Upon reading articles by Collier (1995) and Diaz-Rico and Weed (2006), I realized that though learning a second language is imperative for future success when a child moves to another country, the structures and supports set up to help students learn English in the U.S. are, sadly, prone to failure. Diaz-Rico discusses many different techniques and strategies, adopted in different periods of time, in teaching children a second language. For instance, the first teachers of the Middle Ages taught language purely by translating Latin into the student’s language. Behaviorism focused on timing, repetition, and extensive drilling and practice.
Several “current theories” have developed since the late 1950s, such as “Transformational Grammar”, “Krashen’s Monitor Model”, and “Communicative Competence”. No one method is perfect, and all have drawbacks. However, each model offered something to contribute to today’s understanding of how students learn a second language. For instance, Behaviorism receives credit for the idea of audiolingualism, the idea that oral practice is key to learning a new language. The hope is to educate teachers on how students best learn a new language so as to ensure their success in receiving a stellar education in their non-native tongue. Transformational Grammar acknowledged that humans have an innate ability to develop language, now supported by brain research. Krashen formed several hypotheses to explain how the brain processes language in a step-by-step manner. Cummins developed a theory of “Bilingualism and Cognition”, hypothesizing that learners come with a considerable amount of knowledge about language from acquisition of their native languages. This hypothesis has received a considerable amount of support since students who have been able to receive a bilingual education have statistically had the most success. Subsequently, Hymes formed the term “Communicative Competence”, hypothesizing that learners have an automatic knowledge of language based on their backgrounds and can use this knowledge to understand new messages within specific contexts.
Taken together, students will acquire a second language if given support within their mainstream public education system, over a 4-12 year period. They will learn best in a bilingual setting (bilingual teachers and students), where they can learn content simultaneously to the new language. In addition, they need considerable interaction with native-speaking and non-native speaking peers, both in a social and classroom setting. They need to be taught how to have oral discussions, debate, teamwork, group collaborations, and presentations. They also need to learn how to write informational essays, science papers, persuasive essays, memoirs, and critical analyses. Thus, a combination of social, cultural, oral, and written education on the students’ new and native language is the best recipe for success.
Diaz-Rico, L., & Week, K. (2006). Learning about second-language acquisition. In The Cross-Cultural Language Academic Development Handbook. A Complete K-12 Reference Guide. (3 ed., pp. 50-71). Boston: Pearson.
Collier, V. (1995). Acquiring a second language for school. Directions in Language Education, 1(4), Retrieved from http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/ncbepubs/directions/04.htm.