Klinger, Artiles and Barletta (2006) examine the issue of language acquisition in English Language learners and attempt to decipher the underlying causes of difficulties faced by these learners. The primary debate the researchers examine is whether language acquisition difficulties are caused by limited language proficiency or could be linked to learning disabilities. The researchers postulate that linguistic, immigration, cultural, socioeconomic, and ethnic factors work in tandem to influence language proficiency in ELLs and thus these issues should be considered when examining these students before a decision is made that they require special education services.
The researchers are worried though that two extremes are commonly practiced by teachers. The first is that ELLs are sometimes overrepresented in special education classes because teachers refer them for these services without adequately understanding the individual obstacles to learning and attribute limited proficiency to learning disabilities. The second extreme is that teachers sometimes fail to address the special education needs of these students, attributing acquisition difficulties to limited proficiency.
The researchers examined published research on ELLs with either limited language proficiency (specifically in reading) or those with learning disabilities in order to determine the indicators that would help stakeholders differentiate between the two groups of ELLs. The researchers found that both learning disabilities and limited proficiency impact performance in English Language. However the research is still inconclusive and does not offer much information on how stakeholders including educators, can address this issue successfully in the classroom. There is still the question of the indicators that classroom teachers should use to determine whether or not a child is recommended for special education classes.
This information is of particular interest to classroom teachers who deal with ELLs in their everyday classroom. Teachers are able to understand some of the factors that are not directly related to the classroom that may impact ELLs and their acquisition of the language. One important observation in the current article is that the home environment often presents an obstacle to successful acquisition.
This is because parents, who are themselves non-English speakers, limit their use of the target language at home. As a result learners do not get effective reinforcement at home and thus have considerable difficulties acquire the requisite language skills. Teachers therefore should try to expose students as much as possible to the language while they are in school and to try to form effective partnerships with the home so that parents are brought on board to help in their child’s language acquisition.
I found this article to be quite useful in helping to understand the various factors that can impact language acquisition and comes as a warning for me not to take certain characteristics of the learners in the classroom for granted. This article has helped clarify for me how issues such as ethnicity and even the specific native language may either hinder or foster language acquisition.
There are a multiplicity of factors that can impact learning and it is very difficult to determine how each of these elements are influencing the various ELLs in any given classroom. Not all learners will acquire language in the same way. The Spanish influence may be much more different from the Chinese influence, for example, and thus it is difficult to decipher how the cultural contexts of these first languages can serve to impact second language acquisition. Overall the article was quite useful in helping me to better understand the range of factors that have to be taken into consideration in the classroom.