Childhood Maltreatment and its Cognitive and Affective Consequences on Adult Second Language Acquisition

Presenter: Jessica Willis

Affiliation: Georgia State University, USA

Chosen format: Presentation


More than half of all children in the world have experienced some form of abuse (Hillis et al, 2016; Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). It is a near-promise that every teacher will teach, is teaching, and/or has already taught a student who experienced childhood maltreatment. Trauma-informed education has, rightfully, increased in popularity in recent years; this increase has also coincided with communicative language teaching (CLT) methods in L2 classrooms. For many childhood abuse survivors, CLT may hit them exactly where their weaknesses are. These students with lower self-esteem are hesitant to participate in the types of activities that require learners to do something as humbling (and often embarrassing) as learning a second language. This reluctance to risk judgment, make errors, and openly accept correction in front of others can severely hinder the acquisition process inside and outside of the classroom. When these children grow into adults, they often find themselves approaching the challenging task of learning an L2 after facing struggles in acquiring their L1 due to childhood trauma. This study pulls from the fields of childhood psychology, social work, and applied linguistics to synthesize the negative effects that childhood abuse/maltreatment has on adult L2 learners. This study found that the most significant factors holding these L2 students back range from L1 deficiencies, brain development, (undiagnosed or misdiagnosed) learning disabilities, challenges connecting socially and emotionally with their peers, and affective challenges, such as lack of self-confidence and a rejection of corrective feedback. These roadblocks may seem large; they can actually be addressed in a way that is beneficial for all students in the classroom, yet still not require restructuring an entire curriculum or lesson. Through a learner-centered approach like CLT, mindful and intentional teachers can continue to provide authentic communicative language learning experiences while partnering this instruction with trauma-informed practices in the L2 classroom.
Keywords: Second language acquisition, communicative language teaching, trauma-informed Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, November 8).
Research brief:
One billion children across the world are exposed to violence in childhood each year.,years%20%E2%80%93%20experience%20violence%20every%20year
Hillis, S., Mercy, J., Amobi, A. & Kress, H. (2016). Global prevalence of past-year violence against children: A systematic review and minimum estimates. Pediatrics 2016; 137(3): 1-13.