ELL Language Acquisition in English Language Learners Term Paper

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Language Acquisition in English Language Learners


Language Acquisition in English Language Learners

The United States is a country of immigrants, and has been since its inception. However, until relatively recently, immigration did not pose a significant problem for the United States educational system or for many Americans because of the rigid cultural and social expectations for immigrants. New immigrants were expected to assimilate aspects of American culture, especially speaking English, as quickly as possible. Furthermore, schools were not responsible for teaching a new language to immigrant children; on the contrary, these students were expected to learn, in English, even if they did not know any English at all. The task of English acquisition was often left to members of individual immigrant communities. Non-English speakers were often delegated into the bottom ranks of classes, and, having started behind in school, did not escape those ranks during their educational careers. Other non-English speakers came from families where the acquisition of English was a family affair, and individual students learned English with their families. When the majority of immigrants to the United States were English speakers, such a system seemed fair and successful, because school systems were not overwhelmed with English language learners (ELL), and within three generations the immigrant family would be completely proficient in English and able to compete with non-immigrant families.

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However, such a system is simply not considered sufficient in the present day, given that there is an overwhelming number of immigrants, from a very wide variety of background languages and cultures. "Nearly one in five people living in the United States speaks a language at home other than English, according to new census data that illustrate the wide-ranging effects of immigration. The number of immigrants nationwide reached an all-time high of 37.5 million in 2006, affecting incomes and education levels in many cities across the country." (Associated Press, 2007).

TOPIC: Term Paper on ELL Language Acquisition in English Language Learners Assignment

Moreover, today's immigrant population differs from previous generations. Immigration to America has progressed in a series of waves. The first immigrants were from Western Europe, and many of them spoke English or another romance language as their first language. Even if they did not speak English, they may have had the opportunity of being exposed to English language and customs. Following World War II, many immigrants came from Eastern Europe, had a more diverse ethnic background, and spoke languages that were largely unfamiliar to the majority of Americans. However, within the last several years, immigration has taken a different turn, and most immigrants no longer come from Europe. On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of immigrants, both legal and illegal, hail from Mexico, Central America, and South America. Most of these immigrants are native Spanish speakers and share some similarities in cultural background. However, there have also been an increasing number of immigrants from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The result is an ever-expanding number of ELL students, but with a diversity in ethnic and cultural background that is simply unprecedented in America's history.

Ethnic diversity impacts education in a variety of ways. First, ethnic diversity impacts education because different cultures place different degrees of emphasis on education and educational attainment:

In most states, immigrants have added to the number of those lacking a high-school diploma, with almost half of those from Latin America falling into that category. However, at the other end of the education spectrum, Asian immigrants are raising average education levels in many states, with nearly half of them holding at least a bachelor's degree. (Associated Press, 2007).

While there is an upward trend in all immigrant families, the fact is that the educational background of the parents can have a tremendous impact on an ELL student's ability to acquire English. Furthermore, for those immigrants who do hold degrees, especially higher degrees, parents in the home may be pressured to learn English to compete in the workplace, which may provide an extra incentive for any school-aged children to become proficient in English.

There is no way for these factors not to impact student success. Furthermore, the culture of origin determines native language, which can determine literacy systems and established modes of pronunciation.

To truly understand the relationship between culture and aspects of American civilization, including language acquisition, this study looks at two broad groups. The first group is composed of Spanish-speaking ELL students and is made up of smaller groups of immigrants from Mexico and a variety of Central American and South American countries. These immigrants frequently move into extremely established communities, where there is no need to speak English outside of a school or work environment. In addition, the majority of Americans have some familiarity with Spanish-speakers, and Spanish is the most studied second language in America. Given the pervasive impact of Latino immigration on the United States, these students form the vast majority of people targeted by most ELL programs. Finally, Spanish speakers are represented in all levels of the government, which has raised awareness of native Spanish speaking ELL students in a manner that has not been duplicated for speakers of other foreign languages.

For example, at the opposite end of the spectrum are Arab immigrants to the United States. The Arab culture is foreign to most Americans, and has not been assimilated into mainstream American culture in the same way as Latino culture. Moreover, many Americans have misconceptions about Arab culture, religion, and language. In fact, in a post 9-11 world, many people are hostile to the cultural life of Arabs. In addition, there has been a tremendous influx of Arab immigrants, which started following the revolution in Iran in the 1970s, and which has fluctuated with times of peace and times of war in the United States. The result is that, today, there is a huge influx of immigrants from Afghanistan and Iraq, and their children need to learn English in order to feel and act American. However, there is a concern that traditional ELL programs may not be sufficient to help these students, because of the cultural gap between America and most Arab countries and because of the root differences between Arabic and English. For example, Spanish language learners can build on existing language skills, given that the Spanish and English alphabets are almost identifical and Spanish and English are both read from left to right. English and Arabic do not share an alphabet and are read in a different manner, which means that Arabic-speaking ELL students cannot build on their eisting language skills, but have to learn knew skills.

Furthermore, there are several significant differences between Arabic and American culture, which may impact learning. For example, the success of ELL programs is more highly correlated with teacher-student relationship than with a teacher's proficiency in a student's native language. Therefore, ELL teachers need to learn enough about Arabic culture to establish working relationships with children from that culture. This can be a difficult task for teachers, who have the same biases and prejudices as other members of society. Of course, teachers have to confront personal bias and prejudice while teaching Latino students as well; the stereotypes are simply different. In fact, the stereotypes surrounding Latinos may actually be more detrimental to the development of positive student-teacher relationships, because the negative stereotypes plaguing native-Spanish speakers include the belief that they are lazy or unmotivated.

In addition, it is important to understand the differences between English and Spanish and English and Arabic. Understanding these differences may provide the key to figuring out the best way to provide English education to ELL students. While both are foreign languages, they are extremely different from each other, and each presents its own challenges for learning English. Arabic is a Semitic language, which means that it is not Latin-based, like English. In fact, it has a different alphabet and a different literacy system than both Spanish and English, which share an alphabet.

In fact, Spanish is much more similar to English than Arabic is, which may make it easier for Latinos to learn English than for Arabs to learn English:

Spanish is a Romance language, and it uses the Latin alphabet, like English:

The vowels can take an acute accent, and there is the additional letter n. When spelling English words or writing them from the teacher's dictation, beginning Spanish students may make mistakes with the English vowels a, e, i. The consonants h, j, r, y may also cause trouble, since they have significantly different names in Spanish. The English writing system itself causes no particular problems to Spanish learners. Beginners, however, may be tempted to punctuate questions or exclamations as follows, since this is how it is done in Spanish: oWhat is your name? / What a goal! Punctuation of direct speech may also be a problem because quotation marks are not used in Spanish. (Shoebottom, 2007, Spanish).

However, it would be a gross oversimplification to assume that because they share a common background, English and Spanish are somehow interchangeable. On the contrary, there are some serious problems for the native… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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