Article

Spelling and the ESL Child

By Hilda Medrano, Lilly Cheng
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

"It is critically important that teachers respect and understand cultural differences," says Lilly Cheng. "Our job is to help children understand that they are not rejecting their primary language, but simply building on it to learn a new language."

Considerations for Children Whose First Language Is Spanish: Medrano

 Children whose native language is Spanish use what they know or have in their schemata about Spanish spelling to learn and master English spelling. As learners they perceive themselves as readers and writers in one language, and they emulate the same awareness in other languages. We as teachers need to help them see themselves as able to read, spell, and write and to become sensitive to using words.

 

ESL students need to hear repetitive nursery rhymes and benefit from other phonemic awareness activities. Since learning to spell requires visual discrimination, it is crucial that teachers create print-rich environments filled with posters, charts, and photographs with captions.

Many children will have acquired enough Spanish to provide a strong foundation from which to learn spelling in English. When children are learning both Spanish and English, their writing process reflects both languages. It is important to capitalize on this. Knowledge of Spanish can be especially helpful in integrating sound-symbols and meanings, which can also be applied to developing better phonemic awareness of English.

Teachers need to be aware of native-language concepts that may present challenges. For example, it's quite easy for children to start writing in Spanish when they know a few consonants and vowels because the vowels are so constant in Spanish. Vowels in English are more difficult to learn. The English "a" has different sounds and can be written more than 20 ways. This can be confusing to Spanish-speaking children. In the Scholastic Spelling Teacher's Edition, you will find Connect to Other Languages, a useful feature to help you implement an action plan to help students with confusions or problems in a new language.

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Considerations for Teaching Children Whose First Language Is Asian: Cheng

Increasingly, teachers have ESL students who speak an Asian native language and need support in working successfully with these students.

A significant task for the ESL child is adjusting to the complicated structure of English words. Chinese and Vietnamese are monosyllabic languages, whereas English has many polysyllabic words. As a result, it can be demanding to sound out words using the proper stresses and correct supra-segmental factors. The supra-segmental factor is any sound that is placed on top of a word. The word California, for example, is pronounced Calafornia while spelled California. This kind of knowledge arrives only through hearing the word pronounced and seeing it on the page.

For this reason, it is important that teachers sound out the stress patterns in words many times so that they sound rhythmic. English nursery rhymes are useful for introducing the concepts of polysyllabicity, rhyming, and stress patterns. A good illustration is the simple rhyme, "Jack and Jill went up the hill." The final /l/ does not exist in Vietnamese or Chinese, and the simplicity of using a rhyme focuses attention on the final sound.

Chinese and English both have large, rich vocabularies. Chinese children therefore have the opportunity to bring a creative word base to their second language. Vietnamese, in contrast, has a smaller vocabulary than English. Teachers will need to provide a large, diverse vocabulary for these early readers.

It is important to emphasize the strengths that Chinese or Vietnamese children bring to the classroom as they discover the similarities and differences between English and their first languages.

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