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H.D. - Korea said:
Child DevelopmentEnglish is spoken by millions of people, and is arguably the world?s most popular second language. Due to this, English as a Foreign Language (EFL) has become an increasingly popular field of study as well as a highly successful business. People are highly motivated to learn English, and there are a growing number of parents who are sending their children to private study academies and individual tutors. Specifically, EFL is seeing an increasing number of young (pre- and elementary school age) students in ?immersion? style English-only schools. There are, however, a growing number of professionals and parents who express concern about English-only education. Specifically, there is some concern that teaching students in English-only can have a negative impact on the child?s general linguistic development and academic achievement. This article will examine the benefits and demerits of English immersion education as related to childhood linguistic development, and ways in which any negative impacts of English immersion may be ameliorated. Fist, it is necessary to explore how, in the course of their development, children acquire their first language. It seems apparent from countless studies that we are predisposed as human beings to learn language, and in order to do so, we should be exposed to it at a young age. For example, normal children become competent language users by the age of six or seven. Many language professionals hypothesize that this time is the ?critical period? for language learning. During this time, children intuitively understand grammar rules, amass a large vocabulary, and are able to use symbolic language (such as metaphor), which indicates that they are not only using language to imitate those around them, but are also using it creatively. Even more interesting is the fact that children learn language naturally, rather than in a sequence of increasing difficulty, and that this process for language learning is the same for learners of all languages. A pressing question for the EFL community, then, is whether or not this process can also apply to second language acquisition in young learners, and if there are any negative linguistic consequences for the child. Many education professionals have taken the critical period hypothesis and designed EFL programs which utilize ?immersion? style teaching. The driving idea behind such programs when applied to early-childhood learners (who are attending English kindergartens, or ?international schools? in which every subject is taught in English rather than the L1), is that, during the critical period, children ought to be able to pick up an second language and their L1 simultaneously, and utilizing a similar natural process. Is this true? Much research has been dedicated to this question, and a summation of the results is this: early childhood language learners do, in fact, show higher rates of fluency in later life that those who begin to acquire a second language during adolescence and adulthood. Additionally, children who are brought up to be bilingual (a different language is spoken at school than at home), show superior performance on certain tests of problem solving and attention than their monolingual counterparts. The prevalent results for English-only style immersion programs are mostly positive. There are, however, some concerns about how immersion programs affect overall linguistic development and academic success. Specifically, these concerns stem from that fact that bilingual learners tend to have a smaller vocabulary in both languages, and that unless there is sufficient motivation for children to continue to use both languages, they will lose the ability to use one of them. In an EFL context, children may lose the second language because of the lack of opportunities to practice it in a country using a different L1. English-only programs are a good solution to this problem because they provide children with both the opportunity and the motivation to practice the language, greatly boosting language retention. Thus, one can conclude that, with proper support and motivations from teachers and parents, children can greatly benefit from English-only education. Resources Bialystok, E. (2008). ?Second-Language Acquisition and Bilingualism at an Early Age and the Impact on Early Cognitive Development.? Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development ?Statistical Studies by Language Size.? www.ethnolouge.org . http://www.ethnologue.org/ethno_docs/distribution.asp?by=size Robertson, P. (2002). 'The Critical Age Hypothesis.' Asian EFL Journal

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