Do you wonder why she keeps saying “he” for “she”? And instead of saying “have finished”, she insists “have finish” no matter how many times you have told her to use the past participle after have/has? How about the ill usage of the past tense of verb after the word “did” as in “Did you booked my flight?”
“A tree that grows crooked will never straighten its trunk.”
Does this old maxim applies in language learning? I suppose so. Before you raise your eyebrows, read on and uncover what Larry Selinker pointed out as “ceasing to progress”, “stopping short”, or “learning incompleteness” in the Target language –simply referred as fossilization.
Certain rules, forms, and language items of a foreign/second language are never acquired by non-native speakers, especially adults, no matter what they do. Just like hardened fossils, these learners couldn’t overcome their first language habits so they commit grammatical errors, mispronunciation and faulty intonation in the second language despite considerable drills and practice. The primary victims are adults due to their language ego, low motivation or plain disinterest in the culture of the people using the target language.
Meanwhile, listen. Selinker didn’t say all adults learning a Second language cannot overcome or prevent fossilization, as a mere 5% truly does. Some adults learning ESL show near-native competence in all macro skills (Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing). Are your hopes renewed? Perhaps you could help by endlessly seeking concrete answers to the below still unsettled questions:
- Why fossilization happens?
- What triggers fossilization?
- What part of a language is likely to be fossilized?
- Which type of learners are more prone to fossilization?
Since not much research has been done on how adults can overcome language learning difficulties, such as this episode called fossilization, every concerned tutor is invited to a worthwhile dig. Let’s challenge ourselves to really address the problem. If you have been harboring frustrations teaching both adults and teenagers a second language, it might be the best time for us to prove the adage “the answer rests within us.”