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Unsuccessful ESL: Why American Schools Get It Wrong

English-as-a-second-language or ESL classes have been conducted for several years in public schools all over the United States. Public schools start ESL classes for children  in classes as early as kindergarten so they can teach those children how to speak and understand English. Many schools also provide ESL classes for adults who have recently arrived in the United States. However, many of the programs that schools use are antiquated based on the latest language-learning studies.

Many of the programs that schools are based on the same curriculum programs that have been used for decades. They are usually based on drill-and-kill programs rather than authentic speaking, listening, and writing. A drill-and-kill program has student writing or speaking second-language words over and over until the words have been “drilled” into their heads. In authentic programs, students actually have to speak, listen, or write in real ways that force them to think in the second language.

Kill the Drill-and-Kill

The drill-and-kill activities have not helped ESL students learn the nuances of the language in the way that authentic learning would. When a child learns his or her first language, it is by listening to native speakers and practicing with those same speakers in a safe environment. When children make a mistake, they are corrected without being insulted and eventually, after a few corrections, they fix their mistakes. ESL students make the same mistakes that children who are learning their first language make because of the complexities of the English language.

Authenticity is Needed

ESL teachers need to ensure that their students are listening and speaking more than they are writing. Too many ESL teachers spend too much time having students write and having their students learn more about the American culture. While it is important for ESL students to learn about the country they live in, it seems that learning the language would make it easier to discover their new home on their own. With the ease of finding information online, learning to read, speak, and write English makes learning about the USA easy for the students. They need the support to learn the language, rather than to learn history and current events.

Language Learning and Brain Research

In today’s world, many people who wish to learn a second language – especially English – can study through language-learning software. Many of these are very affordable and many have been created using brain research about language acquisition. One of the most important findings about language acquisition is that the brain is activity wired to learn language at a young age and that as humans age, the wiring becomes less active. The language-learning part of the brain actually shrinks as people age, but if ESL students become actively involved in their language studies, they can reinvigorate that part of the brain to be more efficient.

Engage ESL Students and Native Students

In order to make ESL classes more successful, students need to be engaged in practice. If schools want to create real experiences, schools should create ESL programs that draw in native speakers to work one-on-one with those who want to learn English. Just like with young children, ESL students should begin with easy words and phrases, then build up from there. Without extensive practice, English will continue to be a secondary language for those who want to learn it to survive and be successful in the United States.



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