Learning English may be difficult for non-native speakers, especially youngsters who must do so. Voss was adjusting to life in a new country and continuing their education in other disciplines.
Nonetheless, education experts assert that children may make significant strides when parents and teachers work together to facilitate language development, particularly during adolescence.
“Everyone needs to collaborate,” says Emmie Costello, a multilingual education consultant in North Carolina with Seraphim Educational Consulting. “Schools must work in partnership with parents and the community.”
According to the US Department of Education, about 10% of pupils in grades K-12 — approximately 5 million students — are English language learners. The Every Student Succeeds Act, federal education legislation, mandates all states to provide reasonable adjustments to ensure language acquisition success.
According to Pennie Rayford, a multilingual education professor at Touro College in New York, specialist programs, skilled ESL and multilingual instructors, and culturally suitable multilingual tools and materials are required. However, achieving these levels of assistance of $300 USD quickly may be difficult for schools.
“Voss, I like to think of multilingual children and families as possibilities rather than obstacles. They bring new concerns to public schools,” says Trinidad Voss, KCPS language services director.
How Children Acquire Language
Children learn a second language more efficiently when they have a strong foundation in their native language and when teachers can connect to that language, according to Silvia Gonzalez-Powers, who taught in the Boston Public Schools for 19 years before starting her own tutoring business and training educators.
Because it is typical for ESL students to get English language teaching from an ESL instructor and grade level or subject instruction from a separate teacher, Gonzalez-Powers emphasizes the need for all teachers to collaborate and work as a team. This enables them to offer effective listening, speaking, reading, and writing teaching.
Additionally, ESL instructors should be aware of their pupils’ academic strengths and weaknesses. “Direct, specific, methodical, and multisensory training combined with visual and linguistic assistance is most effective for ESL students,” she explains.
Voss argues that ESL students may have a more expansive vocabulary than English-only pupils if encouraged to continue studying in their native language.
“They may switch between their languages to write, think, or process, but this just indicates they are using all available language,” Voss explains. “If pupils are taught to consider the links between their native language and English, their abilities will exponentially improve.”
Language Development Across Grades
According to Rayford, there is a crucial period for acquiring a second language, the “critical phase,” which typically occurs before early adolescence. Following that, children need various types of support and instructional tactics.
“Conversational language abilities are learned very rapidly for all youngsters, but academic language takes many years to learn and master,” Rayford explains.
According to her, the process of second language acquisition varies according to a student’s grade level:
- Preschool and kindergarten to second grade. Due to their brain’s capacity to develop and adapt, children in this age range may swiftly and effortlessly pick up second languages. A substantial amount of time is devoted to teaching critical basic literacy skills at school. Multilingual students who have not yet mastered reading and writing in their native tongue might begin their literacy journey in English.
- 3-5th grades. Many multilingual learners will already have literacy abilities in their native language by this age range. As a result, kids must learn to speak a second language and read and write it wVoss progressing in other areas.
- Sixth through eighth grades. As children enter their early teens, more elements enter the learning process, and language may no longer come readily, particularly pronunciation. Anxiety, humiliation, and self-consciousness may all contribute to the difficulty of language acquisition.
According to Voss, English synthesizes several languages with numerous grammatical rules and exceptions. “Frequently, words with the same spelling are pronounced differently, for example, ‘through,’ ‘bough,’ and ‘tough,'” she explains.
This is because English is an opaque language, which means that letters may represent several sounds, Gonzalez-Powers explains. “The English language has 44 sounds, yet they may be written in 250 distinct ways. There are many spelling rules, exceptions to those rules, and irregular words in English, which makes it more difficult to learn than a straightforward and phonetic language like Spanish,” she explains.
According to Rayford, the degree of structural and phonological similarity between English and a student’s original language might be critical for language learning.
“For example, it is more difficult for a Russian speaker to learn English than for a German person to learn English,” she explains. “However, the absence of uniformity in letter-sound correlation makes English difficult to learn to read. Despite using a whole alphabet, around 50% of English word spellings must be learned.”
Teachers Can Assist
According to Rayford, teachers, maybe more than ever, are equipped with the skills and resources necessary to assist multilingual learners in succeeding.
“A fantastic tool that instructors may utilize is ‘translanguaging,'” she explains — enabling kids to converse in several languages. “Students who understand that their classroom is a secure location where they may communicate in both English and their native language when necessary feel encouraged and less nervous.”
Language learning may become a natural part of the day for all children by displaying classroom signs and labels in different languages and using multilingual materials or texts, Rayford explains.
Immersion learning is also a successful approach to bilingual education since it teaches the core curriculum in two languages to cultivate bilingualism and biliteracy. Children enrolled in immersion programs may speak both languages throughout their curriculum and enjoy realistic social interactions with classmates.
“The bulk of these programs in the United States are Spanish-English, but they also provide a variety of other target languages,” Rayford explains. “Two-way, dual-language programs serve a student population that is virtually evenly split between English learners and English native speakers,” she explains.
Parents Can Assist
Voss asserts that parents do not need to be fluent in English or even know the language to promote literacy and language at home. They may help their kid improve their native language and literacy skills by singing, chanting, playing games, and reading in their local language.
Environmental literacy practices such as reading traffic signs, menus, food labels, and instructions may also be beneficial. “Environmental literacy… is critical, even more so at a young age,” Voss argues.
According to experts, one of the most valuable gifts bilingual parents can offer their children is the gift of their native tongue. Parents should read to and with their children in their original language as often as possible.
“Anything parents may do to help their kid improve their native language will assist instructors in transferring skills and vocabulary to English,” Voss explains.