Tuesday, June 5, 2012

TESOL Teaching Tip #27 - How Long Have You Been Learning English?

My class consists of 20 students, of which only 1 speaks English only in his household, and even he began his life in a bilingual environment. The other 18 speak at least one, if not two other languages in their homes, and go to school in English, although they don’t live in an English speaking country. Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners. Here’s this week’s Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tip:

TESOL Teaching Tip #27 - Know how long your students have been learning English. Students have different needs depending on how long they have been learning English. Stop by the blog, Raki's Rad Resources, to find out what esl and ell students should be working on at different time periods.

ELL Teaching Tip #27: Know How Long Your Students Have Been Learning English
Learning a second language takes time.  No one is able to learn a second language overnight.  Most children in a complete immersion program will learn communication English in a year to 18 months.  However, to be fully fluent for educational purposes, students need to be fully immersed for 3 - 7 years, with 5 years being average.  While each student and situation will be different, these are important numbers to keep in mind.  As teachers, we often find out if a student in our class has just started to learn English (with in the last 6 months), but once they can communicate, we lose track of how long they have been learning English.  Then, we group students who have been learning English for one year with students who have been learning English for two years and those who have been learning English for five years.  All of these students will have “language learner characteristics and needs”, but their needs will be greatly different, so it is very important to know how long students have been learning English, in order to meet these needs.  Here are some basic needs of language learners based on how long they have been learning English:
0 – 6 months – Survival English – These students need basic How long have your English Language Learners been learning English?words like bathroom, book bag, teacher, homework, paper, pencil, sit, stand etc.  They need simply the English that will help them understand how to get through the day. 
Depending on their background, they may also need alphabet names and letter sounds, especially if their home language does not use the same alphabetic system as English (Chinese, Arabic, Korean, Russian etc.)

6 months – 18 months – Communication English – These students are working on expressing themselves.  They need to know how to How long have your English Language Learners been learning English?tell you what’s wrong and what’s write.  They are beginning to understand what is going on around them and they are ready to begin producing some language, but don’t expect perfect sentences, focus on understanding first and structure and pronunciation second. 
Many students will need lots of nouns and verbs during this time, but won’t be ready for many adjectives outside of the basics (big, small, nice, good, bad).

18 months – 3 years – Structural English – These students are able to express themselves and often speak so well that you forget they are English Language Learners (until they write or switch up their grammatical structures!).  They will repeat common mistakes and this is the time to begin correcting those mistakes.  Give students the correct phrasing and let them repeat that phrasing How long have your English Language Learners been learning English?back to you.  With enough repetitions, they will begin to use these correct phrasings.
During this times, students begin to build their vocabulary to include adjectives and adverbs, as well as other types of descriptive words.  This is a great time to begin looking at multiple meaning words, synonyms and antonyms.

3 years – 5 years – Functional English – These students can often now read and write fluently, and express themselves at a high level.  However, because they have so much language, they can hide the missing vocabulary and common structural mistakes.  They still need to work on vocabulary and structure that is intuitive to native English speakers.
How long have your English Language Learners been learning English?This is the time to work on building vocabulary by teaching topics like: homophones, homonyms, idioms, slang, figurative language and other types of expressions.  It is also a time to allow students to “dissect mainstream media” for examples that show up in our language and expressions – things like fairy tales, common commercials, songs, and t.v. shows that we reference in language without realizing we are referencing them.

Everythings-Intermediate-Expo7222Do you enjoy the weekly TESOL Teaching Tips? Would you like to view an hour long presentation on this topic? I recently presented on Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners at the Everything’s Intermediate Expo. Now you can grab the presentation for just $4.95 from Teacher’s Notebook.

Find more TESOL Teaching Tips here, and come back every Tuesday for a new tip!