Why Exposure is Important when Learning a Second Language
Unlike learning a first language, learning a second language is a task that can sometimes seem frustrating and at times even impossible. There are many reasons for this as learning a second language is very different than learning your mother tongue. Firstly, there are biological factors involved and the fact that normally children tend to assimilate things more easily than adults. Secondly, it is often harder to get the same level of exposure to the language than it is when learning a native language where repetition from parents etc. is constant. That is why when you sign up for an English class, or any other language for that matter, teachers will try to replicate that scenario with endless repetitions and fun games, because the most crucial thing is getting exposure to the new language.
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This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Vitor F.
According to a well known study of second language exposure, the quality of the language environment that the student is surrounded by is crucial to success in learning a new language. On the other hand, the same study points out that if a student is only exposed to classroom drills and dialogues, they might acquire substantial mastery of classroom communication skills but still struggle to communicate in a natural language environment. Therefore, exposure to the new language should not be the only focus when learning that language, or they risk failing to know the correct usage of language or when to use it. As a EFL student myself at one point, I experienced this first hand.
Grammar and vocabulary are without a doubt an essential part of speaking and writing in any language. However, it wasn't until I started getting exposure from the outside world and comprehending the news and other TV shows that I really started to get a grasp of the language. I remember looking around my classroom, and realizing that the students that were surrounded by people who spoke the same language were in a level far behind those who were more exposed to the new language on a daily basis. It is important to note that living in a country where the spoken language is English made it a lot easier to get the exposure outside of the classroom. However, many people tend to make friends with people that speak the same language, and/or work at establishments owned by people from the same country, so they are never really challenged to improve their new language.
Obviously different languages have different levels of difficulty, but one thing that everyone that speaks more than one language can agree on is that it is difficult and it can be stressful learning a new language, at least in the beginning. It is imperative that a student learning a new language is aware of the importance of genuine exposure, so when they are not in class they are still getting exposed to the language. It is also important for the student to understand that making a mistake on pronunciation or structure is part of the learning process and those very mistakes are what essentially will make them stronger at mastering a new language.
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