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Academics and English Language Acquisition

Department of Multicultural Education
School District of Palm Beach County, Florida
2003

The demographics of schools in the United States are changing. In 1988, 70% of students in
the United States were of European, non-Hispanic descent. By 2020, projections state that at
least 50% of all students will be of non-Euro-American background—and the number is growing.
Schools must find a way to successfully educate these students (whose primary home language
is not English) to compete in the modern, competitive world. Failure to do so would result in an
under-educated, under-employed cadre of young adults.

Measuring Success
Success for second language learners is defined as “English learners reaching eventual full
educational parity with native-English speakers in all school content subjects (not just in English
proficiency) after a period of at least 5-6 years” (Thomas & Collier, 1997, p. 7). The problem is
that students learning English as a second-language are trying to catch moving targets: native
English speakers do not stand still academically and wait for English as a second language
(ESOL) students to master English. The goal of ESOL instruction must be to help English
language learners (ELL) to eventually match the achievement levels of native English speakers
in all areas of the curriculum.

What constitutes English proficiency? There are two levels of second language development:

1. Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills (BICS) development, or the skills
necessary to interact in everyday social settings. Development of BICS in a second
language usually takes two to three years.

2. Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP), the more complex cognitive and
academic language proficiency needed to negotiate in academic settings (Cummins,
1981). Cummins and others have determined that it takes five to seven years to develop
cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) in a second language.

In figure 1, Cummins (1989) offers an “iceberg” shaped model to illustrate BICS and CALP. The
part of the linguistic iceberg above the horizontal line is the surface structure, or BICS of
language. This includes the audible conversational language spoken and heard in everyday
situations, and includes mastery of sounds, grammar, and vocabulary.

The part of the “iceberg” below the horizontal line is CALP. It is the aspect of language not
apparent in normal everyday social situations. It is the academic language associated with
books and school, with higher order thinking skills, and with literature, math, history, and
science.

The linguistic processes going on in CALP are considerably more complex and abstract than
those going on in BICS. Accordingly, their complexity requires increased time to master. As
stated earlier, development of CALP in English takes LEP students five to seven years.
Development of English BICS usually takes less than three years, as the necessary socially
oriented linguistic environment is almost always present. CALP can only occur in a cognitively
stimulating and academically oriented environment.

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Figure 1


Research by Virginia Collier (1995, 2001) indicates that secondary LEP students in traditional
English as a second language (ESL) programs in which development in social English is
emphasized, do not do as well on standardized tests in English as do students in ESL programs
in which academic English is emphasized.


60

50
N
C 40
E ESL taught through academic content
30
ESL taught with oral English focus
20


7 8 9 10 11 12
GRADE

Figure 2
Average performance of native-English speakers making one year's progress in each grade
-analysis
-synthesis
-evaluation
-phonology
-vocabulary
-syntax
-semantic
meaning
-functional
meaning
-knowledge
-comprehension
-application
Conversational
Proficiency
Language Process Cognitive Process
Cognitive/
Academic
Proficiency

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To help LEP students reach their academic potential, the instructional program for students
learning English as a second language must include:

♦ Time: LEP students need more time to learn the cognitive academic English. Two years in
an ESOL program is not long enough to provide students with the additional educational
support they need to be successful in school and on standardized tests. Research
consistently confirms that it takes 5-7 years to develop CALP.

♦ Academic focus: The learning environment of LEP students should be academically rich.
Instructional strategies for LEP students should link English language development to
academic content. Instruction for ESOL students needs to focus not on oral, social
language, but on academically related language, as proficiency in oral communication does
not predict proficiency in content/academic language.

First Language Schooling
Thomas and Collier (1997) confirmed that first language (L1) schooling is the key variable in
studies on the “how long” question. Students who arrived in the United States between ages 8
and 11, who had received at least 2-5 years of schooling in their primary language (L1) in their
home country, were the lucky ones who took only 5-7 years to master CALP. Those who
arrived before age 8, who had little or no schooling in their native language, required 7-10 years
or more. Those arriving after age 12 with good formal schooling in L1 made steady gains, but
by the end of high school they had run out of time to catch up academically with native-English
speaking students, who were making constant progress. Most who continued on to college did
eventually catch up.

Younger students may make dramatic gains in the early grades, but generally don’t continue to
maintain those gains once they are exited from special services. Estimates are that 30-40% of
school-age English language learners fail to reach acceptable levels of English reading by the
end of their elementary schooling. (Thomas & Collier, 1997.) These students often fall behind
the typical achievement levels of native-English speakers due to limited schooling in their first
language. This frequently results in significant, cumulative achievement gaps by the end of high
school. It is crucial to monitor ELL’s progress once they are in the mainstream and move into
cognitively more demanding and complex work in middle school and high school.

In addition, research indicates that a second language can be acquired as readily by adults as
by children. The only obstacle to learning a second language is not having learned a first
language by puberty (Bralystok and Hakuta, 1996). Given mastery of a first language, the
transfer of literacy skills from L1 to L2 and mastery of one or more additional languages is
beyond the reach of no one at any age.

Cummins demonstrates why mastery of a first language is so critical with his Common
Underlying Proficiency Model. Using the iceberg schema presented earlier to discuss BICS and
CALP, Cummins proposes a dual iceberg model in figure 3 to illustrate the development of
linguistic proficiency in two languages, i.e. bilingualism. For the purpose of this discussion, on
the left is the English word truth, and its Thai equivalent, kwamjiη, is on the right. The surface
structures of these two words are very different. (Note that Thai uses a different alphabet that
could not be reproduced here.)
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t
r
uθ kwamjiη














Figure 3
This example illustrates why literacy in a native language is so critical: if a student is
not exposed to important concepts in L1, then learning them in L2 will be much more difficult and time consuming.


The deep structures of the words, however, overlap and are in fact, pretty much identical. The
symbols represent the deep structure (the CALP) of both the Thai and English forms
of the words. Knowledge of consists largely of conceptual knowledge that has
developed over a period of many years. The concept of is not a simple one. It has
lexical connections to words such as veracity, purity, and righteousness and their respective
underlying concepts. It has connections to folktales such as The Boy Who Cried Wolf and fairy
tales such as Pinocchio. It has connections to religious beliefs, as in placing the right hand on a
Bible when swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It has
connections to national identity, as in Truth, justice, and the American way. The concept of
is the same in English as it is in Thai or any language.

Based on the model presented above, experiences that occur in either Thai or in English can
contribute to the development of the conceptual knowledge of , which underlies the
surface structures of both truth and kwamjiη. This example illustrates why literacy in a native
language is so critical: if a student is not exposed to important concepts in L1 that can be
transferred to a new language, then learning them for the first time in L2 will be much more
difficult and time consuming.

The written form of a language is not inherently more difficult than the oral form of a language.
Both consist of an arbitrary set of symbols. Oral language symbols are interpreted through the
ears by the brain. Written language symbols are interpreted through the eyes by the brain
(Anderson, 1976; Falk, 1973).

Educational models for Second Language Acquisition
The traditional belief: Structural linguists characterize listening and speaking as primary
linguistic functions, and reading and writing as secondary linguistic functions dependent on the
former. This approach is represented in figure 4. The rationale for this model was based
largely on the fact that, while all peoples of the world possess oral language, not all possess

BICS
CALP
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written language proficiency. Structural linguists greatly influenced first and second language
teaching. In many classrooms, listening and speaking skills are taught first, followed by reading
skills, and then writing skills.







Figure 4

The currently accepted belief: There are many arguments against employing the structural
linguistics model of second language acquisition. People don't master hearing before seeing.
People constantly use both eyes and ears together to bring meaning to the world. Spoken
language consists of sounds that are perceived by the ear and interpreted by the brain.
Likewise, written language consists of shapes that are perceived by the eye and interpreted by
the brain. One is not more complex or primary than the other

Compare figure 4 with figure 5. Here, listening/speech and reading/writing are parallel functions
of language. Speech is an act that is an attempt to represent language (Falk, 1973). In a
similar way, writing is an act that represents language.






Figure 5

In order to develop cognitive academic language proficiency, schools must simultaneously
encourage both oral and written English language development among LEP students. Students
reciting the Pledge of Allegiance have been heard to say, “I pledge a legions to the flag of the
United States of Ameriga and to the Republicans for witches stand…” By involving more
modalities, by speaking and seeing the words simultaneously, students can distinguish the
actual vocabulary; learning is not only accelerated, but is more meaningful, and is retained.
Therefore, instruction in written English should occur simultaneously with oral instruction in
English, and vice-versa. Research supports this approach.

Development in both BICS and CALP develop within a community (Curran, 1975). Early
educational theorists believed that students learned by listening to the finer minds of society,
gaining knowledge from all that teachers had to offer. This system of pedagogy would look
something like figure 6.



or




Figure 6
teacher
teacher
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In this model, the teacher is at the center (or front) of the room. The students interact only with
the teacher, listening to the teacher's lecture and answering questions that the teacher asks
when checking for understanding. Students are physically separated from each other and lined
up in rows, and do not interact with each other. Tests measure how closely students can
restate what the teacher has taught.

This instructional model has been handed down from generation to generation. Most of today’s
teachers were taught-- and continue to teach in that manner. Unfortunately, that model is not
the best method to encourage linguistic development.

Language acquisition is essentially a social activity, and it is critical to second language
acquisition. Meaningful interaction is the key. Students placed in structured classrooms where
the teacher does most of the talking, and the activities are mostly written, have little chance for
meaningful interaction or language development (Richard-Amato, 1996).

In 1972, Charles Curran proposed an alternative educational model, known as Counseling-
Learning. While Curran agrees that the teacher has knowledge that the students need, he puts
the students in the center to decide for themselves what they wish to learn. He also sees
students as learning in a community of students, all supporting each other along the path of
learning. The teacher not only has the information the students desire to learn, but also the
counseling skills necessary to see students through times of doubt. Curran's model would look
something like figure 7.












Figure 7

Curran’s Counseling-Learning Model



Inspired by Curran’s Counseling-Learning model, Dean Stecker (1997) developed a modified
version of the CLL model that is recommended for ESOL classrooms in Palm Beach County,
Florida. The teacher/facilitator in this model (see figure 8) is still at the center. Here however,
the teacher does not interact with individual members of the class. Rather, the teacher interacts
only with the groups. Members of each group organize themselves so that as the teacher calls
on their group to respond to questions or to report on tasks completed, each member will know
when it is his turn to speak to the teacher. That person does not speak for himself, but for the
group, and the group can assist the speaker even as the response is being made to the teacher.
If the response is correct, the group is correct. If it is incorrect, the group is incorrect and it is
the job of the members of the group, as a community, to figure out what went wrong.

Teacher
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Figure 8
Stecker’s Community Language Learning Model depicting language acquisition as a social activity


Educational Implications
Steven Krashen and T. Terrell developed the Natural Approach to second language acquisition
(SLA). This method is employed in many ESL programs in the U.S., and in the majority of ESOL
programs in Palm Beach County. This method proposes a shift in ESL curriculum from one that
is grammar based to one that is communicative based.

In discussing the Natural Approach, Krashen lists three points:

1. Language acquisition is a subconscious process similar to the way children learn their
first language. Language acquirers do not focus on the language being used during
interaction with another person, but rather on the content and purpose of the interaction.
Language acquisition develops naturally.

2. Language learning, where learning is "...the conscious knowledge of a second language,
knowing the rules, being aware of them and being able to talk about them" (p. 10).
Language learning, as opposed to language acquisition, is what goes on in most public
school foreign language classrooms.

3. “Reading for meaning, especially free voluntary reading, is comprehensible input, and is
the source of much of our competence in literacy, our reading ability, writing style, much
of our vocabulary and spelling competence, and our ability to use and understand
complex grammatical constructions” (Krashen, 1997. p. 5). Reading is particularly helpful
because “the more comprehensible input people obtain in the target language, the more
acquisition takes place” (p. 6).

4. Just as students learn language skills by reading, Krashen believes that for those writing
in both their first and second languages, the best predictor of writing quality is the
amount of reading done. There is no evidence linking writing ability to the formal study of
grammar or to the study of the structure of expository prose, topics generally
emphasized in composition classes. The act of writing itself helps the writer come up
with new ideas and insights, but writing style and mastery of most of the conventions of

Teacher
facilitator
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writing comes from reading. Students interested in developing a clear writing style need
to read lots of good writing.

According to Krashen, learned knowledge is only used to monitor language performance, and
actually slows down performance as the speaker references forms and rules. In Krashen’s
second language acquisition (SLA) classroom, instruction focuses on both the language
necessary to understand and communicate the content, and on the content itself as a means of
increasing content-related English and academic proficiency. In this way, target language
development as well as academic language development would occur naturally. The cognitive
demands placed upon students will govern the kind of English they acquire.

Most of language cannot be reduced to teachable rules. Language can only be internalized
through interactional processes in a relevant, meaningful environment. Without that, no matter
how well rules are taught, language will not be learned because it isn’t relevant. Richard-Amato
(1996) provides the following example:

We say in the car. When we say on the car, we mean on top of the car. But yet we say
on the boat, which means in the boat if it has a roof. To get even more complex, we say
on the ceiling. Using logic, one would think we mean on top of the ceiling. However,
what we mean is under the ceiling and attached to it. Although there are rules governing
these differences, they are for the most part subconscious (p. 51).

Considerations
♦ Sociocultural processes: The individual student is at the center of all discussions
concerning second language acquisition. Self esteem, anxiety, and other affective factors
must be considered. Prejudice, fear, and acculturization can all affect a student’s response
to learning a new language.
♦ Language Development: To assure cognitive and academic success in a second language,
a student’s first language, both oral and written, must be developed to at least the
comparable level of native-English speaking peers.
♦ Academic Development: With each succeeding grade, academic work increases in
complexity. Postponing or interrupting academic development is likely to promote academic
failure in the long term.
♦ Cognitive Development: Cognitive development occurs developmentally from birth
throughout all schooling. Cognitive development in L1 should continue through the
elementary years. Switching a student’s language of instruction causes a cognitive
slowdown for ELLs for several years—while native English speakers continue to develop at
normal rates. ELLS need special assistance if they are ever to catch up.

Instructional implications
Thomas and Collier, writing for the Center on Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence
(CREDE), in a five-year study (1996-2001), found
♦ The minimum amount of time it takes students with no English proficiency to reach grade-
level L2 performance is 4 years. They should not be placed in short-term programs of 1-3
years.
♦ Only ELLs with at least 4 years of L1 schooling reach grade level performance in L2 in 4
years.
♦ The strongest predictor of L2 achievement is the amount of formal L1 schooling. Students
who receive at least 4-5 years of grade-level L1 schooling in the home language do better
than students with no primary language schooling.
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♦ Individuals do not learn to read twice. They acquire the vocabulary of the target language
and then transfer the skills involved in reading from their first language to the target
language.
♦ ELLs do not close the achievement gap after reclassification and placement in the English
mainstream. Instead, they maintain or widen the gap in later years. Therefore, their
achievement at reclassification should be as high as possible, since that is likely to be the
highest achievement level that they reach during their school years.

Teacher preparation is another important consideration. Reading and ESL education programs
have historically been designed to serve two distinct populations. ESL teachers need to know
more about literacy development—and reading specialists need to know more about strategies
for first and second language acquisition. If “regular” teachers regard the varying cultural
backgrounds and languages of ELLs as “deficits” or “handicaps,” lower expectations may exist
for the achievement of language-minority learners. However, even awareness and sensitivity of
cultural differences is not enough to improve academic proficiency. If fundamental instructional
problems are not addressed, language minority children will continue to be over-represented
among those performing poorly in school (Grant & Wong, 2003).

Students who have limited English proficiency may:
♦ Have apprehension about speaking.
♦ Resist participation in activities.
♦ Perceive physical closeness differently.
♦ Refrain from seeking help.
♦ Avoid eye contact.
♦ Prefer to work in cooperative learning activities.

Recommendations

The Florida Literacy and Reading Excellence (FLaRE) Center lists the following research-based
characteristics of effective literacy instruction practices for ELLs. Teachers should:
♦ Strive for a balance between meaning and skills.
♦ Utilize a variety of approaches.
♦ Hold positive perceptions of students’ language, culture, family, and community.
♦ Have positive expectations for student achievement.
♦ Not discourage students’ use of non-standard language forms to express themselves.
♦ Allow use of L1 in the classroom. “Limiting opportunities to learn in their first language will
limit their cognitive growth and related academic achievement” (Garcia, 2002, p. 248).
♦ Incorporate students’ prior cultural knowledge and experiences.
♦ Incorporate culturally relevant materials.
♦ Use collaborative and cooperative learning, and hands-on activities.
♦ Incorporate writing in dialog journals and logs.
♦ Use multiple forms of assessment.
♦ Understand the impact of acculturation and second language acquisition.
♦ Learn student’s names, and the correct pronunciation.
♦ Create a warm, welcoming, risk-free atmosphere.
♦ Adjust instruction and assignments, and provide additional English support or tutoring
whenever possible.


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Additional suggestions include:

♦ Provide effective ESL two-way instruction
Instruction should be comprehensible to all learners
Learning should be interactive
Instruction should be cognitively challenging
Instruction should connect school to students’ reality
Instruction should develop language across the curriculum

♦ Language and content teaching
Language development and content knowledge are interdependent. One does not exist
without the other.
Effective two-way teachers teach content from a language arts perspective.

♦ Why is content teaching difficult?
Curriculum assumes prior historical, geographical, and civic knowledge
Culturally based values may be very different
Specialized vocabulary often refers to abstract concepts
Discourse is primarily expository
Instructional modifications of textbook materials are often required

♦ Oral language development
is the essential initial step in two-way lesson development
involves listening and speaking, reading and writing activities.
encourages student to student interaction & extended discourse, thus increasing oral
language development

♦ Literacy development
Vocabulary extension is the natural and necessary bridge between oral language
development and literacy
Literacy becomes comprehensible when the vocabulary involved in the reading is
identified and taught directly or through context.
Involves purposeful reading and writing activities
Individuals do not learn to read twice. They acquire the vocabulary of the target
language and then transfer the skills involved in reading from their first language to the
target language.



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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Aguero Armstrong, T. (2003). Enhancing Content Instruction for Secondary ESL Students.
Presented at TESOL Conference, Baltimore, Md. for Globe Fearon/Pearson Learning
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Collier, V. (1995). Promoting Academic Success for ESL Students. Elizabeth, NJ: NJTESOL-
BE.

Cummins, J. (1989). Empowering Minority Students. Sacramento, CA: California Association for
Bilingual Education.

Curran, C. 1972. Counseling-Learning: A Whole-Person Model for Education. New York: Grune
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Dulay H. & Burt, M. 1974. A new perspective on the creative construction process in children.
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Durant, Will, 1926. The Story of Philosophy. New York: Simon and Shuster.

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Ellis, R. 1986. Understanding Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University.

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rd
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Grant, Rachel A. & Wong, Shelley D. 2003. Barriers to literacy for language-minority learners:
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Krashen, S. 1987. Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. New York: Prentice
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Krashen, S. 1997. Foreign Language Education the Easy Way. 1997. Culver
City, CA. Language Education Associates.

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Krashen, S, & Terrell, T. 1983. The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom.
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Stecker, D. 1997. Five Assumptions Regarding Second Language Acquisition.
School District of Palm Beach County, Florida. Department of Multicultural Education.

Thomas, W.P. & Collier, V.P. 1997. Our findings: the ‘how long’ research.
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Thomas, W.P. & Collier, V.P. 2001. A National Study of School Effectiveness for Language
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Education, Diversity & Excellence. http://www.crede.ucsc.edu/research/llaa/1.1_final.html