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Learning: personal experience sample essay

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1. Describe your own experience of learning a language or languages.

I started learning German as a second language at the age of seven when I had three German classes a week at school. Starting from the fifth grade the frequency of learning rose to five times a week. My first experience of communication with a native speaker was at the age of ten, when I started writing letters to pen-pal in Germany. All I remember about the first four years of studying was fun, games and competitions, the teacher I liked a lot and an excitement from getting letters in that language from a real person living somewhere far away. Learning did not involve any considerable efforts until I turned eleven.

I did not face a lot of biased approach in my learning experience. The only I can think of was connected to the teachers believe that literary German should be studied and used for speaking, translation and writing, whereas other dialects and accents that are out there were considered as a lower culture attribute.

Our German teacher showed us cartoons in German, played association games with us, taught us new words by pronouncing the word, showing what is meant on the picture without giving a translation into English, and asked us to repeat after her.

I was very lucky with the second language teachers I had. All of them except for the one I had in 5th and 6th grade were my favorite teachers. And interestingly enough those two years were only time when I had problems with studying and was getting Bs and Cs in German. I think the personality of a teacher has a major impact on motivation, interest towards the subject and naturally the efficiency of the learning, because the sympathy towards the teacher is transferred to the subject, which is especially strong for children. I am sure that my current good knowledge of the language is to 80% the merit of my favorite German teachers.

German grammar is different from English, because there are gender distinctions, declensions, etc. The language varies according to the status of the person you address: formal Sie and informal du. Speaking of varieties within the language itself, it should be mentioned that German has more than 20 dialects, however, I was just briefly introduced to the differences in pronunciation and most commonly met differences in word meanings. Later on I also learned different terminology for such variations as Business German, Technical, Legal, Literary German, and slang.

I have suffered a long time before I memorized genders of the nouns, which was hard to understand from any logical standpoint, and just had to be memorized through continuous practice. I also had and still have some gaps in German grammar, which is very complex and of course there are a lot of words that are still unknown to me.

What I learned from evaluating my own learning experience is the fact that children cannot be taught the way adults are. Children will not be willing to do something that is not fun and involves more effort than pleasure. Thus, the children teaching process has to involve games and competitions for additional motivation.

2. Explain with examples, how language varies according to the context in which it is spoken or written.

Delivery of the same message will take different language expression depending on a situation. For example, someone wants to inform the other one that s/he does not know something.

Speaking to a friend, one might just pat the seat, which is an intimate style of communication, which is used while speaking to close friends and relatives. Intimate style is not used in writing. While speaking with someone of the same status in an informal atmosphere, one would say “Take a pew.” This is a casual style, which can be used in writing a personal letter or in memos to oneself. Informal style is used in communication with someone who may be of the same status or higher but in an informal situation. In this case one would say “Sit anywhere you like.” Informal style in writing is used in letters to friends and in memos to others. When one needs to use formal language style, s/he says “Please, sit down”. This style is used in business and on official meetings in speech and in official correspondence and documents in writing. Frozen style is rarely used, mostly during ceremonial speeches and set prayers and in poetry and legal documents in writing. This style would transform the same phrase into “Pray be seated.” (Module 1, Table 2)

3. What is meant by appropriateness (or appropriacy) in language use?

Some words, accent, style, terminology may be inappropriate in some situations and may be totally natural in the other (Module 1, 1.4). For example, it is absolutely fine to say “I’m gonna getcha!” while playing with a child, whereas a public prosecutor would not say the same phrase with the same intonation in the court.

4. Language is communication. Discuss. Language is not communication but one of the instruments for it. Language is used not only for communication, but for control (where reply is not expected), for so-called phatic communion (where the language is not meant to communicate any message), for thinking and finally for expression of emotions. And communication from its side does not always involve language, since people can also communicate with gestures and mimics (Module 1, Section A). Thus, language is not the same as communication, but rather can be used as a tool for communication.

5. What are the principles on which foreign language teaching is based? What are the justifications for them?

These principles include classical conditioning, which is based on mechanisms of stimulus and response, associational shift and mother tongue interference. By this principles the words of a second language are learned either with the help of stimulus-reaction consequence and creating an associations (the same way native language is learned), or with the help of translation the meaning into the native language.

Creative principle of learning is especially rewarded in teaching children, because children do not have motivation other than fun and in some cases also competition. By this principle the language is learned in games and creating meaningful links to new words.

Mentioning motivation, it is another principle in teaching practice. Every category of students has their own type of motivation, and each person of course has its own specific motivation. Some study a language to regain its national identity, others in order to feel another culture better, the third for future work and studying plans, etc. Children do not have some reasons, they most often have just the feeling of competitiveness and want to be rewarded. The task of a teacher is to choose learning methods that correspond to the motivations of students.

6. Describe how children acquire their mother tongue.

Researches have proven that children start hearing language even in the womb. They react differently to loud noise and to soft mother’s voice. After the birth babies use their voice for expressing their emotions and desires. At 3 month the baby can not only cry but babble as well. Around the age of 9 months children begin imitating speech they hear by producing speech-like sounds. At 1 year they can understand separate words and can deliver their message in one word. Eight months later they can form simple phrases and at two years most children can form some very easy sentences and understand difference between tenses. At two and a half years children start using pronouns and use simple sentences for questions and emotions. By five years children can form complex sentences and freely use the language for communication (Module 1, Table 3).

Thus we see that firstly the child listens and connects emotions, feelings and visual things to the sound and intonation. Then the baby memorizes that certain group of sounds mean specific thing and can identify that word out of a speech. The child trains its speaking ability by firstly crying and than babbling and imitating a speech. Continually the child listens to the speech of parents, makes its subconscious observations, imitates the same sounds and words and later learns to operate separate words and form sentences.

7. From your experience of a young child that you know describe the stage of language acquisition he or she is at, and what preceded this.

My niece is now one and a half years old. Right now she can use separate words for calling someone or demanding something. However, when she is not emotional about something, she still prefers to use her mimics to communicate. She also likes to imitate a speech by producing sounds pronounced like a phrase with different intonations. In accordance to the table 3, which gives stages of development in the acquisition of language, my niece occupies three stages at once: speech-like sounds and intonation, one word utterances (holophrases) and two word "sentences" (Module 1, Section B)

8. Choose two or three methods of language teaching and compare/discuss the merits or otherwise of each.

The two methods I have chosen for comparison are: Grammar-Translation Method and Audio-Lingual Method.

Grammar-Translation Method is based on practicing the ability to translate written sentences. The focus here is one the grammar. Advocates of this method believe that speaking practice while learning a second language is not as important as in the first language, and thus they prefer to spend more time on practicing translation and grammar. This method is popular for memorizing verb tenses, basic sentence structures, for reading and translating the text, during which the students learns new words and observes the sentence structure.

The Audio-Lingual method is built on exposing the student to hearing a sentence and asking him/her to replace one part of it with the new word s/he is give. This goes on and on. The student listens the initial sentence, hears stimulus word and pronounces the new sentence with necessary change. The aim is to make the student to pronounce sentences spontaneously.

Both of the methods are popular and rewarding. However, the first one is dull and cannot be applied too often, because it just may break a student’s motivation, especially if it is a child. This method should be combined with others that are more interactive and creative. The audio-lingual method is more interactive and more fun to do. Both of the methods are aimed at reaching spontaneous speaking, using appropriate verb tenses in the first case and building a sentence without thinking how to construct it.
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