Unlocking the English Language
Over the past 17 years of my teaching career, I have seen recent immigrants to America flourish in the English language. The power of the acquisition process was on full display a few years ago when I had the privilege of teaching two recent immigrants from Mexico. They came from different learning backgrounds, yet both yearned to excel in the English language.
As I taught them in English, at first, these two children were lost. The content seemed to fall on deaf ears. However, with time, several strategies—including constant modeling, shared reading sessions, partner reading, buddy reading, and choral readings—became instrumental to their success. Socialization between these students and others was greatly encouraged and proved beneficial to their learning. Providing multiple opportunities for my students to share their thinking with others, through collaborative activities like think-pair-share and think-pair-share-square, helped them process what they had heard and learned.
English language learners are a large portion of our Texas public schools, and it’s important for our educators to know the best method for English language acquisition. In my experience, surrounding students in rich-print, language-rich, and safe learning environments facilitates English language acquisition. By modeling, demonstrating, supporting, teaching, and exposing our learners to a variety of learning opportunities, we enable them to inevitably acquire the language. Below are some of the ways I have found to make English language acquisition as successful as possible.
Provide a Print-Rich Environment.
In Toward an Educationally Relevant Theory of Literacy Learning, Brian Cambourne explains that immersing learners in the medium they are expected to learn is necessary for language attainment. A print-rich environment in which students see that reading and writing have a real purpose benefits English language learners. By allowing students to interact with print, such as through word walls, bulletin boards, charts, books, songs, poems, and word banks, we give meaning and purpose to that print.
Provide a Language-Rich Environment.
Language-rich environments expose students to meaningful and engaging language. In a blog post on Scholastic.com, Genia Cornell suggests having daily read alouds, using word walls and anchor charts, creating a diverse classroom library, engaging students in daily conversations, and finding “AWESOME language while reading to use AWESOME language in writing” as ways to provide language-rich experiences for students.
Provide a Safe Learning Environment.
An environment where students feel free to express themselves and seek guidance is also key to language acquisition. Cambourne explains, “Learners are more likely to engage with demonstrations if they are free from anxiety” (p. 188). Allowing students to seek, learn, and discover the beauty of language is fascinating.
Incorporate Students’ Culture.
Bringing students’ culture into lessons, via interactive read alouds, is rewarding for everyone. Books such as Adelita by Tomie de Paola and Borreguita and the Coyote by Verna Aardema have brought joy to my students because the books incorporate students’ culture into beloved stories. Being immersed in the English language in meaningful, purposeful ways helps students slowly acquire English content and language.
Engage in Interactive Reading.
Providing ample opportunities for students to embrace, hear, and learn the language is imperative for content and language acquisition. Through extensive reading and writing opportunities, students build on their vocabulary and word consciousness. Students must also have an active role in their learning process. Interactive reading experiences, like shared reading or shared poetry, are a great way for English language learners to practice reading with fluency, prosody, expression, phrasing, intonation, and voice. Allowing students to participate in the shared reading/poetry process will help English language learners continue to develop their oral language skills.
Making learning meaningful and fun and establishing a purpose worked for this English language learner. I was fortunate to have teachers who built my English language skills through print-rich, language-rich, and safe learning environments.
My daily goal is to provide a better tomorrow for my students. I firmly believe that helping them acquire English content and language, through the process of acquisition, is key to their success.
Teresa B. Campuzano has taught at Weslaco ISD's Memorial Elementary for the past 17 years. She recently completed her master’s in curriculum and instruction with a focus in literacy studies and is now a certified reading specialist and master reading teacher.
Cambourne, B. (1995, November). Toward an educationally relevant theory of literacy learning: Twenty years of inquiry. The Reading Teacher, 49(3), 182–190. Retrieved from: https://globalconversationsinliteracy.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/cambourne-towardsedrelevanttheorylitlearning.pdf
Connell, G. (2014, Jan. 15). 12 steps to creating a language-rich environment. Retrieved from: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/blog-posts/genia-connell/12-steps-creating-language-rich-environment/