Political Factors in Second Language Development

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

As a teacher of English learners, it is important you are aware of several political factors that can affect language development in your students. This lesson explores those factors and how you can work despite them.

Sensitivity is Key

Imagine you are back in school when you move overseas with your family. You are in an unfamiliar environment and the school where you are enrolled does not make you feel exactly welcome. How do you think this would affect your progress as a student? Would this situation help your desire to learn the language of your new country? This picture illustrates how political factors can affect learning. Political factors, applied to second language learning, are situations impacting a specific cultural group of students, positively or negatively, due to governmental or organizational policies and structures. The policies or regulations that impact English learners in U.S. schools may come from the federal, state or local levels. In this lesson, we explore the most relevant political factors that can have an influence in second language development.

Political Factors

While political factors pertain to society as a whole, you can have your own approach in the classroom. As a teacher, you can raise your sensitivity towards English learners to help them develop their skills in the language. Let's take a look at political factors that can affect your students' learning.

School Culture and Organization

Amalia is a student from Mexico who joins a school in the US. At Amalia's school, there are not many immigrant children. However, the few immigrant students who are at the school tend to get together for all activities. Teachers and staff do not encourage students to mix. In consequence, Amalia makes friends only with other immigrant students like her and feels awkward about the idea of interacting with native speakers of English. This example illustrates how a school culture and organization can have an influence on a child who is learning English as a second language. If the school does not promote relationships that celebrate the diversity of the student population, English learners can isolate themselves. Now, let's imagine you work at Amalia's school. As a teacher, you could break the cycle and assign activities in which language learners work with native speakers. This way, you would be promoting diverse interactions among students. Also, you would give your English learners the opportunity to practice the language with native speakers.

Ideally, if you ever notice that the school culture or organization is not contributing to students' language development, you could always work with the school administrators to raise awareness about the need for change.

Status of Primary Language

Amalia would like to be able to use Spanish sometimes in the school environment where she is. However, Spanish does not rank as an subject of importance in her school. Since Spanish is not so important, Amalia does not feel interested in learning English either. This shows us that the status of the mother tongue students speak as compared to the target language, which in this case is English, influences language development. Conversely, when schools validate the students' mother tongue, there is an immediate validation of their culture and, in turn, students feel compelled to learn the second language. As a teacher, you can always validate your students' mother tongue by giving the opportunity to present on aspects of their culture. Also, you can help students by letting them use knowledge of their first language as a tool for developing the second language. For example, Amalia's English language teacher encourages her to present on 'churros', a Mexican dessert. Also, when Amalia finds English words that are cognates in Spanish, the teacher encourages her to remember these words based on what Amalia knows.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it now
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account