Age effects on foreign language learning

Since Penfield (1953) settled an optimum age for language learning within the first decade of life, the idea that children have an advantage over adults in foreign language acquisition has been widespread until present days. Further researches, as Lenneberg’s critical period concept (1967), stated that language capacity was determined by neurological basis situated at puberty. Krasen (1979) stated that adults and older children carry on through early stages of syntactic and morphological development faster than young children, while students who are naturally exposed to a second language during childhood generally achieve higher proficiency on that language, rather than those beginning as adults. It is clear then the relationship between three main factors: age, amount of exposure and eventual accomplishment in second language acquisition.

As mentioned in the Teaching English as a Third Language Cenoz paper, early introduction of English at schools has no negative effects on the acquisition of other languages (referring to L1 or L2) or overall cognitive development. I’m going to develop the arguments deeply in the following paragraphs as well as refute some myths widespread about age influence on foreign language learning.

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Multilingualism for everyone


sense-titolClick here to watch TED Talk: Kim Potovsky “No child left monolingual”

Kim Potowsky is Associate Professor of Spanish linguistics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she directs the Spanish heritage language program. In this TED talk she describes the individual and social benefits of multilingualism as well as its history in the United States. In this post I’m going to briefly sum up the main ideas she has exposed in her talk and further reflections that have crossed my mind.

There are 65% bilingual or multilingual people all over the world but, as Potowsky focuses her research on US, she found that only 20% of the citizens speak non-English languages at home. The fact is that America exhibits and promotes multilingualism, by neither encouraging immigrants to maintain their heritage language nor promoting other languages to be learnt, a part from English. US doesn’t have an official language, but it is obvious that English is required all over the country to success in a professional and social way. Some myths have been heard during many years regarding immigrants and their capability for speaking English, which Potowsky refutes easily, by showing some census results reporting that over 75% of people who speak another language in the home can speak well or very well English. That means society is making the effort to become integrated in the English speaking countries but… why are they forgetting about their heritage language?

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Do you speak English?

Click here to watch the 30 minuts ‘Do you speak Enlish?’ documentary

Globalisation has changed world citizens’ lifestyle; nowadays people has other needs and interests, enabling easy communication and commerce between countries and establishing then a common language spoken all over the world, which is English. In Catalonia, migration and tourism have influenced the spoken language too, when Catalans are required a good English command when applying for a job. Even though English has been tough in schools for more than 30 years, Catalan society is not enough prepared to achieve that linguistic requirements. Actually, Catalan people have some advantages when learning a language due to the fact we are bilinguals; we have proficient commands on Spanish and Catalan. Knowing two languages helps developing strategies while learning a third language, or foreign language. Therefore, why is it so complicate for society to have good English commands?

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Literal Lyrics Video as a teaching tool

After being browsing in many different Education and resources websites for a while, I’ve ended  in this ESL project ideas site, where I’ve been surprisingly inspired by a really good activity to work on music lyrics. The activity consists on creating a literal lyrics video with and for students; instead of printing the lyrics for all the class to read while listening to a song (which is not a bad activity, but it is no longer an exciting activity for students), they suggest to create a short video including students’ pictures to depict what lyrics mention. This could be a hard work, considering the limited time class that we have, but their suggestion is to work all together as a whole group, in which each student has to create a  picture out of a sentence from the lyrics. The result is a nice and easy to understand video clip. I definitely have to try it with my older students! Have a look at the website here, I’m sure you’ll find other interesting resources!

The ideal classroom

A classroom is the space where students spend lots of hours, this is why classrooms should cover the needs of our students. For me it should be a good space for them to communicate, interact and feel comfortable. In this website you can get some ideas and advice too. Here I have my own (and very simple) ideal classroom for lower Primary years (Cicle inicial-mitjà). What about yours?