Using the Newspaper to Teach ESL Learners (Reading AIDS Series)

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9780872072374: Using the Newspaper to Teach ESL Learners (Reading AIDS Series)
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Full of practical suggestions based on solid theory, this book emphasizes using newspapers to teach second-language learners basic language skills as well as math, science, and social studies content. Activities help students develop language and academic skills in a relevant context.

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From Chapter 1

Any book that makes recommendations for classroom practice must be based on sound pedagogical theory to be effective. the activities presented in this book are specifically designed to comply with the most recent findings in language acquisition and learning, second-language development, and related fields such as psycho-and sociolinguistics. This chapter reviews those findings to help teachers understand the theoretical underpinnings of the strategies and activities discussed later; with this knowledge, they will be better able to apply, adapt, and extend these activities to meet the needs of their students.

Language Acquisition and Learning When discussing how a second (or third or subsequent) language is learned, it is important to distinguish between language acquisition and language learning. Research in linguistics shows that there is an important difference between these two functions in both the first language (L1) and the second language (L2). Researchers define language acquisition as the process by which our minds appropriate the sounds, symbols, and representations that constitute a language. With L1, this acquisition occurs unconsciously as language is picked up from the social environment. When children first begin to use language, they do not pay attention to the rules and structure of the tongue. Their acquisition of the language is focused solely on communicating-on giving meaning to a message. When children are able to recognize some rules and regularities in the language and apply those regularities to new utterances, then we can identify the process of language learning.

The distinction between language acquisition and language learning in L1 is important because the same distinction can apply to L2. But although acquiring and learning a second language entails the same linguistic steps as acquiring and learning the first language, there are some major psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic differences in these processes. For instance, the age of the learner is an important factor when it comes to L2. A very young child will acquire the second language differently than an older child will. Linguistics research has proved that even though younger children seem to acquire L2 sooner than older children and are often able to speak the new language without an accent after a few months, older children and adults are actually "more efficient language learners" (Hakuta & Snow, 1986). The common myth that very young children are better than older children at picking up a second language is the result of focusing observation on pronunciation and phonics, which are mainly functions of language acquisition. When the comparison is made with other aspects of language proficiency--such as the type of language ability needed to succeed in school-older children come out ahead. According to Collier (1987), children between the ages of 8 and 12 learn a second language faster than children between the ages of 4 and 7. This may be because older children have more cognitive maturity and more skill with the first language to draw on in developing an effective second-language learning process.

One of the most important lessons from linguistics research to keep in mind is that in the long run LEP students with a well-developed first language will perform better linguistically in L2 than those students who discontinue their development of L1 and discard its use. Because the language-learning skills developed in L1 can be transferred to the learning process in L2 (Thonis, 1981) and because research demonstrates that bilingual children have more and higher level cognitive skills than monolingual children (Baker, 1988), in recent years educators have supported the idea of having LEP learners maintain their first language as a means of improving learning in the second language.

Another factor that makes the acquisition and learning of L1 different from that of L2 is the influence of the learner's personality. Everyone who has tried to speak another language knows how embarrassing it can be to make mistakes when you're trying to communicate. Outgoing people with strong self-esteem are much more likely to overcome such errors and to involve themselves in interactions that will expose them to the second language (Brown, 1987). Because they are afraid of making mistakes and looking silly, people with a strong sense of social sanction or who are worried about losing face will make less of an effort to use L2.

During the acquisition of the first language, this factor is not as important. Very young children are generally unaware of their mistakes in language use because adults are willing to accept those mistakes as long as they understand the intended meaning. Whether children are shy or outgoing, most adults around them will strive to facilitate communication, accepting any form in which a message is presented. Gestures, other body language, and sounds will be interpreted as part of the child's language acquisition process. With the exception of very young children, this type of uncritical acceptance is not common for LEP students in the school environment. Adults in the school will usually stop the flow of communication to correct errors, emphasizing the message's form over its content.

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