Monday, 29 June 2015

Discussions--Series Six--ELT Professionals Around the World

Please visit Post 68 and then come back here. Thank you.
Discussions—Series Six
Topic 43
ESL learners
Do students learning English as a second language learn differently from those who are native speakers?
Judith Morais Teacher at Education Queensland Top Contributor
You, Rod Mitchell and 1 other like this

Assistant Professor, Nipissing University. Technology Consultant / Entrepreneur
Top Contributor
Judith,
I think you'll have to write a little more about what you are asking. I think I may know what you mean but I'm not sure. Are you suggesting that the second language learning brain is different than the first language learning brain? Is it a question about learning content in the first vs the second language?

Top Contributor
I think one of the big differences, probably the main one, in an academic 2nd-language-learning situation, is the immersion factor. If I'd learned Mandarin from a textbook in the U.S. rather than in China, I could still be saying 'You have a good horse' rather than 'How are you?'

A number of respondents in other discussion posts have referred to the way language is acquired naturally. Native speakers have the advantage of being immersed as babies in the language and have the luxury of picking up the language this way. Those who are picking up the language later in life have other challenges or advantages that might affect the way they pick up a language. I am wondering, if our students pick up another language differently from their first language, shouldn't our teaching acknowledge this difference?
Richard TomlinRod Mitchell and 1 other like this

interpreter&assistant at Next Generation Design Group
As Chinese is my mother tongue, I found that when I was learning English I usually and inevitably spoke English in a mandarin sentence structure and sometimes made very silly mistakes,such as I used although and but or because and so in one sentence. And this is applied for speaking English only not for writing. And language also plays an important part in thought patterns. As for me, I couldn't agree more. It's so different.

As the majority of English language learners in Singapore are Chinese, part of my training was to learn common features of the Chinese language. The example you have given Yuehong, is one we had to recognise. Knowledge of these structural differences enabled me to plan for lessons that would ensure these errors in use could be nipped in the bud.

Moscow State University, Specialist English, German(Jan.1990-Jan1990).
If a new language refers to the same group as the native one the training process of a new language will be easier.

What do you mean by "the same group" Nataliya?

Moscow State University, Specialist English, German(Jan.1990-Jan1990).
I don't understand Judith's question. Do you mean that native speakers are trained English(yes?) and the second group should be trained English too , but their English is the second language(Yes?) There should be given some special programm for beginners
The native speakers should be called as an advanced group and the programm should be different one

One of the early classes I thought when I started teaching in Australia after migrating here was an "honours" class for exceptionally bright kids. This was a mainstream English class but only 3 students were native speakers ( white Australians ) and about 5 were born in Australia with a relatively good command of the language. The remaining half were high achieving Islanders, Asians etc who had just come into this class from the ESL programme. What struck me immediately was that my methods of scaffolding and building up skills in a lead up to their assessment tasks was something the less proficient learners thrived on, but the native language learners were easily bored by the pace of the lessons because they didn't need this instruction. It is a dilemma that I have always wondered about.

<Chinese is my mother tongue>

Yue Hong, can you give an approximate percentage of what you think would work best, in terms of how much textbook, and how much conversation with a native speaker, is concerned? Thanks.

They are different, but there are many similarities; probably the similarities outweigh the differences.

The main difference is that native speakers are effectively masters of the bulk of their grammar by the age of 5 years old (more or less). In the group you were teaching, they had been using English "full-time" for their whole life, while the others are quite a few years behind them in the amount of English they have under their belts and at their finger tips.

Within the education system (of Queensland and anywhere else) this type of class needs to be taught from a "native-speaker" point of view - and so you would need to discuss this matter with your Australian colleagues who teach only in the "native-speaker student" method [if I can invent that terminology] - though not to forget that some students will ned scaffolding etc. Group activities where the native-speakers are working with and helping the non-native speakers to scaffold (etc.) are very useful.

The scaffolding and building up is very important, and mainstream teachers who have not had that training or are unaware of it don't do it, and so the ESL kids in a native-speaker class get lost very easily. We native speaker teachers [without EFL/ESL training or awareness] (and other native speakers as well, like the police, social workers, and so on) tend to fall into a trap, which is the assumption that if a foreigner speaks English very well, that therefore their knowledge of English is equal to that of a native speaker.

Because the native speakers are "ahead" in their language skills, they don't have to worry about idioms, vocabulary in the way that ESL students need to. Anything new that native speakers learn is essentially part of new knowledge, whereas for ESL students, in some cases both the language and the knowledge can be new, and in others the knowledge is known in their own language, it is the English that is new.
Angel L.Judith Morais and 2 others like this

<the same group>

The language group (Latin-based, etc.)
Rod Mitchell likes this

In other words - yes - the teaching approach is different.

In teaching new knowledge and how to use that knowledge to native speakers, the language used is taken for granted.

In contrast, when teaching new knowledge to non-native speakers, you can only assume to a certain extent that the students already have the language.

With ESL students, focus on the language itself is important; with native speakers, focus on the language is more stylistics, how to write a formal essay, for example, rather than allowing local English dialect to appear.

The average native speaker teacher knows very little about grammar, for example, beyond formal, "prescriptive" grammar. English as a language is essentially often an unknown quantity for native speaker teachers. The ESL treacher should know the grammar,pronunciation, etc. of English backwards, at informal and formal levels.
Richard Tomlin likes this

Thanks Rod, that was a very interesting write up. I had few problems addressing the needs of the "native" English speakers initially when the majority of the class were at this competence level.
My children were in private schools where they were taught at this higher level, and due to our competence in the language, they thrived in the system. However as you have pointed out, there were a few of their immigrant friends who struggled in their classes. They came to me for help to read their work and one of the issues I found was that the teachers, as you have pointed out, did not address their need for accuracy in expression. This kept the students back from achieving higher grades.
The reality in the state school system is that the majority of students are essentially at the ESL level bit in integrated classes. What I struggled with is, how do I meet the needs of these two different groups in one class?
Rod Mitchell likes this
\
If the school itself is not willing to supply separate slots where the specific language issues can be addressed "quickly and efficiently", one of the best ways is through mixed group work - projects and the like where ESL and non-ESL are mixed, where the non-ESL students are also sources of language assistance in various ways. The Task Based Learning Approach (under other names as well) puts students into "team-work" while working towards the production of the "project".

It means the teacher developing the course materials to give to the students in groups to work through and the teacher circulating, guiding, giving help where needed, monitoring, etc.
Richard Tomlin likes this

The native-speaker students need to be actively involved, even though Australia is a pretty competitive society, there is still the concept of teamwork that is a very strong cultural trait (I am from Brisbane/Queensland, and both myself then my son went to schools of the type you work at).
Richard Tomlin likes this

I was going to say yes and then add lots of meaningful anecdotes to make me look good but I think Rod seems to have covered most of it.
Rod Mitchell likes this

Sorry Nelson, I couldn't give you a firm answer. As I see it that the best way is to form an English way of thinking. Of course, it is the most difficult as well. Textbooks in China is not that promising. They are mainly designed for exams and grammar. You know when I was taking exams I can answer almost 95% grammar questions right. However, what annoys me most is that when I speak to the native speakers I can totally understand them but I am not able to reply well, which means I reply with lots of grammar and culture mistakes. This makes me want to speak less and less.
Rod Mitchell likes this

I had an amazing young lady from China who joined my O'levels class in Singapore 1 year before the exams. She hardly spoke any English but I was amazed when she produced near perfect writing. I was intrigued since all other skills were rather weak. I soon realised that she was writing everything as a literal translation from her thinking in Chinese to her writing in English. Initially her writing was staid and lacked any colour. But she managed to pick up ideas from the subsequent lessons. It was the first time I had seen that ( we had had very few immigrants to Singapore in the 1990s) and haven't seen anyone really able to that with such precision since. I just had to show her a better way to express an idea and she could apply it.
Rod Mitchell likes this

I'd like to share this link to a set of videos on the British Council website.http://englishagenda.britishcouncil.org/seminars/practical-ideas-teaching-pronunciation-and-listening-english-lingua-franca-elf-context

It looks at ways to address the needs of learners who do not have much exposure to native speakers, but must be intelligible to a range of non-native speakers.
Rod Mitchell likes this

<an English way of thinking>

Yes, Yue Hong, that is a very important part of learning a foreign language. If your senior teacher thinks that English is not worth it, it is likely to affect your learning.
I would say, choose the best parts of U.S. or Britain, or another English-speaking country, and be an advocate for those things. Don't be ashamed to use an American accent (or British, etc.). It's easy for an American learning Mandarin Chinese, because there are lots of good things in China - food, trains, friendly people.
It's difficult, but that is the right way.
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

<the will of the local headteacher>

I've always thought this was key in teaching . . that is, the will of the teacher, and how well he/she understands the methodology being used. The behaviorist model is so easy to use and understand in teaching, that it is probably the best underlying motivator for student outcomes. I can imagine molding a student's language behaviour, with a lot of love.
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

Very good videos. A good introduction for those mainstream teachers who know nothing about "foreginer's English".

Freelance English Language Teacher Online, Blogger and Writer
Acquisition comes naturally the earlier and most naturally input occurs.

If it doesn't occur - then it becomes more artificial if teachers and schools don't emphasise creativity and lots of interaction, drama, roleplay, music - fun repetition etc.

Teaching languages is a bit like recreating childhood.

Volunteer, Assistant English as Second Language (ESL) at Refugee Women's Alliance (ReWA)
Ah, that's something to consider! Some countries do begin foreign language study in the earlier formative years and provide plenty of opportunities for listening (TV, written and other forms of media).

The inverse of that is making a student wait and cutting them off from listening or other stimulus in a target language. There are still those believing adults and children learn the same way, mainly through rote memorization repetition and conceive of nothing else.

I advise anyone to watch a mother and child and a father and child to get an idea of the ways we (human beings) begin learning and communicating!
Agnès G.Sylvia Guinan and 1 other like this

In English-speaking countries where there are ESL students in a class, the problem is that the teacher can find students of a variety of English-learning backgrounds, ranging from those that come from countries where English is introduced in schooling very early (in some cases even in kindergarten), through those that come from bilingual families where however in the country of origin English was not the dominant language, to those who have literally arrived in the country either with enough English to be able "handle" study along with native speakers, or have just finished prep courses aiming at that level. In rare cases, a student can turn up with very little English.

The English learning changes focus from active teaching-learning to almost "passive" teaching; the ESL students learn English through doing and "absorbtion". The teacher/system making sure that there is "creativity and lots of interaction, drama, roleplay, music - fun repetition etc." does help in the process, but - also - the teacher/system must also know how to take time out, to do specific English language teaching when needed.

In these specific sessions, including the native speaker students can be very useful. What most ESL/EFL students would love to have would be the chance to interact with native speakers in such sessions, because they know that some of their classmates are also there for "authentic language use". And - from the teacher's point of view - the native speakers help keep the teacher on track about what is authentic use, rather than a construct of EFL classes.

In other words, include the ESL and native speaker students in everything.

Are we talking about both native and non-native speakers in the same class?
If so are they not of a comparable level? If not, why not?

The method of of learning English for native and non-native speakers is indeed different but surely by the time a non native speaker is able to sit in a class with native speakers they are able to, with suitable differentiation, cope with similar lesson outlines. If that is not the case, who then is responsible for putting such disparate learners into the same class?

If we are talking about the difference between teaching native and non-native students I think, certainly initially, the difference is chalk and cheese.
A native speaker with x years of living with the language, growing up and developing skills and vocabulary is going to need a completely different teaching approach as compared to a non native student doing an hour a week.
I would not dream of using the same methods, materials or exercises with both.
Rod Mitchell likes this

Me
Why not let 'native-speaker-students' take on the role of 'teacher' to ESL students in areas where the former are good and the latter need teaching (of course after identifying them). Of course under your supervision since there is a possible danger of the former showing off their superiority if both are left to themselves. Once these two groups jell and you see its evidence, you may forget the supervision part of it.

But you may have to watch out for 'boredom' raising its head (in the case of either group) a few weeks after the former have had 'fun'; perhaps some one-act plays can be selected and the two groups can role play the characters.
Derek W., Rod Mitchell like this

I think the problem is not too serious to talk too much. I support Mr.Mitchell's Idea "The English learning changes focus from active teaching- learning to almost "passive" teaching...." and one more idea " the teacher system must also know how to take time out.."
Different levels in a class. there are four or five! I would try to start wiith very Active (say Immersion course)-drama songs, music My motto is" Comic teachers wanted" Why did i decide to start this way? A child ( a beginner ) was born . We (a teacher +advanced students) should try to make his ear better, to open his ears. If we consider our learners of different levels Beginners playing ,dramatizing with them different situations the real , low level students will be inspired, they will believe in their ability and basic knowledge. When a teacher caught the moment ( in dramatizing of phone calls, conferences, reserving rooms in a hotel) a wish of advanced students to help, to explain the weak ones. It will be the first step of our victory! And.. then....if you are interested i'll go on.
Rod Mitchell likes this

In this thread we are talking specifically about ESL (non-native) kids within a mainstream (= native speaker) school. ESL students whose English is deemed good enough to "sink or swim". So the levels can be anything like 4 or 5 within the same class, from nominal upper intermediate (= advanced in the US system) to native speaker-like (and then there are the native speaker students, who can also speak local English dialect/accent - in the case of Brisbane South-East Queensland English). Some of the students might also be native speakers from other countries (South African, British, Irish, US, Canada, New Zealand, etc.).

The classes are not decided on proficiency of English, but on age/previous schooling. Such schools might or might not have separate ESL classes that focus specifically on the English language for non-natives.

The focus of the mainstream classes is not English language; it is maths, or sciences, or social studies, or English for native speakers (English literature, etc.), and so on. In other words, kids in classes studying native speaker subjects at native speaker speed and level.

The ESL students can either be the children of immigrants to Australia [in this specisfic case], or children (Taiwanese, Mainland Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Brazilian, etc.) who have been sent to Australia by their parents specifically to do secondary schooling in Australia, then to go to university in Australia.

The realities of such education is that the whole system focuses on native speaker learning processes - as I said - ESL students "sink or swim".

The ESL and mainstream students are at comparable levels in the general knowledge they have (maths, sciences, etc.); the ESL students have passed an IELTS or similar exam showing their nominal English language competency (or come from schooling where English plays an important part, perhaps as the main medium of intruction or bilingual instruction).

Retail sales, TESOL, tech writer, IBM Mainframe and MCSA (alida_weber@yahoo.com), Orthodox Christian
There's some evidence that one's native language is stored in area(s) of the brain that are separate from the area(s) in which one's second/third/subsequent languages are stored. I'm not a brain researcher myself but I eagerly await research that shows how this relates to learning methodologies.

The theory in brief is that "internalised", left-brain knowledge is automatic/subconscious/immedaitely available for use - and "never" forgotten, while "newly learnt sctructural" "right-brain" knowledge is not automatic/subconscious and therefore not immediately available for use - and easily forgotten.

The theory is that our first language has largely become internalised/left brain over time, and therefore we don't normally have to think about how to say something. 99% of what we say comes out automatically without prethought. Also, people who have amnesia do not forget how to speak their first language or other similar internalised skills.

Learning a new language in a sctructured school environment is right-brain learning, and therefore easily forgotten. The trick is to transfer structured learning into internalised knowledge, as "left-brain" knowledge is not only not easily forgotten, but also readily available for use at the subconscious/automatic level.

For language learning, the ideal is to "mimic" as much as possible "native speaker" ways of learning the first language, to for example create activities in the Task Based Learning Approach where the students are learning the new language through doing activities, by giving the possibility of a range of language input situations where students need to convert structured/conscious learning to subconscious learning quickly.

There are lots of papers out there on the topic, and many educational theories refer to this topic, though apparently more very recent research might suggest that the "left-brain // right-brain" division as such is not true - that the brain doesn't divide "neatly" on this divide.
Miss E. likes this

Technical English Language Instructor at SALTS
That's very interesting, Rod. Thanks for sharing. Would this be classified as Cognitive Linguistics?
Rod Mitchell likes this

<how this relates to learning methodologies>

Me too. I think the International Association of English Teachers should fund a cadre of practitioners to get hired at schools, and to teach so that students achieve maximum competency in a reasonable amount of time. There's so much vested interest in textbooks and curricula . . .
Then, measure students' brain output with an ERP machine and see where activity is taking place. It sure would be funny if maximum activity would occur at different locations, for different teachers.
Derek W. likes this

Not Cognitive Linguistics, no. Cognitive Linguistics is the most "up-to-date" theoretical positioning on how we as language users use and understand language.

Put psychology and the study of language together and you get psycholinguistics. Language is a product of people’s minds, and therefore to understand language, the psychology of the speaker in the speech act must be understood.

This is an important concept for both teachers and students. Utterances always have physical and psychological contexts which make up their meaning and decide why the utterance is used and how it is put together.

Psycholinguistics is an integral part of the wider field of Cognitive Linguistics, and many linguists would argue that there is no real division between Psycholinguistics and Cognitive Linguistics, apart from the fact that Psycholinguistics uses psychological tools to describe language and language use, and Cognitive Linguistics uses linguistic tools to the same end (Dr Maja Brala, personal communication, Dec 2008).

Cognitive Linguistics focuses on how people use language to organize, process and convey information, and holds that language learning, understanding and use is conceptual in nature and is part of the human experience, unlike Traditional and Structural Linguistics, where meaning somehow seems to be kept separate from language structures (grammar/syntax).

In Cognitive Linguistics “meaning is so central to language that it must be a primary focus of study. Linguistic structures serve the function of expressing meanings and hence the mappings between meaning and form are a prime subject of linguistic analysis. Linguistic forms, in this view, are closely linked to the semantic structures they are designed to express. Semantic structures of all meaningful linguistic units can and should be investigated.” (Kemmer, 2007)

Cognitive Linguistics see language learning as developing cognitive and social awareness of how language is used. This is done by experimenting with language and ‘trial and error’ until the language learnt is felt to be correct by the community at large. That is to say, language learning takes place in social, cognitive and cultural contexts (Kemmer 2007).

This social, cognitive and cultural basis of language means that each ‘folk’ uses a common language code which highlights what is important for that ‘folk’; in turn, individuals born into that ‘folk’ learn the code ‘pre-packaged’, as do outsiders learning the language code. In other words, we think and communicate with our language, but our language also ‘shows’ us how to think and communicate.

Therefore, to understand any part of language (e.g. prepositions, articles, tenses, modifiers, linkers, etc.), we have to understand the function of that part of language in organising and describing our world, which is an important part of the meaning of that part of language – if not the most important part of its meaning.

We use language to describe what we ‘cognise’, that is to say, what we see, hear, feel, desire, know, and so on, and so langauge tearning/teaching should focus on being able to express oneself effectively and to understand others effectively.
Richard Tomlin likes this

All nice and "woolly" as theoretical positioning - but in real life, as long as the teacher knows the practical aspects and ground him/herself, a cognitive approach is amazingly effective.

The right brain/left brain etc. parts of educational theory, however, have a relationship to applied cognitive and functional linguistics (in the practical form of the Communicative Approach and its sub-approaches such as task based learning) in so far as these endeavour to help langauge learners reach the level of being "automatic" [= fluent] and fully effective users of language by helping the students internalise the language learnt to the point of "native-speaker-like" use.

The general category is within neurocognitive studies, which is pretty complex : "learning engages the entire person (cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains), the human brain seeks patterns in its searching for meaning, emotions affect all aspects of learning, retention and recall, past experience always affects new learning, the brain's working memory has a limited capacity, lecture usually results in the lowest degree of retention, rehearsal is essential for retention, practice [...] does not make perfect, and each brain is unique" (Sousa, 2006, p. 274).

In other words - "structured" learning (lecture, etc.) is not effective, where-as "whole-body" learning is more effective. ("Whole-body" = immersion, task-based learning, etc. - getting the whole person involved rather than simply one part of the brain).

Tomato, bloody tomaaato, but what has been established (no matter what you wanna call it!) a cognitive approach in language learning is much more effective than rote memorization or 'translating' word for word into another native language.

Listening, writing and speaking practice are the best tools in building vocabulary and especially learning to think in the target language will get the best results. Try giving the students the tools to continue with their language exploration outside the classroom too!

Education and Publishing contractor
Please take a look at the book "Proust and the squid" which explains how neurology actually reveals that different parts of the brain become active when different languages are learned so the answer is an emphatic "Yes". In addition, multilingual students have more extensive cognitive development (long theorized about but now confirmed through neurology). Depending on the stage of development, learners intermix languages (usually as support and sometimes as a detriment) so this is completely different from a native speaker who learns only one language.

In this thread we are talking specifically about ESL (non-native) kids within a mainstream (= native speaker) school. ESL students whose English is deemed good enough to "sink or swim". So the levels can be anything like 4 or 5 within the same class, from nominal upper intermediate (= advanced in the US system) to native speaker-like (and then there are the native speaker students, who can also speak local English dialect/accent - in the case of Brisbane South-East Queensland English). Some of the students might also be native speakers from other countries (South African, British, Irish, US, Canada, New Zealand, etc.).

The classes are not decided on proficiency of English, but on age/previous schooling. Such schools might or might not have separate ESL classes that focus specifically on the English language for non-natives.

The focus of the mainstream classes is not English language; it is maths, or sciences, or social studies, or English for native speakers (English literature, etc.), and so on. In other words, kids in classes studying native speaker subjects at native speaker speed and level.

The ESL students can either be the children of immigrants to Australia [in this specisfic case], or children (Taiwanese, Mainland Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Brazilian, etc.) who have been sent to Australia by their parents specifically to do secondary schooling in Australia, then to go to university in Australia.

The realities of such education is that the whole system focuses on native speaker learning processes - as I said - ESL students "sink or swim".

The ESL and mainstream students are at comparable levels in the general knowledge they have (maths, sciences, etc.); the ESL students have passed an IELTS or similar exam showing their nominal English language competency (or come from schooling where English plays an important part, perhaps as the main medium of intruction or bilingual instruction).

There's some evidence that one's native language is stored in area(s) of the brain that are separate from the area(s) in which one's second/third/subsequent languages are stored. I'm not a brain researcher myself but I eagerly await research that shows how this relates to learning methodologies.
Rod Mitchell likes this

The theory in brief is that "internalised", left-brain knowledge is automatic/subconscious/immedaitely available for use - and "never" forgotten, while "newly learnt sctructural" "right-brain" knowledge is not automatic/subconscious and therefore not immediately available for use - and easily forgotten.

The theory is that our first language has largely become internalised/left brain over time, and therefore we don't normally have to think about how to say something. 99% of what we say comes out automatically without prethought. Also, people who have amnesia do not forget how to speak their first language or other similar internalised skills.

Learning a new language in a sctructured school environment is right-brain learning, and therefore easily forgotten. The trick is to transfer structured learning into internalised knowledge, as "left-brain" knowledge is not only not easily forgotten, but also readily available for use at the subconscious/automatic level.

For language learning, the ideal is to "mimic" as much as possible "native speaker" ways of learning the first language, to for example create activities in the Task Based Learning Approach where the students are learning the new language through doing activities, by giving the possibility of a range of language input situations where students need to convert structured/conscious learning to subconscious learning quickly.

There are lots of papers out there on the topic, and many educational theories refer to this topic, though apparently more very recent research might suggest that the "left-brain // right-brain" division as such is not true - that the brain doesn't divide "neatly" on this divide.
Miss E. likes this

Please take a look at the book "Proust and the squid" which explains how neurology actually reveals that different parts of the brain become active when different languages are learned so the answer is an emphatic "Yes". In addition, multilingual students have more extensive cognitive development (long theorized about but now confirmed through neurology). Depending on the stage of development, learners intermix languages (usually as support and sometimes as a detriment) so this is completely different from a native speaker who learns only one language.

<"whole-body" learning>

I guess we could start out be talking about the classroom, then city, country, and international matters. At some point we could go over body parts, and maybe innards. I've been able to inject anxiety into some younger kids' classes. It's mixed with humor. There's always laughing, but I've never used sadness as part of the class.

--
Acquiring L2 poses challenges and problems not generally encountered by L1 learners. Native learners of any language have the advantages of constant exposure .Parents, relatives,neighbours, friends, all chip in with a helping hand.The child, who appears to pick up the grammar or vocabulary is constantly imbibing the language he is born in. Exposure,bombardment,and updating go hand in hand and reinforcing the structures seem natural and sans any effort. What the learner constructs and reconstructs is what people speak.But in the case of a non-native learner the problems and challenges are legion. The frustrating experience in communicating in a foreign language disheartens him.The artificial milieu of learning SL or FL is short- lived,and the learner has nowhere to turn for guidance. Immersion offers some help but not all the help. I think the learner should be provided with an ambience that may encourage him to learn and get some competence in L2. Various pedagogical approaches may be tried. Dr.Y.P.Hathi

Me
Top Contributor
Perhaps Yogeshkumar speaks from experience. But learning English as another language by my students in India, Ethiopia and Nigeria--I've taught tens of thousands--wasn't as gloomy as he presents (as far as I could observe, of course some had problems), based on my 43 years of teaching it.

Not so much gloominess from experience - but talking about the real issues facing students of English in non-English speaking areas where - once you go out from the school or leave school, it can be difficult to do anything with English.

The beauty of the internet age is that now we have this great tool for so much - including English improvement. Or if I wanted to learn Mongolian or Tibetan or Hawaian or Mandarin - I can find all sorts of resources - and teachers - online.

Judith's problem is different - her ESL/EFL students live in an English speaking country - they have English everywhere around them - and really do benefit from this. It is (almost paradoxically) in the class room itself that the probnlems are greater - and in her case the problems are in a way more how to handle the native speakers rather the ESL students.

English professor - Instructor at UPEL-IPB, E-learning Specialist, EFL/ESL Teacher
Learning a second language is a challenge. It takes you around 2 -3 years to start speaking your native language using listening and speaking skills, almost 6 years to read and write using reading and writing skills. When you learn a second language, all four skills play an important role in the learning process at once. There is of course the fact that your learning capacities to understand and process the language are more mature in the second language acquisition, if you undertake this adventure all ready mastering your native tongue. Therefore, I would say that those students learning English have a slight advantage over those learning English being second language students. In the end, though, I truly think it depends on the student's interest and the approach used by the teacher to maintain that interest on its highest.
Rod MitchellDerek W. like this

empresaria en ACRILICOS PASCO LTDA
it all depends on the age . If you are teaching to preschoolers without making them aware that they are learning a new language, by teaching them English as they learn their mother tongue will be a success

@Judith: Your Britsh council videos were very enlightening, thanks a lot. I will probably have to take a second look at the videos, I just jotted down something about the Lingua franca Core and a few websites with different accents.

I was under the impression that your ability to learn a second language peaks at a young age and then tails off. Is that true?

Teaching non-native preschoolers I have discovered is a delight but not for the sedate. I become a manic child entertainer for the period of the class and the techniques used are completely different from 'normal' lessons but it is really rewarding.

However the advantages of first language learners mentioned by William I believe are slightly underestimated. It is no coincidence that left to their own devices, first language learners learn to speak the language. Non natives do not. You cannot overestimate the advantage of immersion within a community for picking up a language. Native speakers education really focuses on writing and understanding skills along with developing the palette from which they paint their pictures.(ooh I became all metaphorical. I need to lie down...)
Rod Mitchell likes this

Me
Hi William
'Therefore, I would say that those students learning English have a slight advantage over those learning English being second language students.' It's not clear to me who you're referring to in 'those students learning English'.

I think learners of English as L2, whether children (born in L1 environment) or adults (staying in L1 environment for a period), pick up English the way it's spoken around them with ease--I've evidenced this in a yesterday's TV visual where Indian children participating in an Indian Karnatic music show held in California spoke with the American pronunciation, stress and intonation and I evidenced this when my old students from SVCE conversed with me during their trip to Chennai. The immersion or the infection happens and is visible to the ear!

Of course there were some who continued to speak English the way they were speaking before they left the Indian shores. I asked the latter ( the some) why they weren't speaking English like Americans do, they weren't able to explain it. I'm not sure either, for a Bengali friend of mine has lived in America for a good number of years teaching maths but spoke English (and still is though retired) like a Bengali does. Amazing isn't it?! He couldn't explain it either.
sarah A.Rod Mitchell like this

As Rod has pointed out, the ESL students I taught at that time were immersed with native speakers in the same class. That proved a challenge as the tasks demanded a great deal of the students ability to use language. Personally I felt the ESL students in this scenario were slightly disadvantaged because they were expected ,for example,to read literary texts etc that native students could, and write with the sophistication that really requires longer than the few months given to them. In a school situation, time waits for no man, and that means ESL students are tested for the same grade level as native speakers. Remember also, that in this scenario, these students were high achievers and highly capable students. I wonder if their needs would have been better met if they were in a separate class but with ESL students only still working on the same curriculum as the native students.
Rod Mitchell likes this

Richard brings up the question of whether the "ability to learn a second language peaks at a certain age". Interesting question. Now that I teach refugees and immigrants in the intensive language centre, I have come across whole families that enrol at the same time. I've noticed that the younger siblings tend to forge ahead much faster while the older ones, especially those above 18 ( and usually without prior education), take longer to learn how to learn.
sarah A.Rod Mitchell like this

Me
We at Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering years ago faced a situation similar to what Judith narrates in her latest comment. Students from both English-medium and regional-medium schools entered engineering collages for further studies. The latter were totally at sea with the whole learning environment for English was the medium of instruction. So we decided to put regional medium students in a separate class and coach them using Thamizh and English as the medium. Initially, the move was welcomed but as time went on they felt cheated of 'competition' by being removed from their English-medium batch mates! They said they would prefer to work with the other batch mates side by side, however difficult that could be for them. It was a revelation to us, we expressed our regret and put them back.

We should have tried this experiment with students in the following years to see if there was merit in our assumption and in the students' claim, but the Management wasn't interested, and an interesting research experiment got aborted.

Would you, Judith, if you could succeed doing something like we did?
Rod Mitchell likes this

Yes, the problem with splitting the group would be that L2 learners lose the ability to be immersed in the language, which is hugely beneficial for students. If the research you have spoken about had gone through, I would have liked to see if the gains students made in language development outweighed other disadvantages when they had the chance to learn in an environment that met their needs more directly.
sarah A.Rod Mitchell like this

Me
If getting to 'compete' with L1 learners is the point, yes, splitting would be inadvisable. But, Judith, aren't these L2 learners already immersed by living in 'native English-speaking environment'? You might try the experiment if the situation permits.
Rod Mitchell likes this

In some schools in Brisbane (and elsewhere), separate classes are possible because of the numbers of the students and also the particular “stream” (by this I mean courses) the student is doing (focusing in technical, or computing, or acting, languages, or whatever) with regard to possible future university studies.

Such classes focus on the English necessary for a range of subjects, however, the students also attend the mainstream subjects. The real difference is that when the mainstream kids are doing their English class, the ESL do their own English class, though the two come together in various ways.

The ESL students themselves in general prefer to be with the mainstream kids, their parents want it, and so on – because that is why they are attending an English-medium school (in the case of foreign kids going to Australia specifically to attend an English-medium high school in an English speaking country). That is the whole point. As Judith says, generally high achievers and highly capable, with (if I might add) a higher average IQ than their mainstream colleagues – statistically speaking.

There are also those ESL students that are rarely seen in big cities like Brisbane – those students from linguistic minorities within a country like Australia, both indigenous Australians as well as established immigrant communities who have managed to keep their language, such as towns where a large part of the population is Sicilian, or the like, where the community language is not English. This is a very different category, such indigenous communities being “remote” tribal areas with all the negatives of colonization etc.., and in some cases where immigrant communities are concerned, might also include factors of educational disabilities of various types.

In such cases, a good case can be made for education in the 1st language and the dominant language. Note also that in Brisbane, there are some high schools that run “immersion” classes, such as for those students doing German, they do some subjects (maths, science, history or whatever) in German, and others in English. Another category where all students are expected to work NOT through the dominant language, but through the language being learnt.

<the palette from which they paint their pictures>

After a certain age, it may be common for a person to be happy with whatever palette he/she has devised for language use. Then, using the colors already chosen, he/she tries to learn a second language. Of course what are needed are some new colors, but many will not bother.

All too true, Nelson. Sometimes the colours prove to be effective, but sometimes they don't.

We are also good at kidding ourselves at how we learn. it's when we start going round in circles that we need to change colours. And if we see our students doing that, then either get them to change - or we the teacher might have to change.

All the learners are talented, the main problem is with the programm making working thinking both different levels. i can't understand the brain problem of different levels.The teacher builds( constracts) the plan the way as native speakers are getting teachers in dialogues, in three form dialogues, in four form dialogues.
Immersion course will be the only way out of this problematic situation. The students will see that something new unusual is happening. Different themes are offered: meetings, hotels, retaurants, dramatizing of different fables is usually used at the lesson
The teacher is also taking an active part to present the new theme and very often he is addressing the weak students:
" There is an International Congress in Moscow( in chorus)
They are coming from different continents.(..)
Are they coming from Asia( looking at some weak students-The teacher is waiting for his answer.) The new text is given in the form of communication. The most difficult sentences are repeated quitly, in whisper, loudly.The voice plays a very important role in method( lozanov is Bolgarian psychologist, teacher)

Teacher at Calgary board of education
What a fascinating discussion. I teach in Western Canada in a French Immersion program. We often have children who have immigrated to Canada and are living in an English speaking environment and are attending A French immersion school! They awe me. These 3rd language. Hidden often (95% of the time) learn more quickly than native English speaking children. Of course, as you all say, it is also a n important part of the teacher's job to help all the learners in as many ways as possible.
On another note, thanks, Nelson, I think I may just look into learning Spanish now!

Teacher at Calgary board of education
Oops, I can't always see what I'm typing "these third language learners often learn more quickly than native Eenglish speakers