How languages work is a mystery to many people and there are many myths about language acquisition that can make a person hesitant to learn a new language. These myths often impact classroom teachers without their even being aware of them.
Younger second language learners are more effective than older learners.
Younger language learners may more readily learn to speak a new language with little or no accent, however, older language learners are often much more efficient learners. They are better able to study and use the language over a greater variety of situations than young learners.
Young learners are developmentally not ready for complex language structures that they have not even learned in their native language. Thus the language expectations are generally lower than for older students. In addition, academic language is more complex and less contextualized at higher grades, making language acquisition challenging.
Speaking more quickly without an accent may come more quickly for younger learners, however, overall language acquisition (speaking, listening, reading, and writing) favors older learners.
Learning to speak conversationally in a second language means that a person can also succeed easily in the workforce or at school.
According to Krashen’s Theory of language acquisition there are two distinct levels of language learning when learning any new language-social language and academic language. Social language, called BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills), is generally acquired within 2 years of language immersion. However, CALPS (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency Skills) take many years to develop with estimates from 5 – 9 years for the average language learner. (Krashen, 1988)
Students from some countries are better language learners than students from other countries.
Students from all language and cultural backgrounds are equally capable of learning English. There are many factors that impact a students’ success in learning a second language including: cognitive factors, socioeconomic factors, emotional factors, health factors, as well as first language literacy. Rate of second language acquisition varies widely and is difficult to quantify.
Second language learners are cognitively “slow” because they have difficulty accessing grade level tasks in school.
Language acquisition takes time and cannot happen within just one or two years. English learners can comprehend complex concepts that are age appropriate with differentiated instruction. Offering an alternate text which covers the same learning concepts but is written at an easier, more appropriate reading level is one way to assist EL’s in the mainstream.
Immigrant students who have had formal language schooling for 2-3 years in their home country before they come to the U.S. take at least 5-7 years to reach typical native-speaker performance. Studies it was found that in U.S. schools where all instruction is given through the second language (English), non-native speakers of English with no schooling in their first language take 7-10 years or more to reach age and grade-level norms of their native English-speaking peers. This is true across languages, ages, and socioeconomic levels of the students. (Collier, 1995)
It is only the ESL teacher’s responsibility to instruct the English learner in reading and writing and not the classroom teachers’ responsibility.
Unfortunately, many classroom teachers feel overwhelmed trying to differentiate for all of their students and English learners can add to this stress. Teachers need support in the classroom in providing appropriate texts and activities for English learners. This is one of the primary jobs responsibilities of the ESL teacher. Teaching reading and writing is truly the job of all of the student’s instructors. Teachers who have English learners in their classroom who are unsupported by ESL teachers are put in a tough spot. They are not able to fully address the learners needs but are held accountable for the student’s learning.
It is not possible to assess an English learner for a learning disability as the lack of English will nullify the testing.
There are about 10% of English learners in public schools who have learning disabilities. This is similar to the general population. There are non-verbal assessments, some bilingual assessments, and other ways to assess an English learner. Verifying language issues in the student’s native language whenever possible can be an important step in the process.
Second language learners will acquire academic English faster if their parents speak English at home.
Research shows that it is much better for parents to speak in native language to their children. This language will be richer and more complex. It doesn’t matter in what language basic concepts are developed. Children will eventually translate that learning to English. So if a child is being read to in native language, parents will spend more time discussing the story, and asking questions. (McCabe, 2013)
Collier, Virginia P. (1995). Second-language acquisition for school: Academic, cognitive, sociocultural, and linguistic process George Mason University, J.E. Alatis, C.A. Straehle, B. Gallenberger & M. Ronkin (Eds.) Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics 1995 (pp. 311-327). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Haynes, Judy (2002). Myths of Second Language Acquisition, www.everythingESL.com Accessed 10/28/16
Krashen, Stephen D. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Prentice-Hall International, 1988.
McCabe, Llyssa et.al, Multilingual Children: Beyond Myths and Towards Best Practices, Society for Research in Child Development, Social Policy Report V27, number 4, 2013