Sunday, August 14, 2016

FLUENTU and 7 Theories for Language Learning

7 Great Theories About Language Learning by Brilliant Thinkers

Theories of language learning have been bandied about since about as far back as one would care to look. It may be surprising to know that theproblems that philosophers in Ancient Greece and 16th century France were concerned about are largely still relevant today.
To get a quick rundown of early language learning theory, let’s take a quick look at the ideas of three brilliant philosophers who you’ve probably already heard of.

1. Plato’s Problem

Plato's writing stretch all the way back to the beginnings of Western philosophical thought...In the nature versus nurture debate, Plato tended to side with nature, believing that knowledge was innateBeing born with this knowledge solves the quandary summarized by Bertrand Russell “Why is it that human beings, whose contacts with the world are brief and personal and limited, are nevertheless able to know as much as they do know?” 

2. Cartesian Linguistics, by Descartes

Centuries later, the French philosopher Descartes took a crack at linguistic philosophy. In his opinion, language acquisition was the straightforward and innately rational part of being human.  But rather than Descartes himself, it was the rationalist "Cartesian" movement that he symbolized  that was most important for linguistics, because of the notion of creativity involved in everyday language. The emerging idea was that there were universal principles connecting each and every language. 

3. Locke’s Tabula Rasa -- or the blank slate.

Stated briefly is the idea that all knowledge comes from outside ourselves through sensory experience [rather than through innate knowledge that we have at birth], a theory which has important implications.
-- If Plato and the Cartesians are right, then the emphasis in language learning must lie on what we already know, using our innate abilities to come to an understanding of the particularities of a specific language.
-- If Locke is right, then we must focus our attention on sensory input, gaining as much external input as possible.

4. B.F. Skinner’s Theory of Behaviorism (mid 20th century)

According to behaviorism, a radical variant of which was put forward by Skinner, all behavior is no more than a response to external stimuli and there’s no innate programming within a human being to learn a language at birth.
But Skinner's level of detail separates him from other Behaviorists. His concept “operant conditioning," suggests that language learning grows through the process of reinforcement and punishment," such that
individuals are conditioned into saying the right thing. For instance, if you’re hungry and you’re able to say “Mommy, I’m hungry,” you may be rewarded with food and your behavior will thereby be reinforced since you got what you wanted.  In other words, feedback is required to succeed.

5. Norm Chomsky’s (nearly opposite) Universal Grammar

This theory asserts that all language have universal structures to help us acquire them. Chomsky couldn't get around Plato's problem.  And if Skinner were right, how is it that children can learn a language so quickly, creating and understanding sentences they have never heard before?
Universal Grammar implies there is a set of grammar rules to be acquired in order to launch our understanding of languages. This has been accepted by lots of textbook writers, but has also been roundly criticized as less than helpful and overly complex. 
Next come two perhaps more practical theories.

6. John Schumann’s Acculturation Model

This describes the process by which immigrants pick up a new language while being completely immersed in that language, and ignores grammar rules and vocab lists.  He insists that language learning is not an abstract subject like physics that can be learned out of a book, but instead, one must pay attention to the sociological factors at play:  The more we do to connect with the culture on the other end of our second language, the faster and easier it will be for us to learn that language.

7. Stephen Krashen’s Monitor Model -- has become the most cited theory in  most cited theory in second language acquisition today. Here are the highlights:

  • Language acquisition is subconscious and results from informal, natural communication.
  • as opposed to: Language learningwhich is conscious and driven by error correction (more formal); both are needed.
  • Grammar structures are acquired in a predictable order.
  • Language acquisition occurs with comprehensible input (i.e. hearing or reading things that are just slightly above our current language level).
  • A monitor is anything that corrects your language performance and pressures one to “communicate correctly and not just convey meaning” (such as a language teacher who corrects you when you make a grammatical mistake).
This theory suggests that we should both strive to increase
1.  our second language input (all sorts of listening, and reading) and also to generate
2.  some guided output, for which we can receive helpful, comprehensible, progressive error correction.
Which theory supports the sort of language class you would like to participate in? --rsb

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