English speakers need more than their proficiency in English to be effective teachers of ESL learners. As well as knowing their language, educators of ESL students need to know how their language works. An ability to analyse language assists teachers to ...
IDENTIFY LANGUAGE DEMANDS OF CLASSROOM LEARNING & TASKS
ESL students are acquiring the language of classroom instruction, whilst simultaneously learning new knowledge, understandings and ways of working in each school subject. In order to give ESL students every opportunity to access the classroom curriculum, teachers need to identify the language which is being demanded of students - whether it be in terms of their listening or reading comprehension or their ability to express themselves through speaking or writing.
Teachers should be able to analyse the language requirements (language load) of their planned lessons, units and assignments and should plan to teach, scaffold, model or provide these. It is important that educators consider identifying the "language load" as an essential part of all their planning. After all, teaching and learning is based on communicating and understanding, and language is the medium through which this is accomplished. As ESL students have not yet fully acquired the linguistic medium of Standard Australian English, they are reliant on teachers to support their language learning needs. Teachers need to plan for the language requirements of what they are teaching and of what they are asking students to produce.
It should be noted that the "language load" of lessons and tasks does not refer merely to vocabulary items, but also to the phrases and sentences that will be used for teaching concepts &/or which the students will be expected to use. The easiest way for teachers to make this language load visible is to write down for themselves what they expect their students to be produce. In other words, they should do the activity or assessment themselves. This step clarifies the language required to accomplish the task. With this tangible sample, it is much easier got teachers to decide which language features are essential and to plan how they will pre-teach, model, scaffold or provide these for their ESL students.
RECOGNISE LANGUAGE FEATURES STUDENTS FIND DIFFICULT
Throughout their language learning journey, ESL learners approximate Standard Australian English pronunciations, meanings, word formations, structures and uses and develop increasing accuracy. Their interlanguage, or learner variety, will have little, much or a lot in common with the target language, SAE, depending on the level of their acquisition.
As their second language progresses, ESL learners move through stages of acquiring different language features. A teacher who understands how English works will be able to identify linguistic features which are causing students difficulty (and explain or plan to teach them). Without this knowledge, teachers can only identify that a structure is incorrect and provide the correct word, ending, structure etc, but they cannot usually provide an explanation.
Anyone with a reasonable level of competence in English can figure out what sounds right, but they can't generally explain why. Consider the endings which sound like s/z, that occur on the ends of some English words. English speakers who are fairly fluent in English can tell immediately that there are some s/z endings missing in the following sentences. Where do the endings need to go in the following sentences?
- Those student_ wrote_ some really effective narrative_.
- That student_ like_ writing_.
- This girl_ read_ and write_ in two language_.
- These boy_ speak_ a home language_ and SAE fluently.
Reasonably fluent English speakers can tell if s/z endings are missing or incorrectly placed, and they can automatically provide corrections...
However, they can only analyse the absent information in terms of the 's' was missing, or "it doesn't sound right without the 's' " etc.
- Those students wrote_ some really effective narratives .
- That student_ likes writing_.
- This girl_ reads and writes in two languages .
- These boys speak_ a home language_ and SAE fluently.
It takes knowledge and understanding of how English works to know that there are actually 2 different 's' endings above. Even though these endings look alike (s) and have the same sound (s/z), there are actually two different "markers" doing very different jobs:
s is a plural marker on nouns
It is attached to regular, countable nouns to indicate "more than one".
e.g. regular plural countable nouns: 1 cat > 3 cats, a dog > some dogs
NB - irregular plural nouns do not take this plural marker:
1 mouse > 2 mice, foot > feet, child > children, a sheep > some sheep etc
- non-countable nouns do not take this plural marker:
dirt, water, food, soil, flour, gravel, work etc
s is a singular marker on verbs
It is attached to regular, simple present tense verbs to indicate that their subject is 3rd person singular.
e.g. She drinks tea. He drinks coffee. It lives in water.
NB. - 1st person singular (I), 2nd person singular (you) and 3rd person plural (they) do not take this marker
I like_ chocolate. You like_ pizza. They like_ fudge.
- complex present tense verbs with modal auxiliaries do not take this marker
She should_ drink_ tea. He must_ drink_ coffee. It can_ live_ in water.
- non-present tense verbs do not take this marker
She drank_ tea. He did_ drink_ coffee. It lived_ in water.
Of course, a teacher would not drown a beginner language learner with all that language information at once. A good teacher would select one or two useful pieces of information/advice "for starters", and add in extra information as required or appropriate.
Teachers who know how to identify and name different language features are of great assistance to their ESL learners even when they are not sure how to explain a problematic feature. Why?! Because they know what to call the language feature and so they can easily search for teaching ideas.
PROVIDE EXPLICIT LANGUAGE TEACHING
All of us have acquired our first language(s) virtually automatically. Our parents or caregivers did not have to explain to us from birth how to put our sentences together or how to insert the correct endings on our words. Regardless of whether we were corrected or not, we acquired our speech patterns from the language(s) used around us. Our first language(s) are codes which are largely learnt subconsciously.
Precisely because acquiring and using a first language is so automatic, speakers of a language can find it very difficult to explain exactly how their language works. First language speakers can certainly judge whether something sounds "right" or "wrong", so therefore they can correct errors or model correct sentences. However, unless first language speakers of a language have learnt to analyse their language and how it works, they find it very difficult to explain explicitly to second language learners why something is "right" or "wrong".
People fluent - and literate - in English will know which one of the following sentences is "correct". (And fluent English speakers will already know from the preceding instruction, how many correct sentences there are!)
On the beginning, I was finded the English being hard.
At begin, me found an English was hardly.
In a beginning, my finding English be hardness.
In the beginning, I found English was hard.
Fluent English speakers can identify errors, provide corrections and model correct sentences "just" by using their huge competence with the English language. So they could say...
"on the beginning isn't right: it's in the beginning" Such advice is limited to one particular instance in one particular context, because these kinds of errors pertain to aspects of the language code acquired automatically by first language learners. First language have not been explicitly taught about which little word goes in front of "__ the beginning". They have never heard any explanations about which little word goes where, nor why!
"you can't say me found: you have to say I found"
"you just say English - you don't use an or the"
Native speaker proficiency does not prepare speakers for explaining aspects of how their language works to people who are learning it as a second language. Competence with the English language alone does not provide understandings about the generalisations that can be made about the formation of particular words or structures. Some explanations about the above errors would be...
"I is the pronoun form used as a subject of a verb: I came, I saw, I conquered;
me is the form used for objects of verbs and prepositions: you met me, you talked to me
"find is an irregular verb, so it doesn't make its past tense with -ed;
its simple past tense form is found"
These understandings and explanations only become available to those who have learnt how to analyse language. Explanations about how a language works can provide very powerful information for second language learners. Clear and concise explanations are like "short cuts" - they can save learners a lot of trial and error attempts at target language structures.