Language is the Key

The various languages around the world have evolved and developed in several stages. Languages reflect the evolution of a society throughout history. Even though language is considered as an integral part of society, we clearly notice that the definition of language raises many opposing opinions. For instance, one of my preferred definitions of a language is that which is adopted from Professor Raja T Nasr in which he states “Language is a part of culture, it is a part of human behavior. Language is an acquired habit of systematic vocal activity representing meaning coming from human experience” (Raja T. Nasr, The Teaching of English to Arab Students). This definition is not only considered simple, but also covered a wide spectrum of key topics that are related to language. For example, in addressing language as part of a culture, the definition reflects the importance of language and culture which is known as cross-cultural linguistics. Therefore, it is noticed that language is not isolated, but rather is integrated with culture.

Language as a human behavior, consists of several cultural and social meanings. Even though oral and written forms are known to be the basic fundamentals when it comes to communication. Nevertheless, non-verbal behavior is considered as important as oral speech due to the transfer between several messages. These could be either noticed through gestures, facial expressions, or haptic which refers to physical human contact. Therefore, it is important to become aware of these notions in order to fully understand their concepts especially in a multi-cultural environment.

For example, in some countries, it is considered disrespectful to give an assignment to the teacher using your left hand. Furthermore, respect can be noticed through raising your hand and body language in general before speaking. All these non-verbal situations are noticed in other cultures. Therefore, when they are not applied carefully, a severe case of misunderstanding might occur.


Focusing on Form and Forms with ESL students

Teaching a second language to students is a difficult and a considerably complicated task. People from different backgrounds speak diverse languages and become accustomed to the grammar, structure and phonetics of their own mother language, which may be very different from others’ languages. This makes it very difficult to adapt to a new language and it is, therefore, hard for teachers to accomplisher their task.

To teach a second language, grammar, vocabulary and verbal exercises have to be delivered. One of the most important things to follow by a teacher is to focus on form. Form is the practice of teaching grammar and sentence structure. Sentences could be declarative, interrogatory, imperative or exclamatory and each type is used to deliver certain information in a certain way. Therefore, it is really important for students to learn how to manage the language form and master sentence formation and structure.

However, the limitations of teaching form is the lack of focus on vocabulary and verbal practice. After learning grammar, structural rules and all aspects of language forms, students may still lack the ability to use the correct vocabulary. They will also still need to learn how to master verbal communication. All those are important aspects in English, especially when writing essays or delivering verbal presentations.

As such, instructors should balance their teaching approached and utilize various learning strategies that enhance the students’ verbal and written skills with mastery and confidence.

I believe that learning formulaic sequences at an early age is essential in language learning Bahns, Burmeister, and Vogel (1986) investigated the second-language acquisition of a group of children and found evidence of a formula segmentation process at work. They found two particular pragmatic factors at work in the use of formulas by the children, namely, situational frames requiring their use, and frequency of occurrence of the formulas. The study also found evidence of a progression of development of use of the formulas, starting with use of simpler expressive and game formulas. This was followed by a broadening of the range of formulas as pragmatic awareness and ability grew, and eventually full native-like selection and use of formulas with more precise knowledge of when an expression is pragmatically target like.

Learning formulaic sequences allows students to learn how to formulate and pronounce idioms. In English, idioms are very important. They are basically phrases composed of multiple words tied together, with a meaning that is different from the definition of each single word alone. Idioms are everywhere in the English language and mastering them is the first building block in learning any language in fact. By not pausing a lot and for too long, learners are forced to tie words together often and be able to speak them in one run. This forces the learners to choose words that tie well together and hence be more knowledgeable of their meanings. As well, in formulaic sequences, the learner gets to understand how different words, verbs and nouns tie together adequately to make a meaningful sentence. Each word in the sentence has to make sense, and if not, it will be evident when pronouncing that sentence without pauses, as in formulaic sequences exercises.

• References
• Bahns,J., Burmeister, H., & Vogel, T. (1986). The pragmatics of formulas in L2 learner speech: Useand development. Journal of Pragmatics, 10,693-723.

A brief insight into Phonology

Phonology is concerned with sounds which are systematically structured. This component might be considered as one of the important components in any language since it is considered as the initial cornerstone of any civilization. In most societies, it is well known that speech is a common form of human communication (We must assume a period of many thousands of years when speech was the only form of language, before the development of writing at the dawn of recorded history) (R.H . Robins, General Linguistics: An introductory Survey).

Phonology is basically divided into two major features, segmental features which consist of vowels and consonants; they also consist of supra-segmental aspects such as stress, rhythm, intonation, and pause. The English consonants are 24; however the number does not represent the English alphabet, as they are produced orally. It should also be noted that all existing languages have an infinite number of phones which are universal. However, unlike phonemes which are relative to individual languages, each language has its own groups of sounds. Therefore, a phoneme can be considered as a contrastive unit since it distinguishes meanings when exchanged with other phonemes. For example, in English, the /p/ and /b/ are contrastive phonemes; though, for English language learners of Arabic background, these letters are non-contrastive. I have always noticed this particular issue as in my country, the word Pepsi is pronounced as Bepsi. Arabic learners also seem to have trouble pronouncing and distinguishing the fricative sounds in “f/V” as in “thank you Ferry much” instead of “thank you very much”. This is not only limited to a certain language, but also all existing languages. These differences usually occur due the differences that exist between the inventory sound system of the first language as well as the target language

ESL Kindergarten Students – Some recommended Activities-

Kids learning a second language at kindergarten face various obstacles. Teachers are ultimately responsible for developing a prosperous learning environment that encourages students to be motivated to learn. As such, teachers have to be careful on what methods and techniques are utilized in class to allow such multicultural students to grasp the basic of English language.

I would  recommend few activities that address the needs of ESOL students. These students need various activities that allow them to learn effectively. For instance, they need to be able to engage in conversations to strengthen their verbal skills in English. Therefore, we recommend that the teacher pairs ESOL students with kids that speak fluent English language so that they can learn English by talking to each other. Kids feel more comfortable talking with others of similar age and hence this process will aid them in learning.

Secondly, kids tend to be very curious about everything they see around them. They love to read labels, play with items around them and move objects around as they are very curious. Therefore, if the teacher can put label in English on everything in the class, the students will have the opportunity to read those labels and practice their reading skills.

Furthermore, kids love to engage in entertaining activities beyond the curricular requirements of class and homework assignments. As such, the teacher can present games and toys to students as well as ask them to watch documentaries or videos of interest all in English. This practice will help students to learn English from native speakers.

Last but not least, let’s not forget that teachers can only do so much in class and at school. It is really the parents that do more than half of the job and can facilitate and accelerate the process of learning. As such, teachers should be in touch with parents on regular basis and encourage parents to communicate with their kids in English or at least purchase items that have English material such as stories, movies and toys. This will help complement the learning process and create a complete and smooth environment whereby the kids find themselves stimulated to speak and read English most of the time. All of that can be done without compromising the first native language as the parent will eventually speak to the kid with their first language anyways.

In sum, i think that ESOL students have various needs to accomplish the learning process of a second language. They need to be curious, entertained, engaged and paid attention to. With the help of other kids who speak the language fluently and parents, teachers can develop a plan that can allow students to learn effectively.

Podcasts and professional learning in the future

Podcasts are considered as a modern digital medium of audio content which can be used to deliver certain information. Podcasts have recently been used in formal education and learning and can be played don a variety of mobile and handheld devices, in addition to laptops and desktops.

Currently, podcasts content is diversified; some are very professional and some are no so. It is really hard to generalize and say podcasts are professional learning tools or not because it really depends on the content. Generally speaking however, and given the fact that the learners prefer to use mobile devices for learning, podcasts can be very beneficial and handy.

In the future however, I think podcasts will play a more important role in learning. Many publishers and educational institutions are increasingly offering learning material over podcasts and is hence becoming more reliable. However, there needs to be standards that govern the content and use of podcasts to enable more professional use of it.

One of the great benefits of podcasts is the fact that it can be distributed remotely to the masses and is usually free or low costs. Also, podcasts can be stored easily on many devices as they are small in size. They can be downloaded, stored and later played offline when the user doesn’t have access to the internet. This is exactly what make podcasts very useful and can make it a professional tool in the future.

The 10 Best Strategies for Teaching Vocabulary in the Classroom Podcast

This podcast was quite interesting in the sense that both educators were able to provide valuable information about ELL. Their information can be extremely helpful for other ESL teachers who are in the field, however I noticed that both guests did not mention any strategies or pedagogical methods in the field of teaching second language learners. They only mentioned some games and a couple of anecdotes which occurred with second language learners.

The process of learning a new language can be a daunting experience for second language learners. Therefore, it is important that instructors adapt techniques that will assist the students during the learning process. For example, grouping students can be beneficial for the students for a number of reasons. This will definitely will give students the opportunity to be productive in the target language. Another benefit is that it breaks down the barriers, and therefore creates a smooth atmosphere in the classroom. Most importantly, grouping students is based on cooperative learning, which promotes cooperation rather than competition among students. Because the whole point of having a teacher is that students may not be able to understand the academic concepts from the textbook or learning material clearly. As such, the teachers, with the use of examples, aiding tools and tutorials, should be able to communicate effectively to all students. Therefore, an excellent teacher should be a great communicator. Fo, using visuals and graphic organizers can be extremely beneficial for ELL. For example, some teachers adapt a pre-reading activity in which they create a segment of several pictures and have the students connect the words to the pictures. After accomplishing the process of pairing the words with the pictures, they would start the second phase which aims at helping the students to construct these words into sentences. This will be done through structuring simplified questions in which the students will answer through connecting the words with the visuals that are displayed.

What do we mean when we say that word stress in English is unpredictable?

With English language, and perhaps few other ones, not all the syllable (letters) are said with the same strengthen of voice. Sometimes a word can be stressed loudly while others can be reduced and said quietly. However, it is really hard to predict where the stress will be on a word and here are two examples:

Let’s take the three words which are very similar: photograph, photographer and photographic. You would expect the stress on the same letters of different words to be the same and follow the same patter but that is not the case.

  • Photograph: the stress is on the first part of the word (pho)
  • Photographer: the stress is on the second part of the word (to)
  • Photographic: the stress is on the end of the word (graph)

So it is really hard to predict where the stress will be by just looking at the letters.

Another example are the similar words: ability and able.

The word ability has more stress on the middle and last part of the word (bility) while the very similar word able has more stress on the first part (a). This is very unpredictable.