sábado, 26 de febrero de 2011

Curiosities about English features

How is language generated and developed in the child’s brain?
Chomsky talks about the well-known LAD (Language Acquisition Device), according to which the process takes place in a completely natural manner, and is a result of a series of neurological developments that take place in the central lobes of our brain. Chomsky called it magic device for he did not know what else to call it. According to this author, the process occurs naturally as a result of a series of neurological processes. The actual, precise and detailed way in which our brain cells do this is still a mystery for linguists and neurologists alike.
It is still unknown when these processes are developed, when they get established and how they work. Researchers in this respect are still trying to come to a conclusive outcome in this field.
 However, the idea of human language as the only possible amongst living beings so that the line between rational/irrational would define what proper language was, is now considered obsolete. Human language is just one of the many possible languages in our universe. The codes with which certain animals establish communication or send alert signals or ask other animals for help, (the bird’s calls, the wolf’s howling) or even other type of communication such as the musical score or the mathematical theorems are as important types of languages as the human language is. In fact, an interesting study could be the establishment of the starting point for the bird call to be an inspiration for certain movements in famous classical symphonies such as Vivaldi’s The Spring.
Just as we cannot determine how exactly the human language is established in our brain, we cannot establish how any of these other type of languages is formed and established.

How are first and then second languages developed in a young brain?
At about 18 months of age, children begin to combine words to create compositional utterances. These utterances are either isolated words or segments of words that a parent (mother or father) will recognize and understand.
The limitations that restrict children’s speech to a fraction of the necessary units for a fully elaborated sentence seem nonetheless constrained by the rules of grammar.
There are two very illustrative ways in which this happens:
1) The word order
2) The extension of syntactic rules to the irregularities

a)  Word order
In an impressive manner, infants in the first year are able to distinguish between meanings of reversible sentences using only word order as a clue. In a book called Bilingualism in Development, Ellen Bialystok shows that several comprehension tests carried out with children of this age have demonstrated these apparently precocious abilities:
Infants are seated in front of two monitors, each depicting one direction of action between two agents (cat chases dog; dog chases cat), while a tape is played that describes only one of the scenes (“the cat is chasing the dog”).
These infants look significantly longer at the scene that matches the description than at the one that reverses the direction of action. So, as we can see, in babies whose mother tongue is English, the concept of word order can be already present in a syntactic way by the time they are 18 months old.
Within the first concept, children not only understand the difference between meanings in one scene and in the other. They also acquire a morphological system that includes, as the most important elements, the following three:
- The plural morpheme (babies can differentiate between the concept of “one thing” and the concept of “more than one thing”)
- The verbal form ending in -ing (babies know the difference between an action that is taking place now and an action already completed)
- The correct use of the article (babies recognize if the conversation is about a known subject or an unknown subject)

b) Extension of syntactic rules to the irregularities
At the same time, an extension of syntactic rules to the cases of irregular forms takes place. The result, -both in Spanish and in English- is examples such as the following:

She’s goed (gone) lots of times
I cutted (cut) my finger on a broken glass
She’s my bestest  (best) friend

Ayer hací  los deberes muy pronto
He escribido un montón hoy
Es el más mejor de la clase

Formal aspects and functional aspects crash because the child does not understand why these exceptions take place and he/she still applies them in every case. What he is demonstrating, really, is that he has learnt, from very early on, the essential point of each system of rules, even if he still does not know about the existence of exceptions.

Is Code Switching “allowed” when teaching a second language?
Through reciprocal language teaching, students switch languages at predetermined points pairing students who want to learn each other's languages. Thus the students alternate between the two languages and exchange the roles of student and teacher.
A similar system may also be used by the teacher who uses code switching by starting the lesson in the first language and then moving into the second and back to the mother tongue. This makes the lesson as communicative as possible and is similar to the 'New Concurrent Approach', which gets teachers to balance the use of languages within each lesson at certain key points, such as during important concepts, when students loose attention, during revisions or when students are praised and/or told off. On this basis, switching may be used as an effective teaching strategy for second language learning.
These concepts would suggest that a use of code switching in the classroom would provide for a bilingual norm whereby code switching is seen to be acceptable method of communication. Students then would feel comfortable switching languages within normal conversations providing for a bilingual society.
Interference may occur in this instance by monolingual speakers who attempt to use a second language for a social reason such as solidarity or bilingual speakers attempting to integrate the second language into the first to be understood by monolingual speakers.
It may be concluded then, that when code switching is to compensate for a language difficulty it may be viewed as interference and when it is used a socio-linguistic tool it should not.

The Common European Framework

Between 1998 and 2000, the Council of Europe’s language policy division developed its Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
The aim of this framework was to have a common system for foreign language testing and certification, to cover all European languages and countries.
The Common European Framework (CEF) divides language learners into three levels:
A. Basic User
B. Independent User
C. Proficient User
Each of these levels is divided into two sections, resulting in a total of six levels for testing A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 & C2.

The teaching of English as a foreign language is now one of the most important subjects in most European primary schools. The implementation of English has brought along the need to establish clear objectives that are different to the ones traditionally assigned to secondary schools. While in secondary schools we still find, in many cases, a teaching based in the formal aspects of the language, i.e. grammar; primary school teachers have had to adopt a different approach as the age of the children make the teaching of formal aspects not advisable. As a result of this point of view, the different Educational Departments have decided to establish, as the main purpose of the EFL teaching, the development of the four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. However, the implementation of this approach has not been trouble-free as many teachers insist on asking their children to understand every single word they listen to or read, or expect their pupils to write or speak without making the mistakes normally found in the process of acquiring any language.
A good idea for the students is a language passport. This document is a record of language skills, qualifications and experiencies. The language portfolio consist of  a Passport, language Biography and Dossier containing material which document and illustrate experiences and achivements. Language skills are difined in terms levels of profiency presented in the document: "A Common European Framework of reference for languages: learning, teaching, assessment".

Example Primary Portfolio


Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.

English as an official language

An official language is a language that is given a special legal status in a particular country, state, or other territory. Typically a nation's official language will be the one used in that nation's courts, parliament and administration. However, official status can also be used to give a language (often indigenous) a legal status, even if that language is not widely spoken.
English is an official language in a many countries, in the following list, we can see countries where English language is an officual language:
  • Official language and first language: United kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Canada (It has influence of the French; The lexicon is American but the British spelling), Australia (With influence of indigenous languages), New Zealand (With influence of the Scotch and Irish immigrants of the S XIX), South Africa (To contributed to the universal English words like apartheid or trek) and United States.
  • Official Language (alone or with another languages), sometimes second language:
  • In Europe: Gibraltar and Malta.
  • In Africa: Botswana, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
  • In the Antilles: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Granada, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Anguilla, Virgin Isles, Cayman Islands, Monserrat, Turks and Caicos.
  • In the Atlantic Ocean: The Bahamas, Guyana, the Bermudas, Holy Hellene and Malvinas.
  • In the Indian Ocean: Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles.
  • In Asia: Singapore and Hong Kong.
  • In Oceania: Fidji and Pitcairn, Kiribati, Nauru, New Guinea and Solomon.
The following video is a discussion for decide if English is an official U.S.A language?

English as Bilingualism

A bilingual-multilingual person is one who can communicate in more than one language. Multilingual speakers have acquired and maintained at least one language during childhood, so-called first language. The first language is acquired without formal education. Children acquiring two languages in this way are called simultaneous bilinguals. Even in the case of simultaneous bilinguals one language usually dominates over the other. This kind of bilingualism is most likely to occur when a child is raised by bilingual parents in a predominantly monolingual environment. It can also occur when the parents are monolingual but have raised their child or children in two different countries.

English as a foreign language

"Acquire basic communicative competence is at least one foreign language to enable them to express and understand simple messages and get by in every situations"  LOE Organic Law of Education 2006 Article 17. Chapter II on Primary Education

foreign language is a language not spoken by the people of a certain place. In some countries, learners have lessons taken entirely in a foreign language: for instance, more than half of European countries with a minority/regional language community use partial immersion to teach the minority and the state language. As English is an international language, every country should to speak it as second official language. What are the countries when English is a second language? There are different countries, such as, Philippines, Indian, Bangladesh, Singapore, Sri Lanka, among others.

English is spoken and studied by millions speakers because it´s necessary for to work, to travel, to understand, etc. In Spain, today, English is studied since the children are three years old. There are a number or different reasons for English language study, such as:

  • The school curriculum: probably very students study English because it include on the school curriculum. English is something that both they and their parents want to have taught. For others, however, the study of foreign languages is something they feel neutral, or something negative, on the basis of cultural colonization, about.
  • Advancement: some people want to study English because they think it offers a chance for advancement in their professional lives. They will get a better job with two languages than if they only know their mother tongue
  • English for Specific Purposes: this term is applied to situations where the students have reasons for wanting to learn the language. For example: business executives need English for international trade, the personal of hotel need English for help their clients. These needs are known as English for Occupational Purposes. Students who want to study at an university in Britain, USA, etc; they need English. This kind of need is called English for Academic Purposes. All these needs mean that the type of English the students want to learn may be different depending on the objective of each person.
  •  Culture: some people study English because they want to know the culture, the people who speak English, the places, etc.
  • Miscellaneous: some people do it just for fun, because they like the activity of going to class, music, etc.
There are a lot of methods for learn English, for instance: Vaughan method or the English with 1000 words.
Also, for English classroom there are a lot of didactic methods for teaching english, for instance: Direct method or Total Physical Response, among other.

English as lingua franca

Some languages, often called auxiliary languages, are used primarily as a second language or lingua franca. A lingua franca goes beyond the boundaries of its original community and is use as a second language for communication among communities. A language may be important as a lingua franca in a country or region whose diverse population would otherwise be unable to communicate; it is the mixture between two or more languages to create one of common agreement. The most correct term is the auxiliary language that is the language use between some speakers with different mother language. For instance, this is especially true in the former colonies of England and France whose colonial languages have remained indispensable even after independence. French and English are both languages of wider, and yet the changing positions of the two languages in international affairs during the past century illustrate the extent to which the status of a language depends on extralinguistic factors. Also, lingua franca is known as a vehicular language because it is a language that anybody uses for a common understand among people when the mother tongue is different. Acceptance may be caused by mutual agreement or political, economic, etc.

Language and communicative competence concept

Language is a medium of communication within the family and society. Every tongue expresses the culture of a society. It is the communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures, or written symbols. Noam Chomsky said: “A very important aspect of language has to do with the establishment of social relations and interactions. Often, this is described as communication”.

It is very important for one to learn how to communicate with their surroundings as it is impossible to live without communication. If a person is mute or deaf, they must learn how to speak by using sign language. One characteristic of language as the mother tongue is finding names for objects and people within the child´s, so it is possible for a child to graso, repeat and understand the world.

"Communicative competence is an ability to choose right verbal and non-verbal medium as well as to take into consideration the specific speaking situation” Hymes, 1994. Features:
  • Communication is the exchange and negotiation of information between at least two individuals.
  •  We can differentiate verbal and non-verbal, written and oral, formal and informal, and intentional and unintentional communication
  •  It is a form of social interaction, and it is normally acquired and used in such an interaction.
  •  It always has a purpose.
  •  It involves verbal and non-verbal language, such as gestures and body language.
  • The role of context is essential when analyzing the meaning conveyed by any communicative act.
  •  It usually involves a high degree of unpredictability and creativity.
Diferent authors speak about the meaning of communicative competences, for instance:
  • 1966 Hymes criticized the simplicity of Chomsky’s theories: He introduced the concept of communicative competence, paying special attention to the sociolinguistic component, which connected language and culture.
  •  1980 Canale and Swain. Communicative sub-competences: Grammatical competence, Strategic competence and Sociolinguistic competence
  •  1983 Canale: the main goal to attain with strategic competence is not only to compensate for breakdowns in communication, but also to enhance the effectiveness of communication.
  •  1990 Bachman in a more recent research of communicative competence, divides it into "organizational competence," which includes both grammatical and discourse (or textual) competence, and "pragmatic competence," which includes both sociolinguistic and "illocutionary" competence.
  •  Council of Europe, communicative competence can be broken down into three sub-competences: linguistic competence, sociolinguistic competence and pragmatic or discourse competence. Strategic competence can also be added.