Theories of Language Learning

School often becomes a difficult experience for many children, especially during the first years of studying. Students need to organize their schedule themselves and be able to concentrate during lectures. Another problem for many children is interaction with classmates and teachers. New circumstances and people might become stressful for a child; that is why he/she might not be able to study well. An 11-year-old bilingual student, whose native languages are English and Spanish and who is going to study French, is analyzed in the current project. The case study consists of recommendations for the student’s learning program and analysis according to certain theories of language learning.

The student is disruptive and active in class, has problems with concentration; therefore, it might be easier for him to switch from one exercise to another. Quick changes of activities might reduce his inclination to daydreaming. It is possible to suppose that the student is not performing to his potential because he is not interested in the subject and is not motivated. He might be interested in subjects that allow students to use their imagination and creative thinking. He is not trying to perform to and above his potential and is not systematic in his learning style. As it was mentioned before, the student is bilingual and speaks both English and Spanish fluently. He is a compound bilingual and does not divide the meaning system of languages he speaks. According to Brown (2007), such bilingual children do not have problems with mixing the languages, but they often engage in switching codes, inserting phrases and words into the speech in other languages. It is possible to talk about certain aptitude for languages this student might have, though it is impossible to measure this category in a reliable way. In addition, it does not guarantee future success in learning French. Spanish belongs to the same Roman group of languages, just like French. That is why it might be easier for this student to learn it because semantic and grammatical basics of the languages of the Roman group are similar. It might be better for this student to learn French by analogy with Spanish. Though, there is one important issue in this strategy: the teacher needs to emphasize the differences of these languages so that the student will not have troubles mixing them up.

According to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, there are two types of intelligence: figurative and operative. The current student, who prefers daydreaming to studying in the classroom, is more likely to have the figurative type of intelligence. Piaget states that biological mental abilities of different people are equal. The distinction becomes evident only in the process of studying. That is why it is necessary for both teachers and parents of this student to pay more attention to his classes. Geary and Bjorklund write:

Biologically primary abilities are acquired universally, and children typically have high motivation to perform the tasks involving them. In contrast, biologically secondary abilities are culturally determined, and often-tedious repetition and external motivation are necessary for their mastery. From this perspective, it is understandable that many children have difficulty with reading and higher mathematics (Genovese, 2003).

The process of studying at school refers mostly to the certain operational stage of cognitive development that means that all students have to cope with specific tasks in a specific way. However, the speed of work in the classroom is the speed of the majority, so both the students who are not able to keep up the tempo and who are too quick might have problems with the educational process. The given student might belong to one of these categories; that is why he even does not try to work in the classroom. Perhaps, the teacher and the parents need to create an individual program for this child so that he will not have problems at school. If the student is more intelligent than the majority of his classmates, the teacher needs to give him additional exercises (Genovese, 2003).

According to Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development is “the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with a more capable peer” (Shabani, 2010). In other words, it is the current stage of the intellectual development of the child where he can do things without help and the next level where the help of adults is needed. The student has his strong and weak points in cognitive activity. He has a developed imagination and much energy. Creativity is the thing that does not require any help. The student’s weak point is self-organization and systematization. These aspects belong to his zone of proximal development, and he might be able to reach these goals with the help of teachers and parents.

Based on this information, it is possible to recommend the student’s teacher of French to use a communicative approach during the class. It might be effective to use working in groups, discussing and presenting stories, peer reviewing. The teacher might ask the students to discuss questions on the subject. These activities aim at better language acquisition and making the passive vocabulary an active one. They also promote active participation in the lesson. Even though the level of French of the student is basic, he needs to make attempts and try to speak up even if he makes numerous mistakes and mixes Spanish constructions with French words (Ruchard-Amato, 1996).

It is also necessary to note that the student is 11 years old, and he is psychologically unstable at this age. The child might feel scared in the new school environment, and that might cause the problems in his learning process. According to Erikson, each child goes through an identification period that includes a set of expectations of the society from him, which helps him to learn what he wants. The analyzed student might be currently going through this stage because he is not interested in adopting the roles of other significant people like his parents and teachers. This child seems to try creating his own world that fully reflects his personality; this might be an explanation of daydreaming at school. Erikson writes that childhood is the time when kids try to do things right, be good and responsible. It is also the age of formation of self-confidence. Children learn to cooperate with their classmates and teachers and need to gain recognition in these groups. The student under discussion has problems with recognition – teachers are not satisfied with the way he studies. This might lead to the feeling of inferiority that might harm the student’s development in the future. If the child does not develop his interests, it will cause apathy, low self-esteem, and the lack of motivation. There is a possibility that the student had problems at the previous stages of psychological development in the dichotomies trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame and doubt, and initiative vs. guilt (Sokol, 2009).

That is why it is crucial that the lessons of foreign language be interactive. Active communication, discussions, urgent subjects to talk about, games, and more democratic atmosphere than at the lessons of Chemistry might make the adaptation process of the student easier and might lead to more effective studying of French. The linguists often distinguish the categories of competence and performance in learning a foreign language. Listening and reading refer to the comprehension activities, while writing and speaking are actual production and performance activities.

It is possible to emphasize certain recommendations given by Brown (2000) that refer to teaching the second foreign language on the basis of the first language acquisition. The general issues are the following:

· Practice is the main thing in learning the new language, no matter how advanced the student is. In the current case of the bilingual 11-year-old child, he also needs individual supervision in order to make the process of learning effectively.

· Imitation is very important in the process of language acquisition. That is why the student needs to repeat everything from the sounds to mimics and sentences while learning.

· Listening is important in language learning. Small children listen to grown-ups first and then start speaking. The same thing is with language acquisition – it is a natural process.

· As it was mentioned earlier, learning the new language is natural, so there is no need to translate everything.

· Learning formal grammar is not a priority in the first stages of learning the language.

Learning of foreign language depends on the variety of external and internal factors. The educational program needs to be created according to these details. In the current case study, a possible language learning style of an 11-year-old bilingual boy who is very active and has problems with concentration was analyzed. According to the research, he needs to be taught in a natural way, with rapid changes in activities in the classroom. The main method might be a communicative one; in general, the learning process needs to be interactive.