Social context and language acquisition: A Chinese child learning English as his second language in naturalistic preschool settings
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The present study attempts to address questions relating to the interaction of social and cultural context in L2 acquisition. The focus of the study is the language learning behavior of a Chinese boy, three years and 5 months old, learning English as his second language as he adapts to the school environment in naturalistic preschool settings. Since this is a study of one particular child, a case study approach was adopted. Qualitative methods such as participant observation, audio and video taping, formal and informal interviews with the child's parents, his teachers, and other adults were used to gather data and interpret the results. Findings indicate that despite the child's limited ability to interact verbally in English, he continued to develop cognitively and physically in an English-speaking preschool, and was building the rudiments of a L2 grammar initially through listening and later through simple utterances. He was an otherwise normal and healthy child but he did have special difficulties in comparison to English-speaking children who are also new to the preschool. Findings reveal that in naturalistic settings, child L2 learners need special assistance to help them gain entry to the activities and thus assure them access to the learning environment. L2 children need opportunities for getting comprehensible input and producing comprehensible output through interactions with other children and with teachers. Findings also suggest areas for teachers in multicultural early childhood classrooms to address the challenge of L2 acquisition. Teachers need to be prepared: (1) To understand cultural differences in childrearing and to be aware of the different learning experiences the L2 children bring into a new learning situation and look for ways to help them facilitate the transitional period in multicultural classrooms. (2) Teachers need to explore ways in which young children develop their awareness of other languages and cultures and find ways to encourage native-speaking children to interact with non-native learners. (3) Educators should keep L2 children's needs in mind and provide classroom structure that is both consistent and friendly for these learners and arrange activities to include L2 children before they have learned the classroom language.