English as a Second Language (ESL) is a program in which nonnative speakers of English who live in a country where English is the native language work toward the acquisition of English as a second language. It is referred to as ESL even though English may be the student’s third or fourth language. When English is taught as a second language in a country where the predominate language is not English, the program is referred to as English as a Foreign Language, or EFL.
Types Of Programs
There is a variety of models for ESL instructional programs including Pull-out ESL, Push-in ESL, Self-contained ESL, Sheltered instruction, or SDAIE (Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English), and Newcomer schools. Pull-out ESL programs consist of an ESL teacher who removes children from the mainstream classroom during the day for a limited amount of time and works with them on English language development skills. Push-in ESL programs are mainly used in the elementary grades where there is a small population of English language learners. In these programs, the English language learners remain in the mainstream classroom and an ESL teacher visits the classroom to work with the students and the classroom teacher. Self-contained ESL is found in schools with large populations of English language learners, and the students are grouped into one classroom to learn English skills. English language learners are also grouped together for SDAIE. In this setting, the teacher uses ESL methods to teach students content area materials such as mathematics, English, history, and science. Sheltered instruction techniques may also be used in the mainstream classroom by a grade-level teacher who has had special training. Bilingual education programs focus on dual-language instruction such as Spanish and English. Whereas all bilingual models have an ESL component, all ESL programs are not bilingual.
Newcomer schools are sometimes used to bridge the gap between students’ native backgrounds and their new environments. Students who are usually placed in these programs are generally new to the school system, are non-English speaking, or have a limited ability in English. The school provides instruction in language and content to English language learners to help them make the transition to their new environment. After a certain length of time, the English language learners are moved into the mainstream school.
English language learners come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have been well educated in their native country, and some have had little or no schooling. Older English language learners have more of a challenge because although a student may be able to communicate well in English within 6 months to 2 years, the development of academic language may take from 5 to 7 years.
The problem of how to teach students who do not speak a common language and what that common language should be creates a challenge in a multicultural society. Bilingual education in the United States has been alternately embraced and rejected. For English learners, English-only schooling has often brought difficulties, cultural suppression, and discrimination, even as English has been touted as the key to patriotism and success.
English as a Second Language has been a part of the history of the United States since Colonial times. Even at that time, the colonies were a mixture of many different nationalities and languages. As the colonies grew, there became a need for a sense of unity, so the leaders began to work for national literacy. Many of the colonies formed schools of their own in which the native languages of the colonists were utilized, but eventually many of these schools became English-speaking. Although Colonial government could not prevent groups from forming schools of various languages, early colonial leaders such as Benjamin Franklin stressed Americanization though education and the teaching and preservation of the English language to strengthen the government. This idea was strengthened with the American Revolution, which emphasized building common bonds and loyalties to build the new nation.
In 1664, at least 18 Colonial languages were spoken on Manhattan Island. Bilingualism was common among both the working and educated classes, and schools were established to preserve the linguistic heritage of new arrivals. The Continental Congress published many official documents in German and French. Early laws in the new nation, such as the Ordinance of 1787, mandated common schools in all of the Northwest Territories. Since this population of settlers included people who were from several European and various other countries, the task of creating common schools was a challenge. Parochial schools for various groups were common in these territories, which prevented some groups from automatically becoming a part of the common culture. Another challenge for the schools was that many of the immigrants were poor and had never attended school or learned to read in any language.
The Territory of New Mexico authorized Spanish– English bilingual education in 1850. The inclusion of a language other than English in the public schools was encouraged by the large population of Germans in 1865, although it was opposed by other ethnic groups. The Chicago School Board agreed to German being taught and, by 1870, 1 in 15 students was receiving instruction in German. Other cities, such as St. Louis, also supported German instruction. As the political power of the German groups decreased, the amount of German instruction in the schools also decreased. The immigrant population changed as immigrants arrived from southern and eastern Europe. Many of the newcomers were illiterate in English as well as their native language. The Compulsory Education Law of 1889 mandated English-only instruction and mandatory school attendance. Many large cities looked to the schools to assimilate immigrants into the mainstream culture, a difficult task for the unprepared schools. Employers also encouraged English language learning to create better educated workers.
In periods of recession, war, or national threat, immigrants, cultures, and languages were restricted and/or forbidden. The diversity of languages in America was further emphasized as World War I began, and the draft registration announcement was repeated in 15 languages. The German-American communities’ demands to German instruction in the schools ended as the United States entered WWI and Congress placed language limitations on material printed concerning the war. World War I brought anti-German hysteria, and various states began to criminalize the use of German in all areas of public life. As World War I ended, Ohio passed legislation to remove all uses of German from the state’s elementary schools; mobs raided schools and burned German textbooks. In 1917, a new law was enacted to give a literacy test to immigrants. Immigrants were encouraged to learn English so they could learn the laws of the United States and become a part of the American culture. Subsequently, 15 states legislated English as the basic language of instruction and uneasiness toward immigrants continued. Although there were several pockets of acceptance for bilingual education, other areas of the country effectively restricted or even attempted to eradicate immigrant and minority languages. This repressive policy continued in World War II when Japanese-language schools were closed.
ESL and bilingual programs continued to be issues in the political arena. Only as recently as 1968 did Congress signal its first commitment to bilingual education by enacting the Bilingual Education Act as a means of addressing the needs of students whose first language was not English. When the U.S. Congress enacted legislation to begin Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, federal funding became available for bilingual education programs. Almost simultaneously, the courts began to rule that students deprived of bilingual education must receive compensatory services. Beginning in 1970, landmark court cases mandated special language instruction for children with a limited command of English, including a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1974 citing that Chinese-American children were not receiving adequate education in San Francisco due to the language barrier. However, federal legislation, through continuing reauthorization of the 1968 Bilingual Education Act, has supported the rights of states to restrict bilingual education as seen in Arizona’s Proposition 203 in 2000 and California’s Proposition 227. Proposition 227 passed overwhelmingly in California on June 2, 1998. The initiative essentially banned bilingual education and called for sheltered English immersion. Students were to be immersed in English for 1 year and then put into regular classes. This program had no research base; it had never been tried elsewhere, but the idea was appealing. The concept was to give students 1 year to learn English and then let them continue with their education.
Periodically throughout history, English has been proposed as the national language such as through the bill titled “Declaration of Official Language Act of 1999,” yet this has never been enacted into law. Although the United States has no official language, 23 states have passed laws proclaiming English as official. Because the states reserve the right to dictate educational policy, bilingual education has depended on the vagaries of state law.
Over the years, the methods of teaching second or foreign languages have changed a great deal. Emerging research and philosophical debates have greatly affected the study of how students learn and how a second language is acquired. In second language teaching, methods have moved from teacher-centered approaches to learner-centered approaches that emphasized the student as a whole. Methods have also moved from an emphasis on linguistic competence and grammar structures to communicative competence and learning strategies. Language learning is no longer seen as simply an academic subject to be learned. It is now an act that can transform a person and offer independence.
Communicative approaches, which stress language learning for the purpose of oral and written instruction, differ from structural approaches, which focus on the structure of the language such as grammar and syntax. Several communicative approaches appeared between the 1960s and 1980s. These approaches reduced emphasis on grammatical structures and recognized the range of language functions and the appreciation of language as embedded in social contexts. Through communicative approaches, teachers and students work collaboratively.
Adult ESL programs use different approaches to language learning depending on the goal of the instruction. Structural approaches are used when the students are preparing for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) for college admission. Communicative approaches are used to train students for social or employment settings.
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