Language Acquistion Theories Essay

Running head: LANGUAGE ACQUISITION THEORIES Language Acquisition Theories Donelle Brown Grand Canyon University ESL 533N March 23, 2009 Language Acquisition Theories Acquiring the necessary English vocabulary to succeed in the United States is very difficult for the ELL or ESL student. It takes time and patience on their and the part of their families. Of course, with most of these students, the primary language is spoken by the parents who have never had the opportunity to learn English. The article I read this week focuses on an individual named Alejandro and how he struggled to acquire solid English skills to succeed in school.

I am going to give a summary of this article and talk about the methods that are used by teachers to help ELL/ESL students develop better language skills. This article was written by four teachers who have studied the topic of figurative language instruction and the English-language learner. Even though this article is focusing on one person, there were some important statistics mentioned also. It mentioned that back in 1999, one in six adolescents ranging in age from 14 to 19 either spoke a language other than English at home, were born in a foreign country, or both.

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Another important factor is that the Hispanic represents the fastest growing demographic in American schools. When trying to understand figurative language, the ESL students are lost in crowd because those are the kind of lectures that teachers use in the classroom. In a report from 1989, it stated that 11. 5% of classroom lectures contain figurative language and that the teachers use what is called idiomatic expressions in about one out of every ten words when addressing a class. An idiom, according to Wikipedia. om, “is a phrase whose meaning cannot be determined by the literal definition of the phrase itself, but refers instead to a figurative meaning that is known only through common use. ” For example, the word hot has several of these like, hot under the collar, hot off the press, or hot rod. It was noted in this article, after referencing some work by another educator, “that the inability to interpret figurative language leads to a breakdown in text comprehension, which in turn can frustrate readers and discourage them from continuing the reading task. Another way breakdown occurs is when students cannot understand conversational phrases that include figurative language expressions. It is important that teachers design and implement instruction for figurative language interpretation to increase student comprehension. This can be a challenging for teachers of ELL students who must consider a wide range of background experiences when designing instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse populations. I am now going to give an overview of the strategies that were mentioned in the article.

These strategies were used by a teacher who was working with Alejandro (the student I mentioned earlier) and had great success when she scaffolding Alejandro’s access to English figurative language. Alejandro and his family escaped from the civil strife in Central America and settled in an area in Los Angeles where speaking English was not necessary for survival. Once he entered public school at the age of six. For the rest his school years, he and his older brothers became “language brokers”. Language brokering” is when a child acts as interpreter for their parents, assisting them with issues related to medicine, education, and everyday encounters with native-English speakers. Alejandro struggled with learning English through most of his school years. When he was 11 years old, his reading teacher began developing a plan to help him improve his language skills. Through her observations, she noticed that he had highly developed literal listening skills. She used this as a tool for developing an individual plan for him. Several of the strategies are mentioned here. The first one is explicit instruction.

Explicit Instruction The authors contended that direct and explicit instruction aids those students who are not aware of the presence of figurative language in the text, especially ELL students who often lack the background knowledge to distinguish figurative language. In addition to providing instruction in the different types of figurative language, a three-step process for finding meaning in figurative language: 1. Identify the figurative language in written text. 2. Determine if literal meaning in the text makes sense. 3. Find the intended meaning of the figurative language expression.

Connections to the real world This is actually the fourth step to the previous strategy and it was important for Alejandro. Students can capture and remember figurative language more easily in natural language settings as they relate the figurative language to their real life. It was reported that many children, especially ESL students, have difficulty learning figurative sayings. It was also recommended that teachers use student-created and concrete tools, such as figurative language posters that illustrate the literal and figurative meanings of the sayings.

Dialogue in context This strategy suggests teachers discuss with students when and why figurative language is used and instruct students in different types of figurative language. In using this strategy, teachers would define the various forms of figurative language and provide examples of each in the context of a sentence or paragraph. It was also emphasized the importance of teaching figurative language in context by saying teachers must “contextualize” what they teach through the use of context clues.

It was also viewed that “the ability to use contextual information in order to construct a coherent semantic representation of the ongoing information that must also integrate the lexical and semantic information carried by the figurative expression” (Levorato and Cacciari, 1995, p. 264) as one of the important stages in figurative competence development. Modeling and independent practice Two educators did some studies that showed that the ability to understand figurative language depends on exposure and experience. As part of this strategy, the teacher could create a learning log for the students they are working with.

This would allow solid practice with identifying figurative expressions in oral and written language. An educator named Bush mentioned, ‘modeling by the teacher and practice of a skill by the student will ultimately produce a stronger ability in the student” (Bush, 1993, p. 7) Visualization Art is a wonderful method of visualization that encourages students, especially ESLs, to open and use their imagination. The premise of this strategy is to have the students created drawings of literal and figurative interpretations of specific figurative expressions was particularly successful.

For example, for the interpretation of raining cats and dogs, the students can draw a picture of cats and dogs falling from the sky. Drawing for English-language learners is a great way for ELLs to express their understanding of what they are learning. It is also important to know that children relate more to visual imagery in figurative language that do adults, who are much more aware of structure, function, and causal relationships. Use of the native language For years, many bilingual education researchers have substantiated the critical connection between primary language skills and academic success.

It was noted in the article, students’ learning in two languages is interdependent. Research findings of many educators continue to support primary language program models. It was mentioned in the article, “Second language students with a solid primary language foundation established in bilingual programs consistently outperform second language students in non-bilingual programs, in both their primary language and in English” (Cary, 1997, p. 16). Conclusion Alejandro made great strides in his language skills as his reading teacher continued to use the strategies above. The information presented here is important for every teacher to know.

The ideas from the article illustrate the importance of figurative language instruction for ELLs. Doing further research will help the teacher gain invaluable knowledge that will help them improve their skills in teaching ELLs. Reference Palmer, B. C, Shackelford, V. S. , Miller, S. C. , & Leclere, J. T. (2007, January/December). Bringing two worlds: Reading comprehension, figurative language instruction, and The English-language learner. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 50(4), 258- 267. http://library. gcu. edu:login? url=http://search. ebscohost. com/login. aspx? direct= true&db=aph&AN=23327321&loginpage=Login. asp&site=ehost-live


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