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Jan 13

Second Language Anxiety

Posted on Sunday, January 13, 2013 in Education, French, Second Language Acquisition

The semester has started and the first week passed without much issue. My concerns are that 12 hours is a crazy course load for graduate school. I am taking two graduate French courses, French Syntax and Meaning, essentially a linguistics course presented in French instead of English, and Art and Literature in the 19th and 20th century. This course is one of those dreaded esoteric french courses that made me change my major as an undergrad and gives me huge impostor syndrome. I am not an expert in analyzing and interpreting literature in my first language and I suffer from huge anxiety trying to do it in my second language.

My anxiety about my skills in my second language go farther than just my ability to analyse literature. I know I can speak French but I always feel as if I have to be perfect. I have to prove it. I can’t make mistakes. And when I do make mistakes, I feel a complete sense of shame.

I realize these feelings, while normal in language learners, cannot control me. I cannot let fear of making mistakes keep me from my dreams. For years they did. I stopped speaking French after I got my diploma and when I would try I would make mistakes and I would just shut down.

When I started studying the research going on in second language acquisition, I learned things that made me feel more comfortable with my shortcomings as a second language learner.

1.) Language learning is a continuum. Regardless of one’s proficiency, if one is  learning the language he is  a speaker of the language. I took Spanish in college and felt a huge sense of failure when the language did not come naturally to me. I do not speak it well, but I can speak some Spanish. Spanish is my 3rd language. I cannot speak Urdu but I can understand a great deal. I am somewhere on the continuum for learning Hindi/Urdu. This is my 4th language. I no longer diminish my language abilities by dismissing the efforts I made to reach where I am on the continuum with any language I have tried to learn.

2.) One should not expect to speak like a native speaker. This one is hard. The nature of language learning is to want to become fluent. And fluency means to speak as much like a native speaker as possible. But to seek perfection is unrealistic and one will never speak exactly like a native speaker. Nearly perfect proficiency is possible but I have banished this kind of perfection from my mind.  I speak French well, as a second language. There are things I say that a native speaker would not. My accent is not perfect. There are ways I phrase sentences that are more like a native speaker of English speaking French. This is because my native language is English. And I am ok with that.

3.) One develops proficiency in the area of the language they practice. There are four aspects of language learning. Speaking, listening, writing and reading. To develop a complete proficiency, one must practice in all areas. Some courses are focused on one thing, for example academic language courses focus on reading. Conversation courses focus on developing communicative competency. For years the only input I had was to sporadically to read something in French. I did not have opportunity to speak it, I did not listen to native speakers of the language, nor did I have chance to write anything in French. I would freak out completely when I had difficulty trying to do one of these things.

As a future French educator, I enjoy learning the research and theories about SLA. They both comfort my own anxiety and short comings and help me to become a better educator.

Jan 11


Posted on Friday, January 11, 2013 in Education, Second Language Acquisition

Genie is the pseudonym of a feral child who was the victim of one of the most severe cases of abuse and neglect ever documented. She spent most of her first thirteen years of life locked inside a bedroom, strapped to a childs toilet or bound inside a crib with her arms and legs immobilized. Genies abuse came to the attention of Los Angeles child welfare authorities on November 4, 1970.[1][2][3]

via Genie feral child – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


So the Language Acquisition class I am taking the semester had us read this horrific case study. I wept all afternoon. How could someone be so awful to their own child?

Nov 14

xkcd, and why it wins its way into my language educator’s heart: Up Goer Five

Posted on Wednesday, November 14, 2012 in Education, Second Language Acquisition, Teaching

Thank you to Eric for telling me I should look at this xkcd. It’s an illustration of the Saturn V Rocket, the rocket that carried men to orbit and to finally land on the moon. That in itself is awesome.

But why else would I bet all over this comic like it’s my favorite kind of candy? It’s perfect for a language educator because why? Are we keeping track of my crazy brain?

It’s the Saturn V rocket described in only the top 1000 most commonly used English Words: xkcd: Up Goer Five. There are a lot of word lists that list high frequency vocabulary words, and language learners are encouraged to master these vocabulary words before worrying about low-frequency words in order to develop a useful repertoire of vocabulary from which to pull from. If you know a thousand obscure words, your ability to have a conversation in your second language is seriously diminished.

While I see the value of focusing on high-frequency words for language learners, the xkcd comic reveals an interesting drawback to these commonly used words. One will quickly remark upon how silly the xkcd descriptions become using only these high-frequency terms. This indicates that specialized vocabulary has its place, and why there are a number of different word lists from which to pull from, depending on the sort of language one will need to use. English for Academic Purposes, for example, focuses on the Academic Word List, which is entirely different than a list of commonly used words in conversation.

So yes, as always xkcd is my favorite comic. The end.

Oct 2

Native-Like Proficiency and Pragmatics

Posted on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 in Education, Linguistics, Second Language Acquisition, Teaching

If one can assert that the ultimate goal of advanced level foreign language learning is to achieve a “near-native proficiency” of the target language, what makes someone speak with “native-like proficiency”? What does that mean, exactly? While an advanced language learner might have mastered the grammar (syntax) and vocabulary (morphology) of their target language, they often produce language that can still be identified as non-native. Why is this?

Pragmatics might be the answer. Pragmatics is the awareness of what language choices are appropriate for the context in which they are used. Crystal (1997) defines pragmatics as “the study of language from the point of view of the users, especially of the choices they make, the constraints they encounter in using language in social interaction, and the effects their use of language has on the other participants in an act of communication.”

In discourse, we are studying discourse pragmatics, rather why the same meaning can be expressed by more than one sentence, annd which is the more appropriate and native-like. Native speakers know what is used lexicogrammatically by native speakers but how can language learners learn this beyond long-term immersion in the target language. Is direct instruction of this native-like pragmatics possible?

Interlanguage Pragmatics studies pragmatics in second language acquisition. It focuses on research based on cross-cultural pragmatics and transference/inference of cross-cultural politeness. Kasper and Rose define Interlanguage Pragmatics as, “the study of nonnative speakers’ use and acquisition of L2 pragmatic knowledge.”

When talking about proficiency, language educators are usually referring to the communicative competence of a language learner, as well as their mastery of the structure and grammatical elements of a language.

It would appear that research needs to be done to show how educators can facilitate language learners communicative competency development alongside their awareness of interlanguage pragmatics so they can achieve true native-like language proficiency.

Aug 28

Academic Rambling

Posted on Tuesday, August 28, 2012 in Education, Second Language Acquisition, Teaching

School schedule this semester is heavy. Language and Culture in the Classroom, Educational Linguistics and Folk Literature for Children. I love it all. Really I do. I think that I could become an academic, a scholar. Teach classes and research and write papers and present them at conferences surrounded by people as academically fervent as I am about my research interests. Right now I am pursuing my Master’s. What if I want to return to pursue my PhD. And not in horribleness. I love learning. Such a nerd.

Jun 9

French Study Update

Posted on Saturday, June 9, 2012 in French, Second Language Acquisition

French studies are going well! My grammar and verb review is progressing very well. I’m reviewing concepts I haven’t studied in detail for years. I’ve been diving into an in-depth review of irregular verbs, passe compose past participles, reflexive verbs, definite articles, indefinite articles, possessive pronouns, negating sentences, and more.

Even though these are all languauge concepts that I have previously mastered, I think it’s worthwhile review going on. Why bother with these things? Well for one I haven’t studied them in detail since high school? Research suggests revisitng concepts over time helps reinforce and more deeply learn concepts. Another reason is that I spent many years letting grammatical accuracy be trumped for fluency and there are real possibilities that there may be things I have been doing improperly for years and I do not want to fossilize any grammar inaccuracies. A teacher cannot be cemented into errors.

Revisiting these concepts with an adult mind also makes me more focused on details. Instead of learning a new concept and doing a few exercises and then forgetting them I am understanding why things are the way they are. An example is the many verbs with spelling changes in their conjugations. While I always knew verbs like acheter, esperer, payer, manger and commencer  have spelling changes, I didn’t understand why phonetically. Approaching these verbs with a more mature mind that is more focused on a real goal helps me not brush past these concepts and focus more on understanding them.

Another facet I have found to be advantageous about reviewing this stuff is while I review I start to formulate plans on how I would present these concepts to a class full of beginning language learners. Therefore my reviews are dual purposed, I am reviewing concepts that I haven’t for years and also rehearsing in my mind how I will present these concepts to  beginning students.  Overall a good exercise!

I have enjoyed two French Movie Night Friday’s. I’ve watched Le Chevre and Les Noms des Gens. This is my favorite night of the week for many reasons.

So oui, mes etudes vont tres bien!

May 14

Summer: French Plan of Study

Posted on Monday, May 14, 2012 in French, Second Language Acquisition, Teaching

A large portion of my summer plans include daily French study. After last semester, I would say my current proficiency in specific grammar concepts is lacking. I mean, I did fine in the French course I took, I got an A-, but there is definite room for improvement. Lesson learned: When one takes 8 years off of French learning, one tends to forget parts of the language. To receive certification with my MAT program with UGA, I will need to score Intermediate High the ACTFL Oral Proficiency test, which I will take during the cohort portion of the program where I complete my practicum courses and student teaching/internship. While I am not doing my cohort this coming fall, I intend to complete my G-4 Certification requirements during the 2013 – 2014 school year, I am not taking classes this summer, so now is the time to get it up to par.

In the curriculum design course I took last semester, I learned a lot about how languages are taught and therefore am using that information to approach my studies in the most efficient metacognitive style. I know that in order to develop all areas of language proficiency I will need to practice all four areas of the language: Reading, writing, listening and speaking. I also Think the four strands principle of language learning is a wise approach: Language-focused learning, meaning-focused output, meaning focused input and fluency development. Another principle I intend to employ is comprehensible input (thank you Stephen Krashen!)

So below is my plan of attack for maximizing my language development over the short summer months.

Focus: Grammar

  • Reading: Read sentences and paragraphs employing the grammar concept I am focusing on for the day. I will utilize Google and my existing coursebooks and texts to find relevant examples of the grammar concept and read them.
  • Writing: Practice the grammar concept in focus using the Ultimate French Review and Practice book I am using.
  • Listening: Listen to French podcast, find content related to grammar concepts.
  • Speaking: Simulate conversation and make up sentences utilizing the grammar concept.

Focus: Culture

  • Reading: Read the news/current events in France and French speaking countries.
  • Writing: Write a blog post about current event that interests me.
  • Listening: Watch French news broadcast about the current events.
  • Speaking: Record the blog pots that I write, and upload it to the blog as a sort of podcast.

Focus: Verbs

  • Reading: Read sentences with verbs I am focusing on today employing them in a variety of verb tenses.
  • Writing: Write sentences using verbs in focus using in a variety of verb tenses.
  • Listening: Find reading paragraphs using the verbs.
  • Speaking: Read the sentences out loud. Make up sentences using the verb in a variety of verb tenses in a simulated conversation.

Focus: Reading Comprehension

  • Reading: Read from graded reader a chapter at a time.
  • Writing: Answer questions in the books about the chapter.
  • Listening: Read out loud.
  • Speaking: Read out loud.

Focus: Movie day

  • Reading: Read review about the movie before watching it.
  • Writing: Write a blog post about the movie after watching it reflecting on the movie.
  • Listening: Watch movie, listen to dialouge.
  • Speaking: Record blog post and post to blog as a podcast.


This is just a rough plan!

Mar 29

Thoughts on code-switching

Posted on Thursday, March 29, 2012 in Second Language Acquisition

When does code-switching stop being helpful and start being a crutch that language learners lean on to get their point across without circumlocution and talking around lexical words they do not yet know?

I guess I refer more to pidgin languages than proper code switching. But how often do you speak Franglais or Spanglish in your language class?

Jan 22


Posted on Sunday, January 22, 2012 in Second Language Acquisition

Oh Interlanguage, I have reawoken my interlanguage with my current semester’s French course. Yes, I think I have some ways to go before I am fluent again.

Also found this article on Universal Grammar. I really really badly need to take a linguistics course next semester. I’m flying blind here, people.