What Do We Learn from Babies?

It is commonly accepted that babies start learning their mother tongues subconciously or unconciously. But from my own obervations to my daughter and other kids in the neighbourhood, I found that children are learning their native language deliberately. I used to get crazy when a little two year old boy  was repeatedly asking me: “What are you doing?” I always behave nicely with him, but his innocent questions made me uncomfortable until I realized that he needed to communicate. That is not only his immediate needs as a human beings, but also is the good way for him to practice his chunks of languages. When I paid careful attention to him, I found that he also paid special attention to what others were speaking and doing, and he tried to learn conciously.

My daughter is learning to speak, she can understand a lot but can not utter a few words. She is not ready. But now, she can say a few simple words like: “mum, mum” and she always repeated. When I am trying to teach her how to speak, she is very  happy to repeat without being afraid. She is very curious to learn and explore things around. The most important thing is that she pays single attention to what she want to learn. Speaking of learning in general, attention is one of the most important factors for a child’ academic achievement. It is also true in terms of language learning.

According to The Noticing Hypothesis, input does not become intake for language learning unless it is noticed, that is, consciously registered (Schmidt, 1990, 2001). Schmidt aslo insisted that people learn about things they pay attention to and do not learn much about the things they do not attend to. Recently, I went to Pearson Amzing Minds Conference and learned a lot from the famous language educators, Jeremy Harmer. He was talking about what we could learn about music pratice for language teaching and learning. One of the main ideas he proposed is that learners need a lot of practice, more importantly deliberate practice to improve the speed of language acquisition. One of the well-known educators, Paul Nation, also shared his expertise and wisdom in the book: What should every EFL teacher know? He suggested a balanced course including meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, language-focused learning, and fluency development. To be able to develop language proficiency, it is important to involves deliberate attention to language features., that is, the deliberate learning of pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, and discourse structure. It is aslo includes the deliberate learning of language learning strategies.

Many comercial language learning programs now use the natural approach to appeal more buyers. They often use the way babies learn their first language to illustrate for the speacial features of the program. As a result, many language leaners are hooked on without much progress. To be able acquire a foreign language fast, a learner needs to  practice the language intentionally. Babies are learning everything deliberately. They pay attention to things they want to acquire. They are curious and are enjoying the learning process.


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