Factors Important in Second Language Acquisition

(An article review)

Walqui, Aida. (2000). Contextual factors in second language acquisition. ERIC Digests. Retrieved March 1, 03 from its source here.

There exist numerous factors believed to affect second language acquisition (SLA). Walqui asserts that while discussions about learning a second language have always been focused on teaching methodologies, little has been emphasized on contextual factors, that is, factors at play when learning a second language is put into context. In fact, so various are these contextual factors—individual, social, and societal—that she renders 17 of them, ranging from language to classroom interaction. Three important contextual factors, which I think contribute more to my understanding of contextual factors in SLA, and  which are—surprisingly—rarely discussed too much in SLA, are highlighted below.

The first factor is native language proficiency. Walqui affirms that learners who are proficient in their first language will find it easier to acquire a second language, the assumption being that those learners will positively transfer their easiness in using their first language into the second. She presents an example of why foreign exchange students tend to be successful in American high school classes: They already have high school level proficiency in their native language. Alwasilah, in his writing class, assigned students to write articles, article reviews, etc. in Indonesian first before later encouraging them to do so in English, the belief being exactly the same, i.e., students proficient in their first language will be equally so in English.

The second one is peer groups. Learners, especially teenagers, are influenced to learn a second language more so by their peers rather than by their parents. This can easily be understood through our understanding that teenagers at large are at a stage where they are in search of their identity, the process of which includes having to identify themselves to a particular group where they best belong in. Therefore, if a member of the group chooses to do something, in this case, learn a second language, other members will follow. Only, one bad thing about this kind of group identification is that one member’s wrong attitude, goal, etc. towards learning will automatically spark to other members. At English courses, for example, there are cases in which some high school students of the same class (and possibly the same peer group) go to the same level as they possess fairly similar proficiency. And throughout learning, they show relatively similar progress, too.

The third is home support. Many people may believe that school and society must provide the most exposure for second language acquisition to take place. Walqui, on the other hand, contends that support at home is equally important for successful second language acquisition to occur. She quotes Rodriguez (1982) recommending that, for example, parents of English language learners should speak only English at home. This is why, perhaps, some people speculate that in addition to sending elementary children to study English at school or a course, it would be wise also for their parents to study the language in order later to be able to speak it to their children at home, thus providing home support for their children in learning the language. Apart from that, such other facilities as English books, English magazines, etc. must also abound in number.

Other contextual factors revealed in the article are those already discussed much in the study of SLA, though spread out in separate sources. This article, therefore, compiles all contextual factors contributive of SLA from various sources. The author has especially a keen eye on compiling all contextual factors from these various sources available. I bet, if Professor Musthafa is to comment on this article, he will say that the author of the article is very brilliant, in that she manages to compile all those contextual factors contributive of SLA spread out in many sources that others wouldn’t possibly do. Compiling such contextual factors in SLA certainly requires patience and persistence. And Walqui has that. 

Yet, since the article is a brief one only, highlighting contextual factors in SLA without giving a much detailed account of the factors, the article is better suited to students needing information on contextual factors in SLA rather than to practitioners needing practical techniques in teaching. It is intended for those wanting to know contextual factors in SLA in brief and later to find out more about the factors themselves. This may be done through browsing on the net, searching for articles on each discrete contextual factor, or seeking books or journals on the contextual factors in SLA. For those looking for contextual factors in SLA for an immediate result, this article is a must-read; the article must be read ahead of said consecutive efforts.

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