Second Language Acquisition Theory

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The factors influencing second language acquisition and ultimate literacy depend on first language achievement as well as a mix of socio-cultural elements such as the interaction of families, neighborhoods, classrooms, and general school exposure. Considerations for the student has to reflect negatives from a threatened personal/group identity, immigrant vs. refugee impart status, poverty, attendance in under-funded schools, low social status evident from ethnic and immigrant groups, familial stress, and general incompatibility between home and school. Respect for this composite of emotions and basic survival will help determine student anxiety levels, self-esteem, and if he or she will assimilate within the school social arena. Academic research encourages a sheltered classroom instruction, which recognizes and incorporates aspects of the student's history, and provides a role for parental interaction.

English Language Learner instruction is more than social acceptance and dictating a mix of oral language, reading, writing, and grade level content. Instruction planning has to reflect the best of research and include consideration for the cognitive stages evident in all language learning. Critical works developed and published by a Canadian, Professor James Cummins (1980) introduced two significant terms for cognitive language learning: Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). This research indicated that while most students achieved a social usage of English language skills in about two years, it ultimately requires from five to seven years of new language development to successful compete in a grade level classroom. From this area of assessment, James Cummins (1984) addressed the problem through a theoretical framework, which embeds CALP new language proficiency within a larger theory known as Common Underlying Proficiency (CUP). The CUP theory is represented by acknowledging that primary and new language skills can be represented by an adjoining icebergs diagram (^ ^). Both levels of the language proficiency form a similar central processing system, which illustrates that, under the surface, the two language efforts are fussed and they do not function alone. The terms "Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) and Cognitive-Academic Language Proficiency (CALP), representing the two different stages of language competencies, are often misrepresented or get confused one for the other.

"Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills" (BICS) is the primary of first level of new language acquisition associated with social communication among friends, strangers, or in any daily aspects of life. An example is simply; "Good morning!". Another is more functional as "Where is the bathroom?" This interaction may cover a simple greeting, or a most sophisticated, polite and eloquent social interaction. New language learners develop these skills by connecting frequent, repeated, and shared word or phrase experiences from media and the general public around them. This interaction might be fairly easily to learn (by saying "hello, "by shaking hands, or expressing "how are you?") because he or she must interact with people, and these new words may be connectable to prior experiences from their native country or in the new environment.

The Basic Interpersonal Communication Skill (BICS) is associated with needed conversational interaction attained by those beginning to learn a new language and this is considered far less challenging than the Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency. It is actually, what some would refer to as "surviving the language." BICS is considered the basic form of new language necessary for dealing socially with others on a face-to-face level using gestures and success varies depending on the particular situation. The generalization is these BICS skills are used to interact with their peers on the playground, on the school bus, in class, at home, on the telephone, at parties or while playing sports.

"Cognitive-Academic Language Proficiency" (CALP) is the stage in a new language that relates to specific content areas, the language for high-level critical thinking, for hypothesizing, for grade level Math, Chemistry, Music, Health, History, Civics, etc. When a student is asked to discuss a topic requiring some analysis in feedback and the evaluation is in Social Studies, the skill is at a CALP level. This literacy requires a greater knowledge of content area concepts and terminology as academic language goes beyond just the relative social arena vocabulary. For the critical thinking, the requirement includes abilities to use new language skills in comparing, classifying, synthesizing, evaluating, and inferring. New information is read, assigned from a textbook, or orally presented by the teacher. At the CALP level, the student is achieving grade level and sheltered needs become more reduced.

One of the sheltered instructional models, which provide a clear and practical approach to progress the new language learner from BICS to CALP proficiency, is the Guided Language Acquisition Design (GLAD). This program trains teachers in methods of instruction to promote both academic language and literacy growth. Using this model the classroom environment values the student's prior knowledge and sets high standards with time and focus taken to use various stimuli such as visuals, brainstorming, and clustering to the engage thinking at a metacognitive level. Ongoing student assessment includes a variety of tools to determine what has been learned, how results were achieved and what should be done to strengthen progress. The GLAD teacher training structure provides 24 levels of progressive strategies with guidance on theory, coaching and scaffolding implications for new information. One strategy or tool specific to the BICS level of language achievement is the Observation chart, which benefit students in the early stages of a new language speech.

The Observation chart provides a variety of activities, which can be directed, to individuals or the whole class. Visuals such as drawings or colorful pictures are posted on a chart and can be placed in the room at the start of a unit or moved to another activity area as related subject material is presented. Students work in pairs or teams to discuss and provide an observation, a question, or comment based on the visual presented on the chart. The information is processed during the unit of instruction to insure there are no obvious misconceptions. Students interact and share information. This is processed as a scaffolding approach and is relevant to Science, Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, Art, Music, and all other content areas. This strategy motivates new language learners and enables the teacher to see the student's prior knowledge about a subject and then consider new material.

Setting a mark for full proficiency in English is important for personal, social, and financial success for all students. Research indicates a second language is processed in the same manner used to acquire their first language in spite of their age. For the English Language Learner, four levels (preproduction, early stage production, speech emergence, and intermediate fluency) or stages in their skills development are considered significant.

The first state, preproduction or silent period, is a matter of communicating with gestures and actions and is considered beginning development. The student is listening to the language to try to make sense of it. The length of the progress can be from a few hours to several months with vocabulary usually limited to 500 words. Instruction during this period is speaking clearly, encouraging student interaction with visuals and the use of simple social commands. Progress is based on how much the student can comprehend and retain.

The next level is considered the early speech production and is characterized by limited responses through one or two words. Progress is on a survival scale in which the student feels the need to learn more for basic functioning. Confidence in both speaking and listening skills expand, and vocabulary builds to over 1000 words. Successful strategies include the instructor speaking clearly and directing the student to respond with who, what, where questions, role playing, practicing with word phrases and keeping exercises simple.

True speech emergence is evident at level three with a student's ability to communicate in longer simple phrases and sentences. There is evidence of good control of vocabulary in a range of 3,000 to 5,000 expressive words. The instruction strategy is directed at a cognitive level with new skills in predicting, comparing, describing, answering questions, problem solving, and participation in both small and large group discussions.

Effectively the fourth stage, intermediate fluency, consists of students engaging in conversation and producing original narratives. There is evidence of a high state of fluency and natural use of words and phrases. This level breaches concerns as far as BICS development but further work is needed to achieve cognitive fluency associated with CALPS theory. Instruction continues with emphasis on writing with clear guidelines, formal reading, analyzing, problem solving, evaluating with statements at the "I think" and "I believe" level.

There is an important distinction made by linguists between language acquisition and language learning. Students acquire language through a subconscious process, which includes a source of natural communication. The actual rate at which they reach a certain literacy stage is not linear for everyone. It works more often in a zigzag process with skills developing gradually over time until a particular content is mastered.

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