Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Second Language Acquisition

Collier’s conceptual model considers multiple factors of acquiring a second language with the goal of bringing students to the same level of proficiency as L1 native-English speakers. Factors include simultaneous development of sociocultural (affective, social, psychological), linguistic (first and second language acquisition in pronunciation, vocabulary, meaning, context, nonverbal, thought patterns), academic (development in all academic subjects through the student’s L1), and cognitive development.

A key point to remember when I apply theoretical frameworks to teach English learners across content area classes is that it’s a lifelong process. Another point to consider is how long language proficiency will take each learner. According to Collier, English L2 learners take, “…at least 5-7 years to reach typical [English] native-speaker performance…when they have at least 2-3 years of first language schooling.” It takes two to three years longer for immigrant students with “no schooling in their home country.”

Several questions come to mind. How can English-based curriculum and English-dominated institutions provide the level of support needed for the conceptual model? If dual-bilingual education is the answer, how do we bring more English L1 students and families on board? Or find the time, money, or support needed to make this a reality in our schools? Also, when traveling abroad, many Europeans have a level of proficiency comparable to L1 speakers, and in multiple languages. What can we learn from the European language acquisition model for applying theoretical frameworks? What personal responsibility lies with the immigrant students and families to practice the English language and develop their L1 academic and cognitive development? This model seems to lay most of the responsibility with the school. How does this concept fit into a classroom with 44 students who are heterogeneous as EL, RSP, 504, and English L1 students?

Collier offers some solutions to my questions. “When first language instructional support cannot be provided, “(1) second language taught through academic content; (2) conscious focus on teaching learning strategies needed to develop thinking skills and problem-solving abilities; and (3) continuous support for staff development emphasizing activation of students’ prior knowledge, respect for students’ home language and culture, cooperative learning, interactive discovery learning, intense and meaningful cognitive/academic development, and ongoing assessment using multiple measures.” 

In the language development class I work in at La Costa Canyon, where first language instructional support cannot be provided, I’m happy to say that think, pair, share, brainstorming, sentence frames, and academic language are used in a cooperative learning environment. These solutions are some of Collier’s recommendations. Because the class only has 12 student and there are two teachers to support their learning, ongoing informal and formal assessments using multiple measures takes place at every class session. I’m glad that we’re following the model the best we can.


Collier, V. (1995) Acquiring a Second Language for School, Directions in Language & Education, National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. Vol. 1, No. 4. Retrieved from:

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