Glossary on current issues in ESL education

                                       Dr. Trung-Phap Dam                                                                                  Professor of educational linguistics                                                                          TEXAS WOMAN’S UNIVERSITY                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      


Acculturation: This term refers to the process of transfer or borrowing of cultural elements between different cultures, resulting in new and blended patterns of behavior (Banks, 2009). According to Cortés (1993), acculturation should be the primary goal of the schools. Schools have the responsibility to help students acculturate, because additive acculturation contributes to individual “empowerment and expanded life choices.” Brown (1994) notes that the first stage of acculturation involves a period of excitement and elation over the novelty of the new environment. The second stage is a period of culture shock and begins as individuals endure a flood of new experiences that are often quite different from those traditions, values, and beliefs which are familiar and may appear as a threat to emotional equilibrium. During this time, individuals prefer the company and support of their fellow compatriots, frequently finding comfort in complaining about that which is so completely different from what was at one time familiar. The third stage includes a time of slow, but wavering, recuperation. Gradually, individuals begin to accept the differences in thoughts and sentiments that surround them, slowly becoming more understanding of other persons in the new culture. The fourth stage represents near or full healing, either assimilation or acculturation, with a new acceptance of the second culture and confidence in the “new” person that has emerged in this culture.

Additive Bilingual Programs: Additive bilingual programs are bilingual/dual language programs whose goal is bilingualism and bi-literacy for all students that participate. These programs are characterized by a late exit from either a dual language or maintenance bilingual education program, with instruction occurring in both English and Spanish.

Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis: Based on this hypothesis, there are two separate processes for the development of ability in second language: (1) via language acquisition which is similar to the way children develop their L1 competence and, (2) via language learning which is an explicit presentation of rules and grammar with the emphasis on error correction (Krashen, 1982).

Affective Domain: The emotional aspects of an individual’s inner life, including attitudes, feelings, dispositions. For English language learners these affective or emotional factors include their attitudes and feelings towards language learning and the target language and culture.

Affective Filter: According to Krashen (1982), the following affective variables are related to success in second language acquisition:

Anxiety – low anxiety, e.g., the more comfortable the students are, the better the acquisition.

Motivation – higher intrinsic motivation leads to more successful second language acquisition.

Self-confidence – the acquirer with more self-esteem and self-confidence tends to do better in second language acquisition.

Assimilation: This term refers to the acceptance by individuals from different ethnic heritages of the beliefs, values, and lifestyles of a national or dominant culture (Banks, 2009). In extreme assimilation, the individuals sever their identification with their ancestral group. Assimilation education is subtractive, according to Cortés (1993), because it encourages students to leave behind their ethnic and cultural beliefs and practices.

Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS): BICS, as distinguished from CALP, refers to language proficiency that is usually context embedded and is used for interpersonal communication. It can generally be acquired in a relatively short period of time.

Bilingual Education Act: Formerly Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on January 2, 1968. Through this Act, the federal government made its first attempt to addressing the educational needs of language-minority students (Ovando, Collier, & Combs, 2003).

Bilingual Education: A bilingual education program, generally defined, is one which is organized with the following three goals in mind:

  1. The continued development of the student’s primary language (L1);
  2. Acquisition of the second language (L2), which for language minority students is English; and
  3. Instruction in the content areas utilizing both L1 and L2.

Bilingual education is also defined as the use of both source or native language and target or second language as media of instruction in all or part of the curriculum. Study of the history and culture associated with a student’s mother tongue is considered an integral part of bilingual education.

Biliteracy: At its most basic level, biliteracy refers to a person’s ability to read and write in two languages. The concept, however, has taken on a sociopolitical dimension, especially as reflected in the work of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, who links literacy with issues of social justice and empowerment.

Cloze Procedure: Cloze is a method that may be used to assess reading comprehension or language competence. In such a test words are deleted from a selected passage at regular intervals, leaving spaces to be completed. Normally, every fifth word is omitted. The reader must read the passage and try to deduce the missing word. There are two types of scoring procedures for cloze activities: 1) the exact word method in which the exact word must be supplied, and 2) the acceptable word method whereby any word that is acceptable in the context of the selection may be considered to be correct (Richards, Platt, & Platt, 1992). “Teacher-designed cloze activities are especially valuable because they can be adapted to the specific needs and language levels of students….Creating paragraphs with words left out requires the student to use multiple sources of information, such as context, to predict words that make sense in the paragraph. Cloze sentences can also demonstrate to students that they don’t have to be able to read every word of the paragraph to understand the meaning” (Herrell & Jordan, 2008).

Code-Switching: This term refers to a change by a speaker (or writer) from one language to another. Code-switching can take place in a conversation when one speaker uses one language and the other speaker answers in a different language. Example: Fuimos al dance; I’m going to Lupe’s a las cuatro (Richards, Platt, & Platt, 1992).

Cognate: A true cognate is a word in L1 which is similar in form and meaning to a word in L2 because the two languages are related. Conversely, a false cognate is a word in L1 which is similar in form to a word in L2, but has a different meaning. An example of a true cognate is “president” in English and “presidente” in Spanish. An example of a false cognate is “constipated” in English and “constipado,” which means congested in Spanish.

Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA): CALLA is designed for language minority students who are being prepared to participate in mainstream content-area instruction. CALLA provides transitional instruction for upper elementary and secondary students at intermediate and advanced ESL levels. This approach furthers academic language development in English through content area instruction in science, mathematics, and social studies (Chamot & O’ Malley, 1987).

Cognitive-Academic Language Proficiency (CALP): CALP, as distinguished from BICS, is a dimension of language proficiency that is strongly related to literacy skills and is the category of language that is necessary for success in the content area classroom. CALP is generally highly decontextualized.

Communicative Competence: Communicative competence is the ability to understand and be understood using different forms of language that are appropriate to the demands of the social circumstances. Essential aspects of communicative competence include linguistic and cultural knowledge as well as interactive skills (Harris & Hodges, 1995). According to Horwitz (2008), “A learner is considered communicative competent if she can participate in a spontaneous interchange with a native speaker.”

Comprehensible Input: According to a second language acquisition theory, we acquire language by obtaining comprehensible input — by understanding messages, by listening, looking, understanding and internalizing the words, phrases, concepts. Messages in second language are made comprehensible though the use of pictures, objects, actions, interaction, and context (Krashen, 1985).

Culturally Responsive Teaching: “Using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them” (Gay, 2000, p. 29).

Deep Structure: Deep structure alludes to the underlying meaning to which a spoken or written sentence refers. Until verified by sentence transformation, the true meaning of a sentence may not be clearly understood. For example, the surface structure of John is eager to please and John is easy to please is similar, but their deep structure or meaning is different (Harris & Hodges, 1995).

Developmental Bilingual Education (also Maintenance Bilingual Education): This term refers to bilingual/dual language classes of English language learners only. Time schedules vary, but by the third grade generally 50% of the instruction is in English and 50% is in the home language of the students. Students are allowed to continue learning the native or first language in a maintenance bilingual education program even after they have met the exit criteria for ELLs established by the state.

Dialogue Journal: A dialogue journal is an interactive journaling activity whereby students are required to write freely for a specified amount of time on topics that are either self-selected or assigned by the teacher. Characteristically, this type of journal is not corrected, but the teacher does respond regularly. This type of writing provides an opportunity for students to write in a nonthreatening setting, and to learn that writing is an effective form of communication.

Dual Language (Two-Way): This term refers to bilingual/dual language classes of a cohort comprised of students whose home language is English and students whose home language is a language other than English. These classes are conducted in both English and the second language. The goal of this program is that all students in the cohort will be bilingual and biliterate in both languages of instruction. According to Freeman, Freeman, & Mercuri (2005), characteristics of a two-way dual language bilingual program include the following:

  • Students include native English speakers and native speakers of another language.
  • Students are integrated during most content instruction.
  • Instruction is provided in two languages.
  • Students become proficient in two languages.
  • Student achievement in English for all students is equal to or exceeds that of students learning in English only.

Educational Linguistics: Educational linguistics is a branch of applied linguistics that deals with the relationship between language and education (Richards, Platt, & Platt, 1992). An important course in educational linguistics would be one in language and linguistics for teachers, as proposed by Fillmore and Snow (2000). In that course, “Each area of linguistic study would be introduced by educational situations in which language is an issue. For example, the study of phonology could begin with an examination of interference problems that English language learners might have with the English sound system” (p. 32).

Error Analysis: This term refers to the study and analysis of actual language errors made by second language learners as part of their interlanguage. Error analysis can help educators identify strategies which learners use in language learning, explain the causes of learner errors, and obtain information on common difficulties in language learning, as an aid to teaching or in the preparation of instructional materials (Richards, Platt, & Platt, 1992).

English Language Learners (formerly known as Limited English Proficient Students): English language learners (ELLs) are students whose first language is other than English and who are in the process of learning English as a second language.

English as a Second Language (ESL): ESL is a necessary component of all bilingual education programs. Although the methodologies vary widely, ESL teachers generally focus their instruction on the development of listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in English by creating low-stress learning environments (i.e., reducing the affective filter) and providing for comprehensible input. The students’ vernacular is often used to clarify meaning and enhance understanding. In districts where many language groups are represented or there is a scarcity of bilingual teachers, students may receive ESL instruction only through “pullout classes” a few times a week. According to Ovando, Collier, and Combs (2003), ESL is a system of instruction that enables students who are ELLs to acquire academic proficiency in spoken and written English.

Fossilization: Fossilization is a process that may occur during second language learning whereby erroneous linguistic forms become permanent characteristics of the way one speaks or writes in the target language. Aspects of pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar usage may become set or fossilized in the second language. For example, fossilized forms of pronunciation constitute a person’s foreign accent (Richards, Platt, & Platt, 1992).

Idiom: An idiom is a colloquial expression, the meaning of which cannot be guessed from its individual parts. For example, actors who are about to go on stage are frequently told to “break a leg” which actually means “good luck!”

Immersion: The concept of immersion is based on the premise that people learn a second language in the same way they learn their first language — in contexts where they are socially motivated to communicate. Teachers use only the target language. In Canada, English-speaking children with no French language experience enter kindergarten or first grade classes conducted solely in French. Language learning occurs through interaction with meaningful content (California State Department of Education, 1984).

Interdependence Hypothesis: According to Cummins (1982), a student who has mastered the rudiments of reading and thinking in the first language will perform well on entering a second language environment. Common underlying proficiency (CUP) will facilitate a ready transfer of academic skills. Conversely, a child who fails to reach a “threshold level” of development in the mother tongue – for example, an ELL who makes a premature transition to English – is likely to struggle in both languages (Crawford, 1991).

Interference: According to Horwitz (2008), interference “refers to the negative influences or intrusion of the native language on second language learning” (p. 244). Interference is also known as negative transfer.

Interlanguage: As defined by Horwitz (2008), interlanguage “refers to the way learners produce the target language. Learners’ interlanguages are systematic and reflect their implicit linguistic knowledge” (p. 244). Viewing interlanguage as a creative and rule-governed system, Diaz-Rico (2008) states, “An English language development curriculum that elicits the learner’s creativity allows the learner to show the current state of his or her interlanguage. The view that learners have intermediary language modes that are not flawed misrepresentations of English, but rather are natural, creative expressions of the learner’s innate language ‘genius,’ offers a refreshing opportunity for teachers to view second-language learning in a positive light” (p.192).

Invented Spelling: Invented spelling is the result of a student’s attempt to spell a word when the correct spelling is unknown. The spelling is based on what the student has heard rather than on a specific spelling rule. An example of invented spelling would be “frnd” for “friend.”

Language Acquisition Device (LAD): The language acquisition device or LAD was first suggested by Noam Chomsky in 1965 who concluded that every person was born with a language acquisition device which enabled the learning of languages. The LAD contains basic knowledge about the structure of human language and thus serves to explain why children achieve competence in their native tongue in a relatively short period of time.

Language Experience Approach (LEA): The Language Experience Approach or LEA is an approach to language learning that involves the use of students’ dictated stories to teach reading and writing. The stories are based upon common experiences that have been facilitated by the teacher. The Language Experience Approach validates student language as an appropriate tool for instruction.

Language-Minority Students: According to Wong-Fillmore (1991), “language-minority children” refers to children “from homes in which English is not the predominant language of communication between parents and children.”

Lau vs. Nichols: According to Pang (2005), this court ruling was precipitated by a group of Cantonese-speaking parents who “filed a class action suit against the San Francisco School District on behalf of Chinese-speaking children. Lau is Kinney Lau, who was a first grader. Alan Nichols was the superintendent. The Supreme Court ruled in 1974 that students who spoke a language other than English were denied an equal education. This decision led to the inclusion of Bilingual Education programs” (p. G2).

Learning Log: According to Harris and Hodges (1995), a learning log is “an ongoing record of learning activity kept by students to help them evaluate their progress, think about new learning, and plan further learning.”

Linguistics: The study of human language which, in spite of a long history of development as a science, has only recently been viewed as an independent discipline. It includes a wide field of specializations and different approaches to research. For example, sound systems or phonology, sentence structure or syntax, and meaning systems or semantics and pragmatics (Richards, Platt, & Platt, 1992).

Monitor Hypothesis: According to a second language acquisition theory, the Monitor functions as an internal “editor.” The Monitor scans and sorts the rules. A goal of the “Natural Approach” is to reduce the use of the Monitor, i.e., avoid speech hesitation or pauses for the purpose of self-correction of errors in language (Krashen, 1982).

Multiple Intelligences: According to Ovando, Combs, & Collier (2006), the multiple intelligences refer to “the notion that students can manifest their cognitive strengths in a variety of ways beyond the traditional determination of intelligence-based IQ assessment.” Zainuddin, Yahya, Morales-Jones, and Ariza (2007) suggest that teachers become aware of the variety of established intelligences that students may bring into the classroom. In order to facilitate success for all students, teachers will need to provide a variety of activities designed to accommodate students’ different learning styles.

Natural Approach: Based on the work of Terrell (1977), this approach includes instructional techniques that facilitate the natural acquisition of language. This approach, which encourages language acquisition by developing proficiency without direct or conscious recourse to the formal rules of the language, is based on two principles: (1) Speech is not taught directly but rather acquired by understanding what is being communicated in low-anxiety environments, and (2) Speech emerges in natural stages, namely, preproduction, early production, speech emergence, intermediate fluency. The focus is on meaning rather than on correctness of form. An initial silent period is a prerequisite to actual speech production by students.

Phonemic/Phonological Awareness: Phonemic or phonological awareness refers to the awareness of the component sounds of words in the process of learning how to read and spell. There are three ways to identify the components of words: by syllables, as /cat/; by onsets and rhymes, as /c/ and /at/; and by phonemes, as /c/ and /a/ and /t/.

Psycholinguistics: The study of both the mental processes a human utilizes in producing and comprehending language and the manner in which a person may learn language. Psycholinguistics includes multiple aspects including speech perception, the role of memory and concepts and various processes in language use as well as how social and psychological influences may affect the use of language (Richards, Platt, & Platt, 1992).

Reading Process: Reading Process is an interactive approach to teaching reading whereby the stages of reading, including before, during, and after reading, are given significant attention so that the students will internalize what should be occurring at each stage. The intent is for students to eventually monitor their own comprehension and reading success.

Scaffolding: Scaffolding implies the gradual reduction or fading of teacher support for learning as students’ comprehension increases through instruction, modeling and feedback. As understanding increases, the students internalize strategies for learning, thus becoming more independent and successful learners. The concept reflects Vygotsky’s focus on the necessity of learner assistance designed to accommodate the learner’s potential growth.

Semilingualism: A controversial notion that posits that there are some people who have learned two or more languages during different periods in their lives but have not developed a native speaker level of proficiency in any of them (Richards, Platt, & Platt, 1992).

Sheltered English: Sheltered English is used to make academic instruction in English understandable to ELLs. Mainstream subject content is taught using English as the medium of communication to ELLs homogeneously grouped for level of English language proficiency. Emphasis is on vocabulary and concepts, not grammar. This program is modeled after the highly successful French immersion program developed for English-speaking Canadian students.

Submersion: Submersion, as distinguished from immersion, is when ELLs receive no services through bilingual or ESL education programs. The submersion approach is also referred to as the “sink or swim” approach in educating ELLs.

Subtractive Bilingual Programs: Also referred to as early exit bilingual programs, these programs generally exit ELLs before the third grade. The goal of these programs is to replace the home language with the second language (English). In such programs original proficiency in the home language is usually lost, hence the term “subtractive.” There tends to be much less time for concept development which later impacts student performance as these students encounter a more rigorous curriculum in the upper grades.

Surface Structure: Surface structure refers to what people actually say, write, or hear. In transformational-generative grammar, surface structure includes all the grammatical and lexical elements required to transform a sentence into speech or writing. Thus, the surface structures of the deep structure [It PAST rain yesterday] are “ It rained yesterday” and “ Yesterday it rained.”

Threshold Hypothesis: Originally stipulated by Cummins in 1979, Richards, Platt, and Platt (1992) define this hypothesis regarding learning a second language as “a certain minimum ‘threshold’ level of proficiency that must be reached in that language before the learner can benefit from the use of the language as a medium of instruction in school. This hypothesis is related by Cummins to the developmental interdependence hypothesis which says that the development of proficiency in a second language depends upon the level of proficiency the child learner has reached in the first language at the time when extensive exposure to the second language begins” (p. 380).

Total Physical Response (TPR): TPR was developed by psychologist James Asher (1982) as a method for second language teaching that parallels first language acquisition sequences. This approach is based on three key ideas: (1) understanding the spoken language precedes speaking; (2) understanding is developed through students’ body movements; and (3) speech should not be forced as students naturally reach a “readiness” point when speech becomes spontaneous. During instruction, commands are given in L2 and acted out first by the teacher then by the students, allowing them to perceive the meaning of the commands while hearing the language. Students begin speaking when they are ready (i.e., there is allowance for a “silent period”) and communication is not interrupted by corrections.

Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE): In TBE programs, ELLs study English in classes especially designed for second-language learners and receive a portion of their instruction in their native language to help them keep up in school subjects. The goal of this model is to facilitate the transition of such students into the all-English curriculum by providing native language instructional support as well as English language development. This is the most common type of bilingual education programs in the United States.

Whole Language: Whole language is an approach to first and second language instruction designed to reflect principles of first and second language acquisition. According to Richards, Platt, & Platt (1992), the approach is based on the following principles:

  • Language concepts are presented as a whole rather than as isolated or distinct elements.
  • Instructional activities move from the whole to the part rather than vice versa.
  • All four modes of language are utilized in lessons, including listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
  • Language is learned through interaction with other students. Thus, students frequently work in cooperative groups or pairs.

Writing Process: Writing process refers to an approach to teaching writing in which the stages of writing are given specific and detailed attention so that the students will internalize what they should do at each stage. The intent is for students to eventually monitor their own comprehension and writing success. The stages of the writing process include planning or prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.


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