216.  Subject: research on importance/role of developing L1.
I have a question. I know that "research" says that students who develop their L1 literacy skills will be better able to learn an L2. We have a teacher who is questioning why we insist that students who are illiterate or very limited literate in Spanish are being required to take Spanish for Native Speakers when they first enter our ESL program in Grades 8-12 as an ELL1 student.  I know that "research" shows that older students who are not literate in their first language will have an extremely difficult time becoming literate in English.  My question: do you know the SPECIFIC research that shows that it is essential to develop older ELL students' native language in order to accelerate their English acquisition?   I can look and find it--but, thought you might know references quickly.

Indeed, there are many studies that prove your point. This September, while presenting at the MIGRANT ESL ACADEMY at Winrock, we shared Virginia P. Collier's book "PROMOTING ACADEMIC SUCCESS FOR ESL STUDENTS -- Understanding Second Language Acquisition for School" published by the New Jersey Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages - Bilingual Educators, and available from BASTOS Educational Publications, Woodside, New York.

I took the time to read while traveling and providing training to Duplin County, North Carolina, during the first two weeks in November, 2002, most of the massive research that Virginia Collier has produced and summarized in this book. In particular, I would like to point out: "High school students have to worry about not getting behind academically while they are learning the second language. This is even a more urgent issue for older students who have received little or no formal schooling. For these students, the most efficient way of catching up academically is through instruction in first language. Again, cognitive and academic development is a higher priority than exposure to the second language, for ultimate academic success." (Page 18).

In the book mention above, not only Virginia Collier's research is described and explained at length, but literally hundreds of other studies are mentioned and listed. Please, get copies of the book I mention above and you will find the answer in greater detail that I can possibly give it to you here. However, I can point out that:

There is much to be gained by making students successful academically through their first language. Whichever concepts you learn well --and through the first language you can learn concepts very well, or at least better than through a language you cannot fully understand-- you can demonstrate mastery through any other language, through a second language, through a third language, etc. All you need to know is how to express yourself through the second or third language, YOU DO NOT NEED TO RE-LEARN THE CONCEPTS AGAIN. Thus, through the first language the student can become not only fully literate but s(he) can grow academically once s(he) gains sufficient literacy skills in L1 to "read to learn." Unfortunately, a student cannot "read to learn" through a second language which the student cannot understand. S(he) needs lots of time to "learn to read" in the second language /L2 BEFORE s(he) can "read to learn" in L2.

Hope this helps you and the teacher you mention. If you or this teacher or any teacher in your School District may need any additional answers to any other questions, please, be sure to contact me through my Web Sites.



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