jueves, 9 de octubre de 2014


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     How we acquire language can still be considered a mystery. There have been different responses which intended to answer the question of what the process of first language acquisition is about. Bloomfield, for example, believed that language was behaviour and that “the child initiated the process almost accidentally” (Cook and Newson, 1996). Adult’s reaction and reinforcement were crucial in this process. Then, B. F. Skinner tried to explain acquisition as stimulus-bound. For him language behaviour was determined by both stimuli and responses that were to be reinforced accordingly. Finally, Noam Chomsky’s ideas emerged and appeared to be superior to the ones the other authors had proposed. His innateness theory of language as built-in in the new born baby’s mind seems to be the best explanation.


     Firstly, Chomsky declares that children are already born with knowledge of what language is about, in other words, they come with a Universal Grammar (UG) in their minds. This knowledge is constituted by different principles and parameters that allow every human being “regardless of intelligence, size, race, sex, class, or other variables” (Cook and Newson, 1996) to acquire a language. This explains why the acquisition of Chinese, English or Sesotho can be tackled by any child in any part of the world.

    Secondly, he explains that these principles and parameters are inside a Language Acquisition Device (LAD) (See figure 2), a kind of black box in which different processes take place. In this way “children can hear a number of sentences said by their parents, (Primary linguistic Data), they process these within their black box and finally they acquire linguistic competence in the language or a Generative Grammar” (Cook and Newson, 1996).
Fig. 2. The LAD/UG/Blackbox Model

     However, this competence does not entail a simple process for the child. At first the new-born baby knows nothing about the language he is going to be exposed to. Chomsky calls this the Zero State or S0.  Thanks to child’s LAD, experience is processed, and a new more advanced state of the language is constructed. Thus, he goes through a sequence of stages until he becomes an adult native speaker and has full knowledge of the language (Steady State or Ss). (See figure 3).

Fig. 3. The states metaphor in L1 acquisition - Zero to Final states

     Then, Chomsky explains why acquisition does not depend on adults to shape their children verbal repertoire through a careful reinforcement system as Skinner’s proposes in his theory. He says that language is stimulus-free. That is the reason why a child can understand and produce sentences which he has never heard before. He is able to do this because of creativity which allows us to respond differently to any stimulus.

      In the process of a first language acquisition “parameter-setting allows the child to acquire the circumscribed variation between languages” (Cook and Newson, 1996). Chomsky claims that parameters, which are like switches in the mind (see figure 4), turn in order to suit the language being exposed to. Then, for example, they are set to pro-drop or non-pro-drop according to the linguistic data. The first position takes place in those languages such as Spanish or Italian in which pronouns or subjects can be omitted because they can be inferred from the context. The second one occurs when languages do not allow pronouns or subjects to be dropped as in English or Swedish.
Fig. 4. Setting the Head Feature Parameter to "left". The "Wh-Displacement Parameter is intended to distinguish languages that allow displaced Wh-words from those that do not. English, allows Wh-words in Wh-questions. From: http://language-theory.pl/language733.html

     In this way Chomsky explains what happens in the mind of the child when acquiring a language. However, one weak point of his theory may be that it appears to be based on hypothesis which cannot be fully observed or checked. Thus, it will never be possible to open a child’s head to prove them true or false. Apart from that, new theories can emerge also based on hypothesis and try to explain first language acquisition in different ways. 
Fig. 5. Hypothesis, Laws and Theories

     Another weakness of Chomsky’s theory may be that it does not explain how the social context of the child also influences the process of acquiring a language, even though he does not deny it. Perhaps, language is not stimulus-bound but sometimes it may be influenced by the external world of the child to determine what the topics of new and creative utterances will be about. Thus, by including the social context in his UG theory Chomsky would offer a broader explanation of reality.
Fig. 6. The importance of children's social context

Cook, V. & Newson, M. (1996). General Concepts of Language Acquisition. In Chomsky’s Universal Grammar: An Introduction, 3, 75-132.

Listen to Noam Chomsky himself. In this video he tells us how much his UG theory may have changed. Then, he explains his theory in a very simple language.

jueves, 26 de junio de 2014

Emilio Tenti Fanfani in Escobar

   Last Thursday, Emilio Tenti Fanfani came to Escobar and gave a seminar on many of the topics he usually writes about in his books.  At first, he started by saying what the features of an effective speaker should be. Then, he talked about different problems that affect Education. Finally, he decided to give people the opportunity to ask him questions, express new ideas and even expose in what points they disagreed with him.

   His ideas in the seminar were exposed  in a very comprehensible style. He suggested among other tips, that both teachers and future ones should do the same when they were, for example, delivering a lesson since otherwise it would not be productive for our students and the enjoyment of our job.

   He also talked about the different problems that affect public Education. He included among them the fact that secondary students have not acquired much knowledge and skills when they finish the last year of school. He said that many of them could hardly understand paragraphs or get main ideas from them. This would be a clear obstacle if they ever intended, for example, to continue studying at university.

   Finally, when the public had the chance to ask him questions, he proposed many ideas such as how to motivate students to learn. He talked about how respect for the differences could be used in order to introduce new topics and help learners have a positive attitude towards what may otherwise be rejected by them.

   The seminar was enjoyable and worth listening since it both helped students revise the ideas they had read about the previous years and it also gave new ideas about how to manage motivation in the classroom.

jueves, 12 de junio de 2014

Can our world be changed from the classroom?

A Reflection

   Changing the world and having happier people may depend on the  inner motivation of each of us. It is widely known that we tend to do that we are more interested in and maybe that we dream of mostly. However, there is a point in which we stop trying and situations appear to continue forever. Then we may ask ourselves why we have this kind of reality we see everyday. Maybe we, as teachers, may have the chance to influence what our students will decide to do in the future and thus they may do some of the changes which would benefit not only them but also the rest of us.

   Something which motivates me again when I feel things are going wrong and feel frustrated, is to think  about what are those changes I would like to get in my life. Then, my imagination begins to show me images of  what a better life would be like. I will make a list of them and I get ideas such as "I would like to enjoy more when I am at work". Then, I ask myself how could I achieve that and my mind starts thinking about possible solutions, or strategies,  which I could apply in order to overcome those obstacles I experience when I at work. The next stage will be to apply and evaluate the results and see how well things went, bearing in mind that I may fail or succeed in what I wanted to do but also remembering that I should keep trying.

   That is a well-known process about how to create ideas and get changes in your life. Maybe, we could devote some lessons in which our students have to deal with problems and dreams as topics.  In order to reactivate their motivation we may ask them what their needs are, or what it is the dream that they had but think of as impossible to achieve. We could also show them images of better lives, or videos about what many common people achieved starting from very hard situations. After that, we could ask them to write ideas about how they could achieve those changes or what steps they should follow in order to get nearer to their dreams. Maybe, we could ask them to write reflections to hand in about how good the results were.

   Having a better and happier world may be a matter of getting the habit of starting to think again, planning, applying, evaluating and never giving up. However, it may not be the only way. It would positive if we as teachers could share ideas about how to improve things and also apply them.

jueves, 29 de mayo de 2014

Welcome to "Be a Technological Teacher":

  The purpose of this blog is to share ideas or some solutions to certain problems which technology may help us solve. Each of them will be based on different programmes, web sites or web pages that maybe you don't know. 

    So as readers, and teachers, of course, you may suggest ideas to help your colleagues as well. Perhaps if we help each other and join the cause, the day when our students learning processes are improved, better educational levels achieved and  life in society reaches better standards will come nearer.

   "Perhaps a mind focused on  finding the solution  to a problem can create hundreds of ideas. But thousands of minds focused on the same problem could possibly discover almost an infinite number of ways to solve it." 

     I hope you can enjoy it!!!

Sergio Frías.