The child’s linguistic development

The dynamic of success in early foreign language learning varies from one individual to another, but in principle nonetheless evidently conforms to certain patterns. That said, there is still no consensus on the precise sequence of childhood language acquisition phases or levels. The Piaget stage theory, although based on a large number of empirical studies, is now viewed no less sceptically than other models.

It is now accepted that “human beings are capable of learning one or more new languages at any time. However, findings from research on language acquisition and from brain research have produced evidence that the acquisition of an unfamiliar language should take place as early as possible. It has been shown, for instance, that children up to the age of six can learn to speak a second language without an accent. Up to the age of puberty, syntax and morphology can be acquired with less effort than subsequently. However, many other factors also have a bearing on children’s learning attainment. These include the quality of the teaching staff and the materials used, and the duration and intensity of the language contact.
Recommendations
  • The childhood foreign language acquisition process should be viewed in as close association as possible with linguistic development in the mother tongue.
  • During the language learning process, the child should be given sufficient opportunities to try out newly learnt material in social interaction, e.g. with the teacher or with fellow pupils.
  • The realisation that language acquisition is clearly a phased process entails a rethink on the issue of errors arising during language-learning: errors are now seen to be development steps along the path of language acquisition: that is to say, they are a legitimate sub-aspect of the learning process, and as such should be dealt with patiently and tactfully.
  • Practitioners and teachers should see errors as valuable evidence of the stage that the language acquisition process has reached, and use them to help in giving the child continued support.

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