SLA theories and approaches/methods in Language Teaching


I have wanted to write a short summary of theories behind Second Language Acquisition and give an introductory post on approaches and methods in Language Teaching.  InshaAllah this will help mothers to understand what goes on in child’s brain when they try to acquire a second or third/fourth language. I hope it will help parents to teach their kids Arabic or any other language more effectively .

Anyway, the first thing is, studies have proved that a child’s ability to learn a foreign language is so much higher than that of an adult. It is said that this ability will probably stop somewhere when child reaches the age of 12. That means, a child above 12 needs to make a lot more effort to learn a language.  So the earlier we start teaching a foreign language, the better results we get within shorter space of time.

The language skills are divided into 2 parts: Receptive skills- hear and speak; Productive Skills- read and write. The development of receptive skills will always overtake the latter. Therefore, we should first aid their hear/speak skills in a foreign language. Ideally, they should be exposed to an environment where that language is naturally spoken as much as possible. If teaching Arabic, let them watch Islamic Educational cartoons in Arabic, read aloud Arabic story books, mingle with Arab families where children speak in Arabic etc. Try to incorporate few Arabic phrases and word combinations into your daily life i.e say Ijlis- when asking them to sit down, Ta’li huna- come here etc.

At the same time they should be learning vocabulary. It is best to expand their vocabulary at early stage. Children have no fear of making a mistake when speaking in a foreign language. They are not interested in using the right vocab and grammar rules to construct a sentence. They see language as a whole- a holistic means of getting the message across. Very often they try to express their ideas through one or two words.

We can start teaching them how to read and write once they have developed some receptive skills. If teaching how to read Arabic, for example, child should have some exposure to and understanding of the Arabic language. Some say what is the point of teaching a child to read in Arabic if she/he can’t understand what he/she is reading? And subhanAllah it is so true. But, from an Islamic point of view, we want our children to be able to read the Qur’an. Understanding Qur’an is equally important. But, if child has memorized some surah from Qur’an, they can be taught how to read the Qur’an even if they don’t know the meanings of words used in the book of Allah and their spoken Arabic is very limited. Any other foreign language, I would say a child should have at least enough bank of vocabulary to make out what the story is saying before being taught how to read. But, because children have already memorized certain surah, teaching them how to read those memorized verses would become easy inshaAllah.

A sister asked me recently “what language shall I start with to teach my 4 year old how to read?”. Ideally, she wants to go for English because there are so many resources on the net to help parents. True. But, they don’t live in an English speaking country and they don’t speak English in the family. So the child doesn’t have enough exposure to English. Its sounds, tone and the whole system of language might be very new to her. And what is the point of teaching a child to read in a language if she doesn’t understand what she is reading? It is almost like she recognizes sounds D, O, G and she knows to blend them and pronounce dog but she doesn’t understand what the word means in a language she communicates and uses with the environment around her.

In a nutshell, she might learn how to read in English if taught but she can not relate what she is reading to her own life experience. This might be very frustrating for a child. InshaAllah I would say start teaching how to read in a language a child has most knowledge of at the time. If it is Russian and you live in Russian speaking country, then teach her how to read in Russian first. If child speaks more Uzbek and lives in non-Uzbek speaking country, I would say start with Uzbek and slowly introduce English or the language of the country you live in etc. Remember, we don’t want children merely to be able how to read. We want our children to actually enjoy reading, enjoy learning through books and enjoy what they read to their own life experiences etc. inshaAllah.

I was going to write a short passage about different methods and approaches in Language Teaching with my own preferences. But, subhanAllah this post is taking me  several days. InshaAllah I hope to continue writing on this topic in the future. For now I will have to give a short list of methods I would like to touch on in my upcoming posts. And if moms, educators, parents interested in teaching their children several other languages besides a mother tongue, it would be extremely helpful to learn about these approaches and take what suits them best from each.

Oral Approach and Situational Language Teaching

The Audio-Lingual Method

Total Physical Response

The Silent Way

The Lexical Approach

The Whole Language

The Natural Approach

Neurolinguistic Programming

Communicative Language Teaching

Content Based Instruction

InshaAllah, as and when I get time I will try to write more about each and how we can incorporate them in our daily life in order to help our children learn several other languages from young age.