Oral Language Acquisition

Since moving to a small district there are fewer questions from teachers when they are working with students who are learning English as a second language. Though it is a beginning, have students in a group or a classroom talking is important--it builds social language skills first but it also helps build academic language. (Academic language takes students longer to wrap their heads around.) I find these ideas a step. One that is important for all students.

Oral Language Acquisition and Learning to Read and Write?

There is a very strong relationship between these, which really develops when students are proficient at identifying words, and helps them a great deal in reading and listening comprehension.
“Oral language is the foundation on which reading is built, and it continues to serve this role as children develop as readers.” It is very important for students to be exposed to and develop strong oral language skills before they even come to school, and these skills must continue to be expanded. Strong oral language skills also link to strong phonemic awareness skills, which research has shown to aid in learning to read and write. Since oral language acquisition is “the foundation on which reading is built,” special considerations must be made for ESL students, as they must expand their English oral language skills as they learn to read.

How powerful is this relationship?

Oral language is one of the main foundation needed in order to teach a child to read and write. ESL students come into the mainstream classroom lacking this fundamental foundation, at least in the English Language. If students are not able to understand directions or what the teacher is saying, and if they are not able to mirror “book Talk” in their reading and writing, the student will not be able to think in ways that will lead to elevated thinking and proficient.


To teach ESL students to read and write, the teacher much teach the students in their native language and compare it to English. Students need to have ways of practicing their English so that they can get better and understand it more efficiently. Some ways to practice are:
  • A low-anxiety environment: This includes a setting where students feel nurtured and supported by their teacher and peers, and in turn, they feel safe to take risks without the fear of being laughed at or made fun of.
  • Repeated practice: This is just like what it sounds! Students need repeated practice hearing and using a new language. They need multiple opportunities to comprehend and express their ideas in a new language. Like with anything new that we learn, practice helps us get better.
  • Comprehensible input: This means finding different ways to make what is being said comprehensible and easier to understand. Things to consider with comprehensible input might include using speech that is appropriate for students' language proficiency, providing a clear, step-by-step explanation of tasks, and using a variety of techniques to support their understanding.
  • Drama: This is a sense of excitement and engagement, can be found in activities like Reader's Theater, dramatic play, puppetry, narrating wordless picture books, etc. All of these activities also have the other three factors embedded within them. These activities assist in the development of oral language in addition to introducing students to oral reading and rich literacy experiences and responses in a classroom setting.

Connections to ESL Students

For ESL students, learning English is like learning to speak and read all over again; the main difference is that they are not starting language acquisition as a baby, but at an older age. Students that start English Language acquisition later find comprehension of English Oral Language hard to do. Because of the “language barrier” it is important to understand that it is not that these students cannot comprehend, but it’s that they need structure to know how to begin the language acquisition again. The process is similar to language acquisition of a first language.

Stages if Second Language Acquisition

The Student
The Teacher
Minimal comprehension.
Does not verbalize.
Nods "Yes" and "No."
Draws and points.

Show me …
Circle the …
Where is …?
Who has …?
Early Production
Limited comprehension
One/two-word responses.
Uses key words/familiar phrases.
Uses present-tense verbs.
Yes/no questions
Either/or questions
Who …?
What …?
How many …?
Speech Emergence
Has good comprehension.
Can produce simple sentences.
Grammar/pronunciation errors.
Misunderstands jokes
Why …?
How …?
Intermediate Fluency
Has excellent comprehension.
Makes few grammatical errors.
What would happen if …?
Why do you think …?
Questions requiring more than a sentence response
Advanced Fluency
The student has a near-native level of speech
Decide if …
Retell …


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Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I empower busy elementary special education teachers to use best practice strategies to achieve a data and evidence driven classroom community by sharing easy to use, engaging, unique approaches to small group reading and math. Thanks for Hopping By.
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