Learning a new language can be difficult for anymore, but when it comes to English language learners (ELL), they may face many obstacles in school that can progressively get worse if not taught correctly. According to Karen Ford with Colorin Colorado, an educational service of WETA, “research has shown that, for ELLs, phonological awareness in the native language predicts successful literacy acquisition in both the native and a second language” (Ford, 2015). Therefore, if a student develops good phonological awareness skills in their native language, this development will be passed on to the second language and make it easier for the ELL to develop their literacy skills in English. Developing their literacy skills in English early on in a student’s career is crucial to their progressive improvement in English throughout the rest of their school years. For a student, whose first language isn’t English, they may not have a good English speaking role model at home who can teach them or read to them. In these cases, negative transfer may occur in which the ELL applies the first language’s rules to the second language, English (Ford, 2015). This, in turn, can negatively impact how the ELL acquires literacy skills in English. Thus, it’s of utmost importance that I make parents aware that actively being engaged with their children in storytelling activities in their native language can help their child’s acquisition of literacy skills in English (Ford, 2015). Since many parents believe that reading to their children should be done in English, showing them the benefits of reading in their native language would help even in middle school aged students.
As an educator, my goal is always to understand the student’s weaknesses and strengths and play on their strengths to supplement their weaknesses. Since my students are constantly switching which language they prefer to speak in during class, I try and assess their progress in both languages by observing and interviewing them on a monthly basis. Through my knowledge in the development progression of language and literacy development, I now know that just because a student isn’t proficient in their English language literacy skills doesn’t’ mean they are incapable of reading well. According to Ford, students who “are proficient in their native language literacy skills but not in English [have] a deficit in [their] L2 language proficiency and not a reading disability” (Ford, 2015). This will help me assess which students simply require more practice and which students do indeed have a disability. Through paying close attention to how a student speaks and writes in both languages, a thorough evaluation can be done to further help the student grow progressively.
Therefore, by me focusing on teaching skills such as phonological awareness and decoding, I can begin to help students apply these skills in their reading and writing activities (Ford, 2015). When a middle school student understands the phonological aspect, decoding the reading can be made much easier for the most important aspect of learning a language is first the sounds of the words and then the vocabulary. Students who are in middle school will benefit from comparing similarities in their native language’s rules with English. Those in high school would do well with vocabulary lessons, which emphasize how to comprehend reading and not so much focus on phonetics. For high school students, building on vocabulary is important for students’ reading comprehension skills because they can know how to read it perfectly but not understand the context. This is where tactics such as storytelling using vocabulary flashcards in different teams would fair well for students in high school and even in middle school. As I continue my teaching, this knowledge of language progression will further enhance my teaching methods to focus on methods that will not only help the student in my class but for the rest of their academic careers.
- Ford, K. (2015). Fostering Literacy Development in English Language Learners. Colorincolorado.org. Retrieved 6 December 2016, from http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/fostering-literacy-development-english-language-learners