- Why do TWI programs strictly separate the two languages for instruction? Is there research to support this practice?
- How long does it usually take students to start understanding and then start speaking in their second language? Does the rate vary by native language and program model?
- How do you encourage students to use the language of instruction, particularly when it is the partner language? How do you get students to take risks when they are speaking in their second language?
- How do you know when to correct a child’s error and when to let it go? How do you try to prevent the errors?
- How do you determine if a child is experiencing a language delay? What do you do in that case?
- What teaching strategies are effective for promoting language development?
- How does putting students in bilingual pairs (one native speaker and one second language learner) provide opportunities for language development for both students?
- How do you challenge native speakers while keeping the language level manageable for second language learners?
- How do you help students perform at grade level in the content areas when they are learning through their second language, particularly when they are at low levels of proficiency in that language?
- Are there instructional materials and assessment strategies for use in the content areas that take into account different stages of language learning?
3. How do you encourage students to use the language of instruction, particularly when it is the partner language? How do you get students to take risks when they are speaking in their second language?
There are many things that both teachers and parents can do to encourage learners to use the language of instruction, especially when it is the partner language, and take risks with it.
At school, teachers establish the conditions for language use through the lesson planning process. In planning lessons, teachers make sure that they not only provide second language learners comprehensible input but also encourage communicative language output. This is the full cycle of second language development that teachers promote: making language comprehensible to the students (receptive language) and promoting language use on the part of the students (expressive language) (Cloud & Hamayan, 2005). Through careful planning, teachers first create activities to develop students’ comprehension of the language needed to understand lesson content, and then they create tasks in which students actively use the language of instruction so that it can be fully acquired.
In effective lessons, teachers set up tasks in which meaningful communication takes place around the particular content being taught and in which learners are provided many opportunities to use the target vocabulary and expressions. For example, students might report what they noticed during a class experiment or in a story they have read, or they might work in pairs, taking turns asking and answering questions about the content. Effective teachers establish conditions in the classroom that encourage language use, and they provide feedback in a non-threatening and supportive way (e.g., by praising students’ efforts to speak in the language of instruction and honoring their attempts to communicate in that language). Effective TWI teachers also use stage-appropriate language—that is, language that matches a student’s developmental level so that he or she can participate at or close to his or her proficiency level. Some students might point to an illustration, others might give a one word or short phrase response, and still others might give a full explanation.
In the classroom, there are many things that teachers can do to encourage students to use the language of instruction and to take risks with it:
- Provide a nurturing environment from the beginning of the year in which students feel comfortable taking risks with language. Respect students and expect them to respect each other and each other’s mistakes. Provide feedback in a non-threatening and supportive way (e.g., by praising students’ efforts to speak in the language of instruction and honoring their attempts to communicate in it).
- Provide ample opportunities for speaking. This requires that teachers monitor the amount of time they themselves spend talking. Show genuine interest when students talk.
- Set up tasks in which meaningful communication takes place around the particular content being taught.
- Have a clear understanding of which language goals can be maximized in a lesson, and provide the students with model sentences they can use when speaking. For instance, for formulating a hypothesis during a science experiment, the teacher may provide the sentence frame for the students to use: “If I add water to the solution, then (this will happen).” This kind of support will make the students feel more secure about how to say what they have in mind.
- Use stage-appropriate language so that each student can participate at his or her proficiency level. In response to a question, one student might point to an illustration, another might give a one word or short phrase response, and a third might give a full explanation.
- Provide second language learners with basic interactional phrases to keep the conversation going. This focus on social language is often overlooked in teaching the partner language in particular. It can include phrases such as “How do you say _____ in Spanish,” “It’s my turn,” and “Can I have _____?”
- Know that students will make mistakes and do not attempt to correct all of them (see Question # 4). It takes years to master a language.
- Consider setting up age-appropriate reward systems to motivate the students to use the second language, keeping in mind the varying cultural views, understandings, and practices concerning the use of rewards among students and their families.
- Praise, praise, praise. Again, it is important to be mindful about potential cultural differences with regard to the use of praise for students in the classroom.
In the 50/50 dual language programs in School District 54 in Schaumburg, IL, teachers have tried different approaches to encouraging second language use, with various degrees of success. At one school, the parent teacher association sponsors the “I got caught speaking my second language” program. A student “caught” using the second language receives a ticket, which is entered in a weekly lottery. Another strategy is for teachers to add a pebble to a jar when students use their second language or when they help another student to use his or her second language. A full jar results in a class party. None of these extrinsic rewards is necessary when students are in the English language domain. Either students are intrinsically motivated to speak English, or the extrinsic motivators are already in the environment and the teacher does not need to create them.
Parents also have a role to play in getting their children to use their second language. They can provide their children with audio- and video-recorded materials (recorded books and songs, DVDs, or videos) in the second language. Parents can also create opportunities for language use by taking their child to places where the second language is used, such as restaurants, stores, and libraries. They can also work to establish family friendships across linguistic boundaries so that native English speakers and English language learners participating in the program interact outside of school (e.g., at parties, picnics, etc.) All of this needs to be made enjoyable for the learner so that language learning is not drudgery or mandatory (see Cloud, Genesee, & Hamayan, 2000, pp. 55-61, 67-82); Downs-Reid, 1997; Gibbons, 1993, p. 11; LaVan, 2001).