Language Acquistion Theories

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Language Acquisition Theories
Donelle Brown
Grand Canyon University
ESL 533N
March 23, 2009

Language Acquisition Theories
Acquiring the necessary English vocabulary to succeed in the United States is very difficult for the ELL or ESL student. It takes time and patience on their and the part of their families. Of course, with most of these students, the primary language is spoken by the parents who have never had the opportunity to learn English. The article I read this week focuses on an individual named Alejandro and how he struggled to acquire solid English skills to succeed in school. I am going to give a summary of this article and talk about the methods that are used by teachers to help ELL/ESL students develop better language skills. This article was written by four teachers who have studied the topic of figurative language instruction and the English-language learner. Even though this article is focusing on one person, there were some important statistics mentioned also. It mentioned that back in 1999, one in six adolescents ranging in age from 14 to 19 either spoke a language other than English at home, were born in a foreign country, or both. Another important factor is that the Hispanic represents the fastest growing demographic in American schools. When trying to understand figurative language, the ESL students are lost in crowd because those are the kind of lectures that teachers use in the classroom. In a report from 1989, it stated that 11.5% of classroom lectures contain figurative language and that the teachers use what is called idiomatic expressions in about one out of every ten words when addressing a class. An idiom, according to, “is a phrase whose meaning cannot be determined by the literal definition of the phrase itself, but refers instead to a figurative meaning that is known only through common use.” For example, the word hot has several of these like, hot under the collar, hot off the press, or hot rod. It was noted in this article, after referencing some work by another educator, “that the inability to interpret figurative language leads to a breakdown in text comprehension, which in turn can frustrate readers and discourage them from continuing the reading task.” Another way breakdown occurs is when students cannot understand conversational phrases that include figurative language expressions. It is important that teachers design and implement instruction for figurative language interpretation to increase student comprehension. This can be a challenging for teachers of ELL students who must consider a wide range of background experiences when designing instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse populations. I am now going to give an overview of the strategies that were mentioned in the article. These strategies were used by a teacher who was working with Alejandro (the student I mentioned earlier) and had great success when she scaffolding Alejandro’s access to English figurative language. Alejandro and his family escaped from the civil strife in Central America and settled in an area in Los Angeles where speaking English was not necessary for survival. Once he entered public school at the age of six. For the rest his school years, he and his older brothers became “language brokers”. “Language brokering” is when a child acts as interpreter for their parents, assisting them with issues related to medicine, education, and everyday encounters with native-English speakers. Alejandro struggled with learning English through most of his school years. When he was 11 years old, his reading teacher began developing a plan to help him improve his language skills. Through her observations, she noticed that he had highly developed literal listening skills. She used this as a tool for developing an individual plan for him. Several of the strategies are mentioned here. The first...
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