Oral language skills are of utmost importance for all children, but are particularly important for English Learners (ELs) to master, as they form the foundation for literacy development. Research indicates that oral language skills include grammar, vocabulary, phonology, morphology, discourse, and pragmatics. Some ELs struggle with pragmatics, while other ELs have greater difficulty developing vocabulary and learning proper grammar. That is why it is important to build the oral language skills of ELs.
ELs typically lack grammar skills and frequently mispronounce words. This stems from their lack of experience with English sounds and inflections. This oftentimes leads ELs to be shy and/or embarrassed about speaking. This time period is considered a “silent period.” During this time, ELs listen and observe others more than they speak. Curiously, ELs can speak basic phrases almost fluently because they organically gain oral language skills from daily life and social interactions. However, when it comes to more formal or academic language, ELs have a much harder time speaking and comprehending English.
ELs need to practice their oral English language skills often, so that their literacy skills can flourish. EL teachers should provide opportunities for their EL students to read aloud, so that their students can gain familiarity of the structure of the English language. When ELs are given ample opportunities to interact, observe, and listen, their English skills greatly improve.
Here are some tips for creating a more English-friendly learning environment in your classroom:
- When reading stories in class, it is important to explain sentence structure and components of the stories. This will teach students how to break down and understand English vocabulary and language structure.
- If your classroom has a mix of fluent English speakers and ELs, you should create groups that pair up English speakers and ELs to work together. This gives ELs the chance to hear cadence, pronunciation, and intonation of the English language. This will help ELs improve their own knowledge of the English language.
- Motivate your EL students by including some action and fun into the learning process. Incorporate short skits and plays into your assignments. This will help EL students gain context of unfamiliar words.
For more information on how to help build and foster oral language skills in EL classrooms, visit the Latino Family Literacy Project. The Project offers an array of webinars and resources that are aimed towards teachers and EL parents that help them support the learning and academic success of EL students.