Multilingual and bilingual education programs have been increasing tremendously over the recent past. This follows the increasing diversity in modern-day classrooms in most parts of the world. Such diversity reflects the ever evolving migration patterns and the hence the increasing need to address the issue of multilingual education programs. These programs target communicative proficiency in at least more than two languages. In connection to this, research on issues of bilingual education has been growing. The popularity of these programs can be attributed to the important role played by bilingual education such as in the accomplishment of various sociopolitical goals (Holliday 21). In most US schools currently, a larger percentage of students use English as a second language. Due to such statistics, the English only philosophy of adopted by the federal government through the Structured English Immersion has been subject to great criticism.
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However, ESL students encounter great barriers as they learn the English language. These barriers are either with respect to linguistic factors or cultural factors (Eugene 32). This draws from the fact that ESL learners have their culture which is so different from that of any native English speaking country as well as certain linguistic aspects based on their primary (mother tongue) language. These aspects are difficult to abandon and hence they tend to present a barrier to the effectiveness with which an ESL students learns English. This paper discuses these barriers in detail and also presents a range of strategies that can be employed to addresses such challenges.
One of the important cultural barriers affecting ESL education draws from the fact that most ESL programs instructors are in most cases native English speakers. This is because irrespective of the importance of having ESL education taught by teachers from the language minority groups, the government mostly has in place native speakers teaching English to ESL learners (Eugene 47). Research has also shown that the native speakers teaching ESL education differ greatly in terms of their cultural and social economic endowments with their ESL students (Huang and Brown, 645). For instance, in US, most of the ESL program teachers are Americans who of course are culturally very different from the L2 learners.
This is due to the poor performance as regards to the objective of ensuring that individuals from the minority language community(ies) are developed into being credentialed teachers through relevant training, to enhance the development of ESL education (Nasr 65). These native teachers employ socioeconomically and culturally different styles of teaching ESL education as compared to those ESL learners are used to, from their culture. This presents a lack of connection of the two cultures especially if the teacher fails to employ effective instructional approaches mean such as collaboration. This is made worse by the lack of zeal among the native teachers to learn these different cultures and become part of the ESL learning community (Zimmerman 17). In most instances, the trainers fail to reflect on how their sociocultural backgrounds impact on their perceptions of the community and therefore on how they teach.
The wealth of linguistic, cultural and socioeconomic aspects that are characteristic to the community in which the ESL learners learn in also presents a barrier to an extent. This is because these impact on the planning and ultimately the outcome of the learning efforts for the minority groups. For instance, poor social, cultural and attitudinal attributes that exist in the immediate neighborhood of the ESL school’s community contradict the expected principles of ESL learners who are supposed to learn from the very community (Grant and Wong 378). This is especially a problem because there lacks knowledge with respect to important aspects of community life, which dictate the culture around during the planning, implementation and evaluation of ESL programmes.
A 1978 study by Guzman indicates that in ESL education, unexamined community cultures have a negative effect on the outcome of ESL programs (Cohen 78). For instance, a common characteristic of such community culture is the disparity in terms of cultural support for pluralism and assimilation by the educators, which may not necessarily be welcome among in ESL learner principles. Thus such a cultural aspect becomes a barrier when ESL programmes planner’s fails to directly take into consideration of vital learner issues (Lightbown and Spada 39). These barriers become hidden factors that increase the ineffectiveness of the resultant ESL programme in a given community.
It is evident that most classrooms in the US today represent a meeting point in which ESL learners who often vary in terms of the disparate cultural backgrounds converge. For the ESL learners, such environments provide an important dimension of cultural and linguistic orientation (Kumaravadivelu 131). In this regard, lack of an undertsadning of the cultural factors that determine the actual processes of the ESL classroom instruction leads to poor learning of the English language. This is because an intellectual recognition only of this issue doe not offer a particular pedagogical direction.
Recent studies show that the nature of relationship between two cultures and an individual’s attitude towards a given culture impacts greatly on second language acquisition. An increase in social distance between two cultures results into an increased difficulty with which a second language learners develops competency in comprehending target language (Palmer, Chia-l, Change and Leclere 244). On the other hand, when the social distance between two cultures is relatively small, the language learning situation becomes better. The social distance is determined partly by the nature of relationship between two cultures. For instance, if an ESL student’s culture is culturally, technically and politically similar to that of the native English speaking country, the social distance is quite small compared to cultures which relate on the basis of dominance and subordination (Cohen 123).
There generally are expectations regarding the educational duty each participant (teachers and learners alike) brings into the ESL classroom and which impact on their perspective about the class as well as their willingness to collaborate in the various learning activities (Mary 1). One of the most important attribute that participants bring is cultural knowledge and more specifically, learners bring their anticipations for relationships with the teacher and also behavior that was prevalent in their home country like extensive schooling for instance. As such, these cultural factors become a barrier incase the students basing on the culture each has been accustomed to expect certain behavior from the teacher yet he/she fail to deliver the same. For instance, those who had previously been under the traditional ESL culture may expect the teacher to be more formal and authoritarian in his/her approach (Anderson 5). Thus if the teacher employs a normal style, the students become upset and this might affect collaborative working and ESL learning at large.
Moreover, these cultural factors present a barrier when the learners led by these cultural factors, prefer that ESL instructors maintain a clearly ordered classroom activity pattern such as extensive corrections of pronunciation or grammatical form through out all learning activities and not at specific points during the lesson or even not performing any corrections at all (Lightbown and Spada 152). This could be a barrier if the student is not flexible enough.
On the other hand, teachers bring to the class their expectations with respect to teacher behavior. This is usually inclusive of a teacher’s view as regards to the appropriate adult behavior in the context of the American culture and in the class at large (Cummins 105). There are various family and economic responsibilities that come with shifts in status such as during immigration and these tend to reflect on individual cultures. These may impact negatively on the behaviors and attitudes of ESL learners and hence their learning ability (Palmer, Chia-l, Change and Leclere 257). For instance, participation in learning activities may be affected these cultural differences resulting from such instances.
Currently, the rapidly growing number of ESL students has made it essential for more trained personnel who can work with these ESL groups to facilitate their full linguistic and social-cultural integration (Oxford 178). However, there is a deficit in terms of teacher training colleges. This has as a result led into a shortage of reading specialists to work with ESL students to integrate either social-cultural or full linguistic integration. Also the culture of producing inadequately prepared reading specialists has been a barrier to accomplishment of an effective ESL program. Research has shown that close to 30-40 percent of K-6 ESL students fail to reach grade appropriate reading levels in English as of the time they finish elementary schooling (Zimmerman 179). This presents a further barrier to English learning since most students who do not obtain grade level reading skills as they graduated from high school, find it difficult to continue to enhance their ability to read English.
Zimmerman (183) notes of another cultural problem in ESL classrooms as that most ESL students complete K-12 with relatively poor preparation for higher education. This presents a cultural barrier as regards to the present curriculum which largely fails to recognize the strengths of multi-lingual writers a well as strengths that contribute to the building of academy literacy and fluency among ESL individuals. As explained by the language acquisition theory, the mother tongue of an ESL student plays an important role in enhancing the undertsadning of vocabularies and phrases among others (Oxford 165). As such, the US culture of an English only curriculum as depicted in the Structured English Immersion moves is a cultural barrier that can be detrimental to ESL language acquisition capacity.
Interferences by the Native Language
ESL students are adversely affected by the linguistic habits learnt through their native language. These become a barrier that makes it difficult for the ESL students to learn a second or foreign language successfully (Cummins 141). This is because the features of their native language remain with them and these often tend to color the features of the new language system being learnt. This is barrier with potential to affect ESL learning. This barrier is evident in instances when Spanish speaking ESL students for instance, demonstrate difficulties in producing initial consonant clusters, and not use an intrusive vowel first. This follows the fact that in Spanish there lacks initial clusters such as /sp/ (Nasr 59). Thus, the presence of initial, medial or final clusters in the English language presents a potential barrier that compromise the effectiveness with which ESL students learn English. For instance, Spanish speakers often add a vowel in form of an initial consonant cluster. On the other hand, an Arabic speaker would finds it easier to break the initial, medial and final cluster followed by a separation of the elements through the use of a vowel in the middle of the cluster (Nasr 61).
Problems with Fluency and Linking
ESL students have difficulties in successfully comprehending sentences that feature intelligible fluency and linkage. Fluency entails speech production in an easy, comfortable, intelligible manner and at normal speeds (Nasr 61). However, some languages feature high degree of linkage when produced in a fluent manner. In this context, linking entails the manner in which words are produced as if they were connected within the stream of speech and hence they sound like a single word or sentence. For English sentences which feature such linkage, reading them at a normal sped and with intelligible fluency as that of native English speakers presents a barrier for effective comprehension. However, when the each word in such sentences is produced separately, ESL students are able to identify the word boundaries as well as the glottal stops at the onsets of certain words within the sentences (Nasr 60-61). This presents difficulties with comprehension to ESL students when especially when they lack clear pronunciation and enunciation skills.
Literature indicates that that sounds influence each other. In this regard, the qualities of most consonants and vowels are changed when sound interact, following their proximity to other languages. In the context of American English for instance, /n/ and /t/ are characterised by the same point of articulation (the alveolar ridge) (Nasr 59-61). In this regard, when read in normal speeds, the /t/ sort of disappears in certain words such as the word ‘sentence’. These influences are also prevalent across word boundaries. Therefore, interference due to the interaction of sounds, that is, the L2 and the primary language presents a barrier to effective ESL learning (Lightbown 124).
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A variety of meanings can be elicited when ESL learners, whose language is not a tone language, employ internal patterns and contours. It is evident that the major barrier is not the contours especially but how they are distributed. An example of a tonal language is that which includes use of a rising pitch at the end of an utterance to indicate a question (Holliday 79). As such, in the context of ESL learning, learners tend to end all English questions with a rising pitch although most questions in the English language usually end with a falling pitch. Native English employs us of a rising pitch contours in the middle of a sentence to signal attention. However, this presents a barrier to ESL learners since they are often not able to differentiate such distribution of contours (Nasr 61). EL leaner for instance interprets this as a question and this could affect their learning as they usually are not able to follow the rest of the sentence.
Negative attitudes about the dialects that are inferior to a standard one may affect English learning. Research shows a language variation naturally reflects community and cultural differences (Oxford 117). Social class structure dialects particularly reflect the attitudes that exist in language from other cultures. For instance, incase any form of English dialect are
Language Learning Strategies
Language learning strategies enhance the development of the language system constructed by the learner and which has potential to directly impact on learning. They encompass behaviors or special thoughts employed by learners in order to enable them comprehend learning as well as retain new information (Hong-Nam and Leavell 403). An ESL leaner can use a use direct or indirect language leaning strategy to address issues that present difficulty in ESL learning.
An effective language leaner uses distinct affective strategies to address barriers in English language learning. Difficult in learning ESL can be frustrating and this may be heightened in instances in which the leaner has a negative attitude towards the native speakers of the English (L2) language (Wharton 211). Strangeness may also result when the learner encounters difficulty in learning English, especially when there is a large social distance between the learners and L2 culture. such, affective strategies enable ESL learners to cultivate a more contour state as regards to these emotional concerns, which compromise English learning. Affective strategies seek to establish positive affect associations towards the English language as well as its native speakers and to the activities involved in its learning (Zimmerman 243). Training on learning English contributes to an increased ability of ESL students to counter the emotional difficulties that compromise their ability for English learning (Holliday 163). This is because the ESL student can through these methods draw attention to potential frustrations or even addressing them incase they arise.
The Social Strategy
Banking on the social strategy can be helpful ESL students in countering various cultural difficulties that make English learning difficult. This strategy can be effective when they employ communication to a large extent (Kumaravadivelu 81). For instance, studies have shown various cultural implications linked to ESL adult learners such as collaboration by means of participation mean to enhance language learning among others. Employing approaches such as asking of questions can help the ESL leaner seek for meaning of various ESL aspects they may be having problem with, such as the problems with linkages and fluency. On the other hand, cooperation contributes to reduction of the social distance between the native speakers of English and the ESL leaner. This has potential to increase the rate of English learning. The social strategies are very vital when especially countering cultural barriers that may persist in an Adult ESL classroom for instance. As such, instead of strangeness, a high self-esteem, increased achievement and confidence develop and contribute to a change of attitude towards the English language (Wharton 215). Moreover, empathy allows ESL learners to learn in context and this also enhances thier cultural undertsadning which helps counter barriers that hinder ESL learning.
On noting the various cultural and linguistic barriers hindering ESL learning, the learners can employ metacognitive strategies to plan English learning in an efficient manner. Metacognitive strategies are especially vital when linguistic barriers to language learning are prevalent (Oxford 213). This approach encompasses three approaches including: centering learning, arranging and planning learning and evaluation of learning. When the ESL leaner experiences difficulties such as with phonetics, using the centering learning strategy helps him/her emphasis on given langue activities which contribute to better learning. By arranging and planning learning, the ESL leaner with phonology problems for instance would be bale to organize learning appropriately to achieve more (Zimmerman 271). When these have been done, implementing the evaluating learning technique enhances the ability to monitor errors and assess progress to know how far they have accomplished.
On the same note, the ESL leaner could employ direct language learning strategy to obtain a better understanding and ability to use English (Hong-Nam and Leavell 403). The importance with such a strategy is that it enhances production of language even with a gap in knowledge.
The memory strategy contributes to tasks such as creation of associations, review and helping put learning aspects in order, especially when there are difficulties in learning of vocabularies (Anderson 6). For instance, associating words with physical images contributes greatly to the language devolvement since it is easier to retrieve the visual images and apply them in communication. This is especially important with barriers arising at the beginning of the language learning process and less used in later stages of higher language proficiency (Nasr 217).
On the other hand, cognitive strategies help ESL learners manipulate target language by manner of repeating, summarizing or analyzing. This is a central strategy to language learning. This normally encompasses practicing, analyzing and reasoning, receiving and sending messages, as well as creation of structures for input and output (Cohen 112). For instance, an adult ESL leaner employs analyzing and reasoning approaches to address linguistic problems.
Through use of compensation strategies, ESL learners can be able to comprehend target language easily since their knowledge in the language is inadequate (Holiday 135). For instance, this approach plays an important role since it allows the ESL student to apply own life experience in order to interpret information by manner of guessing.
The Communicative Strategy to Teaching
The communicative strategy constitutes the best approach to teaching of literacy as well as enhancing social integration of the ESL learners. This is because the method provides practicality, relevance and an immediate capacity to employ the language the experts emphasize on (Zimmermann 236). The basic focus of the method is on the use of language for meaningful interaction as well as for the accomplishment of tasks instead of learning of rules. This method employs approaches that are easy to apply in real life situations rather than emphasizing on memorization of counts of verb conjugations and vocabularies (Zimmerman 251). . The importance of this method is that it engages ESL learners in listening and demonstration of understanding through actions – a technique known as Total Physical Response
It is evident that the operation of ESL programs has not been without failure. This draws from the impact of linguistic and cultural factors that present barriers to the effectiveness of ESL education programs by making English learning difficult for certain learners. This also impacts negatively on the social and educational achievement of the English language learners. There are a host of linguistic and cultural factors that affect English as a second language learning. As such, it has become essential to asses the various language-based academic issues such as linguistic and cultural factors impacting on ESL education programs. This explains why linguistic and cultural diversity are currently the centre of research on multilingual programs and ESL. This research has inturn become an important input in educational reforms in various countries.
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