The importance of second language learning in today’s ever-increasing globalized world is becoming ever more paramount. Despite seeming trends which indicate aversion to globalization, the international phenomenon which describes the connection made between peoples and cultures, will only increase its influence in coming years. With the advances globalization has made, it is becoming more important to learn and study foreign languages in order to keep abreast of this trend and not be left behind by globalization. Why electronic translation is not so viable in the long run (at least currently) is that culture and syntax are not things which can be simply ascertained via mediums such as application use. Due to the fact that advanced language proficiency is considered to be an integral piece towards stronger sentiments of “integration” (i.e. Syrian refugees integrating into EU and US) it is of more importance that increasing second language proficiency receives the adequate study and implementation to reflect a more cohesive globalized world. Accompanying this necessity is the simple fact that adult second language learners often struggle to overcome difficulty to the challenging yet rewarding task of learning and eventually mastering a second language.
To truly understand the difficulty some adult second language learners have with learning a second language it can be helpful to compare second language acquisition to how one naturally, and seemingly effortlessly in many cases, acquires their native language. How can a comparative analysis of how native speakers and adult second language learners each learn their first and second language respectively be successfully converted to a specific means of assisting adult second language learners achieve the highest level of possible fluency? In order to more accurately propose a viable solution to the overarching question, the following three questions have been proposed as a means to springboard into better understanding the nature of the main topic.
The points to consider while analyzing the main question throughout this analysis are as follows: How would it be best for an adult second language learner to achieve the same level off proficiency as a native speaker of a given language whom has been exposed to all of its intricacies since birth? At what point exactly is someone considered to have the same level of proficiency which a native speaker of a given language would have and how does that differ from being a heritage speaker? With the final supporting question being: What type of learning would be best suited in helping a heritage speaker (someone who learns a language in the home by virtue of their heritage) or adult second language learner to become highly proficient in a second language?
In order to propose a wide variety of integration between these questions with the conjoined purpose of answering the inquiry of this thesis, many different sources supporting each of the above questions will contain certain overlap, providing a clear basis for constructing a tri-fold argument in answering the thesis question as acutely as possible. In regards to the first question, the question of “proficiency” will be a subsection committed to understanding the nature of how language proficiency works and at what point (if ever) one can ever be considered “highly proficient” in a second language.
All three exploratory questions are compatible with a theory known as Critical Period Theory, a theory in linguistics proposed by Montreal neurologist Wilder Penfield, which states, “There is a critical age, before puberty, that one must learn language. If one has not learned to speak before puberty it is much more difficult, and sometimes impossible, to learn language and speak in a meaningful way.” The overlap which this method binds to Universal Grammar is a rather close-knit relationship. Research composed by certain linguists suggest that “children are born with a certain universal grammar wired into their brains.” This will be compared and cross-examined to a higher degree in a later section of the paper.
The importance of Universal Grammar in relation to Critical Period Theory cannot be overstated. Universal Grammar in relation to the second language Critical Period Theory will help explain at which point, someone is considered to be a “native speaker” of a given language. The third question posed of how would it be best for heritage and second language learners to increase their proficiency in a second language really touches on both of these theories in regards to at which age someone is exposed to a specific language in addition to how Universal Grammar affects the development of second language acquisition. In the realm of perpetually working towards mitigating an answer to this analysis’s thesis, the connecting thread or “roter Faden”, as it is said in German, will be the integrative domain the above questions will have on arriving to a clearer understanding of the nature of how a comparative analysis of second language learners and mother-tongue speakers can expedite the language learning process of second language learners, using techniques of native speakers which they inherently pick-up.