English Language Learners
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” Ludwig Wittgenstein
An individual’s ability to achieve fluency in his/her native or a second language depends on the integrated activity of diverse systems in the brain. For example, while the sounds of language are heard in the auditory area of the brain, they must be responded to by the speech area. The speaker must listen to his or her own speech in order to tell whether the intended sounds have been produced correctly. This coordination is intensified when practicing speech in a foreign language.
In the early stages of learning a new language, most learners translate back and forth from the first language to the new one. As fluency is achieved, the need to translate diminishes and the ability to directly access and correlate concepts and words in the new language increases. Thus, the demands on certain cognitive skills are even greater during the early learning stages.
Strong overall cognitive skills support language acquisition, and following skills are particularly vital in early learning of a new language:
Definition and Correlation to Language Acquisition
The ability to hold information in the mind while performing mental operations on it.
Working memory is essential to comprehension in second-language acquisition as in reading or listening in ones’ first language. The reader/listener must hold a word or phrase in active memory while searching for its meaning or definition, add that information to previously compiled information and then repeat that process until the sentence or paragraph is complete. Searching for a word while speaking and consciously applying rules (how to pluralize, conjugate, word order) also puts intensive demands on working memory.
The ability to recall bits of information in the same sequence as received. This can involve auditory processing or visual processing or both.
The sequence of information is vital to comprehension and communication. Keeping the sounds of spoken or written communication sin the right order is necessary to match up the correct information. This can be even more challenging when learning a language in which phonemes appear in sequences that don’t exist in the native language or in which word order is different.
The ability to distinguish differences in sounds.
While we can hear all the sounds of any of the world’s languages at birth, we lose that ability over time and can become virtually deaf to sounds that don’t appear in our first language. The ability to discriminate new sounds is essential in learning to speak another language.
Auditory Short-term Immediate Memory
The ability to hold on to sensory information for a period of time for up to 30 seconds until it can be sent to the cortex for further processing or discarded.
If one’s first attempt to retrieve the meaning of a word that has been heard is not successful, the listener may need to go back and revisit the sensory trace to make another attempt to match that word up with meaning.
BrainWare Safari and ELL Students
Because of the importance of multiple system processing, students who receive training in basic cognitive skills, particularly in auditory and visual discrimination, attention, memory and sensory integration, will be able to learn a second language more quickly. This has significant implications for ELL students since cognitive training will enable them to respond better in the classroom and to pick up the language from their surroundings more readily.