McREL – The Five Stages of Second Language Acquisition
October 19, 2019
It will definitely benefit our English language learners if all of us teach not only content but also the academic language of the content. Another reason it’s important for everybody to understand the stages of second language acquisition is because of the zone of proximal development. We know with the zone of proximal development, we must know where students are and where they’re capable of working to with the help of a knowledgeable other. So, think about that with stages of second language acquisition. It’s important for us to know the stage of our English language learner and their stage of English language acquisition so we can help lift them up to the next stage of English language acquisition—because there’s five of those stages and we do not want our English language learners stuck at any of those stages of second language acquisition. Let’s investigate the five stages of second language acquisition. To do so, I’m going to do something I see good teachers do all the time in their classrooms with their English language learners. When good teachers are ready to introduce a new concept with their English language learners, they tie it to something that’s familiar to those English language learners. So, with you, because I’m introducing a new concept of the stages of second language acquisition, I’m going to tie it to something familiar to you—the stages of first language acquisition. So I want you to think about your own kids. Think about the stages that they went through when they were learning English as their first language. For example, think about what happened around nine months of age. Do you remember? That’s when you realized, oh my gosh, they understand me. I said, “Point to your nose,” and they were able to point to their nose. I said, “Where’s your bottle?” and they reached out for their bottle. Well, our English language learners are going to go through a similar stage—not exact, but it is similar in that they too are hearing just fine, they’re taking in the world just fine—they just don’t yet have the verbal output. And we’re going to refer to that stage today as Preproduction. OK, now think about your own kids again in their first language acquisition. What happened next? It was around 12 to 14 months of age and that’s when your kids said their very first words. Well, our English language learners are going to go through a similar stage—not exact, but it is similar to first language acquisition—and that our English language learners will start to speak also and their verbal output will be in the form of single words. And we’re going to refer to that stage as Early Production. Now, go back to your own kids again. Think about the stages of first language acquisition. What happened next? They started to put lots of words together into a sentence, and I bet there were grammatical errors in those sentences, weren’t there? In fact, did any of you write down in your child’s baby book any of the things your children said? I know my mom wrote down the time I said, “I’ll do it to morning time.” Well, our English language learners are going to pass through a similar stage in second language acquisition in that they too will start putting words together into a sentence and there will be grammatical errors. And that’s OK. And we’re going to refer to that stage as Speech Emergence. Now, go back to the familiar. Go back to your own kids. What happened next? Well, they started to put a lot of sentences together. Our English language learners in their stage of second language acquisition, called intermediate, will also start putting many sentences together. And, finally, the last stage our English language learners will be in will be called Advanced Fluency. And they’ll sound like they were born and raised right here.