Get Adobe Flash player
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 18 u Chapter 2 What’s the Difference Between Learning and Picking Up a Language? Learning a language is different from picking up a language (Krashen 1981; Harper and de Jong 2004). Well-meaning teachers sometimes say, “These children don’t really need me; they are picking up English on their own!” Learning to speak a language without instruction shows great creativity and resourcefulness. But it is like learning music by ear. Gifted individuals can become proficient musicians this way, but most people need explicit instruction. Similarly, without explicit language instruction, most people develop only social language. Learning a language is acquiring language skills through explicit instruction. Explicit instruction is showing and telling a child about an object, action, or idea and providing an opportunity to practice talking about it. Without such practice, second-language learners may not pro- gress. They may stay at the telegraphic or formulaic stage. Even if they are able to make social conversation in the playground, they do not develop the academic language skills they need to succeed in their studies. The following dialogue between a mom and her two-year-old son demonstrates explicit instruction and language learning: child : Car. (Points to a car parked in front of the house.) mom : Car! Yes, it’s a car. You see a car! (Smiles.) child : Car! Car! (Smiles and nods.) mom : excitedly: Yes, honey, it’s a blue car! A blue car! (Smiles and emphasizes color.) child : Bue, bue! (Beams.) mom : Blue. Can you say blllue? Blllue, like your shirt! Blllue. (Touches the child’s chest and smiles.) child : Bue, blllue. (Touches tummy and smiles.) mom : Yes, blue car! Blue shirt! You know the color blue! (Kisses child.) child : Blue! (Points to the blue blanket on the couch and smiles triumphantly.) This simple interaction contains all the components of explicit lan- guage instruction and learning. It includes an affective component: The mom is happy to be with the child and is happy that the child is learn- ing. She shows her happiness and encourages the child in a playful, COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL