ESL/EAL/ELL hmmmm moment

Does the ‘S’ in ESL stand for Second or Subsequent?

Does the ‘A’ in EAL stand for Additional or Acquired?

Which term is politically correct? Do they all mean the same thing? Which one should I use? And for goodness’ sake, why do they keep changing the abbreviation?!

EAl lang tree

These are some of the questions that I have asked myself many times since becoming a student in the Faculty of Education. In the past few years, all things ESL/EAL/ELL have become much-discussed topics. As future teachers, we hear “Your classrooms will include high percentages of immigrant students for whom English is not their first language” so often, it is no wonder that this is on our minds! The shifting focus of ‘person-first’ language in regards to students with special needs has made me think about the language we use to define these students who have a language other than English as their first.

Here was the thought that popped into my head last night:

ELL = English Language Learner. But some students who are labelled ‘ELL’ have a proficient command of the English language. Comparatively, many people who are raised with English as their first language do not use it properly. So it seems rather unfair to call students who have a differing mother tongue ‘learners’ of the English language when, really, we are ALL English language learners. 

As a self-proclaimed “Grammar Policewoman” and English enthusiast, I am often drawn to online quizzes with titles such as: “These are 100 vocabulary words that high school graduates of today should know. Do you know them all?” and “Can you recognize these common grammatical/spelling errors?” Admittedly, even I (as someone who prides herself in being knowledgeable about English language in general) learn new vocabulary words and obscure grammatical rules. A native English speaker with university education, even I continue to be an English language learner (and I will never cease to be).

So, my question is: Is “English Language Learner” truly the best phrase to define our students who speak other languages before English? I truly believe that all of my students, and all members of society, are English Language Learners. Labelling only immigrant families as ELLs supports a power imbalance, placing native English speakers, “those who have already learned all there is to learn about English,” above those still learning it.

EAL hello

So… Which term do I prefer?

I can understand why we have stepped away from the term ESL, as it was most often taken to mean “English as a Second Language,” which was an unfair representation of students for whom English was the third, fourth, fifth, or higher language in their repertoire. If we change the ‘S’ to instead stand for Subsequent, however, this abbreviation becomes more open-ended.

I would argue that EAL meaning “English as an Acquired Language” would apply to every English speaker out there, as we all had to acquire English at some point (whether at age 1 or 15).

Personally, I believe that “EAL” (English as an Additional Language) is the most fitting way to describe these students. It places both English and the preceding language(s) in a positive light. The word “Additional” carries the connotation that it was another language added into the student’s repertoire: a plus, a bonus. It does not undermine the primary language; English is not the language of utmost importance, but another addition into an already rich background. It does not state whether English is the second, third, fourth, fifth language the student learned, but merely that it was not the first. It is for these reasons that I will use EAL as my abbreviation of choice when referring to my students who have added English to theDVDir list of spoken languages.

Put into metaphorical terms, EAL refers to a student’s known languages much like a DVD, with English being the Additional or Bonus Features on the disc. You don’t originally buy the DVD for the Bonus Features, you buy it for the movie (the primary or first known language)! But the Bonus Features are there as a surprise, a little extra treat. Similarly, we have to value students’ mother tongues first and foremost, as they are the Main Feature in the child’s linguistic package.

What are your thoughts on the ESL/EAL/ELL debate? Please leave me a comment to let me know!

Until next time,

-KKF

why am i (really) here?

I wrote an autobiography about what moments in my life led me to become a teacher and now, in true teacher fashion, I am going to reflect on what I wrote. The main aspect we were to focus on was our aversion to addressing our race, gender, socioeconomic status, and sexuality. 

In my autobiography, I did address these parts of my identity, but I took a questioning lens. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

“Was I unknowingly steered into this field by society because of my identity as a white, middle class, heterosexual female? While I like to think that my passion for education is all my own, I can’t deny the fact that a large portion of the teacher population is made up with those who identify themselves the same way.” 

(I also addressed this question in a previous blog post, “just a little tuesday afternoon thinking…” from March 19th, 2013 if you want to hear some more of my thoughts on this matter) 

So while I did let the reader know who I am in regards to these identifiers, why didn’t I include an outright proclamation of these things as the very first sentence, or in the first paragraph? When we introduce ourselves in real life, we usually don’t have to say, “Hi, my name is ______ and I am a white, middle-class, heterosexual female.” And my question is, why not? We can’t determine any one of these things just by looking at someone. There are people in the world who may self-identify as black even though their skin may look to be a lighter shade. There are those who feel they were born in the body of the opposite gender of who they really are – so while they may look male on the outside, they self identify as a woman. We can’t judge socioeconomic status or sexuality by merely looking at someone, either. So why don’t we introduce these things about ourselves?

Obviously, it is not a cultural norm. But WHY not? Is it because only privileged people who are close to us get to know some of these deeply personal things (like sexuality)? Is it because we are embarrassed of a part of who we are? Is it because we expect people to know these things without us saying them? It is interesting to think of an alternate universe in which we are open about these fundamental parts of our identity. While this (most likely) will never catch on in society, it does make us question if we are hiding pieces of our identity from ourselves for some reason.

As a future teacher, I think that uncovering these pieces of ourselves is an important stepping stone into truly knowing yourself – which is the first step to realizing and appreciating differences as a window to anti-oppressive education.

technology links us in

I recall something that Julie Machnaik (@jmachnaik) said way back when in ECS 100.

“You don’t need a class on technology because children innately know how to use these devices when they come to school.”

Image

Technology is a big, overarching theme in education, and I think this is what makes it so easy to tie into each and every subject. Students don’t need computer classes because they should be learning how to use computers in Math, English, Social Studies, Science, Art, etc., etc. The same principle applies for social justice and anti-oppressive education: it can be integrated into all subject areas. So what happens when you bring the two together?

Technology provides endless opportunities for creativity. A little imagination and innovation is all you need and – voilà! You have a brand new Science lesson that teaches students to use stop motion animation diagrams in order to explain how gay/lesbian couples can use artificial insemination to have children. Or maybe a YouTube video for English class that reads a story in both English and Cree. Or perhaps you Skype with an expert about how socioeconomic status directly affects overall wellbeing for Health. In our society today, we can utilize technology as a means of introducing students to these kinds of issues. Technology also provides a more interesting path towards deepening students’ understandings in these areas – and their learning will probably be more permanent if they used an app to create a project rather than writing a paper on a certain topic.

I believe that as the internet becomes the first (and fastest) route we turn to in order to learn new information, teachers need to realize and accept the fact that they are no longer their students’ only lifeline to knowledge. If children can answer a simple query with a quick Google search, it changes the role of the teacher from a bearer of information into a prompter of deeper thinking, a guide for the efficient and safe navigation of the vast wealth of knowledge that the internet holds, and a helping hand to assist their students in learning new avenues with which to explore, display, and critically examine their newly found knowledge.

How do you think technology ties into social justice and anti oppressive education? In what ways do you see technology altering the roles of educators?