Cummins (2001) is the researcher most closely associated with the theory that use of the mother tongue can support second language acquisition and the learning of subject content. Cummins postulates the existence of a common underlying proficiency (CUP), so that knowledge, understanding and skills acquired in language 1 are available for use in language 2. As Cummins states: "Conceptual knowledge developed in one language helps to make input in the other language comprehensible." For example, if a child learns the concepts of "justice" or "honesty" in her own language, all she has to do is acquire the label for these terms in English. She has a far more difficult task, however, if she has to acquire both the label and the concept in her second language.
It is very difficult to predict in second language acquisition what makes some people learn faster and better than others. Some factors have been isolated as playing some part in this. For example, age is one such factor (). Although the commonly held view that children are better L2 learners is a gross oversimplification if not a complete myth, differences have been found between children and adults, primarily in terms of eventual outcome. Although teenagers and adults have been found to be generally better and faster L2 learners than young children in the initial stages of the learning process (on a wide range of different measures), children, however, usually carry on progressing until they become indistinguishable from native speakers whereas adults do not, especially as far as pronunciation is concerned. Whether this is due to the process of acquisition having changed fundamentally in adulthood (e.g. because UG is not available anymore once the L1 has been acquired), or for other reasons (e.g. the process remains the same but stops short of native competence), is an issue hotly debated today, and the source of much empirical investigation (). The fact remains, though, that the route followed by young and older L2 learners is essentially the same, and is similar in many respects to that followed by children learning that language as a native language.
The cognitive and information processing models generally, which originate from psychology (and neurolinguistics), claim, on the other hand, that language learning is no different from other types of learning, and is the result of the human brain building up networks of associations on the basis of input. Information processing models see learning as the shift from controlled processes (dealt with in the short term or working memory and under attentional control) to automatised processes stored in the long term memory (retrieved quickly and effortlessly). Through this process, what starts as declarative knowledge (knowing 'that') becomes procedural knowledge (knowing 'how') which becomes automatic through repeated practice. Recently, connectionist models have further assumed that all learning takes place through the building of patterns which become strengthened through practice. Computer models of such processes have had some success in replicating the L1 and L2 acquisition of some linguistic patterns (e.g. past tense, gender; ; ). The view of language encapsulated within connectionism, as this view of cognition is called, is fundamentally different from linguistic models, where language is seen as a system of rules rather than as patterned behaviour.
Pathological studies ofchildren who acquired their first language, or aspects thereof, became fuel for arguments of biologically determined predispositions, timedfor release, which would wane if the correct environmental stimuli were not present at the crucial stage.
The "classic" argument is thata critical point for second language acquisition occurs around puberty, beyond which people seem to be relatively incapable of acquiring a nativelikeaccent of the second language.
We were joined a while ago by an Italian boy who had a little German but no English. He did not want to be here and had to be dragged in (literally) by his parents on the first day. He refused to speak any English at all (even in ESL class) for his first 4-5 months at the school. However, after he overcame his initial negativity and high anxiety (or, in Krashen's terms, after his affective filter came down), he listened attentively in class and spoke German when he needed to communicate. Shortly after Christmas he decided that he was ready to speak English and he did so with an accuracy and fluency some way beyond the other students in the class. [Admittedly, his classmates were Asians whose native languages are much further from English than Italian is. It also helped that the boy had already had the experience of learning a foreign language.]
In order to answer when one should learn a second language, one should first determine what one wants to optimize: the end result or time devoted to learning. As a rule of thumb, a language which is learned before the ages of 6-9 is typically learnt to a level where the speaker has no detectable accent and is very comfortable using it. However, this requires that a child spends a considerable amount of time hearing and using the novel language. On the other hand, if a language is learnt later, speakers may have a slight accent in their pronunciation but may otherwise reach a very proficient native-like level. Moreover, in proportion adults spend typically less time on the actual learning compared to small children learning a language. Of course adults can also learn a language through the environment in which case the time devoted to learning is similar to that of small children. Adults who learn this way nevertheless have an accent while otherwise reaching a good level. It should also be noted that while children are able to learn a language without an accent, both adults and children learn vocabulary equally well.
Recent decades have seen a dramatic increase in the number of non-native speakers of English in the classrooms of Great Britain, the USA and other English-speaking countries. Educators in this period have been debating how best to meet the special needs of these students. In broad terms there are two opposing approaches: 1. maximize the learner's exposure to English; 2. provide instruction in the mother tongue as well as in English. Krashen is a strong advocate of the second approach, which finds its implementation in one of the forms of bilingual education.
At the drafting stage students write their ideas down using some of the notes, language, and structures generated during the pre-writing activities. Second language students especially need to be aware that their first draft does not have to be perfect and that the purpose of this activity is to get words on paper. Spelling will often not be accurate and there may be many grammatical errors. Some students may also insert words in their native language.
This simple fact is known by all who have themselves learned a second language or taught those who are using their second language in school. Clearly, some language learners are successful by virtue of their sheer determination, hard work and persistence. However there are other crucial factors influencing success that are largely beyond the control of the learner. These factors can be broadly categorized as internal and external. It is their complex interplay that determines the speed and facility with which the new language is learned.
Italian is consistent for two main reasons. Firstly, the Accademia della Crusca was established in 1583 and has spent several centuries since regulating the Italian language; the existence of such an academy has enabled wide-ranging and effective spelling consistency. Secondly, Standard Italian only has five vowels; , , , , and , which makes it much easier to distinguish between them on paper. Other examples of languages with five vowel systems are Spanish and Japanese, both of which also have shallow orthographies. Japanese is an interesting case; some words are written using the Japanese characters, which accurately represent the sound of the words, but other words are written with adapted Chinese characters, which represent the meaning of the words and don't represent the sound at all.