The development of the language competence passes through different stages depending on the learning capabilities and academic successes of learners. The current study focuses on the analysis of the developmental stage in learning English as the second language in the context of the processability theory. The subject of the study is the 25-year-old female from Saudi Arabia studying in Australia. The subject of the study has undergone the procedure of interview, which she had a possibility to ask question to reveal her language competence. The study revealed the fact that the subject of the study has a relatively good level of the colloquial English and approaches the advanced stage in the development of learning English as the second language. At any rate, taking into consideration morphology and lexicon of the subject, she has already surpassed the intermediate level and is close to the advanced level, although she still has problem with syntax. Therefore, the study arrives to the conclusion that the subject of the study is successful in learning English as the second language, she approaches the advanced level of the language competence but her mother tongue and cultural environment, which is predominantly Arabic-speaking prevents her from the development of the proficient level in learning English as the second language.
Many researchers have been interested in the theories of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), specifically in the Processability Theory (PT). This theory emphasises the aim of determining and explaining the sequences in which processing skills develop in relation to language learning (Saville-Troike 2006). The development of the language competence is a very complex process that involves different stages, especially if an individual learns a second language, like English. In this regard, it is worth mentioning the fact that the learner of English as the second language passes through different stages from basic or elementary to the language proficiency, when a person can speak fluently and understand semantically elevated texts and verbal messages. Naturally, for a non-native speaker reaching the proficiency in English is a challengeable task, especially if the person is from a totally different cultural environment and has a totally different language competence. What is meant here is the fact that people, whose native language is one of European languages, will face less difficulties and challenges in the course of learning English as the second language compared to the person with a totally different cultural and linguistic background, for instance a person from Korea or Saudi Arabia. The striking difference between the mother tongue in terms of morphology, syntax and, in a way, lexicon affects consistently the perception of English as the second language. Nevertheless, individuals can learn English as the second language successfully and reach the proficiency in English on the condition of the hard work in the course of learning and ample communication in English. In such a way, it is possible to presuppose that the development of the English proficiency depends on the individual skills of the learner, his or her environment, learning abilities and cultural and linguistic background.
Specificities of the acquisition of the second language
The acquisition of the second language raises a number of challenges in face of a learner. To put it more precisely, the learner need to develop the new mode of thinking to adapt to the mode of thinking of the native speakers. Secondly, the learner of English, as well as any other language as the second language, should acquire new morphological structures; develop new lexicon; and new syntactic forms, which may be quite different from those of the mother tongue of the learner. Furthermore, the learner of English as the second language should be acquainted with the cultural environment in which native-speakers live. In other words, the learner should be able to stay within the English-speaking environment and, what is more important, to communicate with native-speakers on the regular basis to develop his or her language competence and to keep progressing in English to reach higher and higher stages of development of the language competence.
The linguistic and cultural background of the subject of the study
At this point, the cultural and linguistic background of the subject of the study is particularly important. The linguistic competence of a learner of English as the second language is very important because, if the subject of the study, is proficient in his or her mother tongue only, than he or she will face substantially difficulties with the learning of English as the second language. In contrast, if the subject of the study has already learned a foreign language, then he or she is likely to develop the higher stage of the language competence compared to the person, who has never learned a foreign language. In such a way, people, who are experienced in learning foreign languages, will learn English as the second language easier compared to individuals, who have never learned foreign languages. In addition, the cultural background of the learner does matter because the more striking the difference between the native cultural background of the learner and the English-speaking cultural environment is the more difficult it will be for the learner to reach the higher stage of development of English.
The participant used in this study is a 25-year-old female from Saudi Arabia who is currently studying in Australia on an academic scholarship. The participant has been studying English for six years in school in Saudi Arabia. However she found it difficult to make use of the English she had learnt because everyone around her spoke Arabic only.
After arriving in Australia, she was enrolled into an academic English course, she was placed into the intermediate level class and slowly progressed into a foundations studies course, which will allow her to start at University in Medical Science.
The participant in the interview was interviewed briefly and was later shown a spot the difference task. The interview was brief, focusing on personal questions in regards to their acquisition of the English language. This interview was conducted to identify the current level of English acquisition and the use of verbal communication, which can then be recorded and transcribed. However only conducting an interview with no specific questions could neglect other communication skills. Therefore the spot the difference activity was exercised. Through the spot the difference activity the participant was encouraged to speak when asked questions but also had the opportunity to ask the interviewer questions, this also assisting with the final analysis.
The interview and spot the difference activity was recorded and transcribed. The participant was asked to describe themselves providing some background into their English acquisition; the interviewer then started the spot the difference task also. The interviewer then asked questions and also allowed for the participant to ask questions. This was all recorded and then transcribed. After reading the transcript each word was critically analysed and divided into the appropriate table. Three separate tables morphological, syntactic and lexical elements were recorded. Morphological characters were placed in the table with correspondence to the processability hierarchy, the syntactic elements were divided on the table and were based on the hypothesis of the processability theory finally all lexical items were divided into nouns and pronouns, lexical verbs, other verbs, and other lexical categories.
Limitations of the study
The study still has some limitations. To put it more precisely, the study aims at the revelation of the current stage of the language development in the learner of English as the second language. At the same time, the entire study focuses on the interview and analysis of the language competence of the subject of the study. The subject of the study and her language competence are not compared to other individuals. In this regard, the findings of the study may be quite subjective because the assessment of the stage of the language development of the subject of the study is grounded on the set of criteria, which are evaluated by the researcher. However, the evaluation of the language competence of the subject of the study and the assessment of her language competence is not absolutely objective, if the researcher fails to compare the subject of the study to a control group or at least a control individual, with the similar level of the language competence. In fact, through comparison of different subjects would be possible to make more objective conclusions in regard to the stage of the language development of the subject of the study.
In addition, the study focuses on the processability theory alone, which makes the approach to the study a bit one-sided, although the processability theory is recognized by specialists as a reliable and effective theory that can be used for the assessment of the stage of development of the language competence in individuals.
The interview and the study of the language competence of the subject in the field of morphology revealed the relatively high level of development of the language competence in the subject, although she still had some significant problems with morphology (See App. Table 1). To put it more precisely, the subject has reached the upper-intermediate level and is close to the advanced level in the language competence in terms of morphology. The subject does not have substantial difficulties with the word choice and sentence structure, although the morphology of the language used by the subject is imperfect that is particularly obvious in the course of the study of the scripts of the interview. In fact, the subject of the study does not have substantial difficulties with the construction of words, although the subject tends to the use of simple, colloquial words and avoids apparently using complex, elevated word structures. For instance, the subject of the study uses simple, short words, whereas she uses only few or simply avoids using complex words. Anyway, the subject of the study always slips to the colloquial style of the language used by the learner of English as the second language.
As for the syntax, the current study does not provide detailed information on the syntax in regard to the written speech of the subject. Nevertheless, it is still possible to reveal some trends, which are the characteristics of the language development of the subject of the study (See App. Table 2). To put it more precisely, the subject of the study uses simple sentences. Often, the subject of the study uses exclamations, simple questions and sentences. At the same time, the subject of the study sometimes omits some parts of the sentence, for instance, subjects slipping toward predicate constructions, although the message of the subject is clear, i.e. it is clear what the subject of the study actually wants to say or ask. Furthermore, the subject of the study makes some grammatical errors in the course of the interview that proves the lack of proficiency in her language competence. Anyway, in terms of the syntax, the subject of the study has reached the intermediate level but she still needs to keep learning to improve her syntax and language competence in this regard because the poor syntax slows down the development of the language competence of the subject at large.
As for the lexicon of the subject of the study, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the lexicon is basically colloquial. The subject had some problems with lexicon (See App. Table 3) but the general level of lexicon is good and close to the upper-intermediate. In fact, the subject has already exceeded the intermediate stage of the language development in terms of the lexicon but apparently she has failed to reach the advanced level of the language competence in terms of the lexicon. Basically, the words she uses in her regular speech are simple and colloquial. The interview reveals that the subject of the study avoids or simply cannot use semantically elevated words. Therefore, she apparently fails to reach the advanced level, although, at the colloquial level, her lexicon is sufficient and quite good to the extent that it is possible to position her lexicon development at intermediate and upper-intermediate level.
On analysing the results of the study, it is necessary to point out that the subject of the study spends a lot of time in the non-English speaking environment. This is probably one of the major problems of her failure to reach the higher stage of the language competence in English language learning. In actuality, the subject recognizes that her environment is predominantly Arabic-speaking. Therefore, her English competence fails to keep progressing because she lacks the English-speaking environment. At the same time, the subject of the study attempts to expand her language proficiency but she needs the support from the part of her environment. She has certain experience of English learning but she does not develop her language competence effectively. She proves to be able to use the colloquial language, although her grammar and syntax are imperfect. Her morphology and lexicon are also at the upper-intermediate stage of development but she could have made a more considerable progress, taking into account the time, she has already spent on learning English as the second language. In this regard, it is possible to recommend the subject of the study to focus more on learning English and on the regular use of English in her communication. Basically, she has a solid ground on the basis of which she can construct her language competence but she still needs to work hard and improve her language skills.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the current study has revealed the fact that the stage of the development of English learning and the language competence of the subject of the study depends on the variety of factors. In actuality, the subject is close to the advanced stage of the language development but she fails to improve her basic knowledge and skills because of the overwhelming impact of her environment and her linguistic and cultural background. What is meant here is the fact that her mother tongue interferes in her learning of English. In addition, the influence of the Arabic-speaking environment is also very significant that prevents the subject of the study from the consistent progress in her learning of English. In such a way, she needs to focus on the improvement of her syntax, lexicon and attempt to focus on the improvement of language competence through extensive communication in English.