Degrees and Certifications:
ESL Frequently Asked Questions
Question 1. Should ESL students stop using their native languages at home and use English only?
No, because parents are a child’s first teachers. Learning should continue in the home in the parent and children’s primary language. Imagine if you moved to China and all learning stopped because you were not proficient in Chinese and your parents refused to speak to you in English when you came home. Imagine learning Chinese as a young child from parents who were limited in Chinese. What effects do you think these two circumstances would have on your acquisition of the Chinese language, your self-esteem and emotional well being, and on your academic progress?
Literate parents should read in their own languages; this is one of the best ways to support their child’s intellectual development. If at all possible, allow ESL students to continue reading in their own language. This will help them master the skills and fluency needed to be efficient readers in English.
Question 2. How long does it take an ESL student to learn English?
Answer: According to Virginia Collier, Associate Director of the Center for Bilingual/Multicultural/ESL Teacher Prep at George Mason University, it usually takes an ESL student two years to learn the Social Language or Basic Interpersonal Skills (BICS), and four to eight years to acquire the Academic Language or Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency skills (CALP) needed to reach national academic achievement levels.
Question 3. What is the difference between Social Language (BICS) and Academic Language (CALP)?
Answer: BICS refers to social language and CALP to academic language.
BICS proficiency may take about two years. The student may appear quite proficient in the second language if only an oral inventory is taken. However, the CALP component will take the second language learner a longer time for the attainment of fluency because of the abstract nature and synthesis necessary to gain cognitive/academic information and language, and to complete tasks (especially at middle level, junior/senior high school levels).
The CALP component is directly influenced by several factors. These factors are: 1) age at arrival in second language culture, 2) amount of uninterrupted schooling in first language, 3) length of residence in second language culture, 4) amount of content area instruction in first language while learning second language and academic aspirations.
Question 4. An ESL student is alternating back and forth between languages (code switching) constantly. Is he confused? Is something wrong?
Answer: Shifting from one language to another within utterances is not necessarily an indicator of language confusion, or a language disorder. Code switching often follows a logical pattern that retains the meaning of communication.
Question 5. An ESL child has been studying for three months and he/she hasn’t said one word in English. Is there something wrong?
Answer: A silent period of several weeks to several months has proven useful for students new to a language and should not be considered undesirable for a beginning language learner. Reception (what you hear) precedes the production of language. Strategies have been developed for incorporating the silent period into an instructional program, such as “Total Physical Response.”
Question 6. How many languages does a teacher need to speak in order to effectively teach ESL students?
Answer: The only language needed to effectively teach an ESL student is English. Recent research has shown that children acquire a second language in the same way they do a first. What seems to help students acquire another language is to provide them with rich comprehensible input occurring in natural, communicative situations in a non-threatening environment. When these conditions are met, language acquisition is involuntary, unconscious and inevitable.
Question 7. Students need English to function effectively now and in their future. The more English they hear, the quicker they’ll learn. Special methods aren’t necessary. If they listen long enough, they’ll get it, right?
Answer: The current research indicates that learners acquire a second language not through “maximum exposure” to a language, but through “comprehensible input”, i.e., ensuring that the learner understands the communication. Teachers can help ensure that academic input is comprehensible by using graphic organizers, semantic mapping, and lots of visual aids, allowing student interaction through cooperative learning, and numerous other ESL techniques that have evolved from theories developed through linguistic research.
Question 8. The way my child speaks English really concerns me. Every other word is wrong. Do I need to correct him?
Answer: Research indicates that errors are positive signs of language acquisition. The majority of errors that second language learners make is developmental in nature and does not become internalized. They are inevitable, systematic, and are similar to the errors young children make when they learn their first language. Teachers are encouraged not to intervene too soon or too often and to respond directly to what the students say rather than to its form.
Question 9. My child has worked hard on memorizing grammatical structures, but he still doesn’t apply them. Is there something wrong?
Answer: Language is more than an assemblage of structures. It is best learned where individuals are engaged in meaningful communication about topics that they perceive to be important.
Question 10. Is it true that if ESL students maintain their first language (Spanish, for example), then they will make more mistakes?
Answer: Recent research indicates that errors in the second language are not the result of interference from the first language. Rather, errors are often attributable to sources of difficulty within English itself and are similar to errors made as native speakers acquire English.
Question 11. How is bilingual education different from ESL?
Answer: Bilingual education is simply the use of two languages for instruction. In many bilingual programs, ESL students receive content area instruction (science or social studies, for example) in their native language while they learn English. ESL programs do not provide content area instruction in a student's native language, but rather provide intensive assistance in learning the content, skills and vocabulary through the English language.
According to recent research by Dr. Virginia Collier one of the best ways for students (English and ESL) to learn is through Two-way Bilingual Dual Language programs. CHCCS has two of these programs, in Chinese at Glenwood Elementary and in Spanish at Carrboro Elementary.