When learning a new language Cummins explains that most EAL students develop BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) before they can develop CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency). Generally speaking, children learning an additional language can become conversationally fluent in the new language in 2-3 years but may take 5 years or longer to catch up with monolingual peers on the development of CALP. However, this process could be accelerated with the appropriate teaching and learning strategies which include and integrate their previous knowledge of literacy in first language.
I believe that this can be achieved effectively in a small group environment where pupils can practise the target language through talk. Small group talk is the key to learning both concepts and language as Vygotsky points out in his theory of ‘Zone of proximal development’. According to Vygotsky, interaction plays a very important role in the learning process. He also emphasised that as long as the curriculum supplies the necessary material, development of scientific concepts runs ahead of the development of spontaneous concepts.
Learners will be affected by attitudes to them, their culture, language and religion, ethnicity within and beyond the school and in the wider world. Learners’ social and cultural experiences will impact on their progress in language acquisition as well as on their cognitive and academic development. Baker points out that gaining belief, respect and social value from dialogue with others is not straightforward as there is unequal dominance, status and power in relationships.
As far as possible, I use students’ first language often in my teaching because I believe that bilingualism is an asset, and the first language has a significant and continuing role in identity, learning and the acquisition of additional languages. I also make sure that cognitive challenge is kept appropriately high during the lessons through an inclusive curriculum.