Social Context of Second Language Acquisition and Its Implementation of English Teaching

Social Context of Second Language Acquisition and Its Implementation of English Teaching
The recent development of English language teaching has proposed the Communicative Approach. This approach in some degree has replaced the use of the grammatical approach as the classical one. The grammatical approach was seen as failing to interconnect between psychological competence; grammatical competence, and social competence; discourse and strategic competence. Thus, the searching for an approach that accommodates the goal has arrived at the recent approach namely communicative approach. The proponents of this approach tend to see the goal of language teaching is not the grammatical competence, rather the communicative competence, the competence facilitated by a strategy, later called as strategic competence, allows someone to use every language potential inside his/herself for achieving a meaningful and successful communication.

The communicative approach is originally based on the Sociolinguists’ view on Second Language Acquisition. Sociologists tend to view that language is acquired through the medium of input and interaction. Furthermore, the input and interaction are modified in some cases, such as when the competence of a speaker is in different level with the hearer. Those modification occures in order to gain a succesful communication. Accordingly, social environment where the interaction takes place has a significant role in the process of acquisition. Thus, the core of communicative teaching lies on the process of interaction is social life.

Therefore, in this paper, we are going to examine the sociologists’ view on Second Language Acquisition in the first part of the discussion, and its implication on language teaching in the next part. Specifically, the issues discussed in this paper are guided by these following questions:
  • How do sociolinguists view second language acquisition? 
  • What is the implementation of the view on English teaching field? 
  • What is the strength and the weakness of the view? 
  • Social Context of Second Language Acquisition

The discussions about second language acquisition are always initiated by the questions around what exactly the L2 learner comes to know, how the learner acquires this knowledge, and why some learners are more successful than others. For instance, linguists answered the questions by grammatical approach, which believe that the goal of second language acquisition lies in gaining grammatical competence. Furthermore, learners gain this competence through the exposure of grammar. Thus, a successful learning is resulted from an adequate exposure of grammar. In contrast, a less successful learning is resulted from the lack of the exposure.

However, sociolinguists offer answers for those questions from their social perspective. In spite of believing that the goal of English teachings lies in the achievement of grammatical competence, they believe that a successful learner is the one who is successful in communication. In English teaching field, it is said that a successful English teaching is achieved when the learners have gained communicative competence. Moreover, the process of language acquisition is mediated by input and interaction. The more one is involved in live communication with L2, the more successful he/she will be in the process of learning.

Further discussions below will examine communicative competence and aspects surrounding it in more detail. It includes the discussions about models of communicative competence, aspects of SLA which is seen from sociolinguistics perspective, and the implication of the view on English teaching field.

Communicative Competence

As stated earlier, communicative competence becomes the goal of English teachings. However, the term communicative competence itself remains unclear without examining another definition of the term competence from another field of study. For instance, Chomsky as a linguist defined competence as static knowledge lies in mind, a state of product that excludes any notion of “capacity” or “ability”. Furthermore, competence becomes performance when the competence is put in use. Therefore, he distinguished between competence, a static knowledge, and performance, an active use of the knowledge.

Instead of seeing the competence as a static knowledge, the proponents of communicative approach believe that “competence” covers both the static knowledge and the active use of the knowledge. In addition, the term competence is also accompanied with the notion of communication. Thus, it is necessary to define the notion of communicative competence in a comprehensible definition. Accordingly, some models of communicative competence has been proposed in order to meet the comprehensible definition.

The Model of Communicative Competence
The model which will be presented here is the model proposed by Canale & Swain (1980). 

It is the first propesed model, and it posited four components of communicative competence
Grammatical competence – the knowledge of the language code (grammatical rules, vocabulary, pronunciation, spelling, etc.). 

Sociolinguistic competence – the mastery of the sociocultural code of language use (appropriate application of vocabulary, register, politeness and style in a given situation).
Discourse competence – the ability to combine language sturctures into different types of cohesive texts (e.g., political speech, poetry). 

Strategic competence – the knowledge of verbal and non-verbal communication strategies which enhance the efficiency of communication and, where necessary, enable the learner to overcome difficulties when communication breakdowns occur. The model shows us that competence is not merely a static knowledge, but also it covers an active skill initially known as performance. As a matter of fact, discourse competence is an active ability in combining language structures into different types of cohesive texts, while grammatical competence is a static knowledge about language code. Therefore, the model is comprehensive enough to explain the competence from sociolinguists point of view.

Aspects on Second Language Acquisition in Social Context

Variation on Learner Language

The variation also occurs in L2 learners, some learners are more successful than others. In explaining this phenomena, sociologists argue that variable feature occurs in the production of any one speaker (native or language learner) depends largely on the communicative contexts in which it has been learned and is used. Furthermore, The extent of using English in communication becomes a factor influencing the acquisition of L2.

Input and Interaction The process of acquisition is influenced by some aspects such as language input and interaction. Language input is considered as primary “data” for essentially linguistic and/or cognitive process. In other words, it is the source of data which in turn is further processed in the interaction to gain more advanced knowledge. Furthermore, interaction is generally seen as essential in providing learners with quantity and quality of external linguistic input which is required for internal processing. Therefore, language input and interaction play important roles in the process of acquisition.

The Implication of the Social Context on Teaching Methodology

Communicative Language Teaching

The goal of communicative competence lies on the gaining communicative competence, which has been explained earlier. The process of teaching and learning in the classroom also concerns with activities facilitated by the modification of input and interaction. Moreover, The teacher is actively involved in the activities, and becomes the facilitator and motivator, while students are expected to be comfortable with their peer. Therefore, the activities tend to be in the form of classroom or pair discussion.

Specifically, classroom activities using communicative language teaching are guided by some considerations below
  • Fluency activities: one of the goals of CLT is to develop fluency in language use rather than accuracy. 
  • Mechanical, meaningful, and communicative practice: language practices that moves from controlled ones to free ones. 
  • Information-gap activities: it refers to the fact that in real communication people normally communicate in order to get information they do not possess. 
  • Jig-saw activities 

The Strength and Weakness of the Approach
  • This approach is not guided by strict rules as grammatical/linguistic approach. Thus, it allows learners to feel free in learning English. 
  • The implementation of this approach is potential to build learners’ sustainable learning. It is due to the fact that activities guided by this approach are flexible, fun, and more student centered. 
  • The implementation of this approach gives teachers more flexible roles in the classroom. Accordingly, teachers have a chance to modify teaching procedures in more interesting way. 

  • This approach fails to explain the learners’ mental development in a systematic way. The explanation of the variation occurs in learners’ achievement has inadequate support from empirical study. 
  • This approach fails to explain some autodidact learners who teach themselves without having an exposure of communication. in fact, there are a lot of learners who are successful in learning English without such kind of communicative exposure. 
  • The implementation of this approach is weak when it comes to young learner education. 
Social Context of Second Language Acquisition and Its Implementation of English Teaching