By Fredda S. Fischman, Muhlenberg ELL Kindergarten teacher
In my 26 years of experience with ELL (English Language Learner) students, kindergarten through adult, I have found that someone to talk to is the most important element/resource to the successful acquisition of any second language. Oral language reflects culture, identity, societal values, and educational priorities to such a degree that it far surpasses any written material or commercially produced materials.
All second language learners want to be accepted into the society of the mainstream language; they want to be part of the academic, social, and economic worlds occupied by the society at large. The easiest way for them to accomplish this goal is to practice speaking and understanding what everyone is saying. The most flexible currency is oral language; it is the most easily acquired, the most readily spent and accepted. It is the first sign of gaining credibility as a worthwhile member of a society; people assume (rightly or wrongly) that if someone speaks well, then he/she is smart, and smart people are the most attractive to the general public. Technology demands quick-thinking communication skills; communication skills demand some sort of oral language, even if it appears in the form of written language. All written language begins with a thought, and a thought is the beginning of understanding oral language.
There's just no getting away from the fact that oral language must be introduced first, and constantly reinforced, if one is to acquire a second language. And all it "costs" is someone to exchange ideas with, to listen, to model, to share, to validate, and to expand. Before the world becomes a second Tower of Babel, we need to remember to spend time with each other and communicate orally and scaffold all learning on the very simple connection made by a smile of acceptance and understanding.
For more information about working the ELL students: See a number of websites listed on the LEADERS Links
Fredda S. Fischman, Allentown School District ELL Kindergarten teacher