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Acquiring a second language at an early age is crucial in the Latino community, especially because it is a growing population. The involvement that is shown in preschool programs plays an important role because English Language learners (ELLs) spend much of their time in a school setting. Teacher interactions, the involvement of the school and staff, and after-school programs are important to the acquisition of a second language. Home involvement also plays an important role, more specifically the involvement that parents have in the education of their children. An open line of communication between parents and teachers helps understand the level of language development of the ELLs and how they can help their development increase.
Have you ever worked with English language learners and thought to yourself how much those children would benefit from being bilingual? Being a bilingual aide for the past three years and noticing the difference that being the voice for those children that can not yet communicate for themselves is very rewarding. Growing up in a Latino household in which Spanish was the home language, I am able to understand the feeling that these children might feel when they are trying to communicate thoughts or feelings and feel that their thoughts are going unnoticed because of their language. ELL’s spend a lot of their time in school, which is why I find it important to understand what kind of support these children are receiving at school to help the acquire a second language.
Being bilingual in a society where language plays an important role may result beneficial to those who acquire a second language, for example Latinos. Latinos are becoming one of the fastest growing populations in the United States (Oades-Sese, Esquivel, Kaliski, & Maniatis, 2011). Latino children may grow up in homes where the language spoken is Spanish and they begin attending school not knowing how to speak any other language. Children that are born in the United States to Latino parents form about twenty percent of the school-age population and about 68% of them speak a language that is different from English at home (Scarpino, Lawrence, Davison, & Hammer, 2011). The official language in the United States is English and for that reason early introduction to a second language will help these Latino children to be able to communicate with people that they may come across.
Preschool programs and teachers that form a part of these programs have taken the initiative to better prepare Latino children to face their communities and the people that are part of them by offering the opportunity to be part of a bilingual classroom when they enter preschool. In order for children to successfully acquire a second language, parents may need to show support of this acquisition and in the process keep nurturing the home language. Parent-teacher relationships may also influence in the acquisition of a second language for the children. When children begin attending school, parental involvement, teacher interactions with the children, and parent-teacher relationships can influence second language acquisition. Technology also plays a big role in a student’s ability to successfully acquire a second language in today’s society.
The development of a second language is nurtured by the relationships and interactions that children will have with their parents, with their teachers and with their peers. To better understand the importance these interactions, have in the development of a language, it is necessary to examine the development of language. Vygotsky’s theory stresses that social interaction plays a necessary role in the development of language (McLeod, 2007). For the purpose of communicating with those who form part of a child’s inner circle, social interactions play an essential part in the development of language. A child may be able to communicate with those close to them in the language that they use at home, but when they attempt to communicate with peers in an English-language school setting, the acquisition of the second language begins to show the importance that it has for Latino children.
When acquiring a language, children may need an environment where they are encouraged to communicate with peers in a language that they are comfortable with; they may need to feel as though they are receiving support from the people that they will be spending a lot of their time with. These individuals provide a child with a comfort zone that makes them comfortable to communicate in a language that they feel is best for the occasion (e.g Spanish or English).Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) focuses on what a child is able to achieve on their own and what they can achieve with the proper direction and support (McLeod, 2007). As a result, the acquisition of any language especially a second language greatly depends on the child and their relations with parents, and teachers and how comfortable they are when communicating in any language; they depend on these adults to lead them in the proper direction while they acquire their new language. When children acquire language, they are developing three different types of speech, with social speech being the one to play the most important role when it comes to developing speech by socializing with others (McLeod, 2007). The social skills that a parent may show to their child can motivate them to see that learning a second language but maintaining their home language will be beneficial to them. They may do this by helping them understand the benefits of being bilingual and not making them feel bad about knowing how to communicate in more than one language. Teacher interactions will encourage the child to learn, and it will help them understand the process of learning a new language as well as the rules that come with the new languages. Adult relationships will help the child practice the languages that they have learned, and it will help them understand that communicating with others does not necessarily depend on just one language but rather it can be done through different methods of communication.
Preschool Programs and Involvement in Second Language Acquisition
The involvement that schools show during the process of acquiring a second language can impact child’s capacity to acquire a new language. Some of the ways in which school impacts the acquisition of a second language for a child is through the relationship that the child develops with the teachers (Oades-Sese, 2011), the involvement of schools in bilingual programs (Lee, Hill-Bonnet, & Gillispie, 2008; Castilla, Restrepo, & Perez-Leroux, 2009) and by attending after-school programs (Pastor, 2008). Children spend much of their time in school; therefore their acquisition of a second language may be influenced by their teachers, the school and programs they may attend.
Teacher-child relationship. A positive relationship between child and teacher may be beneficial for the child to properly acquire a second language. Between a child and the adults that surround them, language will create a bond that only they will be able to understand (Oades-Sese & Li, 2011). With creating this bond, children may learn to communicate their needs to the adult they are with at the moment (e.g parent or teacher). Oades-Sese and Li (2011) believed that in order for a child to succeed in school, it was important to comprehend the relationship the children are developing with their teachers. Oades-Sese and Li (2011) focused on the attachment theory and the relationships that children create consisting of about four hundred and seventy preschool children of Hispanic descent (Oades-Sese & Li, 2011). Oades-Sese and Li (2011) focused on the teacher-child relationship by measuring the relationship between the child and teacher using the “Student-Teacher Relationship Scale” (Oades-Sese & Li, 2011) which identified the different levels of closeness that the teacher may experience during different areas of communication with the child (e.g. open communication). The results of this study concluded that a close relationship with teachers would greatly impact the child’s ability to communicate in English (Oades-Sese & Li, 2011). Children can create a bond with their teacher and this may help them create a trust in the teacher that will help them see that there is no judgment coming towards them and therefore it encourages them to expand their language development.
A close relationship with teachers may help a child with their ability to communicate in English shows that Vygotsky’s beliefs that children are able to attain a second language when they are given the proper direction and support (McLeod, 2007). When a child’s relationship with a teacher is of high-quality, it can be seen through the close bond that the two have formed and through the low levels of conflict they may face (Oades-Sese, 2011). A teacher has the opportunity to encourage the use of a second language in the classroom and incorporate it in such ways that they child will feel comfortable; encouragement through the development of vocabulary, and by encouraging the children to read books they would not normally read at home (Freeman & Freeman, 2004). A higher level of communication between children and teacher helps the children practice the language that they are acquiring, and it could make them more comfortable expressing their ideas when they can trust the person that they are communicating with.
School involvement. Bilingual programs provide children with the adequate situations in which they can use both languages (e.g Spanish and English) as they please (Lee et al., 2008). Lee, Hill-Bonnet and Gillispie’s (2008) study showed that it is important for bilingualism to be presented to children separately to encourage the development of the two languages. This study focused on the observation of two dual-language classrooms and the teachers over a period of time. The study observed how teachers and directors created boundaries for the children by acknowledging that there are separations as to who their Spanish teacher and English teacher were, which allowed the children to know that they had the option to communicate in whichever language they were most comfortable with and there would be someone there to help with their needs (Lee et al., 2008). Making the children aware that there are two teachers to help them and that each one speaks a language that they know helps them expand their vocabulary in both languages (e.g. Spanish and English). The idea of the study was to demonstrate that when children are exposed to two languages separately, they become natural bilingual speakers (Lee et al., 2008). This study however focused on the separation of both languages, therefore having the children learn one or the other and this would affect their identity as bilingual speakers in the future.
In a different study, Restrepo and Perez-Leroux (2009) examined forty-nine Spanish-speaking children who attended a bilingual preschool classroom. The sole purpose of the study was to identify whether or not there would be a change in the semantic and grammatical skills of these children; in comparison to already bilingual children. The results of the study concluded that there are considerable associations between the semantic and grammatical skills across the languages (e.g. Spanish and English). Therefore, concluding that when children attend a classroom in which both English and Spanish language are supported, the skills that they have already developed may not be jeopardized.
Both studies (Lee et al., 2008; Castilla et al., 2009) examined the incorporation of dual language use in preschool classrooms with the difference that Lee, Hill-Bonnet, and Gillispie (2008) focused on the separation of both languages and Castilla, Restrepo and Perez-Leroux (2009) focusing in the use of both languages in the same classroom. Although the studies were conducted differently, the results of each study concluded that children are capable of learning a second language mainly because research has shown that children are born with knowledge of language but must learn to figure out the functions of each language (Freeman & Freeman, 2009). It may take the incorporation of schools to help these children figure out how each language works and to better understand the rules that accompany each language being developed.
After-school programs involvement. Schools sometimes believe that children will also benefit from attending bilingual programs after school, which is why some schools offer after-school bilingual programs. Pastor (2008) examined a bilingual after-school program that worked through the use of computers that was available for two different age-groups, with one being Hispanic children between the ages of 3-5 and the other being children of school age. Her study examined the language choices that children could use to communicate when interacting with classmates and other adults involved with the program (Pastor, 2008). The data for this study was collected through the period of one school year and it involved about fifteen children who were available to attend the after-school program for about an hour; the computer-based program offered the children activities that emphasized the use of Spanish and English language (Pastor, 2008). The results to this study did not only show that children have options, but it also showed that the children will interact in the language that they are most comfortable with and become more open to communicating when they do not find themselves restricted (Pastor, 2008). When children are offered an open communication environment, it might help them be more open to communicating their ideas and needs to those around. Restrictions could discourage a child from taking part in any activity, which was probably why this after-school program had success, because they did not provide the children with any restrictions, rather they encouraged the children to communicate in which ever language they felt most comfortable with and they gave them options to use the language of their choice (e.g. Spanish or English).
After-school programs can offer children encouragement to communicate in a language in which they are comfortable in and it provides them with the environment to socialize with others and still learn in the process. It is also clear that adults have an important responsibility in the development of language through the process of socialization and the way in which they implement the activities for the children (Pastor, 2008). These results imply that adults will play a great role in the development of a language. This goes back to Vygotsky and his theory that children are capable of learning on their own but also are able to learn when they are exposed to the right models. A social environment will supply children with the motivation to acquire a language, and the support that they may receive from this environment will be needed to make this acquisition possible (Garfield, Peterson, & Perry, 2001). Children may often need to feel welcomed in their social environment to be able to communicate with others and ask for help when they need it from the adults that they are surrounded by.
Home involvement and Development of a Second Language
The encouragement children receive to better improve their bilingualism when they are at home all depends on the parents and the support that they can give their child as well as the interactions that they are willing to have with the school and the teachers. It is believed that when children acquire a strong first language, the development of the second language becomes a lot easier and they eventually have higher academic achievements (Lindholm-Leary, 2014). This is why the parental involvement (Delgado-Gaitan, 1991; McWayne, Campos, & Owsianik, 2008) that is provided for the children in both languages that are being developed is very important. Children may grow up to look up to their parents, and if they have support and see the involvement, they may become encouraged to learn all that is being offered.
Parent involvement. Research has shown that the involvement that parents have in the academics of their children will encourage them to succeed (Delgado-Gaitan, 1991). When children feel that their parents support them and what they are learning, they feel encouraged to keep learning as they grow older. Delgado-Gaitan (1991) focused on a study in which teachers wanted the parents to participate in the education of their children as well as helping them when they were at home (Delgado-Gaitan, 1991). Teachers can try to encourage the involvement of parents in their classroom, but it will not always be effective. Some ways in which teachers tried to persuade parents to become more occupied with the school and in the classroom of their children was through the attendance of school functions (e.g open house, teacher-parent conferences) as well as becoming acquainted with the school and how they run their programs (Delgado-Gaitan, 1991). When schools show all parents an open-door policy, parents may seem more willing to be involved because they notice that the school does not have a preference on parents.
Whether parents will be involved in the academics of their children or not may highly depend on the knowledge that the parents have about education and the importance of it. When parents are knowledgeable about education, their levels of participation in the academics of their children will be higher than those parents who do not have high education levels (Delgado-Gaitan, 1991). Parents who tend to know more about the importance of education and place a great emphasis in academics may usually be more encouraging to their children and will nurture their home language when at home with their children but will also place importance on the acquisition of the second language at all times. parents who may not be as knowledgeable will not always encourage their children to use the second language in fear that they will stop using their home language, but most importantly not all parents of bilingual children have the knowledge to communicate with their children in both languages and fear that the second language will interfere with the lines of communication that they have with their children.
McWayne et al. (2008) conducted a study in which they focused on family involvement and the relationship that this involvement had on the learning outcomes of children, especially with language development. The study consisted of about 170 parents of preschool children that attended a multicultural Head start program and gathered information from three different areas of focus: involvement, school-contact satisfaction, and parent demographics (McWayne, et al., 2008). The results determined that mothers have higher levels of participation than fathers in all three areas with the level of education playing one of the most important roles. Social-class differences between parents with low education and educated school staff stood out in the study the most. McWayne et al.’s (2008) study concluded that along with education determining the levels of participation for mothers, fathers became more involved with school when their child was a boy rather than a girl; and they were in constant contact with the school when their child would misbehave. If parents are not able to communicate with schools, it may place a limit in their involvement, especially if they do not speak English; they may often feel less welcomed to their children’s school. Therefore, it may be necessary for parents to feel satisfied with what is being offered by the program in order for them to be more involved.
Both studies concluded that parent involvement is important for a child to be confident that they are capable of learning a new language. When children are acquiring a second language and are able to learn to work with both languages (e.g. Spanish and English), parents remain more involved in the lives of their children (Pearson, 2008). According to Vygotsky’s theory, social interaction plays an important part in a child’s development of language, but when the child sees that their parents are social, it may encourage them to seem more social interactions of their own, therefore helping them with the development of their language skills. Vygotsky’s “ZPD” is important for the acquisition of a language because children will often make use of their own boundaries but take advantage of the help that they can get from other adults in their lives (Ohta, 2005). Children often learn through what they see being modeled to them, therefore if they see that their parents are expanding their language by socializing with other adults, they may try to imitate that by interacting with peers their age and attempting to communicate with them in a way that they are comfortable doing so.
Home and School Collaboration
A positive parent-teacher collaboration may be beneficial to the child because the adults that are involved in his/her education maintain open communication about issues that they may see are occurring in the child. When parents begin to be more implicated in the education of their children, they learn more about what is going on in the child’s education and therefore try to help more at home. Different ways in which parents and teachers can form a relationship can be through parent-teacher conferences (Cheatham, & Ostrosky, 2013), and by collaborations to identify any concerns in the language development of the child (Bedore, Peña, Joyner, & Macken, 2011). Keeping an open line of communication between parents and teachers may help identify any problems that could arise in the child during the development of language and at an early age.
Cheatham and Ostrosky (2013) conducted a study in which twenty-four parents and seven teachers participated. The focus of the study was twenty parent-teacher conferences with the intention to update parents on their child’s progress and new accomplishments (Cheatham, & Ostrosky, 2013). The results of this study concluded that although both parents and teachers took on a role during the conference, teachers were consistently leading the conference, especially when it came to planning learning goals for each child. The expectations that both parents and teachers had from these conferences played an important role because the results also showed that Latino parents attended the conference in hopes that the teacher would take on a directive role while they took on a more passive role themselves (Cheatham, & Ostrosky, 2013). The results helped determine the relationship that exists between parents and teachers and the social role that the conferences played when planning goals for each child. However, misunderstandings did occur when planning goals for the children due to cultural differences that occurred between the parents and the teachers (Cheatham, & Ostrosky, 2013). When parents and teachers take the time to communicate with each other, it may often help with the outcome of what the child is learning due to both parties agreeing on what is the best for the child.
In a similar study, Bedore et al. (2011) focused on the collaboration that parents and teachers need to engage in, in order to identify any concerns in the language development of the children. The study consisted on five-hundred-forty-nine preschool children that participated in bilingual programs. In this study, parents answered questionnaires about each child’s language history and rated the children based on a 0-4 scale to identify how well the child used and understood the languages (e.g. Spanish and English) (Bedore, et al., 2011). Teachers answered a similar questionnaire and the same rating scale in which they provided data about the use of Spanish and English language in the classroom. Bedore et al.’s (2011) study determined that parent-answers and teacher-answers were very similar to one another, concluding that parent and teacher reports are an informational source to identify a child’s language ability. According to the results, the questionnaire answered by parents helped teachers interpret what parents see in the language development of the child outside of the school environment (Bedore, et al., 2011). The different contributions to the language skills of the children that participated on the study may help identify any problems that may be arising either at home or in school.
Children acquiring a second language may rely on the adults that are a part of their everyday interactions to help with this acquisition. In classroom settings children rely on the help that they receive through interactions, therefore relying on teachers to assist with the development of language because their potential increases with the help that they receive (Ohta, 2005). Past researches have shown that the behaviors that parents of bilingual children are capable of assisting a child’s learning by talking to them and listening, along with watching what is being said and how they say it (e.g. tone and language) (Pearson, 2008). These interactions between the child, parents, and teachers are important and may call for an open line of communication between parents and teachers. Being able to communicate with each other may result beneficial to the children since any issues may be communicated and resolutions to them might be planned out.
Overall, previous studies have shown that when children begin attending preschool, teacher interactions with the children, school and parent involvement, and parent-teacher relationships can influence second language acquisition. Being able to acquire a second language would be easier for children because they have already learned the basics for language learning. It can be tougher nonetheless, because the child has to set aside what they have already learned and learn a new language (Pearson, 2008). Bilingual children may grow up to see their bilingualism as an advantage and may be thankful that they have the ability to communicate with a greater society than they would if they were only monolinguals.
Additional research is needed to better understand the benefits that children obtain from attending bilingual programs.
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