YOUNG ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS AS LISTENERS Theoretical Perspectives, Research Strands, and Implications for Instruction
Jalongo, Mary Renck; Li, Nan
Saracho, O. N.; Spodek, B.
Charlotte : Information Age Publishing-Iap, 2010.
Dramatic growth in the immigrant population of the United States during recent decades has altered the educational landscape. The general population is increasing at the rate of two million people annually; approximately half of that growth is attributable to immigration (Gollnick & Chinn, 2008). Data from the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition reveals that, since 1990, the enrollment of English Language Learners (ELLs) in U.S. public schools has grown by 105%, while growth in the general school population is only 12% (Kindler, 2002). Over four million school-aged children are ELLs; they now constitute nearly 10% of the U.S. school-age population and are an increasingly diverse group (Ovando, Collier, & Combs, 2005; Zelasko & Antunez, 2000). It is estimated that, by 2030, up to 40% of children will be recent immigrants to the United States and that most of them will speak a language other than English at home (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003). At the same time that the student population becomes more diverse, the teaching force has become more homogeneous (Johnson, 2006). In 2003, nearly 40% of United States public school children were members of minority groups, while less than 10% of their teachers were members of minority groups (Snyder & Hoffman, 2003). Although it is customary to assume that young ELLs are from families that have left desperate circumstances to pursue a better quality of life or that they reside only in urban areas, this describes only some of our immigrant population. True, nearly 80% of the ELLs in the United States are children living in poverty whose first language is Spanish; however, over 400 different languages are spoken by young ELLs (Kindler, 2002). The next most populous groups of ELLs in the U.S. are Vietnamese, Hmong, Cantonese, and Korean (Kindler, 2002). Thus, the 10 million children in the United States who speak a language other than English at home can be surprisingly diverse, not only in terms of their national origins and the amount of exposure to and practice with the English language they have amassed, but also with respect to their socioeconomic circumstances and the educational levels of other family members (Federal Interagency Forum, 2006). To illustrate just a few, frequently overlooked categories of young ELLs, they may be: children of international adoption who have varying levels of familiarity with their native language (Meacham, 2007); children whose first language (Li) actually consists of two languages (e.g., a tribal language and a national language); economically privileged children whose parents are employed in international trade, politics, science, or medicine; or young children who use one language for worship and a second for conversation. What unifies all of these ELLs is their dependence on listening to acquire proficiency in the language of instruction in most schools: English. As contemporary definitions of listening would have it, listening is "the necessary, interactive process that enables the brain to construct meaning from the sounds that are heard" (McSporran, 1997, p. 15). Contrary to popular opinion, listening is an active process, rather than a passive one; it requires much more than keeping still, being quiet, or looking at the speaker (see Wolvin & Coakley, 2000, for an historical overview). Listening starts with hearing, or perceiving a message through sounds. If, for example, children are watching a nature program and the narrator states "no two zebras are exactly alike," we might expect listeners to be able to recall and repeat that information. Listening also involves understanding, which means listeners can interpret what they have heard and put it into their own words. In order to comprehend an aural message, listeners draw upon background knowledge and bring their accumulated linguistic knowledge (both in Li and L2) to bear on the message. For example, when listeners hear that no two zebras are alike, they might infer, "Maybe this means that the pattern of stripes is different for each zebra." In addition to hearing and understanding, listening involves evaluating, which means that listeners reflect on the message and decide whether it is credible. Listeners may wonder, "How can the stripes be different for every zebra?