An Early introduction of English in the Regional medium schools of India
From a theoretical as well as pedagogical point of view, an early introduction of a second language is beneficial for the learners. Chomsky believes that children are born with an inherited ability to learn any language, they inherit a Language Acquisition Device (LAD) and the form of the language that is acquired is largely determined by internal factors (Chomsky, 1966: 64). Chomsky’s theory of LAD prompted Eric Lenneberg to popularize his ‘critical period hypothesis which states that if the language acquisition does not occur by puberty, full mastery of the language cannot be achieved. He claims that “After puberty, the ability for self-organization and adjustment to the physiological demands of verbal behavior quickly declines”(Lenneberg, 1967:158).
The core validity of the ‘critical period hypothesis’ merits serious consideration in the case of an early introduction of English in the Indian context. What are the benefits of starting English early? Doesn’t it affect the very young learners coming from a non-English speaking background? I am often asked by my friends. As a teacher of English, I find many benefits of starting English instruction early.
1. Young learners are more likely to achieve native like pronunciation than older leraners as they are sensitive to the sounds and rhythms of a new language and enjoy repeating them.
2. Young learners are open to new linguistic experiences and are less inhibited than older learners
3. Young learners are more imaginative and explorative and they enjoy learning by doing.
4. Learning a new language is a performing art for the very young learners
I wish I had started English as a very young learner. Now, I realize that there was a decline in my ability to detect phonological contrast in the second language (Saxton,2010:114) when I stated learning English as an adult. In my mother tongue, /b/ is pronounced with the help of the two lips, in my English class, I was asked to pronounce /b/ with the help of the lower lip and the upper teeth. Again in my mother tongue, /s/ is always pronounced as /s/, but in English in plural endings, /s/ is sometimes /s/, sometimes /z/ and sometimes /iz/. In one of my first English class, I was severely punished for my inability to distinguish between the last sounds of ‘this’ and ‘these’, as I was unable to detect the phonetic contrast!
I am aware of the opinions of the experts who claim that ‘bilingualism’ can be an extra burden on young learners starting schooling for the first time in India. They are apprehensive of the fact that an early introduction of English in the vernacular medium schools of India may impede concept formation and lead to poor cognitive development. But is there any empirical evidence? I wonder. Isn’t it a story of Pride and Prejudice??