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ILA Literacy Leadership Brief: Second Language Learners’

Vocabulary and Oral Language Development

Why is Vocabulary Instruction Critical to Emergent Bilinguals?

Robust vocabulary instruction is an essential aspect of instruction across the spectrum and it is of
particular significance for Second Language Learners. Many second-language learners might be
conversational in the target of focused language and can speak and articulate basic ideas but may
struggle with academic language. Academic language is a requisite for participation in academic
instruction and being able to read and comprehend texts. The International Literacy Association
lays out some components of academic language to keep in mind when instructing emergent
bilingual students:
 Language structures
 Genres
 Discourse Letters
 Strategic competencies
Many second-language learners are not commonly exposed to academic language and don’t
typically have many opportunities to use domain specific language for example. So, it is up to
the instructor to create appropriate learning environment where rich academic language can be
used properly and fluidly.

Vocabulary Development

Building students’ vocabulary requires explicit instruction of specific words, this helps students
develop word learning skills and strategies. Explicit teaching coupled with incidental learning is
an ideal formula for vocabulary development. Explicit teaching involves selecting a specific set
of words and then providing multiple exposures to the words to deepen understanding in addition
to offering students opportunities to use and practice the words in varied contexts such as peer
discussions, individual activities, and teacher-led group (DeKeyser, 2005). When teachers are
deciding which words to teach, considering vocabulary Tiers is helpful; Tier 1 words are basic
common vocabulary, Tier 2 are high-frequency words used across content areas and Tier 3 are
domain specific, vocabulary found in independent contexts. Incidental vocabulary instruction
includes listening to a wide range of texts, this could be; audiobooks, read alouds, books on tape

Vocabulary Instruction Strategies

Word learning skills include a range of strategies to help students infer or at least get an idea of
the meaning of words they do not recognize. Instructors must familiarize themselves with the
text being introduced and select the words that are useful across curriculum areas (Beck,
McKeown, & Kucan, 2003). Two important word learning strategies that teachers should help
students learn are context clues and analysis of word parts. Context clues are the words and
language surrounding specific words that give indication of meaning. Analysis of word parts,
generally, affixes, suffixes and prefixes assist in word meaning analysis. Here the teacher should
help students to understand that words have components that can be analyzed and can assist them
in understanding the words meaning. Some additional strategies include using sentence frames to
give an opinion, asking students to share their thoughts or answers with peers (e.g. turn and talk
or think-pair-share). Lastly, a deeper vocabulary conscious comes from authentic discourse, this
allows students to engage in topics and offers a chance to grapple ideas, make connections
between other’s ideas and their own, build on peer contribution, express healthy disagreement or
make counterarguments.
When second-language learners do not have the frequent opportunity to encounter or use
academic language they miss out on the lifeforce of instruction. Creating these opportunities will
accelerate their vocabulary, oral language and ultimately comprehension, which is the goal of