Language Acquisition Theories

It is reported by Waggoner that one in six United States adolescents between the age of 14 and 19 speaks a foreign language at home besides English. Some schools expect these children to speak English fluently and at a rapid pace. They also have this hidden expectation that there will be no interference with their academic progress in the classroom. The information that is taught to English language learners is prolific in words and phrases. This can at times become baffled due to the literal and figurative language of words. Children who are fluent in English have a solid understanding of those figurative phrases.
Lazar, Warr-Leeper, Nicholson, and Johnson (1998) reported that 11.5% of lessons taught in the classroom contain figurative language and teachers use idiomatic looks in one out of ten words used when teaching in the classroom. Idioms are very difficult for English language learners to translate. Often the English language learner also has difficulty understanding figurative language in the social setting.
Figurative language is indeed a needed portion for the English language learner instruction. These students must have the appropriate instruction so that they can master the difficult task of speaking, reading, and writing a foreign language to them which is English. Palmer and Brooks (2004), states that if the English language learner is unable to understand and translate figurative language this will cause a disruption to their comprehension, which will cause frustrations and may hinder the student from wanting to become a reader of English.


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Classroom teachers must scaffold their instruction for the English language learner. The lessons must consist of comprehension strategies that are fostered around figurative language. This may have some challenges for the classroom teacher because the English language learner is diverse with a broad range of cultures and linguistics in the classroom.
Alejandro’s Observation
As a classroom teacher who possesses students who are English language learners I could relate to some of the issues concerning Alejandro. According to MacGillivary and Rueda (2001), children like Alejandro will assist their parents who speak a little English and those who don’t speak English at all to translate for them any and everything that pertains to school, the doctor, or just everyday situations that may require English. Alejandro’s teacher created appropriate and purposeful lessons for him. These lessons were tailored around figurative language.
This teacher modeled explicitly taught him how to translate words and phrases into English and also how to decide what the meaning is when it pertains to context clues. Alejandro is now able to communicate in both worlds English and Spanish.
Strategies for Figurative Language
Explicit Instruction:
According to Palmer and Brooks (2004), “figurative language interpretation is based on students’ schemata; therefore, direct, or explicit, instruction is often needed to provide the knowledge necessary to understand not only the figurative language expressions but the context surrounding them as well” (p.375). When the English language learner receives instruction that is clear and direct this will aide those students who may not be familiar with figurative language. This will also help them students who possess a limited knowledge to recognize figurative language.
Connections to the Real World
When the English language learner uses figurative language in their communities they create this connection that allows them to communicate naturally. Tompkins (2002), states that children who are English language learners have challenges comprehending the figurative phases used in the real world. He suggests that classroom teachers use hands on objects like posters created by the students that will show the figurative meaning of those phrases. Figurative language can help the English language learner to see this world in a new light. It also magnifies their perceptions about the world. Dialogue in Context
Educators of English language learners should explain the importance of figurative language to their students. They should be aware of how this skill will be taught to them so they can create learning goals centered on figurative language. The classroom teacher should gear her lessons on the different types of figurative languages and provide explicit examples of the phrases used in paragraphs and sentences. It is also recommended that classroom teachers connect context clues with the use of figurative language. Using these context clues will allow the English language learner to construct meaning with the text.
Modeling and Independent Practice
How the English language learner grasps the concepts of figurative language depends upon their back ground knowledge and also what they have been exposed too. When the classroom teacher models explicitly the strategies for figurative language and provides opportunities for the students to practice what was taught this will strengthen their skills. These strategies should be modeled and practiced with students orally and written on a daily basis. The classroom teacher can use learning logs with the students during observations.
With the use of illustrations provides the English language learner with a brighter interpretation of the figurative phrases used in the real world. Students can create literal pictures of the figurative phrases. For example, busy as a bee. Classroom teachers must keep in mind that the English language learner may need to communicate what was learned through pictures. This can be used for literal and figurative phrases.
Use of the Native Language
The English language learner who has a firm structure in bilingual education will achieve higher than those English language learners who have not had the opportunity for bilingual education. These students are impelled to use their native dialect which will help them to comprehend English. The classroom teacher must remember their students who are English language learners are on several different levels which can create challenges. Because the English language learner is learning two combined languages, they will make gains from the skills they accumulated from their back ground knowledge.
The strategies provided in this article can aid the English language learner when they have difficulty with figurative language in the real world and in texts. The background knowledge of the English language learner has an important role in how they comprehend figurative phrases. Once they have mastered this skill they can transfer what they learned to context clues. Having visuals for these students will support them in language arts. It is important that these students continue to speak in their native dialect. These strategies will give them a sense of accomplishment which will inspire them to become proficient readers and writers.

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