New Jersey Department of Education

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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Stages of Adaptation for English Language Learners

Initial Stage or sometimes called "Honeymoon Stage"

  • ELL is excited about discovering all the new elements of his/her new life.
  • Some students are very cooperative and try very hard to please.
  • Other students feel fear and loneliness.
  • Usually experience "silent period" of one month up to one year. Student is developing receptive language skills in preparation for speaking.

Summary: This student discusses the silent period; listening so that mistakes are not made; did not want questions so would not have to answer; suggests gestures as a first step in comprehension, and if possible find another student who speaks the same language, to give some comfort. [Listen carefully.] Listen to audio

Uprooting Stage — Reality Check

Summary: This student came to the US from Japan at age 12. She discusses: her emotions; difficulty with talking with schools friends; discovering a content-based way to success, via mathematics; and the help of family and friends. Listen to audio

  • ELL realizes that there are differences between his/her own culture and the new culture.
  • ELL has mixed emotions about the new lifestyle and culture.
  • Frustration, fear, curiosity, loneliness, lack of identity in the new culture are felt not only by the student, but also the family.

Culture Shock

  • May happen simultaneous to Uprooting Stage or shortly thereafter.
  • Frustrating feeling of loss of all the familiar people, objects, connections, and routines from the home culture.
  • Mistrusts and fears new situations.
  • May show signs of withdrawal, hostility, depression.
  • May exhibit academic problems as the curriculum gets becomes more difficult and the ELL is still adjusting to his/her new environment.

Adaptation Stage: Assimilation or Acculturation

ELLs usually take one of two courses of action as acceptance of and comfort with the new culture take place.

  1. Assimilation: ELL replaces home cultural values and beliefs with the new culture.
  2. Acculturation: ELL adopts some of the mainstream culture, while continuing with the customs and values of the home culture.

Mainstream Stage: Culture Split or Final Acculturation

ELLs usually take one of two courses of action when fully entering the mainstream culture.

  1. Culture Split: At home, ELL practices the family culture, in school practices the new mainstream culture. May exhibit embarrassment when the two cultures meet [e.g., parent conferences, school activities, such as concerts, sports, etc.]
  2. Successful Acculturation: ELL has accepted both cultures as part of his/her new life and integrates aspects of both into his/her lifestyle.