Elaine Torone


Well I think I think content teachers ought to know that um when children or anyone tries to produce a second language that there’s a system to it. That um it isn’t just random, that research has shown that there are stages that learners go through as they try to produce a second language. And those stages are rule governed. It’s just that that the rules that produce these utterances are not Standard English rules. And the teacher needs to understand that at if they’re patient, if they provide the learner with a adequate environment for second language learning that that process will unfold uh naturally and uh now and then the teacher will need to step in and help, but basically they can expect them to produce utterances on that are non standard English like but that that’s alright, that that will unfold and that will progress overtime that will take sometime.

Um I I think uh what teachers need to do is to focus uh is to focus on engaging the students from the beginning and trying to make um the material that they’re presenting understandable to the students and whatever level they are. That means using a lot of non verbal, it means presenting information in a variety of different ways, in order to try to make it understandable to students in their class whom may be at a range of different levels of proficiency in English. Because it’s very likely to have students who are at a lower level of proficiency and others at a higher level along with the native speakers of English. So what they need to do is think about what it is that is most important uh for students to carry away from the lesson. Be very clear about what that is and then try to think about range of different ways of presenting that information. A lot of it may be non-verbal; uh a lot of it may be tactile, uh trying to present that information so that they keep the students engaged. Um they need to um also provide opportunities for the students to interact with each other. I students can help each other learn. Uh and a lot of the research has really shown that if you can get students in in pairs or in small groups giving them activities where they need to produce something together where it’s crucially important that they all have a piece of that task to perform, that that is a very very good context for second language acquisition. Because the more proficient students can uh help the less proficient students to co-construct utterances. They will they will help the teacher to teach the students in the class. Um…

Um I don’t think it’s a good idea for a teacher to try to use simplified speech in the sense of foreigner taught. Sometimes that will be ungrammatical. Uh I think it is a good idea to try to phrase uh things in concrete terms before they phrase them in abstract terms. Um to um to repeat the same information more than one way so you build redundancy into the message. Um it’s not a bad thing to do uh is shorten the sentences sometimes and I think you can tell as you try to adjust the message to the learner when the ah ha light comes on in the face of the learner. So and that’s different for every learner. So I think what a teacher really needs to do is to try a variety of ways of encoding a message to to um give the relevant information to the students and to watch and see when the ah ha uh uh comes on.

Well the the research does show that there is that different learners um proceed in acquiring a second language in different rates and there’s a wide range of reasons why that’s so. I think that’s so, that shouldn’t be news to teachers. I mean I think that’s so in mastery of any thing uh in the school system. Every student is different. Um some of the factors have been identified as important for second language acquisition um have to do with things like the home environment, how much um support that the learner has at home in un use of their native language, that’s a very crucial factor. If if it’s a young child if the parents talk to that child a lot in the child’s native language there’s a lot of interaction at home, a lot of inquiry conducted in the native language, that’s very supportive of the second language acquisition. Um if there’s a lot of reading material at home in the native language. And if the child is read to a lot in the native language that will ease the way to acquisition of reading skills in the second language. Um a lot depends on the the more the larger social issues of the community. Uh what is the nature of the the native language and native culture group in the community? If it’s a very large group the child may not hear a lot of English um and uh sometimes you’ll find the parents uh believe that they should use English with their children to help them master English. And that is usually not a god idea because the parents English is often not very good. So that then means the child is not getting adequate input in native language and they’re getting um very restricted input in English. And so what the child really needs is a very rich exposure to some language at home. It doesn’t have to be English. Um of course there’s natural aptitude, I think and there’s personality, some children are very quiet that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not acquiring English. Some of the research has shown that the quieter students are in fact very actively listening and processing the second language. Um sometimes the more vocal children are um are staying at one stage uh in their acquisition um for very long periods of time. um there are emotional issues involved, there are social issues involved, there are issues of exposure to the various languages involved. So that um what the teacher needs to understand is that each child is coming with a different range of supports and aptitudes and and that what the teacher can just provide an environment for those children to enable each child to progress at the maximum rate for that child.

Younger learners especially learners in the upper elementary grades tend to be the most efficient learners of second languages. Um the once you get past puberty then uh things begin to slow down. Particularly pronunciation seems to be very very difficult to master when you start learning a second language as an adolescent or later. So one of the things teachers need to be aware of is that accent fro older learners may be simply given and uh my opinion is it’s not worth spending the time trying to work on a older learners pronunciation as long as that learner’s clear, they don’t need to sound like a native speaker of English in order to be clear. Um ok what was the question?

One of the things that teachers might want to think about is the fact that every person who speaks a language actually speaks a number of languages. Uh we have an informal kind of language that we use at home that we use with our friends, that’s quite different from school language, the more formal language that we would use in a classroom or use in a formal interview like this. Um that is true for very young learners as well as for older learners. Uh there’s one research study that I’d like to talk about uh that might be of interest uh to K12 teachers. Especially uh for second, third grade teachers. Uh this was a study that was done at Australia uh by Guchianlu and what Lu did was to follow a 6 year old Chinese boy for 2 years a while he was learning English in mainstream classrooms in Australia. What Lu did was to tape record this learner named Bob uh it was a pseudonym, he he uh followed Bob around in three different context. He taped him uh at home, in play session when they were playing with Legos and coloring and uh telling about stories from Chinese and American folklore things like that. Um he taped Bob at deskwork with his friends, he had a group of 4 or 5 little boys who he was very close to. He did school work with them, deskwork. Then he taped Bob when he was talking to his teacher. And one of the things that Lu looked at was Bob’s uh acquisition of questions in English. Now it turns out that second language learners who acquire questions in English go through 6 fairly set stages in their acquisition of questions. And what happened with Bob was that Bob would produce each new stage he would make progress, move from one stage to the next first at home in conversations uh while he was playing, then he would use that new question form several weeks later with his friends in deskwork, and the teacher would be the last one to hear it. Because Bob was very careful and conservative in the way he used English with his teacher. He only used English forms when he was absolutely certain that they were correct. So the teacher was always the last to know. And I think that’s important for teachers to remember. It’s a really good reason for doing a lot of deskwork I think in the classroom. That’s one thing the teacher can do, cause in the process of doing that the um she or he will set up a situation where second language learners can try out developing forms of the interlanguage with peers without feeling the pressure of having to be absolutely as when talking to the teacher. Um so ok?

Ok um older learners, adolescents and pre-adolescents um have have other needs when it comes to registers. Um we’ve done some studies in Canada with French inversion programs. Looking at adolescents. One of the things we’ve noticed is that second language learners in Canada in immersion programs, and these are programs where the teachers are teaching content through a second language, in this case the second language is French. And the children and young adults are native speakers of English so its kind of a mirrored image of what you have in Utah for example. In those situations what they notice is that the learners are very very good at using the second language in first, second, third grade. Third grade is the peek. They use a lot of the second language, they’re accurate, they use the use the second language on the playground, with each other, when the teacher’s not there. But something happens by the 5th and 6th grade. Namely that the children stop using the second language with each other. They begin talking to each other in sort of pre-adolescent teen talk. They start saying cool, uh they can start using English even to the teacher if they uh are rebelling against something the teacher wants. So the second language comes in again for the older learner. One of the reasons why we think that’s so is because the older learner needs a vernacular register as well as a formal register. In the classroom what you’re teaching students is a formal register of the second language as the teacher you’re encouraging formal uses of English to talk about social studies, math, science, and so on. It is not appropriate when you’re talking about those topics to use a teen vernacular. On the other hand your students are whole people, they need to talk to each other and they need to form an identity as a pre-adolescent and as a teen. They need to to be cool. If they’re going to have a social life at all they need a vernacular register. And what that means is that the teacher’s going to have to deal with the learner’s use of vernacular as well as a formal register in the classroom. In the case of English, where English is the second language, most kids are exposed to a lot of vernacular English. They’re learning it on the streets. Um it may be difficult to keep them from using it in the classroom even. And so some work may need to be done by ESL teachers and by content teachers in terms of helping the students learn what is appropriate to the classroom and what is appropriate to the hall and the playground.

Um one of the ways that high school teachers I think can help students learn what registers are appropriate for what situation is to talk about it and to do uh exercises in which they may be doing some role play and maybe doing some script writing or they may be given context where they can actually use a range of different registers which are appropriate for different social contexts. Um I think it’s important to make it clear that when you’re talking about social studies for example that a more formal register is appropriate. But it’s also possible within a social studies unit to have students do things like do character diaries where they uh keep a diary uh that speaks with the voice of another character, uh uh one or two week diary in which they kind of imagine what it might have been like to have been a Harriet Tubman for example. And uh write a diary that speaks with that voice. So that that there are a range of things that I think teachers can do to show students that um in fact what they speak when they speak English is a range of different, is to speak with different range of voices. And to have them reflect on um what kinds of people use those different voices for, what purpose. And to think about when for example it’s appropriate to use a formal and an informal register of English. You don’t want to speak formally at some situations. If you want to build solidarity with a group of people you want to be able to use a informal vernacular register or dialect. Um it you would get wiped out in some contexts because you don’t know how to switch into an informal dialect. Um some some international students at the university that we deal with come to us only knowing one form of register of English and they have a very hard time making friends in the dorms because they they sound like a professor when they’re talking to other kids. Um yet it’s very important I think for the teacher to talk with students and get them to reflect together about how language works in terms of uh changing in different social contexts and changing for different purposes.

What one of the things that teachers might want to think about is the complexity of the language that the students are learning. They’re learning tenses, they’re learning vocabulary, they’re learning pronunciation patterns, um they’re learning how to use uh and the and that and this appropriately. One of the things that happens with learners is while they’re making progress on one strand of language they may sometimes um backslide or become less accurate with other aspects of the language. It’s not uncommon for learners to go through a kind of u shape patterns called the u shape pattern of learning, where they are quite proficient for awhile in production of one aspect of the language and then suddenly they discover something else about the language and that beings to make progress. While they’re learning that the thing that they first had learned drops off in accuracy. After awhile they come back together again. But the teacher should not be alarmed if they notice that a student is backsliding in one particular area. Very often that suggests that the the student is really attending to and making progress in some other area of the mastery of the English language.

Learning a language involves learning how to understand the language as well as how to produce it. First thing that most learners work on is the understanding aspect. Uh processing the second language, learning how to get meaning out of these strange sounds that they are striking their ears. What a teacher can do is provide as rich an amount of input as possible. Um to enrich and enhance verbal input with non verbal information as well. And surround the learner with a rich amount of input. The however that’s uh that’s not enough. What the teacher also has to think about is the learners opportunities to produce the second language. Learners don’t learn English by sitting in front of a TV set. If input were all they needed they could just be stuck into a lab somewhere and told to listen to tapes and watch TV and after hundreds of hours they would come out speaking English. That’s not how it works. Uh input by itself is not enough. The learner needs to be able to use the second language and use a language in interaction with other people. What happens when a learner produces an utterance, their first utterance, in English it’s usually not grammatical? Uh if if the learner’s lucky it’s understandable. And the listener will help them co-construct a more accurate version. It seems to be a very natural process; children do this for each other. If one child says something like I don’t want that, um another child might come back oh I don’t want it either. So that what is happening in that exchange is that the learner first knows that they’ve been understood but also is getting feedback from the listener as to what the correct form would have been. Most children uh want to fit in with their peer group and will try to sound as much like their peers as possible. then this process of negotiation uh what second language researchers often say is that children in those kinds of conversations are co-constructing utterances, they are building English sentences or utterances together. So that the learner is being helped by more proficient listener who interacts and together in that process the learner can make process and learn uh learn their second language more proficiently.