How My Language History Affects My Language Learning Perspective I was born and raised in China in the 70’s. In my country, being able to read at an early age was encouraged and it reflected on the parents’ skills. My mother used flash cards to teach me some English words…
Visual images such as the pictures in the flashcards also bring life experience and background knowledge to what is being viewed. Nowadays, using flashcards to teach language is not recommended because research shows that actual experience with real objects and activities promote language learning better. However, in my time, my mother did not know any better, but I believe it worked for me. In my time, the English language was formally introduced to Chinese children in the intermediate grades. It was taught with a phonetic approach of learning the alphabet first, its symbol and sound and eventually, its grammar. I felt not much connection to the English language at that time. It was only taught by rote but not practiced enough for verbal expression. Besides, it is a far cry from how young children learn language today, with hands-on, interesting and engaging activities. If in my time, it was taught that way, then, I believe I would have learned the English language better and at a faster rate. Bishop-Glynn (1999) cites the study of Wong-Filmore (1991) which finds that language differences between the home and school depends on the dominant language used. The language dominant in the wider society is usually maintained. In my case, Chinese language prevailed over English in our society, so English did not create a strong impression on me then. Still, Baker (2006) contends that evidence supports that there are cognitive and performance advantages in being bilingual over being monolingual. Cummins (1986) mentioned the BICS or the Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills and the CALP or the Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency as two tools in second language learning. Baker (2006) explained that students engage in BICS when they communicate with contextual supports and props such as face-to face “context embedded” situations where they read the other person’s non-verbal gestures, hand movements and sounds to support verbal communication. On the other hand, CALP happens in “context reduced” situations requiring higher order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis or evaluation. This is usually encountered in more academic learning and communication where language is “disembedded” (Baker, 2006). On hindsight, I realize that while I was learning English, I was experiencing BICS and CALP as my classmates and I struggled to teach each other how to communicate in a foreign language not only with our speech but also our bodies. In school, we were taught the more formal Chinese language, Mandarin. However, at home, I spoke our dialect. So at that particular time in my life, I was speaking 3 languages! It reflected the culture I belonged to because we were a traditional Chinese family trying to adjust to modern changes and language is one aspect of the progress we were heading to. Makin, Campbell & Diaz (1995) discussed additive and subtractive bilingualism. One issue in second language acquisition is its effect on the first language of the individual. The immense concentration necessary to learn a second language may create a negative impact on the first language. This is known as Subtractive bilingualism. When a child becomes fluent in a second language due to immersion in that language, there is a strong tendency to forget the first language, causing disruptions in communication with family members who only know the first language. That was not the case with me since I continued speaking Chinese at home. There was no risk of ...
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