Students are considered to be in the intermediate fluency stage when they have a vocabulary of about 6000 English words. This doesn't mean they have a full grasp of the meaning of all of these words. Just like many preschoolers, young second language learners may not grasp the different homophones and homographs, like bark (the sound of a dog) and bark (of a tree). But, these children are more willing to ask questions. When you listen, you can hear them speaking in more complex sentences but often these sentences contain grammar errors. They may not always understand how to use English syntax (the way English is organized into phrases and sentences). In a preschool classroom, you may not see much difference between your native English speakers and second language young learners as young children do not always know how to use verb tenses correctly.
As preschool or kindergarten teachers, we may not see any of our children (first or second language learners) at the final stage of language acquisition, advanced fluency. In this stage, speakers use complex sentences and have a large vocabulary that is used correctly. You can see that any young child likely needs time to be in this stage of language acquisition. For older second language learners, the only apparent difference may be a hint of an accent and difficulty with idioms (raining cats and dogs). Often native English speakers have difficulty with idioms, too, at a young age. You can help with this by making a game of teaching these commonly used expressions. Use them a part of your calendar/opening instruction.
One important idea to remember is that as children acquire a second language, motivation is important. Those who are intrinsically motivated (they have their own desire to succeed) are more likely to make language attempts than those who are rewarded with stickers and little prizes (extrinsic motivation). To help children develop intrinsic motivation, we can design activities that take into account children's special interests. For example, if child is interested in dogs, make these animals part of a lesson. This way, a second language learner will be more motivated to participate.
Please stay tuned for more ideas on teaching English Language Learners!
NAEYC – 2.A.04. & 2.D.01.
Head Start – IX. A., B., & C.
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