• Bilingual Education versus English Only Models


    Over the years, many debates have arisen in regards to second language instruction (L2), giving prominence to two main models: English Only versus Bilingual Education. English Only uses solely English as the medium for instruction, whereas Bilingual Education, as its name implies, uses both English and the student’s native language. While there are several aspects to the debate, this paper will briefly cover a certain few: cultural sensitivity, accuracy, and segregation.

    Proponents of the English Only model claim that the use of a student’s native language creates a “cycle of native language dependency,” meaning that the student, to some extent, gets “tethered” to his native tongue. Using solely English in the classroom, advocates say, frees students to think and speak in English, thus facilitating language acquisition. However, those teachers who prefer Bilingual Education believe a student’s first language is a foundation for learning; in other words, bilingual teachers use the native language as a valuable medium for language instruction.

    Interestingly enough, bilingual educators state the concept of native-language “dependency” creates a hierarchy between L1 and L2, or rather, it devalues a student’s native language. This is Bilingual Education’s cultural argument: the student’s cultural identity is very important, and therefore, the attempt to “wean students off their native language” is seen as demoralizing, confusing, and a detriment to motivation. The proponents of the English Only method counter this point by stating the early difficulties of L2 acquisition in an English only environment is compensated later with satisfaction of learning a second language, pride, and success.

    By nature, a bilingual classroom will segregate students into various groups: Chinese native speakers will be grouped together, Spanish native speakers will be grouped together, and so on. The English Only model instead encourages exactly the opposite: it groups students by language proficiency level while advocating mixed native speaking groups. This hodge-podge, they say, will increase trust among students rather than creating a “fall back” into native speaking groups. In addition, it promotes the use of English across cultures, one of the main reasons many students desire to learn English.

    This debate continues to go on in the world of L1 and L2 acquisition, and both sides bring valid points into the argument. The English Only immersion model tends to rest its philosophy on the fact that students need to begin to think in English; total immersion facilitates the process. On the other hand, Bilingual Education tends to see L2 acquisition as a slower, more deliberate learning process, creating a bridge from a student’s native language to English. Both models are still used today.

    Keith Lin

  • First Language vs Second Language Acquisition


    A child learns his or her first language in a situation of complete immersion. The parents speak with each other, with others, and with the child, and gradually the child progresses to ever higher levels of competence. There is no doubt that by being involved in real-life situations, and with constant modeling from others, that a child can best learn a language. Additional language use in games, songs, and with peers is also invaluable in becoming familiar with how the language can be used. It is often the case that when learning a second language, a child or an adult will be in a classroom situation, perhaps for only one or two short periods a week, and often unrelated to other learning experiences. For adult learners, with other commitments and pressures, and long unused to studying, the task is even more challenging.

    It is useful at this point to take the case of a child who is suddenly immersed in a foreign language environment, for example the child of an immigrant worker. The child needs to assimilate the language rapidly in order to integrate socially, and to succeed in their studies. By spending a large proportion of their time communicating in the local language at school, a young child is said to absorb the language like a sponge. The teenager or parent, however, may have greater difficulty, for the reasons stated above, but also for reasons of greater self-awareness.

    A Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach can be considered to be an ideal method for teaching a second (or third, etc) language to a non-native speaker, by attempting to imitate the target language environment, if only during class-time. Communicative Language Teaching is the label with which we describe the practice of teaching modern foreign languages in a way in which communication in the target language is encouraged, replacing the older method of teaching through the traditional ‘grammar/translation’ route. Key factors in CLT involve the use of the target language wherever possible in the classroom. By immersing the student in a foreign language environment, it becomes more possible to develop their ability in the key skills of language and language learning. Pupils need to learn how to listen carefully for gist and detail, how to ask and answer questions and how to use context and other clues to interpret meaning.

    By communicating in the target language, we engage use of the language in authentic situations, for example at registration, to remove coats, to open exercise books or to put pens down. This develops students’ ‘coping’ strategies, and the more language they are exposed to, the more we can hope they will acquire. The motivational element of this practice, and the enjoyment experienced by students through their use of the target language from the very first day of study, should not be underestimated.

    Through the additional use of ICT, authentic audio and video material, authentic written material and even the handling of authentic products (foods, supermarket brochures, timetables) students can feel involved in the learning process and can remain interested in the culture of the language that they are studying. It is essential however, that reading and writing skills are not sacrificed for the sake of listening and speaking skills, to ensure that students are able to develop at an equal pace in all areas. Creativity and variety are infinitely more effective in the delivery of lesson content than tight control, or constant correction.

    In order to improve a student’s accuracy in their use of the target language, whilst recognizing the importance of their ability to express themselves above the exact nature of their delivery, it is beneficial to offer encouragement, discourage shyness or embarrassment, and to create a positive atmosphere. The most often used method is where the teacher repeats the pupil’s contribution, with the correct pronunciation, or the correct phrase, without directly mentioning any mistakes made. In this way the whole class will benefit from hearing the correct word or phrase.

    Debyser wrote that ‘C’est en communiquant qu’on apprend à communiquer’*: We learn to communicate with one another, by so doing. When teaching a second language to an individual or to a class, regardless of their social situation, age, or any other external factors, we can best hope to help them succeed by providing them with an as near authentic target language environment as possible. 

    Nikki James

  • First Language versus Second Language Acquisition


    A language is learned by a person in two basic methods. The most common and effective method is to learn the language starting as baby in a rich cultural, visual and verbal environment. Here the learning is informal, stimulating and fun and the language is learned by the child as its brain matures. The brain at this stage is also in its most plastic stage and vocal muscle control is learned with language development generally without emotional hindrance. The second way is a formal method, usually where a second language is learned after puberty. The brain has since undergone specialization, and a conscious effort must be made by a person in order to grasp the new language. While the acquisition of language structure may be faster, verbalization is much more difficult to achieve by the average mature person. All learning is very influenced by visual cues and non verbal language. Thus a teacher with good visual aids is a very important component in the learning process

    The first language is stored in a different part of the brain to subsequent languages. Therewith, the learning process is embedded in the growing brain as it also learns to interact and command the muscles of speech. A child’s brain is more flexible than an adult’s brain, not as specialized and before around 11-13 years of age the brain has about twice as many neurons than an adult brain (4). Thus on average a person will always pronounce his/her “mother tongue” better in line with the way the surroundings pronounced the words, i.e. family and circle of people it interacts with than any language learned later. The emotive feelings evoked by the languages learned by the growing brain are also usually more intense than through languages learned later.True, bi/multi-lingual abilities are obtained when the child learns an additional language as a baby, or while very young (4). When the brain deteriorates in old age the language learned as a baby is retained better than the language learned at the adult stage. When the child is very young the language is learned in the same way as the first language and both languages are typically jumbled when the child first speaks (2). The child learns, however, to use the different languages under different circumstances (e. to grandparents) (1). Thus an appreciation of the difference between the languages develops as the child grows.

    The learning of a second language is deposited in parts of the matured brain different from that of the first language learned as a baby (4). Extra steps need to be taken with learning the second language. The learning of language takes place at a more conscious level, like the study of mathematics or scientific principles. The greater ability of the brain enables a more structured learning process such and grammatical constructing, examining and learning tenses etc, (4). The drive to learn and responsibility of learning is generated and owned by the student. The control of muscle structure to command speech is superimposed on the muscular control system of the first language. This generates what is known as accent (while expressing the language orally). The ability to hear is also different to that of a child and so the command of the written language can be achieved usually much better than the spoken word.

    Emotional issues like embarrassment can impede the learning, (1). Thus it is important the teacher relaxes and inspires the student and makes the learning process a pleasure, (3). Motivation to learn is vastly enhanced if the material to be learned is readily related by the student.

    There are two methods of learning, the formal and the informal method. The informal way of learning is by example in everyday life. The formal method of learning is through structural learning in the classroom. The typical time taken by a student to become fluent in the new language is about 5 years. An accent usually remains unless the student is very talented. It is reported that a musical ability also helps minimise the accent, as does audio learning with feedback (3). All learning is very influenced by visual cues and non verbal language. Thus a teacher with good visual aids is a very important component in the learning process (2).

    A language is learned by a person in two basic ways. The most effective way is to learn the language in a rich cultural, visual and verbal environment with much positive encouragement as usually experienced by growing children. Here the learning is stimulating and fun, and the language is learned by the child as its brain matures and vocal muscle control is learned with language development. The second way of learning a language is by academic instructions where language is learned according to its structure. Here a conscious effort must be made by a person who has to be of maturity and drive. While the acquisition of language may be faster, verbalization is much more difficult to achieve by the average person. All learning is very influenced by visual cues and non verbal language. Thus a teacher with powers of visualization is a very important component in the language learning process.


    • Emotional Intelligence by David Coleman, Bloomsbury, London; 1995
    • Investment in Excellence, Lou Tice, The Pacific Institute, Seattle, 2003
    • TESOL Course Material, The International TEFL Corporation , Phuket, 2007.
    • The Human Mind by Robert Winston, Barton Books, London; 2003

    Barbara Wendlandt