In my opinion, the events that took place in the deaf community in Nicaragua in the 70s and 80s offer some of the most interesting insights into the human affinity for language.
Other Interesting Nuggets:
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|ELL Tool Box||
What about an ELL with a learning disability?
This is a very common question and one that requires educators to consider many factors before referring an ELL to special education. Just like native speakers of English, ELLs may have learning differences that require the additional support of an IEP and special education. At the same time, it is crucial that we be mindful that having temporary low proficiency in a second language is not a disability, it is a natural part of the language acquisition process.
This question is challenging because there are many parts of normal language development that can also parallel characteristics of a learning disability. For example, a student not speaking in class would cause many teachers to be concerned for a student and rightfully so. But we also have to be aware, that a "silent period", sometimes of up to a year, is a well-documented initial stage in many students normal language acquisition.
Here are two great articles to start with to learn more about ELLs and Special Education:
Some Myths Regarding ELLs and Special Education
Reasons for the Misidentification of Special Needs Among ELLs
One of the best ways to begin collecting information about an ELL student whom you suspect has a learning disability is to speak with the parents. Asking parents about memory, following instructions, and other areas where you see issues will give you insight into student. You will often see if problems are arising due to a lack of language proficiency or from a learning difference.
Example: A former student of mine, "Roberto", had incredible difficulty remembering elemental vocabulary in 1st grade. He had little difficulty communicating for social needs in the classroom. He interacted in English with his peers and teachers but colors, common objects and even the names of the numbers eluded him. After altering our instructional style and working with him one-on-one, we felt that we were still making little progress.
We met with his mom, who confirmed that Randy frequently forgot things such as the names of family members and his address when speaking in Spanish. Mom echoed that she had been trying to work with him on his colors in Spanish as well and was concerned that he didn't seem to remember them well. This information helped us establish that there was a pattern of challenges not linked to his English language learning but it was a more global issue for the child.
What other suggestions do you have?
Other interesting articles:
Should teachers encourage the parents of ELLs to speak English at home even if they have difficulty with the language? We want students to be immersed in the language, don't we? So a natural extension of that idea is making the home language parallel the school language, right?
Is this feasible? What about parents who are unable to speak English? Or should we promote bilingualism and heritage languages?
Here are a two great links that explore those questions:
Read more from Judie's great site: Everything ESL.
And even more information from Colorin Colorado here.
What's the Secret to Learning a Second Language? from Salon
The TELL Project PDF which outlines characteristics and behaviors routinely exhibited by model teachers working with language learners. User friendly, great design, and full of valuable, concise information.
table showing the classification of consonants in English
This week's nugget offers a brief look into the linguistic sub-field of phonology. Phonology, as you may have already guessed, is the study of sounds in languages. The most basic components of speech, those little language sounds are called phonemes.
Hold on, wait. Don't jump ahead now, this is not phonics.
Phonics = the relationship/correspondence between written letters or symbols with sound.
Phonemes = the smallest unit of sound in a language. To this day there are still languages in the world that do not have a writing system. A linguist can study that group's phonemes, but if you were interested in their phonics, you would be on the unemployment line.
So, why is this interesting?
Have you ever studied Spanish, did you try rolling your Rs? That rolled R is a phoneme in Spanish that doesn't exist in English. The older we get the more difficult it is for our mouths to accommodate new sounds into our pronunciation repertoire. This is why it is almost impossible to not speak a foreign language without an accent.
How is this connected to learning and our students?
Depending on geography Spanish has about 24 distinct sounds whereas English can have 44. Consider for a moment trying to learn rhyming and phonics for sounds that you cannot actually recognize or produce.
The sound TH, for example does not exist in Spanish. So, Spanish speaking students may find difficulty in 1) producing that sound and 2) connecting the new sound to the correct letters.
Interesting mini-nugget: Extreme examples:
Hawaiian has only 13 sounds.
Kung (language spoken in Namibia) has over 100 distinct sounds including 48 different clicking sounds. Wonder if Rosetta Stone offers that.
Interesting mini-nugget: Click, Clack:
Some linguists believe that clicking in languages arose because it offered a way for early hunters to communicate in the vicinity of their prey. More common human speech sounds such as vowels and consonants, tend to frighten animals, but clicks allowed communication without causing dinner to run away.
This week's other Interesting nuggets:
Do You Speak Border Collie? Animal Languages
In Search of the World's Most Difficult Language
Sorry for the long delay. Hurricane Sandy and a recent snowstorm have made life rather complicated around here. I hope all of you are warm and safe.
PS: If you are a teacher interested in helping support other teachers with recovery efforts, please visit this project created by some NJ educators. NJED Disaster Relief
And here are this week's language learning nuggets:
Thank you to all the readers who took the survey. It was very motivating to find out how many people find the nuggets to be both valuable and interesting. I also learned more about the types of posts which are most meaningful to you all. In hopes of covering the wide range of interests that were indicated, I will now be trying to include a variety of resources in each nugget blog post. So this week we have a short summary of transfer errors, resources for Hispanic booklists and an article about the dangers of cutting foreign language classes. Enjoy!
Transfer errors occur when you use a linguistic component of your first language in the second language you are trying to learn.
Just imagine, if you have danced polka for 20 years and then try salsa dancing. Every now and then, like it or not, a little polka may creep into your salsa. (bad pun intended).
This is why after studying Spanish for years and living abroad, I can toil for hours, referring to my trusty bilingual dictionary, writing a one minute speech in Spanish and still have a native speaker say to me, "You sound like a gringo." You may have heard our Spanish speaking kids confuse the words YOUR, HIS, and HERS. The simple reason for that is: In Spanish there is only one word which can be used for all three of those English words. Maybe you also know that in Spanish, adjectives almost always come after the noun whereas English has the opposite. The house green.
Here is a list of common transfer errors from different languages.
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Linguistic relativity, also known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, is a theory that the structure of a specific language can affect the ways in which its speakers view and think about their world. This is a theory that has been debated for many years and is still incredibly interesting to ponder. Let's look at an example of how a language can differ greatly from English and may act to shape thinking.
In Quechua, an indigenous language still spoken in many parts of South America, there is a linguistic component called "evidentiality". In Quechua almost all sentences have a this component which tells the listener about the source of the speaker's knowledge.
So in Quechua, the sentence, "The plane will arrive at 9:00." could have 3 slightly different constructions depending if the speaker knew that as a fact, overheard it, or felt it was a probable event. I wonder why it became important in Quechua to know the degree of evidence a speaker could provide for a statement.
What if we incorporated this feature into English? Would gossip be the same?
While thinking about these questions, let's look down another avenue.
Can language affect they way we think about money? A recent article tries to find an answer.
(Read the full article here)
These two books are incredibly insightful journeys into languages. Years ago, Daniel Everett was sent to the rainforests of Brazil as a missionary. One of his first tasks was to learn and document the language of the village where he lived. What he learned in the process changed him drastically and altered some ways we think about language.
Patricia Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another -- by listening to the humans around them and "taking statistics" on the sounds they need to know. Clever lab experiments (and brain scans) show how 6-month-old babies use sophisticated reasoning to understand their world.
Watch this intriguing video: