The Role of Native Language in Second Language Acquisition

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  • 0:04 Learning a New Language
  • 1:03 Frequent Native Language Use
  • 2:22 No Native Language Use
  • 3:46 Middle Ground
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the various schools of thought surrounding the use of native language in second-language education, ranging from using it often to not using it at all.

Learning a New Language

Learning a second language can be a fun but frustrating experience. It can open up new doors in life and a career, such as allowing you to speak to neighbors from a foreign country or giving you the inside track on a bilingual position in your company. For all its benefits, few people ever learn a second language, because truly mastering one can be quite difficult. There are many reasons for this difficulty, but in this lesson we'll discuss one of the more contentious subjects in second language education: the role of a student's native language, which is the language the student grew up speaking.

There are various schools of thought as to the best way to acquire knowledge of a second language, and one of the major differences of opinion centers on whether or not the student's native language should be used. The battle between those who support its use and those who oppose it is actually rather fierce. In the following sections, we'll spend a little time breaking down the current landscape and talking about when a student's native language is used extensively, sparingly, or not at all.

Frequent Native Language Use

Many older language learning systems allow the use of the native language extensively. Indeed, many encourage it, especially those systems which teach grammar first and foremost. It allows for the explanation of complex grammatical concepts, especially ones which don't exist in the speaker's native language (such as feminine or masculine words for English speakers) in terms which the student can readily understand.

Proponents of these systems also think students gain a quicker ability to read and write in their second language when they're taught using their native language. Since the student's education is more focused on grammar and language concepts, proponents claim students grasp the language's inherent structure quicker and are able to effectively read and write in their second language sooner than if they aren't allowed to use their native language.

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