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Biplob Prodhan
  • 1 month ago
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Make a note on the main principles of Behaviourism Theory of Language Acquisition. [N.U. 2015, ’17]


Ans. The Behaviourist theory stands among the major theoretical perspectives within the field of the first language acquisition. It began as a reaction against the introspective psychology of the late 19th and early 20th century and dominated the study of learning throughout the first half of the twentieth century.

Main principles of Behaviourism :

Habit formation : The ground notion of behaviourism is that all kinds of behaviour can be made or formed through habit formation. They consider language as a linguistic behaviour and think that this behaviour can also be learnt through habit formation. They are opposed to the belief that a child possesses innate abilities to learn a language.

Environment, not innate ability : Behavioursts consider no difference between the Way one learns a language and the Way one learns to do anything else. The behaviourists are committed to admitting as evidence only that which can be observed. Language is only a verbal behaviour. Language learning is, therefore, controlled by the conditions under which it takes place. What appears to be variation in learning ability is really no more than different learning experience.

Stimulus response : Response is the result of an utterance which is known as stimulus. The stimulus may be physically present in the situation; it may be verbal; or it may be internal.

Reinforcement and repetition : When a child learns to make a response it will have to be reinforced. For example, if a child feels hungry (stimulus), it will say ‘want milk’ (response) and then its parent will give it some milk. As a result, the child will store the utterance ‘want milk’ in its memory because it fulfills the child’s need and finally, the utterance becomes a part of the child’s habit formation. This brings the idea of rewarding and punishing. Thus, the response, which is rewarded, will be repeated but the response, which is punished or ignored, will disappear.

Meaning : In learning a language one has to acquire both a formal # and a thematic repertoire of responses. Most behaviourists eschew the use of the ‘meaning’ altogether. To think of the meaning of a word as something built up and stored inside the individual is to imply a mental structure of some kind which the behaviourist finds objectionable and unnecessary.

Analogy : Behaviourist teaching relies more on analogy than on rules for teaching the structure of a language. By arranging each drill repetition the pupil is made to construct his new response along exactly the same line as his previous response. All the responses in any one drill will have exactly the same grammatical structure. With adequate repetition of the structure the ‘rule’ will be acquired in a way that is not only unconscious but also more conducive to spontaneous language use therefore.

To conclude, Behaviourism views learning as the formation of habits. And these habits are shaped and formed by some factors which are repetition, reinforcement, imitation, environment and drill. Language learning is an external not an internal phenomenon.

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