Learning second language: Need or preference

Sarmila Sitaula

Learning language is one of the basic aspects of human growth and development. Allowing both intra-personal and interpersonal relation, language, “socially shared code or conventional system for representing concepts” (Owens, 1996, p. 8, serves as a means of communication. Among three forms of language – spoken, written and sign – the spoken form is generally considered to be primary as it can be understood and used by all, both literate and illiterate people. Written form of language is considered secondary because all people do not learn to write and communicate by writing. The sign language, also known as the body language, may be the language that is understood by the vast majority of the people, even more than the spoken language. It is said that body language is the language that can be understood across the geographical locations. Whatever the form, language is the basis for establishing human relationships and interactions.

“Language acquisition is one of the most impressive and fascinating aspects of human development” (Spada, 2006, p. 1). A child learns a language as soon as she/he is born. The primary language or the first language is the language that a child has learned since his/her birth and learning of such language can be considered as ‘learning without awareness’ (Rünger, 2012). Due to human progress, the first language of the child may not always be the mother-tongue of the child. The mother-tongue is the language of the ‘ethnic community’ (Selinker, 2008) that the child belongs to, or the language of his/her parents. However, the language of the ethnic minority may not always struggle over the language of the majority; this is why the child never really gets maximum exposure to the mother-tongue. Then, the child may have to learn the mother-tongue as a heritage language and learn it as a second language. Likewise, the child in the process of growing up may be exposed to a different language and may want to or have to acquire it, which is categorized as a second language. Now, in the following chapter let me share my process of learning language:

Process of Learning Language
The different questions such as: how can we learn a second language? Is there something inside us that helps to learn more than one language? etc are some of the frequently asked questions among the individuals. There may be many reasons why we are able to learn any language in addition to our first language. There are many theories that define why and how we can learn a second language. For example; behaviorist theory claims that language acquisition is the process of habit formation. “It is based on modeling, imitation, practice and selective reinforcement”(Robert E. Owens J. , 1996, p. 8) Likewise, Chomsky talks about the LAD or Universal grammar which he says is inherent in every child, only needs to trigger it so that language learning becomes a natural process.

I have been able to acquire English as a second language because I have had enough exposure to this language at school and also because I have been motivated to learn the second language. As a person from a Brahmin family, my first language is Nepali and that is what I was exposed to during my early childhood. Later on, I went to school where teacher taught me though I was quite small, and I could utter a few words and that helped me to catch a few words in English like “hello” “hi” and “bye” and so on. This was probably my first direct exposure to the English language. My learning of second language was limited to English because nobody could speak English at my home. Later on, when I started to know some English words and when I got more exposure, then I was keener on learning English. My Village was near to Tamang community so I could speak some Tamang words too. When I moved to Dhading Bensi for my further study, I couldn’t get more exposure and now I have forgotten those Tamang words. This is mostly because I got minimal exposure with the Tamang community there, and even the Tamang people communicated with us in Nepali. There was no need for my family to learn or to communicate in the Tamang language. I was motivated to learn English from my childhood because I wanted to understand the stories from the English story books, which made me learn English from my own will. I wanted to be good at English because I used to dream about the wonderful stories that I read in the books. My mother had a role to play in my acquiring of English, as she taught me the ABCs when I was around four years old and started to go to school. It is needless to say that I got exposed to more English in my school, and that has continued until my M.Ed. in ELT. So, the following will discuss all about my learning second language as need or preference:

Learning Second Language: Need or Preference
With the support of exposure and largely because of motivation, I acquired English as a second language (I may not go into the philosophical/literal distinction between a foreign language and second language at this point). Additionally, I have also acquired some Hindi as a second language. However, my learning of Hindi language was an inactive process in the beginning. I did not have communicative opportunities in my surrounding for this purpose and I did not have any formal teaching either. I got exposed to Hindi due to the television and movies that were in Hindi. Likewise, Hindi songs have been a source of fascination and interest to me ever since I was a small girl. I wanted to understand the dialogues in the movies, the television series as well as the lyrics of the songs. This was only possible if I learnt Hindi. So, my learning of Hindi language was my own preference to understand Hindi movies, Hindi series and songs. The learning of Hindi language was thus possible mainly because I was fascinated by the fun world. Now, it is beneficial for me to be able to converse in Hindi if I require it. To my understanding, I preferred acquiring both languages, but the fundamental needs were different. Learning English was supported by formal teaching and related exposure, while learning Hindi was supported by the fun world, which perhaps was relatively painless. The more informal and fun oriented the language learning environment is, the easier and interesting it is to learn the new language. However, I may not be good at accuracy of Hindi.

Motives for Learning English
In case of acquiring of English language, there are several needs on my reflection. Firstly, I wanted to be able to read in English. This is purely individual or my preference. If this was the only motivation factor for me to learn English, then I would not learn it so well. As mentioned above, I needed to understand English stories. This reason for learning English can be kept under the need of learning a language. Secondly, everybody learnt English due to the effect of globalization. Especially in the schools and colleges, if you don’t know English language you may not get admission. In a way, it is promoted in our educational institutions as a medium of teaching and learning. There is no way out, if you want to get a college degree of any sort, then you need to be apt in English. Not only me, but everybody else is in some way encouraged to learn English. This reason is also need or necessary to learn English to achieve any kind of concrete success. Finally, the most important and hidden necessity why I learnt English is that it is a language that people feel is superior and globally recognized. It has been deeply rooted into psyche of human beings. Of course, English is a global language. Where-ever you travel, you see English signs and advertisements. Whenever you enter a hotel or restaurant in a foreign city, they will understand English and there will be an English menu. If your English is good or mother tongue is English, you may feel pride that your language is the one which has been so successful. If you know English, then you can go anywhere in the world, and at least be able to communicate minimally. Likewise, if you know English then you can have the most attractive jobs that you want. This reason is also need, even though it is not seen at the surface. English has been promoted as a lingua franca throughout much of the world as a result of political and cultural influence. In some ways, it can also be considered a linguistic cum cultural imperialism; a welcome imperialism of the modern world!

I am quite glad that I can use and understand more than one language. If I knew only one language, then my thoughts and creativity and experiences would be confined to the world equipped with one particular language. I am so delighted that I can watch movies, listen to songs and be adapted to the cultures of at least some different languages. I can have my preferences and decide to listen to the language I prefer at different times. It is my privilege that I got exposed to these languages and also my luck that I got interested in more than one language. In my view, all people should be open to more than one language so that their knowledge of the world and of the cultures is broadened. The point is that you need to be motivated, but you should also get some kind of exposure for the enhancement of second language learning experience.

Owens, Robert E. (1996). Language development.Needham Heights, MA: A simon and schuster company.
Rünger, P. A. (2012). Implicit Learning. Current directions in psychological science, , Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 13-18. Retrived from: HYPERLINK “http://www.jstor.org/stable/20182823” http://www.jstor.org/stable/20182823
Selinker, S. M. (2008). Second language acquisition.London: Routledge.
Spada, P. M. (2006). How languages are learned.Oxford: Oxford University Press.

3 thoughts on “Learning second language: Need or preference

  1. Obviusly, exposure plays vital role in acquiring second language. similarly, motivation to learn second language is must and i think most of us acquire second language when it becomes our need.

  2. My teacher in one of the classes:
    “If some day Germany started investing ‘money’ on German language, invests millions on books/movies/songs/libraries on German language, funds NGOs and INGOs for the promotion of German language, English would be dead in 10 years.”

    A wild imagination but not unreal either.

    By the way, where did you do your M.Ed ELT ?

  3. I found this entry very interesting. I like the way the writer has connected her personal experience with the scholarship/argument. This helps us understand the issue and relate our own experiences to it.
    However, both as a blogger and teacher of writing I would like to share with readers some ideas for making Choutari a great and interesting blog. I strongly suggest that when we write for Choutari we transform “scholarly” writing into blog writing. The first and simple thing to do towards framing your writing like a good blog entry (rather than submit a scholarly article, whether you wrote it for Choutari or are adapting a text that you wrote—but have not yet published in another venue—for a different context) is to look at Choutari’s submission guideline.
    As editors, we try to help our contributors revise/adapt their writing as blog entries, to the extent we can manage the time for this support. But because we also value different styles and voices, we try not to enforce the guidelines too stringently. That said, if writers could please look at the guidelines and frame their writing as blog entries—and I am sure that it is quite easy and absolutely worth the time/effort to do that—we would not only have great content but also great presentation of that content. It is very important that blogs read like blogs.
    So, what would this great article by Ms. Sitaula read like if it was written like a blog entry? I think that the author should have begun with the part where she shares her experience about languages. Blogs are inherently personal. The scholarship, the quotations, etc could come later on as materials for supporting the author’s own point about learning second language. In fact, much of the introduction and the sections titled “Process Of Learning Language” and “Context” could be deleted or significantly condensed. These not only displace the author’s own voice but also sound like parts of a textbook chapter (not just a scholarly article, meaning that even in a scholarly article delaying to get to the point and providing too much background/context can weaken the work.
    The two sections titled “… Need or Preference” and “Motives for Learning English” are by far the most useful material for the genre of blog; these sections take us into the author’s own thinking on the subject. And finally, believe me, this blog entry would be much better (meaning it would read more like a blog entry) if the author started with the conclusion. A famous philosopher said that he starts the dinner with the dissert, and that applies with writing: start with the conclusion, then explore the issue.
    I just wanted to share this response here because many colleagues who write for this forum are still learning how to blog.

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