Aboriginals and English Language Learning Term Paper

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English Language Learners, Specifically Aboriginals

English language learners, i.e. those learning English as a second language, have many struggles they face (Casper & Theilheimer, 2009). That is especially true when they attempt to learn English in an Early Childhood Education (ECE) capacity (Learning, n.d.). These people have been chosen for this study because they are a population that is often underserved in Canada and throughout the rest of the world. If they learn English they can lose the ability to use their first language effectively, but if they do not learn English they can find that they are not able to communicate appropriately for education and employment (Learning, n.d.). English is the power language in Canada, and it is something that can and should be learned, especially at an early age (Learning, n.d.).

English language learners are the group that will be addressed here, but there is a subset of that group that the study will be narrowed down to: Aboriginals. Many aboriginal people speak their native language at home, but there are not many teachers in the schools who also speak those languages. With that in mind, a child who is speaking Inuit or another type of aboriginal language must learn English in order to succeed in school, but can quickly lose the ability to speak his or her native language as English "takes over" (Learning, n.d.) Instead of only learning one or the other, it is important for the child to learn both. If that does not take place, the child could have a serious disadvantage in school or could lose the ability to communicate with his or her family (Learning, n.d.). Both of those outcomes would be tragic, and could affect not only the child but the family and the rest of society. Because there can be such a serious affect on such a large number of people, it is very important that ECE and English language learning be addressed properly.


The main cause of the diverse ability is simply culture and geography. Many aboriginal people live more rurally or in villages or groups with others like them (Epstein, 2009). They speak their own language and have their own culture that is not completely separate from the more common societal culture but that is still different enough to be significant (Kato & Ozaki, 2002). These aboriginal individuals also realize, in most cases, that they put their children at a disadvantage when they keep them sheltered or do not teach them English from an early age (Epstein, 2009). Despite that, however, there is a reluctance to teach them English because of the fear that they will not be able to communicate with them properly (Learning, n.d.). The parents who are very committed to the proper care of their children and who understand these children must get a good education will generally be willing to speak English at home if it benefits the children to do so (Learning, n.d.).

The current intervention is to send the children to an ECE school where they can start learning English as early as reasonably possible (Learning, n.d.). As these children get a little older, though, they may realize that the English their parents speak is not "correct" and not as good as the English spoken by their teachers (Epstein, 2009). That can lead to a lack of respect for their parents, and this kind of problem has to be handled carefully in order to make sure the children can learn properly and the parents are not going to experience too much familiar fallout because of it (Epstein, 2009). For the most part, it is best to have these children learn in a bilingual ECE environment, so they use their native language (L1) and English (L2) together (Learning, n.d.). By doing that, the children will be more likely to learn proper English but also continue to be successful and communicative in their native, aboriginal language at home with their family (Learning, n.d.).

Domains of Development

There are seven domains of early childhood development: language, cognitive, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, self-help & adaptive, social & emotional, and spiritual & moral. Those seven domains are all crucial to proper development of a child, but some are much more strongly impacted by the diverse ability and aboriginal status of children than others. For example, areas like gross motor skills and fine motor skills are not tied to the language a child learns to speak at home, so they are not going to be strongly affected by whether the child speaks English or his or her original, native language. The other domains, however, can be deeply affected by language (Casper & Theilheimer, 2009). There is an actual language domain, but beyond that there is a cognitive domain that will be affected by how well a child understands the language spoken around him or her (Epstein, 2009).

Additionally, social & emotional, self-help & adaptive, and spiritual & moral domains will all be impacted by ECE and English language learning, because they are all tied into what the child hears and understands, as well as how he or she interacts with others (Epstein, 2009). The three domains that are impacted most strongly are language, cognitive, and social & emotional, with self-help & adaptive also being highly important in the discussion. The language and cognitive domains have close ties to one another, as a child's language and thinking patterns are both related (Epstein, 2009). When a child speaks two languages, he or she has to also think in two languages. For a child who is more familiar with one language over another language, he or she will be more likely to think in L1 as opposed to L2. When the child thinks in L2, it will take longer to process the information (Learning, n.d.). That does not mean the child cannot process the information accurately or will have trouble understanding, but only that the child will end up processing things in one language more slowly than another.

Eventually, L2 development will catch up with L1 development, and that will allow the child to measure on a similar cognitive level in both languages. This can take nearly a decade or longer, however, in some children (Learning, n.d.). Most children master this in five to seven years, but that is still a long time to "think differently" depending on what language the child is speaking or what language is being spoken to the child (Learning, n.d.). With the close tie of the cognitive and language domains, it is not a surprise that there are so many issues that affect them both where ECE and language learning for aboriginal children are concerned. The third domain that is most affected, social & emotional, stems from the way people relate to one another when they do not speak one another's language well (Epstein, 2009). The lack of ability to express oneself to others or understand other people easily can lead to frustration and a number of problems with social interaction (Epstein, 2009).

Since children are just learning how to socialize with others and they are often emotionally more vulnerable than adults, it is easy to see how a child who cannot communicate can have trouble getting his or her needs met (Learning, n.d.). This can make it more difficult to make friends, or even to talk to a friend or a family member about something the child finds troubling or is struggling with. When these kinds of issues arise, a language barrier only adds to the difficulty the child is already having with self-expression. Because that is the case, the child may regress and stop talking to others, or may have trouble in school or be the victim of bullies because of poor language skills which can be misconstrued as a lack of social skills (Epstein, 2009). No matter what kinds of problems plague a child, adding trouble with language barriers on top of them will only make things more difficult for the child, and that can translate to problems at school and at home. There are many ways to help a child who is struggling with language, and the more ECE, the better.

Inclusive Curriculum

There are many ways to help a child who is in ECE and who needs to learn English as a second language. These ways include guidelines, physical adaptations, social curriculum adaptations, and temporal adaptations, all of which can be used in ECE settings to help aboriginal children succeed. Guidelines can include requiring children to ask questions in English, playing games where children must answer in English, setting goals for a number of English words to be learned each week, learning about the culture in a way that blends a child's L1 and L2, and requiring teachers to speak the students' native language and/or belong to their native culture. Any guidelines that are put in place should be clearly designed to help students in an ECE setting learn English as a second language (Epstein, 2009). These guidelines…[continue]

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