Contrastive Analysis

A useful strategy to use when teaching beginner ESL students is contrastive analysis.  Contrastive analysis is where you compare and contrast English and the student’s native language. You analyze vocabulary words (are there cognates or similar sounding vocabulary words), grammar (what is the syntax structure of the student’s native language), pronunciation (what are similar sounds between the two languages), and the reading and writing system (Latin, Arabic, Chinese). By doing a contrastive analysis, you are able to predict easier language skills as well as difficult language skills for the student as they are acquiring English. For example, Spanish speakers use the same writing system as English speakers, so forming letters will not be as challenging like it would be for Chinese speakers. However, Spanish speakers do not have the third person singular (He walks). Therefore, this skill will be more difficult for Spanish speakers to learn. As an ESL teacher, you know ahead of time that your students need more time to practice this skill. Contrastive analysis helps with reading in that you begin with letter names and sounds that are similar between the two languages.  Similar letter names and sounds will be easier to learn than letter names and sounds that differ between the two languages, which you teach last. If you do not know the similarities and differences between English and your student’s first language, listen carefully to the student when they speak their first language. Any sounds that are similar to English will be easier for the student to learn. I have noticed that the “th” sound (soft and hard) is difficult for many English language learners because most languages do not have this sound in their first language. If you have students who do not use the Latin writing system in their first language, then, as an ESL teacher, you can plan extra time for these students to learn how to form Latin based letters during your lessons.

Total Physical Response

Teaching the English language is a systematic and purposeful process. When you teach English, you build and expand on what the student already knows.

Total Physical Response (TPR), is a good example of systematic teaching. TPR is a teaching method where the teacher states and demonstrates basic commands and the student follows each command by copying the teacher. Examples of commands include simple verbs such as walk, read, write, open, close, draw, color, line up, etc. After the student has learned a list of commands, you can then combine each command with a school supply or classroom furniture vocabulary word that the student already knows or is learning. Examples are “walk to the door” or “line up at the door”, “write your name”, “open the book”, “close the book”, etc. This is an example of systematic teaching where you are building or expanding on what the student already knows. You are also teaching beginners authentic language, or common commands, that they would hear in school. When the student feels comfortable to speak, he/she can state commands for the teacher and their peers to perform.

Grammar Translation Method

Grammar Translation Method is a method of teaching language through translation.  This method requires learners to translate texts from English (in this case) to the student’s native language.  Some of these texts may be literary works.  I have seen some teachers use this method to teach English and you may be tempted to use this method with beginners, but Grammar Translation Method is an ineffective method for teaching the English language!  Here are the reasons why:  

Translating from one language to another does not reflect authentic communication and how we interact with one another.  Communication is meaningful, spontaneous, natural, and requires other forms of communication such as speaking and understanding, not just reading and writing.  In order to effectively communicate with English speakers, English language learners need to use all four skills of the English language (understanding, speaking, reading, and writing) in a variety of situations with a variety of people.  This model of teaching is called Communicative Language Teaching.  Grammar Translation Method does not reflect this model. 

The only type of thinking involved in Grammar Translation Method is translation only.  There are no other ways of thinking while learning English.  Thinking about how to translate from one language to another does not reflect how we think when we are communicating through language. 

 There is too much emphasis on the student’s native language instead of the focus being on English.  If ESL students need to learn English, then students need to use English as much as possible. 

Some vocabulary words do not translate directly between two languages. 

Grammar Translation Method is boring and students need to be motivated to learn any language!   

Zone of Proximal Development

A hindrance to many English language learners is that classroom teachers teach less challenging material compared to their monolingual peers.  Classroom teachers may believe that their ELL students do not have enough language proficiency to grasp the content being taught.  Often times though, ELL students do in fact have enough English proficiency to understand the same content as their peers. 

In my own experience, I have observed ESL students not being pushed enough with their learning by not only classroom teachers, but by ESL teachers as well.  For example, kindergartners will learn their letter names and sounds throughout the entire school year instead of moving on to digraphs and magic/silent “e” words.  This occurred even when the students mastered all of their letter names and sounds.  I have been told by ESL teachers that their students were not progressing because they are English language learners!  This was not the case!  In my opinion, the ESL students in her class were not being pushed enough.  In other words, there lacked a zone of proximal development (ZPD) among the students.

ZPD is the difference between what a student can achieve independently and what the student can achieve with help.  “Proximal” means skills that the learner is “close” to mastering on their own, but cannot master at that point in time.  Therefore, teacher uses scaffolding, which is support that builds on a student’s existing knowledge in order for the student to accomplish the slightly more difficult task being presented.  Scaffolding helps the student achieve the skills or tasks that they could not have achieved on their own.  Scaffolding only works within a student’s ZPD.  This means that the teacher should not stretch the student’s knowledge and abilities too far from what the student currently knows.  Scaffolding is effective when the teacher slightly stretches their student’s knowledge and abilities (working within the students’ ZPD) by building on the students’ prior knowledge and by having high expectations of their ELL students.  Support is gradually removed as the ESL student is able to complete the task on their own.    

As an ELL teacher or classroom teacher who has ELL students, have high expectations for your ESL students!  I have often observed that ESL students know much more than they let on!  

Assess your ELL students, so you are aware of their current knowledge and skills.  Share your assessments with the ELL teacher or the classroom teacher.  This way, you both know when and how to expand your ELL students’ learning.  

Fall Activities To Develop Child’s Native Language

Successful second language learning depends on the development of the child’s native language.  The following inexpensive activities are suggestions for parents to do with their child to develop their child’s first language.  An effective activity depends on how much language is used during that activity, so you want activities that promote as much language as possible.  Use as much language as they can during each activity.  You can also suggest that they incorporate grade level skills during activities.  For example, for kindergarten students, parents can practice counting or the beginning sound of a fall item. 

  1. Visit an apple orchard and go apple picking.  
  2. Bake a pie or apple crisp.  
  3. Make caramel apples.
  4. Examine the parts of an apple and/or pumpkin.  Compare and contrast both. 
  5. Collect, examine, and compare and contrast leaves.  
  6. Go on a nature walk and collect fall items.  Discuss and compare and contrast your fall treasures.
  7. Visit a pumpkin patch.
  8. Carve and decorate pumpkins.
  9. Go on a hay ride.
  10. Play “I Spy” during a nature walk.
  11. Attend a local harvest festival.  
  12. Read autumn-themed children’s books.
  13. Visit a farm.
  14. Drink apple cider.
  15. Toast pumpkin seeds.