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The Journey of Learning a Foreign Language

1. Description of the subject

Sandro was born in Lima, Jesus Maria, Per (A Spanish speaking country). He grew up in a house
where both parents spoke Spanish as their first language and none of them used a foreign language
that could have influenced Sandro in a certain way. He is passionate about music and considers
music has played an important role in his life.

His first language is Spanish. He studied in a public school where all the classes were given in
Spanish and English was taught only two hours per week. He began to learn English as a foreign
language when he was fifteen years old and studied it at Icpna for three years in a classroom
setting. He did not have mayor problems to learn English neither the syntax nor phonetics and that
is why he felt confident to acquire another language. Therefore, Sandro, at the moment, speaks
three languages: Spanish, English and Portuguese. Unlike English, he acquired Portuguese in a
natural setting, in other words, he found the opportunities to learn the foreign language by himself.

He started to have contact with Portuguese when he was a kid due to the gatherings his parents
used to organize at home, in which Brazilian music was brought by a family friend who was from
Brazil and then in his early twenties when he had the chance to travel to Brazil on vacation and he
stayed in a friends house where Portuguese was the mother tongue of the family, so he was fully
immersed in the language as he found Portuguese not only in the house, but also out of it.

Having grown with a melomaniac1 father, he was exposed to different kinds of music, but one that
definitely caught his attention was Bossa nova (Brazilian type of music, which is a lyrical fusion of
Samba and Jazz), so his main drive to learn Portuguese was to understand what those songs
actually talked about as he was clearly impressed by the music already, but he had no idea what the
lyrics said and many years later his learning journey started as a result of a personal interest.

When Sandro began to learn Portuguese was twenty-two years old. Having listened to so much
music in Portuguese made Sandro believe that he was going to be able to understand Portuguese
easily, but something quite different happened as he found out people speaking really fast so it was
virtually impossible for him to understand what people were saying around him. What triggered
Sandros Portuguese learning was his first trip to Brazil in 2008. There he stayed in an island,
called Vitoria, which is the capital city of Espirito Santo, a state located in the south east of Brazil,
in a friends house for twelve days and all the people, except from, Lohanna, Sandros friend,
spoke English. During that time he was highly exposed to Portuguese. At the beginning Sandro
struggled to understand what people around said and he was clearly unable to make any utterance
that could make sense as the only Portuguese he had at that time mainly came from all the Brazilian
music (Bossa nova) he had listened up to that point. After a week, he was sort of used the new
sounds and phrases he got in the way, but when he tried to speak, he spoke English instead of
Portuguese. During this first trip, he used English to communicate with others. The trip ended and
he barely made any utterance in Portuguese as he basically used English all the time, but having
made more friends encouraged him to keep in touch with them and that is how he initially started
to write in Portuguese using the few phrases and words he had picked up in this first trip.

After that trip, Sandro began using a website called Livemocha, in which people from different
parts of the world could interact and share their own language in order to help each other to learn a
foreign language. In the meantime, He started chatting with several people from Brazil and he
watched Brazilian TV programs on the cable as well as listened to more music in Portuguese.

From that people he chatted with, he spent the most time writing to Ligia, a native speaker of
Portuguese in her early twenties who was studying education at that time and lived in Sao Paulo. At
first, Sandro and Ligia exchanged messages in English as she was interested in learning English.
Within a couple of months, Ligia began to get tired of writing in English and that is why she wrote
in Portuguese from that time on. Then, Sandro was somehow pushed to write back in Portuguese
too by using the phrases he had initially picked up from Ligias chats, Thus, Ligia began to send
him links with programs and music videos in Portuguese. In that way, Sandro began to grasp this
new language (Portuguese). After a while, those chats turned into calls where Ligia used only
Portuguese and sometimes she needed to speak in English in order to clarify certain doubts Sandro

1 Melomaniac: Somebody who is strongly attracted to music in general.

found on the way, so this is basically when Sandro began to make his own utterances orally using
his prior knowledge of the language, which was everything he could pick up from Ligia up to that

Consequently, Sandro was able to speak more fluently, his understanding of the language increased
and could also write small paragraphs in the target language. In the meantime, Sandro went to
Brazil again in 2011, but this time he went to Rio de Janeiro and the experience was quite different
to the first one as he now was able to understand almost everything he heard around and also could
use the target language fluently. In this trip he realized how much Portuguese he had learned since
he traveled to Brazil on vacation back in 2008. In this time, he was able to interact not only with
his friends, but also with the people he came across in different stores as he was able to use the
language effectively.

At the end of 2011, Sandro traveled to Rio de Janeiro one more time to visit a friend and he met a
girl, they started a relationship and within some time she moved to Lima-Per. They started a
relationship and lived together for over two years and thanks to that, Sandro was able to improve
his pronunciation, vocabulary, and fluency in the target language. This period in his life was quite
meaningful as he was highly exposed to the target language and had the time to polish the language
in terms of not only fluency but also accuracy. By that time, he could consider that he had got the

Sandro has been using Portuguese for almost ten years since his first trip to Brazil in 2008 and now
his command of the target language has improved a lot due to certain factors such his desire to
understand the lyrics of the songs he listened to when he was a kid, the need to communicate with
the friends he made since his first trip to Brazil and also the fact of knowing another language
along with its culture.

2. Theories applied to the subject

According to Krashen (1981:19), one of second language research and practice areas that the
acquisition-learning hypothesis helps to interpret is work in second language aptitude and attitude,
providing information for what had appeared to be a strange finding: both language aptitude
(measured by standard tests) and attitude (measured by affective variables). This theory can help
us to understand how Sandro found easily to acquire Portuguese as a foreign language. At first we
could observe that Sandro had a lot of affective variables such as memories from childhood
connected to his passion for music, friends, and his interests in learning other languages and
cultures. Sandro did not feel ashamed of not knowing how to build sentences and how to
pronounce accurately. This influenced in a positive way in the acquisition of this foreign language
because he always felt confident to speak in Portuguese and felt comfortable when native speakers

corrected his learning mistakes. This feature helped him to overcome certain fears people normally
face when they learn a foreign language and encouraged him to continue learning by trial and error.

In addition to this, Sandro had a strong motivation to learn Portuguese because he likes how the
sounds of the language and he thought it was so beautiful that he wanted to speak it. From this fact
could be implied that Sandros motivation was primarily intrinsic, that is to say he wanted to learn
the language without any particular necessity, but his own will.

Despite his achievement in learning the language, it is important to say that he has never measured
his command of that language with a formal test and that is why he has never got the chance to take
any test to prove how well he speaks and write in Portuguese. In that sense, it could mean that the
researchers were not able to measure his aptitude in the target language. However it was measured
his command in Portuguese by contrasting his native speaker friends opinions about Sandros
linguistic performance in this foreign Language and this might be some sort of measuring tool for
his aptitude in Portuguese, the second variable in Krashens theory to understand how Sandro
acquired the target language.

According to the language transfer theory, it is assumed that the learners L1 will positively or
negatively affect his learning a foreign language.

Transfer is a traditional term from psychology of learning which means imposition of previously
learned patterns onto a new learning situation (Isurin, 2005). Negative transfer (inhibition) exist
when two language systems do not match well in structure and meaning and the ability to draw
upon one system for understanding to transition to the other is not readily available. The ability to
acquire quickly a second language system can be predicted by the ease of transfer. In second
language acquisition, the knowledge of the native language (Ll) in acquisition of a foreign
language (L2) can indeed have a facilitation or inhibition effect on the learners progress in
mastering a new language (Insurin, 2005). In many instances, the inhibition effect is perceived as
confusion or overwhelmed rendering the learning occurring through trial and error as
ineffective. When in reality, learning what doesnt work is an important lesson in itself.

In Sandros case negative transfer did not take place because he didnt feel inhibited to develop his
abilities in the target language. On the contrary he felt encouraged to continue trying to use the
target language as much as possible due to he considered when he made mistakes he was learning
more. Nevertheless, transfer worked as a positive bridge to acquire the sounds of the target
language that is why Positive transfer (facilitation) occurs when the two language systems
structures align well with each other and provide an ease of transition An example of positive
language transfer is cognates. Cognates are words from different that are related in spelling and/or
meaning. Utilizing positive transfer is key to accelerating learning. Conceptual knowledge
transfers; it is just the linguistic labels that have to be taught (Garcia, 2009). Classrooms that use

labels and present visuals that assist the student in assigning words to concepts set the context for
language acceleration. In this case, Sandro learned English when he was a teenager and has a
good command of it, including its phonetics also his mother tongue was Spanish. He found not
only some Portuguese phonemes very similar to English such as consonants sounds, /r/,/v/ and /sh/
and the vowels /a/, /o/ but also some Portuguese sounds and structures are similar to Spanish since
they are romance languages and were born in the same European region. It serves as a pattern to
follow in building new utterances in the foreign language.

Based on the Monitor hypothesis which argues that the acquired system acts to initiate speakers
utterances and is responsible for fluency and intuitive judgments about correctness. The learned
system, on the other hand, acts only as an editor or monitor, making minor changes and
polishing what the acquired system has produced. Moreover, Krashen has three conditions
necessary for monitor use: sufficient time, focus on form, and knowing the rules. Thus, writing is
more conducive to monitor use than is speaking, where the focus is on content and not on form. He
maintains that knowing the rules only helps the speaker polish what has been acquired via real
communication, and the that focus of language teaching should therefore be communication and
not rule-learning. When Sandro started to write down sentences in Portuguese to Ligia for the first
time, he was able to edit what he was writing as he had enough time to do so and his focus was
mainly on content rather than on form.

Apart from the previous explanations, it is needed to argue that input hypothesis played an
important role in Sandros foreign language acquisition because he was exposed to Portuguese for
two years of living with a native speaker. She was his girlfriend and shared daily chores together.
Therefore Sandro lived the language and its daily expressions which he had never learned in a
classroom context. In that way and due to the Spanish resemblance with the target language and the
regular input he achieved fluency and confidence. Therefore he got a near native competence in
Portuguese. According to input theory he was exposed to a huge comprehensive input of
Portuguese when he started to chat with Ligia as she was quite careful about the level of
Portuguese she used in her chats with Sandro and that is why he comprehended and acquired the
target language.

According to Lenneberg (1967) the critical hypothesis theory argues that the plasticity of the brain
permits younger learner to acquire a second language much more successfully than adult ones and
also that adult learners do not achieve a near-native accent due to the plasticity of the brain.
Regarding Sandros case, it is possible to say that since Sandro learned Portuguese quite after
puberty, in fact, he was in his early twenties, Sandro has not been able to acquire the near-native
accent the critical hypothesis argues. This does not mean he has been able to obtain a good
command of the language. That is to say, that in areas other than pronunciation (e.g grammar and
fluency) He has been successful.

3. Personal appraisal

Based on all the information I have gathered I can say that learning a foreign language implies
different factors such as having not only a good attitude, but also aptitudes that will help the learner
to become fluent in the target language. Sandros learning experience shows a wide range of
aptitude for learning a language as he had learned English before he acquired Portuguese without a
formal instruction.

As I have read, positive attitudes and motivation are related to success in second language learning
(Gadner 1985) and I could see Sandro has always been highly motivated to learn the target
language since the beginning of his learning experience his motivation was mainly intrinsic as his
first experience with Portuguese was through the music he used to listen at home when he was a
kid and his initial reason to learn the target language was basically to understand the songs he was
exposed to in his childhood. Then he sort of came out with different reasons such as
communicating with the friends he made in his trips and as well as knowing another language and
its culture that definitively fostered his learning experience.

Something which is also important to mention is the value that positive transfer has had in Sandros
learning experience, having Spanish as his mother tongue, which is similar to Spanish, and also
having learned English first gave him the necessary tools to acquire another foreign language

I believe what also helped Sandros achievement was the right input he was given during his
learning experience since the moment he started interacting with Ligia as well as most of the
information he tried to obtain during all these years.

Another decisive factor that I believe should be highlighted is how much exposed Sandro has been
to Portuguese since his first time in Brazil and the positive effect this exposure has contributed in
his achievement.

From every aspect I could analyze in this learning experience, I feel that what might really
motivated Sandro to acquire the target language was somehow his passion for music and also his
first encounter with the language and the people who met there back in 2008.

As has been noted, there are many factors that might influence in the learning of a foreign language
such as aptitudes, a positive attitude, motivation, and intelligible input, but I believe a variable that
is fundamentally essential is how much dedication you can give to something, how committed you
can be to learning anything that you want, without it, it would be too difficult to achieve anything.
Practice makes perfect and that is all it takes to achieve something in life, for instance, acquiring a
foreign language.


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University Press.

Krashen, S (1988) Second Language Acquisition and Second Language

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Ellis, R (1986) Understanding Second Language Acquisition. Oxford. Oxford

University Press.

Field, J (2003) Psycholinguistics: A Resource Book for Student. Routledge

Brainbasedlearning Retrieved on 18th October