For my undergraduate senior thesis, I wrote about second language acquisition in an immersion school for kindergartners with speech sound disorders (a type of communication disorder). Through this experience, I learned much about the difference between first and second language acquisition, as well as through my own experience as a student of spanish
. It is obvious that the process of learning a first and second language are very different, although how and why is apparently still very much a mystery to scientists. It is amazing with what speed and accuracy children
learn their first language, and with what difficult the rest of us learn second and third languages later in life. Through my thesis research, I examined how learning a language in an immersion school benefited children
, and also how learning earlier versus later affected their language acquisition. It turns out that in early versus late immersion situations, children
studying in early immersion learn the language much like they learn their first language, but did not grasp the more complex elements of the language until later. Also, they did not grasp the language at the same speed as a late immersion student (someone in 7th grade and above). The early immersion students expressed more of an enjoyment in learning the second language though, and had better native-like pronunciation than those students learning at an older age. They held greater vocabularies, but grammar understanding appeared to be similar for both groups.
Then, of course, is the discussion of simultaneous and sequential first and second language acquisition. While some parents worry that simultaneous language acquisition may overwhelm a child’s language system, for most children
this has actually proven to be the most effective way of teaching a child native-like understanding of two languages. children
have an incredible ability to understand language, demonstrated by how all children
acquire a first language with little to no parental scaffolding, signifying that their abilities to acquire two languages at once are actually quite good. As we get older and learn other languages, our brain elasticity decreases, and while we have a greater capacity for higher learning, understanding and producing the language like a child that learned both at once will never be the same. Sequential language learning, though attractive to parents that don’t want to overwhelm their child’s language system, will still not produce quite the same native-like qualities that a child learning both at once can accomplish.
Because I will be teaching english
to various ages (children
to adults), I am very curious to see the learning process of both groups, and see how they acquire the language differently. Taking this course has given me a greater understanding from a teacher
’s perspective what goes into learning a second language, and while I know that with the ages I am teaching we will only be giving sequential language learning, I am still so excited to see how they learn the language, and how I might compare that to what I saw at the immersion school in which I did research for my thesis.