Dr. Alan Kersten
Learning English as a second language: A case study of a Chinese girl in an American preschool
A study of a three year old Chinese girl named Jasmine, focused on the semantics of her learning English as a second language. She was the only participant in the study who was learning a second language. Others in the study consisted of the teachers, interns, children in the class, and the observers of the study. Her native language was Chinese, which is not very similar to English at all. She came into her preschool program not knowing any other language but Chinese and also having a past bad experience at a prior preschool.
The study did not consist of any real strategies. The only type of strategy that they used, but not the main one, was using sign language to songs and chants of familiar nursery melodies. They exposed Jasmine to normal real-world settings in which she was exposed to the English in her preschool classroom. Jasmines real learning came from her peers and friends in the classroom. This is where she got to interact with children of her age who helped her learn this new language. The other children where the main teachers of the new language to Jasmine, her teacher was there for support and comfort and also assisted in some of the learning, but the main source was her peers. With the friends that Jasmine made they interacted in play which allowed her to be exposed to English as real world settings and helped her acquire English more rapidly. These different types of play provided Jasmine with opportunities to develop friendships which helped her language development of English tremendously. This play also helped her by mimicking these other children which led to her using these words, even though one word at a time at first but eventually leading to whole sentences.
The teachers in the study both international doctoral students in early childhood education at the university. One teacher was a native speaker of Korean and the other teacher was from Ethiopia and speaks Amharic as her first language. The three interns, Lisa (Puerto Rican, Spanish), Kate (American, English), and the author (Japanese, Japanese). The teachers and interns used a lot of gestures and talked slowly and clearly until Jasmine responded to them, even if only nonverbally. Whenever Jasmine wanted to say something the teachers became active listeners. The teacher's backgrounds in bicultural and bilingual seemed to help them be sensitive to her needs and feelings. As time went on Jasmine established intimacy and trust from her teachers and friends who helped her learn the English language.
Jasmine made a great deal of progress in her development of English in such a short period of time. She had started out by saying absolutely nothing but instead she used gestures, sign language and expressions to communicate with one another. Jasmine gathered information from other children by watching carefully and with active listening. Then she began to express her needs in one word such as saying “pee” for wanting to go pee. The use of a single word is a common feature of the early stage of second language acquisition. She was taking the most important part of a sentence and rehearsing it and using it in just one single word. Which helped her learn the meanings of the words. Jasmine developed her vocabulary by the use of sign language through song play. She used private speech to repeat and rehearse what others were saying until she was comfortable speaking in public. Within a couple weeks of all the help and support from teachers and other peers Jasmine had already begun speaking one or two words and a few phrases. In a month, she was able to construct a sentence while interacting with her teachers and peers. Then at the end of the semester, she constructed a complex sentence using subject-verb-direct object-indirect object as in, “Mommy give me ice-cream.” Her utterances were not grammatically correct but she improved her English proficiency enough to be able to communicate with others which is huge from not being able to communicate at all in the beginning.
In this study the strategies used seemed to be very effective, there goal was accomplished, to get Jasmine to learn English. The strategies made Jasmine feel comfortable, which in the beginning she was not, and made it more exciting and fun to learn English without her even knowing that she was doing so. She also made many friends throughout the process since she was unsure of others from the beginning and would look for people that were most similar to her to confide in. The results of the study show that this is probably the best way to teach someone of this age another language and especially English. Just to be patient and make the person learning the language feels comfortable and accepted. Then to introduce them to the language with creative ways such as song play, sociodramatic play and good supportive playmates. But the main and most important is having a supportive environment for a child learning a language and especially where no one else speaks there native language. Then from here the teacher and children can promote cognitive, emotional, social, physical, and linguistic development for these learners. Each child has a very important role they all have unique backgrounds which are brought to school and creates a very diverse and creative learning environment for the child. But one thing we need to keep in mind is and understanding heart which is very crucial to facilitating their development as a whole.