Learning languages is a relatively complicated process accompanied with a number of various obstacles. These blockages can be entailed by both external and internal factors. Internal factors include age, personal ability and aptitude and lack of motivation. External factors include reasons such as social, cultural and classroom environment as well as the relationships with a teacher and other students. In this task both external and internal and blocks will be considered.
Among the internal impediments, age is popularly believed as the most significant one. According to Jeremy Harmer (2007:15), young children have an incredible facility at acquiring their first language and other languages. They are commonly less inhibited and strongly embedded L1 structures but more amenable to improvisation and action that develop productive language skills. In comparison, adults are less self-confident and more likely to hesitate about linguistic matters. “Younger learners seem to score better at oral skills, typically pronunciation and intonation; older learners appear to learn faster, especially with respect to the morphology and the syntax of the target language” (Ellis:1995).
However, Patsy Lightbown and Nina Spada, pointing to the various studies, note that older children and adolescents make more progress than younger learners. Children show greater success in approximating native speaker pronunciation but sometimes as a subconscious retention of their cultural and linguistic identity. In contrast, adults usually deny pronunciation facility benefiting from their cognitive skills.
Together with this generalized factor of age personality, individual aptitude and psychological condition can largely constrain language learning. For example, extroverts learn languages much more easily than introverts who are inclined to avoid contact with target language speakers. This factor can undoubtedly influence learning and fluency. To my mind, another important psychological blockage especially for adults is a fear of failure and mistakes that can prevent speaking and communication. However, according to Anne Merritt (2012), “those mistakes help language learners by showing them the limits of language”.
Apart from this individuals have different aptitudes for different kinds of study. However, considering aptitude and intelligence for learning language in general, it seems to be reasonable that “learners with a wide variety of intellectual abilities can be successful language learners. This is especially true if the emphasis is on oral communication skills rather than metalinguistic knowledge” (Lightbown and Spada: 2006). In addition, temporary “affective filters” such as depression, frustration, lassitude may suppress the process of language learning which requires total concentration and recollection.
One of the most substancial factors determining the successful learning is motivation. According to Harmer (2007), motivation that students bring to class is the biggest single factor affecting their success. Thus the lack or loss of it, which is called demotivation, can completely destruct the whole process of learning.
As long as students study in different social and cultural environment, some external handicaps such as learner’s society, religion, economic status, location, work and family relationships can impact on the process of learning. For instance, in some cultures or different social communities particular topics for conversation are not relevant or can provoke hesitation or even disconcert. Certainly, “mother-tongue may be a major factor blocking or assisting learning” (Halloway: 2008). Evidently, students from Oriental or Semitic language group possibly have more obstacles in learning English than ones with Latinate or Indo-Germanic background. What is more, interpersonal relationships between students in group and with a teacher as well as classroom environment may also promote or inhibit language learning. It seems to be highly important for students to feel confident about their teacher, comfortable with other students in a suitable and creative classroom. Otherwise, they might not get pleasure and lose the willingness to attend classes.
Summarising all the blocks which can prevent language learning, it seems to be obvious that both external and internal play a very important role and cannot be considered separately. As far as the process of learning is influenced by numerous interconnected circumstances, for ESL teacher it is extremely important to identify all possible blockages, to analyze the ways to overcome most of them in order to ensure that the students can succeed, which is one of the basic principles of a good ESL teacher.
Ellis, R. (1995). Second Language Acquisition. Oxford University Press
Halloway, MK. (2008). Factors affecting language learning. Language, Education and development in Africa
Harmer, J. (2007). How to teach English. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited
Lightbown, P., Spada, N. (2006). How languages are learned. Oxford University Press
Merritt, A. (2012). Learning a foreign language: five most common mistakes. The Telegraph.
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