Child developmentOne of the many challenges facing South African teachers is cultural diversity in the classroom. Many english
schools are acquiring students who come from non-english
speaking homes, but who expect to be taught english
as a first language. In a mixed classroom this can pose a problem, as some children are native english
speakers while others never speak english
at home and are not exposed to english
According to the Centre for Applied Linguistics (Hukuta & Pease-Alvarez, 1992) research increasingly shows the cognitive, cultural, and economic advantages of bilingualism. But, when and how do children acquire a second language and what is the most effective way of supporting second language children in a first language environment?
All children acquire a first language in a similar way, starting from infancy. Children that are exposed to two languages at this stage develop the languages at the same speed as children who are only learning one language. There is also strong evidence that children that are not exposed to a language under the age of seven years may never acquire the language (Beverly A. Clark). Given this evidence it makes sense that the best time for children to learn a second language is at the same time that they are learning their first language, but this is not always possible as many households only speak one language.
When children are learning english
as a second language they go through some normal stages of acquiring the language.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing association institute these stages are:
1. Interference – Children may directly translate their home language into english
, for example, when asking what the time is in Afrikaans one says “hoe laat is dit?” which is directly translated as “how late is it?”
2. Silent period – When children are exposed to a second language they focus on listening and comprehension. During this stage children may become very quite as they focus on understanding the second language.
3. Code switching – This is when children mix the first and second language in phrases or sentences.
4. Language loss – Children can learn english
as a second language but lose their fluency in the language if it is not reinforced and maintained.
A mistake that many South African schools are making is expecting second language students to cope with a bombardment of english
as a first language. Not only do the children have to cope with mastering english
as a subject, they must also try to understand all the other school subjects in english
as well. Under ideal conditions children should be taught in their first language 90% of the time and in english
10% of the time in pre-school and first grade, gradually increasing the english
as they become more proficient in the language.
It is therefore essential that second language students are given the opportunity of extra lessons to help them cope with english
as a first language in the school environment; otherwise their true potential can be seriously hindered.
According to research done by Sarah Charlotte Monyai, (Meeting the challenges of Black english
second language South African learners in ex-modal C primary schools) in these extra lessons the teacher should be helped with activities that will improve their grammatical, textual, functional and sociolinguistic competence. Furthermore, these children need the support of the school and their parents to really benefit from extra classes.
It is my opinion that although early childhood is the best time to learn english
as a second language it is also possible for children to acquire the language at a later stage, providing that the correct support structures are given.