Second language acquisition (SLA) is a hot field of study that has attracted interest from a wide range of groups: the military, international businesses, and education technology startups.
Dr. Barbara Oakley (pictured), a professor of engineering at UCSD, has described how she used her skills in learning a language (Russian) to excel at math. Her course on "learning how to learn," in which she expands on this idea, is one of the most popular on Coursera. Some of the core ideas of SLA look poised to become buzzwords in all of education, and with good reason.
It used to be thought that learning a second language as a child would hurt a child’s performance in their native language. The idea was that there would be too much information for the child to digest. Two silly ideas supported this notion: one, that learning a language is about memorizing a certain quantity of information and two, that people are like computers.
Here are some interesting ideas from SLA research that could help any teacher:
A potential blind spot in this research is the focus on a “second” language. Third language acquisition researchers (a very new field) have found some interesting results: bilinguals are better at picking up a third language than monolinguals, which should be expected if we are treating language as a skill rather than a set of things to memorize. SLA researchers take it as fact that the more similar the second language, the easier it is to pick up. But it seems (with some complications, of course) that a wide difference between the first and second language arms the learner with skills that make it easier to learn a third language.
An elegant argument for a broad education.
I'm an entrepreneur and I teach math, history, economics, and fitness. I'm looking for arguments.