OVERCOMING LANGUAGE BARRIERS IN CONTENT- AREA INSTRUCTION
Vol 3 No 1, January 2006
Nikki Ashcraft, United Arab Emirates University
As new English-medium universities open their doors in the Arabian Gulf and some Arabic-medium universities switch to using English as the language of instruction, instructors in all disciplines face the challenge of teaching their courses in English to students who have learned (and who are continuing to learn) English as a foreign language. This article reviews theories and practices from the field of Applied Linguistics and Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) which can help content-area instructors understand and reach these learners.
Second language acquisition research has produced several concepts of interest to content-area instructors. Krashen’s theory of comprehensible input focuses on the language used by the instructor, while Swain’s of comprehensible output emphasizes providing opportunities for students to produce language. Cummins differentiates between two types of language proficiency: Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS), which are needed for daily interactions, and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP), which is required for academic tasks. Interlanguage and first language interference may also influence students’ second language production in classroom settings.
Specific classroom practices for improving students’ language comprehension and facilitating content learning are recommended. These include modifying speech, using visual aids, utilizing a variety of questioning techniques, and extending the time instructors wait for students to respond. Instructors can employ strategies, such as mind-mapping and quickwriting, to activate students’ linguistic and conceptual schemata at the beginning of a lesson. Scaffolding provides structure and support for students to complete tasks until they are able to realize them on their own. Collaborative/cooperative learning lowers students’ affective filters and offers opportunities for participation and language practice. Graphics illustrate some of the suggested practices.
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