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

delicate balance

It feels like a long time since I’ve written, but it really hasn’t been! First post of April, though! And sorry to anyone who sees how many posts I had in March, that isn’t indicative of how much I usually post.

As per usual, I have just come back from ECS class and have a few things I thought were worth sharing.

1. For our ECS assignment, we had to read an article about Indigenous Education and respond to it. I chose one by Verna J. Kirkness and one thing that really resonated with me is when she talked about the Indian Control of Indian Education policy of 1972. She pointed out that “we continue to base education on white, urban culture and history” (22). As a white pre-service teacher, this brought up a nerve-wracking question for me:

If people who have Indigenous blood/culture in their past can’t implement Indigenous ways of knowing into the curriculum, how can I?

This also got me thinking about my preconceptions, though. Just because people have Indigenous family members doesn’t mean they know any more about the culture than I do! My ancestors are German, Polish, French, etc, etc, etc but I know nothing or very little about those traditional cultures. We automatically assume that Aboriginal people are experts on their cultural traditions, but, the truth is, they are just like us! Lots of Aboriginal teachers have to learn how to implement Indigenous ways of knowing in their classrooms too!

Kirkness, Verna J. “Aboriginal Education in Canada: A Retrospective and a Prospective.” Journal of American Indian Education 39.1 (1999). Print.

2. Talking about incorporating Indigenous knowledges not into singular activities, but the classroom as a whole leaves me with a million questions. Most of all: HOW? I really wish I could observe a classroom that models these practices so I could see for myself how it is done! I just hope that the program continues to prepare me for real-life teaching situations like these so I don’t feel overwhelmed.

3. After attending the Education Career Fair early in the semester, I have been seriously considering doing my fourth year internship in a predominantly Métis or Indigenous community. I think this would really help to answer lots of my questions about teaching students with these backgrounds so they can achieve academic success! I have heard that any experience with children of these diverse backgrounds (which will make up 40% of classrooms by 2016!) is a wonderful opportunity and asset for young teachers. As a dominant figure in terms of race, class, and sexual orientation (and gender in the field of education), I also think it would be a great learning experience for me to be in an environment where I am the ‘minority.’ While this may be uncomfortable at first, I think it will give me a better understanding of minority students’ perspectives and feelings in a school setting. Hopefully this can help me to be aware of ensuring that all students feel welcome in my classroom!

As a side note, I was SHOCKED when my professor told me that ZERO students have done their internships in Métis/Indigenous communities (unless they were in Indigenous Teacher programs)! When Saskatchewan schools have a high population of these students, it really surprises me that no pre-service teachers are eager to gain useful experience like this! Maybe I will be #1! 🙂

4. When dealing with any social justice issues (homosexuality, class, gender, race, etc.) in your students’ identities, I think it is really all about striking that delicate balance between treating students the same AND different. You want all of your students to receive the same respect, care and expectations so the classroom is EQUAL. However, you want to address your learners’ individual needs and identities so your classroom is EQUITABLE. It’s absolutely impossible for me to judge this while I am sitting on my bed, typing on a laptop. I think so many facets of teaching can’t be learned in any other way than experiencing them first-hand in a classroom; that’s why I am so eager to get out into the field so I can start answering some of my endless swarms of questions!

music as cultural integration/alphabet art

I am starting to bring over some of my posts from my Blogger blog! This is the first one I ever made 🙂 Enjoy!

This is an idea for a lesson plan that increases cultural awareness and incorporates a musical aspect. Being a lover of Chinese and Spanish music, I think it would be great to explore the music of different countries around the world with a class.

1. Pick a country and play some examples of traditional or modern music.
2. Talk about the instruments the kids can identify, or show google images of foreign instruments that are interesting or different from what the children already know. Maybe try making some of your own to play along!
3. Express how the music makes you feel or what mood it has. Is it angry sounding, light and airy, something you would dance to?
4. How would you dance to it? Watch a clip of traditional dancing to enforce this idea and get kids to imitate it or create their own moves!
5. Have they heard this type of music before on t.v. or in a movie? Can they make any connections to music that they have heard or are familiar with already?
6. Repeat with a different country!

This second activity utilizes the alphabet, but applied in a fun way for kids to practice their letters!

Pick an animal, object, person, etc. to draw. Now see if you can create a picture of it using only letters to draw.

Example: a bear. You could use an ‘O’ as the head, p’s or d’s as ears, a sidways ‘c’ for a mouth, etc, etc. Let kids be creative. Explore what letters make round shapes or straight lines. Make sure you use different colors to make your picture unique!

Stay tuned for more in the future!

-KKF