Learning a new language is more than learning words. Building vocabulary in a new language is not only recognizing the sights and sounds of words, but it is also understanding their meaning and using them in context. Many English language learners are starting well behind their peers with vocabulary. Finding resources to help bring them up to speed in the classroom is a daunting task for administrators.

When it comes to learning resources, not all are created equal for students learning to speak and read a new language. Many aspects of teaching have changed over the past two years, and hundreds of resources are new to the market, here we explore how to evaluate and choose resources for your ESL students. And a large part of considering new resources is looking at the theories used in a district’s classrooms.

Language Learning Teaching Models

Acculturation Model

Immigrants are faced with many new social and psychological factors when moving into a new country and culture. Schumann’s theory says that proficiency can be predicted when looking at the desire to learn the new language, how the student assimilates and adapts to the culture, and how much time they spend engulfed in the language.

Sociocultural Theory

Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory focuses on the relationship between education and a child’s mental development. The zone of proximal development is a widely used term and is often explained as the difference between the current level of ability and the potential level of ability with the help of instruction. By using language just above a learner’s current level, there is more negotiation between instructor and learner to come to a point of understanding.

Universal Grammar Hypothesis and Interlanguage Theory

Chomsky’s hypothesis states that people have the ability within the brain to learn a language, and people begin to learn their first language at birth. Languages have many of the same rules; therefore, to learn a new language, children have the tools and must decode the rules and follow the same language rules as their peers to become proficient.

Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition

Krashen’s theory has five hypotheses which include: Acquisition-Learning, Monitor, Input, Affective Filter, and Natural Order. The Acquisition-Learning hypothesis says that acquisition happens when language is internalized subconsciously, such as when very young children learn their first language. Monitor is the process between learning and acquisition where the learner has the time to focus on correctness or form and knows the rule. This hypothesis centers on the information given to the learner and explains that when that information is just beyond the ability, there is a period where the learner is working to be competent before using the language. Affective Filter addresses motivation. The theory says highly motivated learners with high self-esteem are more likely to be successful than those who are not motivated and have low self-esteem. Finally, Natural Order says that grammar structures are acquired in a natural order.

How They Affect Buying Decisions

Both Acculturation and Sociocultural theories focus on the psychological and social aspects of language learning as well as how students assimilate into a classroom or a new culture. Schools that subscribe to a more social theory of teaching a new language may find that online tools with collaboration opportunities suit their teaching style better.

While teaching grammar is still very important, tools that give new language learners a place to practice skills with other students, and create a community fit better in Acculturation or Sociocultural classrooms. Look for tools that incorporate small group chats or video collaboration as well as language learning opportunities. Structure classrooms and activities that are inclusive for language learners and allow for collaboration where the learner can take cues from their peers.

Both Chomsky’s and Krashen’s theories are more rooted in teaching fundamentals and less focused on the sociological elements of language learning. Schools teaching these methods of language learning would look for more instructional and rule-focused resources. These schools might want resources that include sentence structure and pronunciation where children can easily acquire new language learning skills. Schools using these models may focus on activities or resources that boost self-esteem and motivation to influence students’ productivity.  

Outside the Classroom

While teaching philosophies are significant, one of the most fundamental ways children build vocabulary is through engaging with parents. Each theory addresses the learner’s desire and drive as a factor in success. Researchers have emphasized the importance of reading or being read to when building vocabulary as young children are learning their first language. “Young children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids who were never read to, a new study found,” researched by The Ohio State University.  

Language learners exposed to words in both their native language as well as their new language through context that is interesting to them are likely to find that desire to continue learning. Having a diverse library for language learning as well as reading for enjoyment is essential for success in any style of teaching. Technology has changed the way children are reading, and through online platforms, children can now have access to many libraries. 

With these factors in mind, Fathom Reads has more than 1,200 multilingual books with native narration, assistive technologies, an integrated learning management system, and live chat for classrooms of all types. The platform is built to help young learners find books that interest them. Through language flipping or bilingual mode, they can visualize the difference in sentence structure and use new vocabulary in different texts. 


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