Elise Hamavan

ELISE HAMAVAN

Um, content area teachers, or what we sometimes call mainstream classroom teachers can use the – the ESL standards to guide their teaching in – gosh, all sorts of ways. One is to uh figure out where the students are – where their ESL students are in terms of language proficiency and um – and guide their instruction in that way. Uh and the second thing that they might want to do is to look at the uh particularly the academic standard, which is standard II, and uh to uh become aware of language aspects that they need to make sure that the students know when they are teaching different content. Um, and then of course, in evaluating students uh performance in content area uh curriculum they need to – they can use the standards to also figure out where the students are and um – and change their instruction that way.

Uh one of the things that st – the standards contain, of course, are the progress indicators and they’re divided in grade level chunks uh as well as in different proficiency levels and so uh teachers can use the progress indicators uh in the different proficiency levels to do the kinds of things I was talking about, the – oh, I haven’t said that yet. (Interruption) Um the – the ESL standards – uh the way the ESL standards are set up um they give teachers progress indicators that are categorized according to language levels – language proficiency levels, as well as different grade levels – grade level chunks, I should say. And um they can use those uh progress indicators to do things like figure out where their students are in terms of the language proficiency, particularly in the context of content area, um and they can do that with different grade levels by looking at the different um parts of the standards that deal with the different uh grade level chunks, and looking at the different proficiency levels. And even for students who are coming with limited formal schooling, there are in, not so much the progress indicators, but there are um scenarios um – I forget what we call them now (Interruption) Thank you. Uh the vinyets uh can also help teachers figure out, for example, what kinds of things to do differently while they’re teaching content to students uh – different groups of students, such as for example, students who are coming with limited form of schooling.

Um, in the – in the standards, what we did is we talked about the traditional kind of levels of English language proficiency, beginner, intermediate, advanced, but we also added a um another category of students, which is the students coming with limited formal schooling, and we decided to do that because that’s really a different kind of student. Uh that student is coming with – with school proficiency experiences that are different from um your more traditional kind of ESL student. They’re coming with native language proficiency that’s different from the typical uh ESL student. These are students whose schooling has been interrupted for whatever reason or they have had a typical schooling experience before they come to the U.S. and their needs are quite different. They may becoming with very little or not literacy in their native language and so they’re approaching the whole literacy experience with a very different set of norms, and values, and expectations, and so we felt the need to add that category and let teachers – uh give teachers some uh assistance in uh – in figuring out what to do with that particular type of student.

One of the issues that teachers have to deal with, of course, with any ESL student, but it’s particularly difficult issue with limited formal schooling students is what kinds of expectations you have. And um obviously teachers need to have high expectations of all students, including those who are coming with limited formal schooling, but what does that mean? Uh it means the – the one thing – the minimal thing that it means is that teachers need to expect all students to be able to learn. Having limited formal schooling does not mean students are not able to learn. Uh and that’s the absolute minimum expectation that teachers can have. Now – but what does it mean beyond that? Can we expect students to attain all standards – all the ESL standards in 4 years if that’s all the students have? I don’t know. Uh what is too high? What is too low of an expectation? Uh I think the more important question – or the more important issue is that teachers expect those students, the ones who are coming with limited form of schooling to learn, to be able to learn, and that’s the most important thing. But it also is very important having said that for teachers to take a step back and to say, “I’m going to find out what I’m able to expect from these students in terms of how many standards they’re able to obtain? How much language proficiency to expect? And approach it as kind of an experimental mini research project and start building a database. As they get more and more limited form of schooling students, they’ll develop a sense of what’s a good level of expectation to have for those students.

Um, one of the issues that uh we have to deal with as teachers um has to do with the uh grade level and the age of the students um as they come into the ESL um learning situation, and um younger students may or may not approach the language learning differently, uh but there are some differences that we need to think about as teachers, and the differences stem particularly from uh interestingly enough not so much from the learner’s perspective, but from the environment that gets created for second language learners. Um there’s more and more research indicating that older learners are better learners then younger children. And I know that goes against the gut level kind of feeling that a lot of people have. If you ask the person on the street “For whom is it easier to learn language, younger children or older – of course not 80-year-olds – but let’s say adolescents or adults?” I imagine a very big proportion of people would say, “Of course it’s easier the younger the child is.” And there’s this conception out there that – I’m going to say a misconception, perhaps, that it’s easier for – the younger the person is, the easier it is to learn a second language. But old learners are better learners. What happens is the environment that gets created for younger learners is so good from language learning, whereas the environment that typically gets created for older learners is not so good for language learning. What we do with younger children is that we use a lot of concrete here and now kinds of situations through which language is taught and through which language is learned. What we tend to do with older learners is to teach language in very abstract ways in a very abstract context, which doesn’t make it very easy for them. Um but obviously beginner level, older students – let’s say secondary students, have to go through the early stages of second language learning and if possible, I guess I would say it would be easier for them to learn those beginning levels of – or to develop the beginning levels of proficiency in the second language through concrete, meaningful context that are relevant to their daily lives rather then through a more abstract kind of approach to language learning. I don’t know if that answers the question?

Uh one of the premises uh that we base our language teaching on, that we base the Eng – the ESL standards on, is the premise that uh language is functional, and that’s a very, very important um factor to keep in mind when we’re constructing – or when we’re creating an environment to teach a second language. Um I think for almost everybody, except for linguists, language serve a very important function. It serves the function of conveying idea, of communicating, it’s sort of the function of expressing feelings, it conveys the purpose of reminding kids what to buy in the grocery store, and so if the function were to be taken away from the language learning, it would become much harder for the learner to learn that language, and so that’s a – that’s a premise about language learning that we cannot forget. And so in teaching language, we have to make it so that for the learner it serves a very basic function.

Uh linguist, I think, are the only people who like to look at language as uh – as a form of symbols and – and look at the rules that govern language. They like to analyze language for the sake of analyzing language, but for every other person, language serves the purpose of function.

Um, another very important premise about language that I think we also have to use in language learning – in language teaching, is that language varies – a form of language varies uh and it varies um as a – as a function of the context that it is used in. It varies as a function of the speaker who is using it, um it varies as a function of the purpose that it serves, um and um so if you have, for example, the way I speak to um – I speak – I’m speaking right now, is much more formal and I’m using words that are perhaps much more formal. I’m probably using longer syllabled words um then I would, for example, if I were um having dinner with some friends, especially after having a glass of wine or two, and so um that – the different context is going to create a very different kind of language. Uh whom I talk to would also make a difference. If I were talking to, obviously a younger child, I would be using a different kind of language um then if I were talking to um a same age peer or perhaps an older person – because of my cultural background, uh I’d probably be using a more respectful language, if you wish, uh when I was talking to somebody who was older. Um language varies also uh because of um – and here we’re getting into dialectal difference. Uh people even within a small region in the U.S. use language – different varieties of language. Um different neighborhoods in Chicago sometimes use different language – different varieties of language. Um, what else – what other – is that enough for (Interruption) And so in teaching language, what we need to do is to be aware of the fact that uh it varies and that raises issues of, you know, what is acceptable language – what’s – acceptable language is used by a group of people to obtain a function, mostly for communication.

The uh – the interaction between language and culture is a very important one to um – for – for teachers, I guess. We need to be aware of the fact that when we learn a second language or even a foreign language, we’re learning a second culture and a foreign language because of the culture that is attached to that language. Uh and uh what comes with that obviously uh is and I – a certain identity that we – that evolves or develops as we become more and more proficient in that second language. And so when I learn English as a second language, I’m learning – I’m – I’m taking on certain cultural norms and values that go along with English. And so if I come from – I’m Armenian, for example, and um in being an Armenian speaker, which is my native language, uh there are certain aspects of the Armenian culture that I – that I bring with me and when I start learning English there are other norms and values that I’m learning along as I’m – as I’m learning that – as I’m developing proficiency in the second language. And – and we have to keep that in mind because um even though it – it’s obviously very possible to be bicultural, uh it’s a little bit harder then it is to be bilingual. It’s perfectly uh possible and very easy for somebody to be very proficient in two languages. They rarely compete – the two languages rarely compete with one another, but sometimes the cultures compete with one another. Uh for – for big chunks of cultural norms, and values, and so on, it’s possible to have two sets of norms uh for many aspects of behavior, but sometimes they conflict with one another and that’s something that as teachers we have to keep in mind because those are inner conflicts that students may be going through that they need to be aware of.

I – I feel very comfortable, as you can probably see, speaking English even though it’s not my native language. It’s actually a third language for me – chronologically it was a third language. It’s – it’s probably one of my more fluent languages now um but interestingly enough I – I still identify myself as a – as a non-native speaker of English, very, very strongly, uh even though English is probably – I’m more fluent in English then I am in Armenian, which is my native language, and Arabic, which was my second – kind of second language. Um, and I think part of that has to do with the cultural identity that comes with – with the language. I don’t see myself as a native uh either U.S. American and I don’t see myself as um – as – as having the norms and values that most U.S. Americans do, uh of course, that’s a gross general – over generalization. Um and – and I realize that in – in some maybe superficial way I’m able to manage both cultural norms very easily, and I’ll give you an example. I’ve learned to stand a little bit further away from Anglo – what I would consider an Anglo kind of mainstream U.S. person uh – a little bit further away then I would with, for example, friends from the Middle East uh especially if we’re both female, we’d be standing very close to one another and touching each other, which I would not do with an Anglo, because I know that probably it would not make them feel very comfortable. And that’s an easy one, that’s an easy double norm to have uh. When I’m talking to somebody who’s Anglo I stand a little bit further away, when I’m standing – when I’m talking to somebody who’s uh an Arab or an Armenian, I can stand close and we – we both feel good. Um but there are other norms – uh other aspects of life– of life, I guess um that are much more difficult to um to reconcile with one another. Um I’m – I actually don’t have this situation myself but I often get asked uh by Arabic parents or sometimes uh teachers of Arabic – uh students, especially female students, “What do we do, our daughter – our 15-year-old daughter wants to go out with uh a (Interruption) I often get asked by uh parents, for example – um Arabic parents – Arab parents of adolescent daughters, um “What should we do? We have – our 15-year-old daughter wants to go out with her classmates and they’re going to a movie but there are boys in that group and we don’t allow that.” That’s – that’s a conflict for – for that 15-year-old and it’s – again, it’s something that’s important for teachers to be aware of because that conflict is part of the learning process. It may be something that’s inhibiting learning or – or standing in the way of learning uh whereas the ability to manage both cultures may be something that is facilitating the language learner, and so that’s something that teachers need to think about. Would that do it?

One of the things that we’ve learned about language and language learning in the last – I don’t know – 10, 15 years, maybe even longer, is that the different aspects of language – and I don’t even want to call them skills – let’s – let’s say the different aspects of language are terribly inter-related. Uh we use to think that we could teach language by dividing it up into things like the sounds of the language phonology, the grammar rules or the syntax, the vocabulary, or the lexicon, and – and we use to think that we could teach those aspects separately but in – and we use to think that by doing that, by separating the different aspects of language we were doing learners a favor, but in fact we were not. We were making it harder for them because by separating language into its little units um we’re taking meaning away from language and that would make it obviously much harder to learn. When we learn a language, we’re learning everything together. When I learned um to, for example, go uh buy my groceries in – in Chinese – which I don’t know yet – I probably will never know – um I’m not – I’m learning the sounds – I have to learn the sounds, but I also have to know the grammar that I need in order to buy my groceries, and I also obviously need the words for the items that I need to buy. And all of those are happening together. They have to happen together. Um and – and we take that – we have to make that the basis of our teaching. Now once in a while, though, it is important, and especially for reading issues, for literacy issues, it is important to focus on specific aspects of language and we may want to focus once in a while on the sounds of language, particularly if that’s a problem for a particular child or a particular student. Um, but overall language develops in – in a very – in this complex, inter-related way and this ties into the other principle, which is that language is functional. As long as language is – is functional and it’s developing for functional purposes, it’s developing in a way and it’s evolving in a way where all the different aspects of it are uh – are – are – are interdependent, are developing together.