In many EFL countries, the lack of English exposure is a major problem for teaching English to young learners (YLs). Why is it important to create an English environment for learning? What are the possible ways to create the ideal environment? Why these ways can be beneficial?
English proficiency levels in countries where English is not spoken by the majority of the population have always been a matter of debate in the field of language education. There are many theorists who support that language immersion should be the case when it comes to learning English, or any language in environments where students won’t be able to use the target language in their daily life. Likewise, many believe that it’s the meaningful discourse that makes sense, that helps the process of acquisition in a language environment. Throughout this topic, I will respectively talk about why we need to create such an environment in the class & institution and the ways to establish such an environment.
First of all, creating an only English environment has an academic name called immersion, or target language only. The policies of this idea say that there should be a target-only language environment in order to have increased language exposure and room for learning. I wholeheartedly support these policies too. We don’t learn our mother tongue as an end product of instructional processes that we have to go through in an institution. Rather, acquisition occurs whenever there is a language acquisition device and a plentiful experience that goes through this device. Let’s take a closer look to this idea with the help of several academicians who has a lot to say especially about language acquisition device and the language environment. Firstly, our discussion will fall into the field of second language acquisition. According to some sources, second language acquisition covers environments in which the target language is not spoken officially in the country too. Also, it is said that the “second” covers the third and fourth language too (Ellis, 2003). Now that we’ve given a correct label to our topic, let’s see why the second language acquisition should be the case in TEYL instead of “learning”. First of all, acquisition is effortless, meaning that the children don’t have to go through dry academic exercises in order to learn a language. In an environment where English is used to describe any events, any items or anything that’s not explicitly taught in the class, students will find themselves having learnt many vocabulary items and even some grammatical topics. This is the case of mutual exclusivity and also proved by the famous “Wug Test“. Whenever there’s a situation in which we find ourselves illiterate, we tend to listen to other people, watch their behaviors and imitate them. Mutual exclusivity is the linguistic version of this imitation. In order to acquire information, we operate some sort of reasoning. For example, if a teacher asks his/her student to point out ‘helicopter’, a device which isn’t currently known by the student, while showing two other items that the student recognizes, the student will inevitably point out the item ( a mini helicopter let’s say.) although he had no clue about what a helicopter is until that moment. Now that I’ve talked about mutual exclusivity, the concept has to be proven by real science. Wug test is first created by Jean Berko Gleason (1958) to show that children have some sort of acquisition-related ability to fill the gaps in activities, or in real-life situations. In the test, students are asked to fill a gap that is related to a concrete object that they haven’t heard before ( an artificial one in our case). Yet, students perform well even in these puzzling situations. This shows us that, without mechanical learning, students are capable of dealing with grammar. Yet, there is one important point that we have to consider. We have only been able to talk about the acquisition of concrete objects and basic grammar topics which are relatively easy to acquire. But, when it comes to the acquisition of complex grammar topics or abstract concepts, the acquisition process may not work as efficiently as the previous situations. There may occur cases in which acquisition by itself won’t be enough for students to understand the target language. Krashen, for example, believes that simplified input is the key element to acquisition. In one of his seminars, he demonstrates two different styles of teaching German. First, he simply introduces the body parts without pointing them at necessary moments. Then, he gives another lecture in which German body parts are taught while the necessary parts are being pointed out at the same time. Even though the listeners had no clue about German language, they had been able to catch some vocabulary items effortlessly. As I said before, the overemphasis of simplified input may lead us into the delusion that every aspect of language can be acquired effortlessly. We must prepare different ways while dealing with acquisition process that takes place in our classrooms. There are several ways to create language acquisition environment in our class. I believe that; the correct labeling of every object in the classroom may help students to acquire key vocabulary items without any explicit instruction. For example, students who will see the equivalent of the class items every day will inevitably acquire the words with no effort.
Secondly, communicative language teaching might be the key approach we’re looking for. According to the policies of CLT, it is said that learners will acquire the language naturally through the processes of communication, while explicit grammar teaching is not necessary (Ellis, 2003). So, we can say that communication is the natural way of acquiring language and increased opportunities for communication will lead to better acquisition of the target language. Another way to create the ideal environment is adopting meaningful tasks. It is perceived that tasks are the ‘environment’ or ‘ecosystem’ where the necessary language skills are developed (Cameron, 2001). Students are in constant search for meaning behind each task that they are provided with by their teachers. Therefore, meaningful activities should be demonstrated in the classroom environment so that students’ mind doesn’t confuse and have space for acquisition to take place. Lastly, the use of authentic materials and realia may help us to build better environments. Authentic materials allow opportunities to the acquisition of the target language for several reasons: 1) As they’re originally created by a native speaker or for a real purpose, they give us clues both about sentence structure and word order. This may help students to sound natural while using the target language. 2) Authentic materials increases the students’ motivation to communicate, as they are designed to exercise ‘real’ communication (Lansford, 2014). This is true for authentic materials are not designed for the lesson’s own sake. They are specifically designed to establish real communication environment in the classroom. To sum up, creating an English environment is necessary to activate LAD in students which automatically leads us to the more natural way of learning the language and there are several beneficial ways to establish such an environment.