Education Essays - Teaching Second Language

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Teaching Second Language


Language is basically a speech. Its written form developed later on. It is universal among human beings who use it for carrying out various activities of life. It is such a common phenomenon that we always take it for granted. We never bother to think about it. We never try to into the depth of the meaning of this word.

The first school of the child is his home. A child starts the learning from his home. A teacher can make this learning process very easy. In this paper we will discuss about the learning processes of a second language.

Definitions of language are not difficult to find. Almost all well-known linguists have tried to define language in their own way. A simpler definition may be:

According to (R.H. Robins, 1979), “Language is a system of arbitrary symbols which help the people of particular community to communicate and to interact.”

It means every language operates within its own system. Every language has its own arbitrary symbols. The words “communication and interact” mean to understand and speak.

Learning is a very common phenomenon. Everybody, whoever he may be or wherever he may be, is learning something. Even animals are no exceptions to this observation. Learning or development is a continuous process. Throughout the life man goes on learning and development.

One of the famous definitions of the learning given by (Robert Burns, 2002) is “A relatively permanent change in behavior with behavior including both observable activity and internal processes such as thinking attitudes and emotions.”

When a teacher teaches a second language to his students, he uses the prescribed text books, different methods and techniques. Students belongs to different ages, different gender. This act of teaching a new language is quite clear. But what about a child who is learning his mother tongue. Nobody consciously attempts to teach him. He himself does not consciously attempts to learn his mother tongue. Some psychologists have given theories about the language development and teaching lets discuses these theories in detail.

  • Behaviorism:

It says language development is a matter of behavior. According to (Watson and Skinner, 1920), the learning or development refers to a persistent change in behavior and it is a response to a given stimulus.

So development of a language must be explained with reference to change in behavior.

  • Mentalism:

The behavioristic view of development of a language was strongly challenged by Noam Chomsky who is exponent of Mentalism. Mentalism refers to something which involves the mind and the process of thinking. According to Chomsky, language is not merely verbal behavior; it is a complex system of rules. The knowledge of these rules is our linguistic competence.

A child is born with a mental capacity for working out the underlying rules of language. This means that the child’s language development is not being simply shaped by external forces: it is being creatively constructed by the child as he interacts with those around him.

How a child (any person) learns second language is still not completely certain. More than fifty theories have been presented by the psychologists. But by our observation we do know that there are three different kinds of language learning. These are learning a language by heart, forming habits, and acquiring rules.

  • Development by Heart:

Many people still attempt to learn a second language by learning set sentences, dialogues, and texts by heart. It is useful in learning things which are fixed and limited, and it is often found to be useful way of mastering certain fixed items in a language. Learning set sentences by heart may enable us to give a few fixed responses, but it is not likely to prepare us for this great variety of language that we need to understand and use in life.

  • Forming Habits:

A second language can be taught by developing a set of habits which we learn by imitation and which gradually become automatic. Central to this view is the belief that children learn their first language by imitation their parents (family) and by the reinforcement on the part of the parents.

Research has suggested that that children do not learn their first language only, or even mainly, by imitation; they frequently produce sentences which they could never have heart from adults and so must have developed independently. A simple example of this is children’s use of a plural nouns: when English speaking children first begin to use plurals, they often say phrases such as ‘two mans’, ‘three sheeps’. It is clear that they have not learnt to produce these by imitation; rather it appears that they have acquired a rule of the language, which at this stage they are applying to all plural nouns.

  • Acquiring Rules:

This suggests a third view of second language teaching process, which sees language as a system of rules. Teaching a second language is involves being expose to samples of language that we can understand. From this we can acquire the rules of the language and apply them to make and unlimited number of original sentences.

During a process of development of a language, it is possible that we may apply a rule wrongly. This will lead to errors. In this view, therefore, errors are natural part of the acquisition process and need to be completely avoided.

When we discuss different methods of teaching, we come across terms like approaches (theories, philosophies), methods and techniques which are used usually interchangeably. We must be clear what these terms means. According to (Edward, 1963) an approach to languages teaching is a set of beliefs about language which underlines or prescribes the use of a certain methods. Different approaches prevalent in teaching are: classical approach, structural approach, situational approach, communicative approach, natural approach.

If we believe that language is primarily concerned with speaking, we will follow a method of language teaching which concentrates on developing the spoken skill. If we believe that language is a set of rules, we will adopt a teaching method which lays emphasis on the rote learning of grammatical structures.

The methods of teaching in schools in Pakistan are traditional. They emphasize grammatical forms. The result is that even after so many years of learning, their students cannot express themselves correctly and effectively in English. The Communicative Approach is an attempt to meet this challenge. According to Brian Seaton it is approach that aims at developing the practical knowledge of how language is used. The Communicative language teaching attends to meaning more than to grammar.

Teaching English to speakers of other languages is both difficult and worthwhile. Many internationally minded people are deciding to teach English as a Second Language both in the United States and abroad. While teaching English as a second language in USA of any other country around the world, teacher should keep in mind the following simple guidelines.

  • Facial expressions, hand gestures, and other non-verbal indications are an immense way to overwhelm the language barrier. For instance, when clarifying the idea of tall, raise your hand high into the air. When clarifying the idea of cold, shiver and chatter your teeth.
  • If the teacher constantly talks in the class then learners of English as a second language will never find an opportunity to practice. Working in a group gives students a chance to practice the language. Groups work the best with 2 to 6 learners; with any more people, not everyone gets a opportunity to contribute. It is also a good scheme to group students with dissimilar first languages together when possible.
  • If the teacher speaks the similar language as the students, the condition will be very much simplified. But not many teachers have the lavishness of speaking the similar language of his students. Bi-lingual resources can facilitate a teacher of English as a second language to sketch on a student’s native language devoid of knowing him.
  • Teachers of a second language have to repeat everything at least three times. They should also differ the wording of their explanation. A student may be familiar with one set of expressions but not another – even when the subject of discussion is the similar. Even if the student does recognize an idea upon first clarification, he will get help from the repetition and disparity of language. It will expose him to innovative words and expressions.
  • The first duty as teachers of English as a second language is to correct student language mistakes. Over-correction, though, can make students unwilling to exercise the language. If scared of being corrected every time they speak, students will basically discontinue speaking and consequently learning the language. Of course, there are suitable times to correct language errors. If an idea for instance the past tense has been talked about at length in class, it is suitable to correct students when they outline the past tense inappropriately.
  • Learning English as a second language is not an effortless thing expressively. Students will feel uncomfortable about their lack of English capability and will thus be unenthusiastic to use the language. The duty of the teacher of English as a second language is to form a secure and helpful atmosphere, one in which the student will be relaxed experimenting with the language.


Teaching and Learning a second language both are difficult jobs. If learning a second language demands extra efforts then on the other hand teaching a second language is a challenge for teachers. In this paper we have discussed theories about learning a second language and duties of a teacher for teaching a second language.


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