teaching foreign languages at an early age

Tom Givon tgivon at uoregon.edu
Wed Jan 12 13:45:22 UTC 2011

Actually, I have always thought that 'talent', or whatever you want to 
call an inherent/innate variable, was a huge predictive factor in 
post-puberty SLA. But notice that it is much less relevant in natural 
child-language acquisition, where everybody becomes fluent fairly 
quickly, albeit with well-known induividual variation. My own informal 
cumulative observation over the years has been that ca. 5% of the 
population can learn a 2nd (or 3rd, or 4th) language fluently 
popst-puberty. As for the rest, it's a struggle, sheer drudgery.  TG


On 1/12/2011 5:46 AM, Danielle E. Cyr wrote:
> In Canada, an officially bilingual country, many if not most of the French as a
> Second Language (FSL) students enrol in these programs for political reasons.
> Indeed most of our students are first or second generation immigrants. They
> REALLY aim at becoming the "perfect" citizens, thus at becoming bilingual.
> However, all are not equally talented for learning a SL. Some end up at the end
> of their undergraduate studies with a middle and high school background of
> French core courses and four years in departments of French Studies with very
> little command of spoken French and even less of written French. Others come
> out brilliantly fluent in both. They all had the same motivation at the onset.
> Once, in a undergraduate course - Linguistics applied to the teaching of FSL (a
> course for future FSL teachers)- a student had the idea of having all her
> classmates to go through a basic multiple intelligences test. Between 1/3 and
> 1/2 of the class had not languaging as their major form of intelligence.
> I was too busy teaching overload during that year and FSL not being my main
> research area, I did not think of searching for correlations between the test
> results and the student performance in FSL.
> Yet the idea of my message here is that talent is a big factor that is hard to
> measure although it has to be taken into account.
> Talmy I agree with you that invoking talent might look like drifting away from
> science. However, there must be methodologies for taking it into account: the
> heredity factor, family members as role models, broad educational history, etc.
> These methodologies should also be used for detecting good (FSL) teachers. I say
> so because in the same class I refer to above, more than half of the students
> had grand-parents, parents, older siblings, uncles /aunts etc who were also
> teachers.
> Excellence in languaging and teaching it might be something partly "gifted" at
> birth and reinforce by role models, educational orientations, etc. Science
> should find a way to account for that.
> Best,
> Danielle
> Quoting Tom Givon<tgivon at uoregon.edu>:
>> I suppose I should have indicated by some graphemic means that I was
>> using the terms 'imperial' and 'liberation' tongue in cheek. I think
>> they pretty much characterize the ideological position of many of my
>> Catalan friends. But as is the case in at least one other region in
>> Spain, the ideological/national aspirations of one group cut into the
>> legitimate rights of another. Internal migration ('imperialism' to some)
>> in Spain has made all AutonomIas linguistically mixed. It is fun to
>> speak Anzaluz with the taxistas in Barcelona, and once you get them
>> going, they will tell you their tale of woes about Catalan linguistic
>> nationalism. It is not that in Anzaluzia people don't poke fun at the
>> way NorteNos speak, but at least they don't curtail their civil rights.
>> These are all subtle details of multilingualism (tho Andaluz is not
>> recognized as a language). My point remains tho, that once you get in
>> the midst of ideological nationalist zealotry, science becomes murky.
>> Best,  TG
>> =========
>> On 1/11/2011 9:58 PM, Moore, John wrote:
>>> Against my better judgement I feel I should add a rejoinder to this;
>> anything said in this domain is bound to bother many, if not all.  The
>> linguistic situation in Catalunya is, indeed complex.  However, to refer to
>> Catalan as 'liberation' and Spanish (or Castellano) as 'imperial'
>> over-simplifies.  Catalan is, of course, the indigenous language of the
>> region which was strenuously repressed during the Franco period.  Spanish, is
>> also clearly the national language that was imposed, also during that period.
>>   However, since around the 1950s, there was a significant internal migration
>> of of Spanish-speaking Andalucians to Catalunya, who  formed a
>> guest-worker-like Spanish-speaking underclass.  This leads to the question:
>> how much of many Catalans' aversion to Spanish is because of historical
>> repression, and how much is due to old-fashion prejudice against an
>> under-class?
>>> John
>>> ________________________________________
>>> From: funknet-bounces at mailman.rice.edu [funknet-bounces at mailman.rice.edu]
>> On Behalf Of Tom Givon [tgivon at uoregon.edu]
>>> Sent: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 5:42 PM
>>> To: funknet at mailman.rice.edu
>>> Subject: Re: [FUNKNET] teaching foreign languages at an early age
>>> Well, maybe it is also worth mentioning that when you get into
>>> Catalunia, you get into thick layers of language politics and liberation
>>> ideology. So sometimes it is not all that easy to tell when the science
>>> ends and something else begins. Of course, Catalunia is not the only
>>> place where this can be observed. But once you get into the convoluted
>>> relations between a dominant/imperial language and an
>>> indigenous/liberation language, it becomes harder to do simple science.
>>> People have all kinds of axes to grind. Our earlier discussion last year
>>> about the Israeli-Arabic situation certainly overlapped with these
>>> issues. I am not so worried about the oft-subconscious effect of
>>> socio-linguistic factors on SLA. This should be studied as part of
>>> science. It is the deliberate ideologs that scare me.  Best,  TG
> "The only hope we have as human beings is to learn each other's languages.  Only
> then can we truly hope to understand one another."
> Professor Danielle E. Cyr
> Department of French Studies
> York University
> Toronto, ON, Canada, M3J 1P3
> Tel. 1.416.736.2100 #310180
> FAX. 1.416.736.5924
> dcyr at yorku.ca

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