English as a Second Language in the Classroom: Acquisition & Development

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  • 00:00 English Language Acquisition
  • 00:50 General Tips for…
  • 2:05 Stages of Language Acquisition
  • 5:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Learning a second language can be very difficult and can put students behind on their regular education. In this lesson, explore the stages of language acquisition and discover tricks to help students develop English as a second language.

English Language Acquisition

Can you speak English? I'm assuming so, and this means that at some point you had to learn the language. Most of us in the U.S.A. learned English as our first language, but for many students their real first exposure to English is when they begin school. These students need to learn all of the regular course material and a new language simultaneously. This is hard, but very important, since falling behind on early education can create long term academic issues. So, as educators, we need to know how language acquisition works and how to deal with it in the classroom. Turns out, today is a perfect chance to explore this because we've got a new student! This is Juana Estudiante, she's brand new to class, nervous and shy, and doesn't speak English at home. Let's see how we can help her learn.

General Tips for Language Learners

Before we get into specifics, let's go over just a few basic ideas about language acquisition. Children learn their first language naturally, instinctively, and through oral skills long before reading or writing are applied. Second language acquisition is quite different. It requires conscious effort and often occurs through oral and literacy skills simultaneously. Despite these differences, teachers have found that trying to stimulate the native learning environment can be helpful, especially since the student may not have many opportunities to practice the language at home. Teaching an infant their first language is not something that can be standardized. It depends entirely on the child's personality. The same is true of second language acquisition. Introverts and extroverts require different styles of reinforcement and education is much more successful if students are motivated to teach themselves, which means they need a reason to want to learn the language. So personal attention focused on the student's personality and interests are vital to successful language development.

Stages of Language Acquisition

With those basic points in mind, let's get into the five stages of language acquisition that students, like Juana, will go through on their way to being fluent in both oral and literacy skills. Now, different students will enter school with various levels of exposure to English, but Juana is coming in with almost no English background. So she is in the first stage of pre-production, characterized by minimal language comprehension. Students in this stage will generally require some translation assistance and are rarely able to communicate beyond nodding yes or no and pointing or gesturing. This stage lasts for about six months and, as a teacher, it's important to remember that even if the student isn't communicating beyond basic gestures and nods, that doesn't mean they aren't learning. This teacher can help Juana progress through the pre-production stage by speaking slowly, but correctly, providing lots of opportunities to listen to English through various media, from reading aloud to music, and modeling them meaning of phrases. Also, at this stage the teacher generally wants to avoid correcting most of Juana's errors. Let's get her comfortable with the idea of speaking English, then focus on correction.

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