Second Language Acquisition

Second language acquisition research claims that it takes many students 1-3 years to learn “social” language (or the language of the playground, also known as BICS or basic interpersonal communication skills), and 5-7 additional years to learn academic language [or the language of the classroom, also known as CALP or communicative academic language profiency (Cummins, 1979)]. Therefore, it can take some students 10 years to be considered fully English proficient, and this does not take into account any additional learning disabilities or challenges, etc.

ELLs have a double cognitive load in school: they are learning English and they are learning in English. Due to the extra efforts ELLs must exert in the classroom to learn, some ELL behaviors such as delayed responses, struggle for word recall, or distractibility are often mistaken for learning disabilities. Many of these behaviors can be caused by the language acquisition process as opposed to a disability. It is important for teachers and parents of ELLs to understand some of the key components of the second language acquisition process in order to ascertain the ELL's strengths and needs in and out of the classroom.


Performance Definitions for the Levels of English Language Proficiency in Grades K-12, according to the WIDA Consortium (ACCESS test)

At the given level of English language proficiency, English language learners will process, understand, produce, or use: 


6 Reaching

• specialized or technical language reflective of the content areas at grade level
• a variety of sentence lengths of varying linguistic complexity in extended oral or written discourse as required by the specified grade level • oral or written communication in English comparable to English-proficient peers

5 Bridging

• specialized or technical language of the content areas
• a variety of sentence lengths of varying linguistic complexity in extended oral or written discourse, including stories, essays, or reports • oral or written language approaching comparability to that of English-proficient peers when presented with grade-level material

4 Expanding

• specific and some technical language of the content areas

• a variety of sentence lengths of varying linguistic complexity in oral discourse or multiple, related sentences, or paragraphs

• oral or written language with minimal phonological, syntactic, or semantic errors that do not impede the overall meaning of the communication when presented with oral or written connected discourse with sensory, graphic, or interactive support

3 Developing

• general and some specific language of the content areas

• expanded sentences in oral interaction or written paragraphs

• oral or written language with phonological, syntactic, or semantic errors that may impede the communication, but retain much of its meaning, when presented with oral or written, narrative, or expository descriptions with sensory, graphic, or interactive support

2 Beginning

• general language related to the content areas

• phrases or short sentences

• oral or written language with phonological, syntactic, or semantic errors that often impede the meaning of the communication when presented with one- to multiple-step commands, directions, questions, or a series of statements with sensory, graphic, or interactive support

1 Entering

  • pictorial or graphic representation of the language of the content areas

  • words, phrases, or chunks of language when presented with one-step commands, directions, WH-, choice, or yes/no questions, or statements with sensory, graphic, or interactive support

  • oral language with phonological, syntactic, or semantic errors that often impede meaning when presented with basic oral commands, direct questions, or simple statements with sensory, graphic, or interactive support

  •  Linguistic Complexity—the amount and quality of speech or writing for a given situation 
  • • Vocabulary Usage—the specificity of words or phrases for a given context 
  • • Language Control—the comprehensibility of the communication based on the amount and types of errors



Another way of looking at language proficiency uses the following labels for each level. Note that these levels are ascending, whereas the ACCESS levels were in descending order. 
What is particularly helpful in this chart is the types of questions that are appropriate at the various levels. 

Stage

Characteristics

Approximate Time Frame

Teacher Prompts

Preproduction

The student

  • Has minimal comprehension.
  • Does not verbalize.
  • Nods "Yes" and "No."
  • Draws and points.

0–6 months

  • Show me …
  • Circle the …
  • Where is …?
  • Who has …?

Early Production

The student

  • Has limited comprehension
  • Produces one- or two-word responses.
  • Uses key words and familiar phrases.
  • Uses present-tense verbs.

6 months–1 year

  • Yes/no questions
  • Either/or questions
  • Who …?
  • What …?
  • How many …?

Speech Emergence

The student

  • Has good comprehension.
  • Can produce simple sentences.
  • Makes grammar and pronunciation errors.
  • Frequently misunderstands jokes.

1–3 years

  • Why …?
  • How …?
  • Explain …
  • Questions requiring phrase or short-sentence answers

Intermediate Fluency

The student

  • Has excellent comprehension.
  • Makes few grammatical errors.

3–5 years

  • What would happen if …?
  • Why do you think …?
  • Questions requiring more than a sentence response

Advanced Fluency

The student has a near-native level of speech.

5–7 years

  • Decide if …
  • Retell …

For Early Production students, questions that require a one-word response, such as yes/no and either/or questions, are acceptable. You also want to begin asking students at this stage questions that require a phrase or short sentence.

Speech Emergence students should be asked to answer questions that require a short-sentence response. It is OK to sometimes ask these students questions requiring a multiple-sentence response, but it is not OK to ask them questions requiring a pointing or one-word response.

How about Intermediate and Advanced Fluency students? It is OK to ask them questions that require a lot of verbal output, but it is not OK to ask them questions requiring minimal verbal output.

You can use tiered questions to include all ELLs in whole-class activities or one on one to check comprehension or content learning. To accomplish this, you will need to know each student's stage of language acquisition.



Links-
http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/26751 (brief overview of the second language acquisition process)





                   Another Way of Looking at Language Acquisition as it Relates to Cognition and Schooling
For native English learners, these 3 processes are more or less parallel. 
For ELs, they happen at different times for different learners.  It's important to provide comprehensible input at all levels.


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