In July 2007 the Journal Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools printed an article titled Narrative and Vocabulary Development of Bilingual Children From Kindergarten to First Grade: Developmental Changes and Associations Among English and Spanish Skills. This article asserted that
“when bilingual children’s vocabulary levels are too low in the language in which they are learning to read, these young learners will…encounter difficulties”.
As professionals, parents, and adults in the lives of children that are English language learners (ELL) what can we do to better help them avoid anticipated difficulties learning to read? We can approach it the same way we would approach a young child learning language for the first time.
- Provide opportunities for language use and interaction
– Provide rich and interesting activities “worth talking about”
– Allow quiet times when teachers are not talking and children can initiate conversation
– Arrange the environment so that not all materials are readily accessible in order to promote discussion
- Provide focused stimulation on particular language features
– Model target sounds or words for children; encourage repetition of models
– Recast children’s utterances to maintain semantic information but extend syntactic use
– Recast adult utterances in the same way
– Develop routines to help children connect events and language
– Establish familiar daily routines like arrival time, circle time, snack time
– Develop scripts related to sociodramatic play activities including discussion/demonstration about roles, props, and activities
– Use event casting/self-talk (talking while doing) to model problem-solving strategies
If the English language learner is already in a social situation where they interact with native English speakers, the native English speakers can also be used to provide modeling to the ELL children.
- Initiation: teach native English children to approach other children, establish eye contact, and ask the children to play with them or a specific toy
- General Linguistic Aspects: teach native English children to speak slowly with good enunciation
- Reinitiation: teach native English children to repeat the initiation if met with nonresponse
- Request Clarification: teach native English children to request clarification of a response by the second language learner if the response was not understood
- Recast/expansion: teach native English children to repeat an utterance with slightly different wording when the second language learner indicated a lack of comprehension through nonresponse, noncontingent response, or other nonverbal signs
Remember, the road to reading begins long before the children enter a classroom. “When bilingual children’s vocabulary levels are too low in the language in which they are learning to read, these young learners will…encounter difficulties”. If children have difficulty reading, then this will impact them academically. Therefore, the language stimulation that we provide at a young age has the potential to change the course of their entire academic career.
Alana Garcia-Chavez, M.S., CCC-SLP