President Obama in his inaugural speech, has been quoted to say that bringing smart, young students especially engineers and enlisting them in America’s workforce will complete the journey of welcoming immigrants who want to live the American Dream. (Sandra Lilley, 2013)
This has always been many a president’s speech, but the difference is that in the is day and time the context is very relevant as we see the influx of many countries who send their youth to study abroad. The reason that many foreign students come to the U.S to study is because of the many opportunities a U.S degree has in their native country.
America is the land of opportunities. Every day it is becoming obvious that our schools are being filled with more and more students from different cultures and cultural background. With this new population come challenges of language and learning in different languages. Bilingual education is more important than ever. Teachers need to be prepared for children who from early childhood are exposed to the language spoken at home, which could be very well different from that spoken and learned in school.
English language is the second language that these children come to learn after enrolling into public education. By the age of six, children are very well versed in their mother language or native language, and learning or thinking in a new language is new to most. Research shows that the mental development of a child from birth to six is rapid and absorption of the environment is the maximum at these early stages.
In a study by Dr. Glennen of Townson Universtity by the age of two, most children have well developed language and articulation abilities while expressive language abilities might still be emerging. (Glennen, Sharon, 2007). These children studied where adopted into families in the U.S and had no problem in adapting to the new language that is English from then on. Another case study of elementary children and teens that were exposed to a home language and school language showed that language acquisition of home language is more during early elementary stages and acquisition of school language more in the teenage years and at middle school. (Tabors and Snow, 1994).
The following case study focuses on an Arabic male student, Yasser, attending college in America, to become a pharmacist. An initial interview has been conducted to collect information about his family and school background. Since the subject is an adult, and has a number of years of English language exposure a subsequent interview was briefly conducted to gather information of academic progress and proficiency in English Language.
The hypothesis used in this study is, ‘academic learning and English language acquisition could have been influenced by various factors during the subject’s intermediate years which are known as the affective filter hypothesis.’ The prediction for the study is that, “if the subject was influenced by stress, lack of confidence, and attitude, then language acquisition to the brain would be difficult thereby becoming a hindrance too academic learning and progress”.
Yasser was born in a state who native language was Arabic. Being the oldest of all the children he says he has two brothers and two sisters who are younger than him.His sisters are 25years and 16 years respectively, while his brothers are 21 and 30 years old. Yasser lives with his family. Yaseer says his parents have not studied beyond high school.
Our subject who is being interviewed came to America when he was in his thirties. He like many other hopeful foreign nationals, felt that the land of opportunity, has much to offer and in respect with higher studies. He has left his many relatives and family members back home to pursue his American dream, and sees a future where he goes back with a U.S degree.
Yasser speaks mainly Arabic at home. He is extremely comfortable in his native language which is not English. Sometimes when there are scientific discussions the family Yasser switches to English.
Schooling started at the age of 6years for Yasser, which was in first grade which is not unusual in his country. This is because preschool and kindergarten is optional for children in his country. Parents can opt out of not sending their children to preschool and kindergarten which is what Yasser’s parents decided to do. Yasser remembers clearly the time he started learning the English language. It was in middle (intermediate) school and he was twelve years old. English was his favorite subject and Yasser describes the feeling of learning English the first time, resembling to. “A blind man who started to see or like a deaf man starting to hear”. Yasser liked to learn to speak and read English more than English spelling and grammar. English classes he says, where mandatory in his country in middle school and there were no outside sources of learning the language, except at school. Yasser was 12 years old when he started learning English as a second language by attending simple classes in his school
Currently, Yasser is pursuing a pharmacy degree. He wants to graduate and return to his country to work. Yasser feels that pharmacy and the pharmaceutical world has a lot of client interactions that need English as a spoken language. This is the reason that Yasser feels that learning and being fluent in English is important. Yasser’s current goals are to attend conferences and training courses in pharmacy to enhance his experiences, to understand and make connections before he leaves for his country to work and live.
The hypothesis used in this study is, ‘academic learning and English language acquisition could have been influenced by various factors during the subject’s intermediate years which are known as the affective filter hypothesis.’
The prediction for the study is that, “if the subject was influenced by stress, lack of confidence, and attitude, then language acquisition to the brain would be difficult thereby becoming a hindrance to academic learning and progress”.
According to the MacMillan dictionary, second language acquisition can be defined as,
‘the process by which people learn a language that is not their native language.” (MacMillan, 2013). http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/second-language-acquisition
Bilingual education and second language acquisition are often referred together as a subject who can think and process thoughts in more than one language is educating themselves bilingually.
As a teacher creating a welcoming environment in your classroom is the most thought of and planned event. This is especially important when the student population is sprinkled with different cultures and language background. Chances are children who speak more than one language have come from different early schooling backgrounds and are not familiar with the environment of public education. On a daily basis ELL teachers can use strategies to make the learning environment of the bilingual child more feasible to learning. Some of these strategies are, learning to pronounce the name of the student correctly, assigning peer mentors, making one on one time for the child, posting visuals and using interpreters.(Ovando& Combs)
Initial interview observations and assessment
During the initial interview, Yasser was asked a series of questions concerning his family and their education. This was conducted as an alternate assessment strategy that is generally recommended in understanding language acquisition and academic learning in bilingual students.
Interviewer: Do you have brothers and sisters? What are their ages?
Yasser: Yes, I have two brothers and two sisters. All of them are younger than me. For brothers they are 21 and 30 years and sisters are 25 and 16 years old.
Interviewer: What languages are spoken at home?
Yasser: Mostly, we speak Arabic. However, sometimes we speak English when there is a scientific discussion.
Interviewer: How much schooling did parents receive? And where?
Yaseer: The highest one of them received secondary school.
Yaseer had no trouble understanding the questions correctly and answering them, but we do notice that there is a thought process in answering the questions as follows. In observing the answers that Yaseer has given, we notice that his answers are thought processes that have been translated from his native language and spoken in English. “ All of them are younger than me. For brothers they are 21..” Notice that Yaseer has difficulty in stringing the two sentences to communicate his brothers ages, but instead stops in between and starts a new sentence with “ For brothers” The sentence should read to a native English speaker as, ‘ All of them are younger than me, and my brothers are 21” Another observation that we see is when Yaseer is asked about his parents education. His response,” the highest one of them received secondary school” is actually translated to a non bilingual speaker as, “ the highest education that my parents have had is secondary school.”
Baker , has said that, “the difference seems to be one between BICS (basic interpersonal communicative skills) and CALP (cognitive/academic language proficiency), in which the student has acquired proficiency is his basic social language, while he still struggles in his academic language and comprehension”. (Baker, 2006)
When he was young Yaseer, just knew the basic interpersonal communication skills but when he went to university, he developed his language because of his major field of study. Yaseer knows names of the medical terminology. When he came to U.S and he went to ESL school, his language developed and takes a lot of exams like TOFEL and ILTES. Now he is studying post doctorate, and his language develops to Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) the language necessary to understand and discuss content in the classroom. BICS means the language necessary for day to day living, including conversations with friends, informal interactions. CALP means Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency, the language necessary to understand and discuss content in the classroom. (Cummins, Jim, 1999).
Subsequent interviews and discussion assessment of reading and writing oral proficiency
During the course of the interview, and discussion of Yasser’s assessment of oral proficiency, questions asked where to glean an understanding of Yasser’s filters or screens that could be in play during second language acquisition. Questions tracing the origin of attitudes, positive or negative, influence of peers and family on the importance of English as a second language are put into place using leading questions, such as, “How important is English as a second language to you?” Also note that Yasser’s positive attitude and the awareness that language acquisition is linked directly to academic progress is apparent in his answer, on the fact that as a future pharmacist, learning English is very important to do well in his career.
Also confidence in using English as a second language especially when intellectual discussions are held is apparent in Yasser’s response to the question on language spoken with his family members.
Interviewer: What languages are spoken at home?
Yasser: Mostly, we speak Arabic. However, sometimes we speak English when there is a scientific discussion
Interviewer: How important is the English 2nd language to you?
Yasser: I am a scholar pharmacist. Also, pharmacy is evolving fast and it is taught in English in my country. Furthermore, scientific meeting are held by using English. Thus, English is my primary language to practice my job.
Interviewer: Do you like learning English? Why or why not?
Yasser: Yes, it was my favorite subject since I started learning English in my intermediate school. I still like learning more about it but I don’t like spelling.
Interviewer: What are some of your goals?
Yasser: Finish up my degree, benefit from being at US by attending conferences and training courses
As you can see Yasser when asked in detail on his experiences on learning oral English as well as his attitudes and self confidence regarding English as a language. Yasser has responded positively and has shown a lot of confidence in as far as his goals in what he wants to do by learning a new language. A direct correlation between language acquisition and academic progress is also evident here during his interview. Yasser has clearly expressed his enthusiasm and positive attitude toward his first taste of English and his motivation to learning more despite small hurdles such as spelling. Yasser has further self corrected himself in the later part of the interview wherein he has changed his oral proficiency or he has become more proficient in describing the word scientific meeting to conferences, which was the correct word.
Links to language acquisition and academic progress also are very clear here, as Yasser has progressed to doing a post doctoral program in pharmaceuticals, which one of the highest achievements for any academic professional. This has only been achieved due to his motivation, atitude, and confidence in his abilities to master and command a language that is second to his native language. This subject therefore refutes or cancels out the hypothesize that screens where present during language acquisition that hindered language to the brain.
In conclusion, going back to the hypothesis, ‘academic learning and English language acquisition could have been influenced by various factors during the subject’s intermediate years which are known as the affective filter hypothesis,” we can say that in the case of our subject, Yasser, even though there where factors influencing his English language acquisition, it was in a positive way. The prediction that the screens or filters that where present could be hindrance or hurdle in academic progress, was also proved incorrect as in Yasser’s case, his confidence, positive attitude, and high expectations of himself and his environment helped his journey from middle school to post graduate school a successful one. This could be real for any immigrant children who would come to the United States in the hope of gaining academic progress to have a successful career, and the environment in University and schools should be ready for that. (Lynn Malarz, 2013).This will ultimately end in achieving the American Dream that President Obama was referring to in his inaugural speech a few months ago.
Baker, C. (2006). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. (5th edition ed.). Buffalo, NY.
Combs, Mary, C. and Ovando, Carlos, J. (2005).Bilingual and ESL Classrooms: Teaching in
Multicultural Contexts. (4th edition). McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages. McGraw-Hill Publishing;
Cummins, Jim. (1999). BICS and CALP: Clarifying the Distinction. University Of Toronto, p.3
Comparing BICS and CALP. Retrieved from http://bicscalp.edublogs.org/comparing-bics-and-calp/
Glennen, Sharon, L.(2007). Predicting Language Outcomes for Internationally Adopted Children. Townson Universtiy, Townson.
Malarz, L (1991). Bilingual Education: Effective Programming for Language-Minority Students.
MacMillan Online Dictionary.(2013). Second –language-acquisition from the free MacMillan Dictionary. Retrived from
Sandra Lilley. (Reporter) (2013). Retrieved from http://nbclatino.com/2013/01/21/in-forceful- speech-obama-invokes-immigration-amidst- strong-latino-presence/
Tabors,P and Snow, C.(1994). “English as a Second Language in Preschool Programs”. In F.Genesse(Ed.), Educating Second Language Children: The whole child, the whole curriculum, the whole community. New York. pp.103-125.