Barriers to Learning English as a second Language

Jun 12th, 2012 | By | Category: Skills Training

“Language is the garment of thought” –Dr Samual Johnson. Learning to speak fluently and communicate with confidence also opens up new opportunities in new fields of communication, art, commerce and IT. A good command of a universal language makes expressing thoughts and exchanging ideas easier and enjoyable. It can start to breakdown economic and social barriers and open access to new social interactions and open our minds to a wider range of creative thought.

English, French and German have been the three major languages or tools associated with international communication. With the British colonial influence and close trade ties within the commonwealth counties, English has become the key language for international communication in Sri Lanka.
Fluency in English had also become a symbol of social status and learning to speak and communicate effectively and fluently in English as a second language opens new social and business opportunities. It can open doors to career opportunities and get introductions to new friends. English is one language that transcends national and cultural barriers much more than other international languages. Yet for some, gaining fluency has become an impossible task.

Toddlers and young children learn to grasp any language which happens to be spoken by his or her parents and siblings. They learn it by listening and responding when totally immersed in a language in their day to day activities. Children learn through listening, speaking, reading, writing and living the language.

One of the main reasons for the problems in not being able to master English as a second language for children and adults is its current methods of teaching. The emphasis is given more to the rules and grammar and less to mastering speech. English as a second language is taught using translations from the mother tongue, where as a mother tongue is learnt directly through life experiences.

Therefore English needs to be taught as a means of communication and for exchanging of views and not just as a subject or a qualification that is not used regularly in practice.

Recent research and better understanding of how our brain works indicate that from birth to the age of up to 25 years, language learning tends to be specialized in one area of the brain, but will get dispersed into other areas with age thereafter. It is also believed that the area of brain on language works more as a RAM (in computer jargon) so that it needs to be frequently used for the memory to be retained.

It is also understood that the area of the brain associated with reading is not the same area for writing and speaking, which may explain why many people can read but cannot speak it fluently.
However, some of the other main reasons for the difficulty in learning to speak a new language are:

1. Lack of opportunity to speak the language
2. Lack of opportunity in a day to day experience in using the language
2. Lack of confidence to practice speech (being shy to make mistakes)
3. Lack of availability of a qualified teacher to learn from and ineffective teaching methods
4. High cost of attending language classes with no apparent results shown
5. Social barriers leading to inhibition and prejudice.

With the recent advances in IT and the wide availability and use of personal computers with multimedia capabilities in homes and schools for gathering information, entertainment and various other applications, the use of multimedia for language learning now takes away many of the major barriers to mastering English language fluency.

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