Section A
Section B

Module 2.1

This Unit deals with the relationship between learning and development, an area that has specific implications for second-language teaching in children.

One approach to explain this relationship follows Jean Piaget’s theory that sees learning and mental development as independent from one another. Learning uses development but does not shape its course. Educators who adhere to this belief emphasise a child’s “readiness”. According to Piaget, a student must be exposed primarily to language that can be handled without difficulty. In other words, the language must be at the student’s actual level of development.

Vygotsky differed from Piaget in that he believed that learning came before development. In his theory of second language learning, it is through interaction that the child progresses from an actual to a potential development level. The difference between these two theorists is that Piaget relied heavily on biology and genetic background, while Vygotsky stressed society and culture in influencing language development. In addition, Vygotsky placed a great deal of emphasis on play, which he saw as a necessary component to learning. He was convinced that learning is a dynamic social process through which the teacher can focus on emerging skills and abilities in a dialogue with a student.

Paolo Freire further distinguishes the process of learning and education into two categories: banking and libertarian.

Banking education says that:

  • Education is an act of depositing. The student is an empty depository and the teacher is the depositor.
  • The students receive, memorise, and repeat.
  • There is no real communication.
  • The role of the student is a passive one.

Libertarian education involves:

  • A partnership between teacher and student
  • Inherent meaning in the communication
  • A dialectical process, a reciprocal process, a cooperative relationship

The difference here as we see it is basically the active involvement of the student in the learning process. Through interaction, the teacher is attuned to each child’s emerging skills and abilities. Otherwise, meaningful communication could not take place. Meaningful interaction is the key. The inherent social nature of what is learnt when one learns a language is taken into account, as is the essentially social way in which the acquisition of knowledge of language must occur.