around for something to comfort her. Her eyes fell onto me and froze. They widened as she reached out and gingerly picked me up from the shelf. She saw me, she needed me, and now I could speak to her again for the first time in years. As she read me I saw her shoulders relax as she rested in a childhood friend to comfort her. I relaxed too as I thought, people become part of everything they have read. I am part of her and the things she has read shape her, and boy has she read some good books.