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Definition: English as a Second Language (ESL) from The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences

English learned or used in English-speaking countries, such as the United States and Britain, by immigrants and ethnic minorities, whose first language is not English. In this context, English is the dominant language for administration, commerce, and education, and therefore, learners need English for social and/or academic survival. In the case of ESL, students need English language skills to master core academic subjects. This concept also is used in for mer British colonies in Asia and Africa, where English is not the first language of any group.

See also

Foreign-Language Education


Summary Article: English as a Second Language (ESL) from Encyclopedia of Educational Reform and Dissent

With the advances in telecommunications and new modes of transportation that developed in the 19th and 20th centuries, English as a second language became progressively more necessary for international business and political communication. It was not until after World War II that language skills in America acquired a political practicality, thus popularizing and significantly reforming language models and teaching methodologies.

Historically, James Bellot's English Schoolmaster (1580) was the first manual expressly designed to teach English as a second or additional language. The phrase English as a second language (ESL) was first used in the 1920s in Bengal, now Bangladesh, in regard to a second language as having a useful and practical role. In the 1950s and 1960s ESL was associated with English learners among minority language groups in the United States and other English-speaking countries.

The typical language classroom in the mid-1800s taught students through a process of grammar rule memorization. This methodology became known as the grammar-translation method, whereby rote learning incorporated grammar rules with new vocabulary, which was usually taught in the mother tongue; a complex, nonsensical translation exercise often followed. This methodology for language learning began to unravel in more advanced classes as grammar rules became more complex and the list of exceptions grew longer. A radical reform of the grammar school became necessary as the grammar-translation method was seen as having many shortfalls and limited practicality.

Many methods for English-language teaching emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, including community language learning, the Silent Way, sug-gestopedia, the Berlitz method, and audiolingualism. The Berlitz or direct method emphasized common usage phrases rather than the ornate complex passages studied under the grammar-translation method. Audiolingualism, popular in the United States in the 1960s, stressed repetition with patterned practice and 100% accuracy. Like the grammar-translation method, this rigorous, scientifically prescribed methodology failed to produce competent second-language speakers.

The theoretical underpinnings for communicative language teaching (CLT) were designed in the 1970s and had an emphasis on person-to-person communication rather than structural (grammatical) language learning. Generally speaking, second-language learners study English to be able to communicate and socialize with foreign citizens, as well as to express opinions on everyday events. Hence, communicative language teaching focused on meaningful interaction in a learner-centered environment. The communicative approach, although better than its predecessors, still failed to prepare learners for academic classes.

In the past 3 decades, focus has been placed on content within language instruction and language proficiency for social and academic purposes. The 1980s saw the implementation of such language programs in K-12 and higher education throughout the United States and Canada. These programs, called integration of language and content (ILC), combined language and content in the context of teaching reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. Motivation to develop a pedagogy incorporating language and content was enhanced by pressure in the United States and elsewhere for program accountability and student success in the K-12 and higher education arenas.

At present, ILC is viewed as an effective way for second- and foreign-language learners to develop their language and academic skills. The U.S. National ESL standards for PreK-12 students reflect the importance of language and content integration, calling for students to be able to use English to achieve academically in all content areas so that they can interact in the classroom; obtain, process, construct, and provide subject matter information in spoken and written form; and use appropriate learning strategies to construct and apply academic knowledge.

Content-based education stemmed from ILC, but this recent methodology has not proven to be sufficient in academically preparing all ESL learners. Educational strategies for content educators include ESL methodology and second-language acquisition theory. This methodology is common not only in ESL classrooms, but for adult education as well, including workplace learning. In the 1980s, pressure to meet academic and assessment standards saw content-based instruction extend beyond language classrooms as high school and college curricula were introduced. This content combination is known as sheltered instruction.

In sheltered instruction, language and content objectives are methodically intertwined into the curriculum of a subject area, thereby altering the pedagogy in order to make its content comprehensible for ESL learners. As a result, a developmental approach to language learning emerged. Sheltered instruction courses are sometimes referred to as content-ESL or specially designed academic instruction in English (SDAIE). Content-based language teaching therefore places emphasis on language adeptness and facility; sheltered instruction focuses on comprehension of school curricula. Those concerned with reform in this area have developed an appreciation for the fact that when methodologies are combined and integrated, the best teaching techniques emerge. Rapid growth and research continue within this dynamic area of education.

See also

Bilingual Education, Immigration and Education Reform, Multicultural Education

Further Readings
  • Brown, H. D. (2001). Teaching by principles: An interactive approach to language pedagogy (2nd ed.). New York: Addison Wesley Longman.
  • Short, D. J. (2006). Content teaching and learning and language. In Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (2nd ed., pp. 101-105). (Retrieved June 25, 2008)., from http://www.sciencedirect.com.
  • Hopcraft, Grace Beatrice
    Copyright © 2010 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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