DOE A to Z: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z #

English Language Learners (ELL) in the Mainstream

Part Two: The Theory of Second Language Acquisition

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Check Your Knowledge/Answers

A Quiz - What do you know about second language acquisition?

  1. Native language literacy assists students who are learning English. (True)

    Research has shown that knowledge of the structures and rules in a first language transfer in learning English. Students who have studied academic content in first language can and do transfer their knowledge of language and content from first language to second language. On the other hand, students who have had little formal schooling or interrupted schooling in native language will have more difficulty learning English.

  2. Younger children learn English more quickly than older children. (False)

    Younger language learners may be able to pronounce without an accent. However, older children have more sophisticated language skills. As a child gets older, the child needs to use language in more developed contexts. Younger children acquire social language [or BICS] more quickly than older children and therefore appear to be more fluent speakers of English. However, older students, who have attended school in their native countries and have had native language content instruction can, as mentioned above, transfer their knowledge of language and content from first language to second language. The rate of learning a second language depends on several variables: 1. Age at the time of e\exposure to he second language; 2. Previous schooling in first language; 3 the type of second language instruction the student receives.

  3. It can take up to seven years to attain English language proficiency. (True)

    Academic language takes English Language Learners up to seven or more years to become proficient. The reason that academic language is so difficult for the ELL to master is that:
    • there are few if any non-verbal cues to provide a context for learning;
    • there is often little, if any, face-to-face interaction or communicative discourse;
    • academic language, unlike communicative language, has a higher degree of abstract concepts and context specific vocabulary;
    • information is contained in narrative and expository text;
    • textbooks are written beyond the language proficiency of the ELL; and
    • students need a body of cultural and linguistic knowledge, which they have not developed, to comprehend academic content in a second language.

  4. Acquiring the English necessary to succeed academically in all content areas is equally challenging for all second language learners. (False)

    English Language Learners who have been given content area instruction in their native language will have an advantage over ELLs who have not. Some ELLs have had little or no education in their native countries.

  5. The ability to speak English guarantees success in academic settings. (False)

    Being able to speak English fluently in social and conversational settings does not mean that the ELL will be able to use the language academically in the content areas.

  6. Teachers should focus on learning the English language first and learning content later. Learning grammar first is the best way to teach second language learners. (False)

    Schools should not focus on teaching English through decontextualized instruction [e.g. verb tenses, articles, pronunciation skills, etc.] Integrated instruction which includes learning English through content, teaching learning strategies, incorporating the linguistic features needed to negotiate the content has been shown to be an effective for teaching content academic language proficiency [CALP]. Sheltered methods of instruction which include both content and language instruction, as well as teaching learning strategies include CALLA [Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach] and SIOP [Sheltered Instruction Observational Protocol].

  7. Second language learners should be placed in an English speaking environment as quickly as possible. (False)

    Learning a second language is a process, like learning one’s first language. Learning to speak and interact in the new language takes one to three years on average. Learning to use the new language in academic contexts takes from seven to ten years to master. Conversational skills are know as BICS, while academic language proficiency is known as CALP.

  8. An English Language Learner cannot participate in other school programs such as Title I, gifted and talented, and special education until he/she has exited from an ESL or bilingual program. (False)

    Under the 14th Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, school districts cannot deny any services, remedial or enrichment to any immigrant child. If the child is eligible for additional services or programs, he/she must be included in those programs.

  9. When new English Language Learners enter the school speaking little or no English, they should be placed with younger students. (False)

    Students should be placed with their age/grade classmates. This is the only appropriate placement. Because a student doesn’t speak the language does not mean that he/she belongs with younger students. Learning a language is a social, as well as cognitive endeavor and works best when students are with his academic peers. Pair and cooperative group work in the appropriate age/grade setting often provide more comprehensible input and help the beginner learn English.

  10. ESL/bilingual education and special education have similar instructional philosophies. Therefore, ELLs can be placed in special education programs. (False)

    ESL or bilingual education are programs based on the philosophy of the development of new or second language skills for English Language Learners who have had little or no exposure to English, their second language. Special education programs for native English speakers are specialized programs, which are specifically designed to remediate or provide individualized instruction that will assist native English speakers in learning content in English, their native language. In order for ELLs to be placed in a special education program it must be determined, through appropriate testing in either native language or English, whichever is the dominant language that special education services are warranted. Second language learners who have recently enrolled in your school should never automatically be placed in a special education program without appropriate assessment.


© Judith O'Loughlin, "Helping the Mainstream Teacher Work with English Language Learners in the Classroom," TESOL Denver Academy, 2003