Home language, also known as the mother tongue, helps students learn English

Research has shown that many skills acquired in a child’s home language can be transferred to the second language. So, for example, if your child has developed good reading, writing, speaking and listening skills in Chinese, he or she is likely to be able to apply these skills in English. Secondly, ELL students who neglect their mother tongue can often suffer problems of identity loss.

How can ELL students best develop their home language proficiency?

For some students, developing their mother tongue proficiency is easier because they use their mother tongue at home and many have lessons each week in their mother tongue. We aim to nurture an appreciation of the richness and diversity of languages. The acquisition of more than one language and maintenance of the mother tongue enrich personal growth and help facilitate international-mindedness.

Every teacher within the school is considered a language teacher. We strive to address challenges that face particular students who are learning in a language other than their mother tongue by providing an integrated, well-implemented ELL program, to support and integrate students’ cultural and linguistic needs across the curriculum.

We aim to nurture an appreciation of the richness and diversity of language.

Language Acquisition, consolidation and competency.

The aim of the ELL programme for Grades 1 to 9 is to ensure that English language skills are developed and used across the entire curriculum. Language is a social construct that is context-based. New learning and comprehension are built upon previous experience and conceptual understandings. As a result, learning is maximized in a classroom setting in which the student is a part of the classroom culture, has access to peers and is able to develop a relationship with the homeroom teacher. This model provides an optimal learning environment that fosters English language development and consolidation as well as promoting learner autonomy for social and academic achievement.

It is important to recognize and remember that language acquisition and competency takes time. On average, competency in a second language takes about eight years. New students who are also ELL students are dealing with transitions and new teaching methods as well as a new language. Often the first few months are a transition period in which the student is mainly acclimating to all the new inputs; academic, emotional and social.  Pulling students out of their new environment can delay integration into social groups and classroom routines. After an initial pull-out stage geared at providing the student with vocabulary, some foundation English and confidence, the student may then be moved back into the classroom where they will receive support in language as well as in other areas. At this stage, the students continue to require support in order to develop the understanding and competence of new skills and to build up their academic language.

Homeroom and the ELL teachers collaborate in order to ensure that students are able to develop language skills while learning content in an inquiry-based curriculum. This model of in-class support combines the skills and expertise of the teachers with the dynamic social environment of the classroom for optimal learning. 

Pamela Hunt is an English Language Learner Teacher at the Canadian International School of Phnom Penh