Language Development Stages
Helping English Language Learners Orientation for Teachers
Language Development Stages When working with students who are learning English as a second language, it is important to realize that many students often progress through a series of natural language acquisition stages. The duration of each stage may vary greatly from student to student. As teachers we can facilitate development within each stage and progression from one stage to the next by being aware of which stage or stages our students are in and by engaging students in activities appropriate for their level of development.
Stage 1:Pre-production:  Teachers can facilitate language development during this stage by doing the following: Do not force production (speech). Students will begin to use English when they are ready. Provide materials in the native language. Use visuals such as pictures, objects, or gestures to aid in comprehension. Modify your speech: speak more slowly, emphasize key words, simplify grammar and vocabulary, do not talk out of context, and do not speak more loudly. Involve students in activities that require them to listen and do. Such activities might include making art projects, drawing pictures, following simple classroom directions. 
Stage 2: Early Production: As the name of this stage suggests, students begin using a limited number of words and phrases in English. At this stage, you can encourage language production in the following ways: Use questioning techniques including: yes/no questions such as, Is this your coat?; choice questions such as, Is this your coat or Maria's?; questions which can be answered with a single word such as, What is in your hand?; open sentence with a pause for a response such as, Lin is wearing blue pants, but Lou is wearing ____ pants. Do not overtly correct student errors as this may inhibit students from using language. Subtle forms of modeling may be used as indicated by the following interaction: Student: I goed to the store last night. Teacher: Oh, you went to the store. What did you buy? Expand student responses when possible. Continue to use activities indicated for the Comprehension stage, but encourage students to use their language to give commands and describe pictures. Have students keep dialogue journals. Use shared reading.
Stage 3: Speech Emergence: During this stage, speech production will usually improve in both quantity and quality. Vocabulary will expand, and grammatical errors will decrease if students are involved in a language-rich environment. At this stage, students need to be encouraged to use oral and written language. There are many activities which foster development during this stage. Some suggestions are: Involve students in activities that encourage them to compare/contrast, sequence, and problem solve with charts, graphs, tables, maps, and other visuals. Use skits and role play to contextualize situations for students. Play games. Use the Language Experience Approach to encourage reading and writing. Use semantic mapping to develop vocabulary.
Stage 4: Intermediate Fluency: At this stage, students are orally quite fluent in English. They will continue to make some grammatical errors, and their vocabulary is expanding to include words beyond the concrete, immediate environment. Though their oral skills may be very well developed, oftentimes, academic skills and reading and writing skills in English may lag behind. Students need to be included in content-area activities at all stages, but at this stage in particular, activities that encourage both content-area development and language development need to be included. It is also important to realize the different demands placed upon ELL students depending on whether they are using language for social purposes (often referred to as “Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills” or BICS) or for academic purposes (often referred to as “Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency” or CALP). Language which is social in nature is usually less complex and is often heavily contextualized, making it easier to learn and less cognitively demanding. Students often acquire this type of language rather quickly, within one to two years. Academic language, on the other hand, makes use of more complex grammatical and rhetorical patterns – in both its written and oral forms – as well as specialized and technical vocabulary. Also, this type of language is not inherently contextual. Because academic language is more cognitively demanding than social language, it is more difficult for ELL students to acquire. Many students require anywhere from 5-7 years to learn this type of language. Much current research, however, has shown that this amount of time can be reduced if students have a firm foundation in their native language. Thus, native language instruction in the content areas and in reading and writing should be provided whenever possible. Below is a chart that provides a framework from which to understand the various language demands placed upon ELL students, in terms of both the amount of extra-linguistic context and the degree of cognitive complexity.
Students observe and internalize the new language. They use gestures, pointing, and nodding to communicate.
Students continue to acquire English and they use language patterns, yes/no responses and single words to communicate.
Students begin to use simple sentences. At this stage they may begin to initiate discussion.
Students are fairly comfortable in social language situations. They state opinions and ask for clarification.
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