What exactly is the role of language? Why do some of us only speak one, while others manipulate multiple languages in their everyday lives? I have been dwelling on the notion of whether language is considered innate or whether individuals make strategic moves to learn or acquire language(s).
In the field of second language acquisition there exists the idea that language is either learned or acquired. For example, the first language a baby gets is considered acquired. Why? Well, because like many of us, when we speak in our native tongue it’s like we are driving a car in autopilot. It comes naturally to us. We don’t have to think about how we are going to structure our utterance(s) so that they are correctly formed. Language that is learned, on the other hand, is, many times, our second or third language. For those readers who have learned another language know exactly what I am talking about. Language that is learned is the language we struggle to communicate in when we are visiting a foreign country where it is spoken, for example.
Another interesting topic in regard to the role language plays and whether it is innate relates to what happens in foreign language schools. For instance, if we believe that language is innate then most of the instruction would provide students with nearly authentic settings where they could simply practice using the target language. Although, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most people probably believe language is something we learn, hence, the common way to teach our children (and adults) another language is via explicit instruction that involves grammatical points and contrived settings.
As I think about the way I am exposing my bebita to three languages I find myself contemplating whether she is actually learning or acquiring her three languages. To a large degree, the different approaches are really out of my control, which leads me to something I keep coming back to: context. Where we live, who we interact with, who we are, are quite frankly, inherited characteristics. These characteristics are part of the beautiful nuances that make up our reality, which is the context where language is learned or acquired.
So, for now, I am very proud to say that in French Sabrina knows how to say au revoir and Petite Pim (Pe’pim, to be exact), she learned those words via French videos. In Spanish, she has acquired a few words to her vocabulary, which include: mama, papa, más, uvas, and ayuda. In addition to acquiring a few words in Spanish, she has also acquired some sign language. She knows the signs for ayuda, acabe, más, and lechita. Lastly, her acquired English words include: bye-bye and tickle-tickle. Then there are the words she understands the meaning of, but cannot say or sign in any language, YET.
How are you exposing your children to other languages? Do you consider them contexts that will help them learn or acquire another language?