Academic Competence includes a number of components that are critical for effective English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction, including universal pragmatic knowledge, knowledge and skills in the target language, and background knowledge (Adamson 106). Language acquisition is achieved by making it comprehensible and significant to a person's life (Diaz-Rico 71). In order to achieve the definitive goal of English language achievement, a student must develop specific skills that will result in successful academic achievement in the classroom and that will allow a smooth transition to daily living. The ESL teacher is a critical element in effective ESL learning because the teacher provides useful meanings for English words. Upon knowledge of these new meanings, the teacher and the student must engage in collaborative efforts in order to facilitate student understanding (Diaz-Rico 71). By utilizing existing skills in the fluent language, the student will be able to build upon these language experiences with the anticipation that the facilitation of new language skill development will be achieved in an academic environment. Academic Competence is the end result of concentrated efforts between the student and the teacher to comprehend words and meanings in a new language through the cultivation of existing skills and knowledge.
The Achievement of Academic Competence
Three major elements of Academic Competence exist that will facilitate the basic understanding of academic material in the study of the English Language: Universal Pragmatic Knowledge, Language Proficiency, and Background Knowledge (Adamson 106). The following figure, created by Adamson, summarizes these three components and may be used as a reference:
Figure 5.1 (Adamson 106)
Completed Academic Tasks
Universal Pragmatic Knowledge is composed of basic-level concepts, image schemas, and the Cooperative Principle (Adamson 106). Basic-level concepts and image schemas are considered universal and are part of the general human ability to understand concepts (Adamson 106). The Cooperative Principle exists as a result of the ability to act in a rational manner (Adamson 106). Language Proficiency can be generalized as a model for learners with different competencies and various areas of strength and proficiency (Adamson 107). Specifically, such areas of concern include the acquisition of fundamental English rather than slang, the utilization of unanalyzed knowledge to create useful phrases, the tolerance of inaccuracies in English language acquisition, the use of reading in the ESL classroom as a learning tool, and the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately in any situation (Adamson 107).
Background Knowledge is composed of two areas: Knowledge of a specific content area, and scripts for school (Adamson 108). The former includes the failure to comprehend the American school curriculum, including all topics related to American history and concepts. The lack of interest in such material also contributes the ability to acquire sufficient background knowledge (Adamson 108). The latter concept discusses that students who possess sufficient knowledge from previous school experiences in their home language will undoubtedly benefit from ESL experiences in an American setting, while novice learners are likely to experience many difficulties in learning English since they do not possess a history with their native language in an academic setting (Adamson 108). Teachers who are enthusiastic and dedicated to their profession are likely to observe success in ESL classrooms because they possess a total commitment to student learning and language acquisition.
A student's native language has a profound impact on future ESL instruction in a number of ways. According to Saville-Troike (213-214), the transfer of native language forms and syntax into English are critical in the acquisition of the new language. Furthermore, first language proficiency is important to the development of reading achievement in the English language. Finally, upon studies of Japanese students, it was noted that individual experiences and attitudes were highly influential in the development of English skills and attitudes towards American students (Saville-Troike 214-215).
The acquisition of writing skills in the English language is an interesting phenomenon. Leki (247) describes several scenarios upon which students engaging in ESL instruction sought clarification regarding their assignments: talking to the teacher one-on-one, talking to other students, asking for feedback on ideas before a full commitment to a particular project, and the attempt to interpret the teacher's purpose in giving the assignment. By depending on previous writing experiences, students also coped with difficulties in completing their ESL assignments (Leki 248). Furthermore, students also utilized their current life experiences in adapting to their assigned tasks (Leki 248). Finally, demands placed on students by teachers were handled in several different ways, including accommodation, resistance, and management of competing demands, including school and basic life demands (Leki 250-251). Students who develop effective adaptation mechanisms to cope with their changing environments are more likely to succeed in ESL instruction and cultivate their academic pursuits and competencies.
Activities to Improve Academic Competence
In order to achieve academic competence in an ESL classroom, instructors must provide a myriad of activities that will enhance student learning and competency. Since students are likely to experience discomfort and struggle in unfamiliar environments, it is the responsibility of the instructor to make them feel comfortable and secure in their new surroundings. Constructive activities may include the following: Reading activities such as previewing chapter content before actual reading, listening activities such as video lectures, testing activities such as practice tests to obtain feedback before the real exams, speaking activities such as conversation partners, note-taking activities such as divided page note-taking, and writing activities such as focused freewriting (Adamson 136-143). These activities will enhance student learning and improve academic competence, but teachers must be careful to select activities that will maximize the potential of the assigned group. Some activities may work for some students but may not work for others, so teachers must carefully examine the makeup of their classroom populations to determine the best possible activity strategy.
Reading and its Contribution to Academic Competence
The importance of reading as a means of learning any type of subject matter cannot be undermined as it is the foundation of academic competence in any subject. Furthermore, English as a Second Language instruction is especially dependent upon reading as a precursor for academic achievement and independent learning. Clarke (203) has identified the importance of psycholinguistic principles in reading and ESL instruction. Furthermore, it should be noted that in general, reading is basically the same process in any language and that it is transferable from one language to another (Clarke 203). Shih (289) also affirms that ESL classrooms must concentrate on the development of reading strategies that include the construction of background knowledge, guided reading of a text, and post-reading exercises, including discussion and writing activities, all designed to promote reading skill enhancement. In the primary stages of reading development in ESL classes, the focus lies on reading development, and study skills are not separated from their ties to specific academic assignments. However, it is critical for students to acquire basic study skills that will promote successful mastery of the English language and academic competence in the classroom.
Effective Study Strategies for ESL Students
Gettinger (350) has determined that students of all backgrounds across all grades experience many difficulties in their academic lives because they do not possess a fundamental set of study skills and effective approaches to conquering their assignments. It can be generalized that students who achieve below set standards in their academic lives do not possess effective study skills, and many of these students rely on others to take the lead in their learning pursuits (Gettinger 351). Furthermore, it should be noted that students' study habits may be disorganized and they may experience difficulties in keeping track of materials and assignments, and they may not know what it takes to study effectively (Gettinger 351). Finally, study habits are not promoted in schools as an organized curriculum; rather, it is often the discretion of the student to create individual study habits tailored to specific needs. Since study skills are not emphasized in an organized fashion, no direction exists that promotes effective study practices. Therefore, students are responsible for completing their assignments in the manner that they choose. In an ESL classroom, this concept can be particularly frightening since students are unfamiliar with their surroundings and the language. Therefore, it is especially important for ESL instructors to provide an organized curriculum for the acquisition of study skills. Such activities will promote effective mastery of academic competence.
John N. Gardner (9) stresses that the development of an individualized learning style contributes to the success of a college student. This basic skill is transferable to the ESL classroom, where teachers can spend sufficient time with students on an individual basis to identify their specific learning styles and study competencies. Gardner (11) also emphasizes the importance of class participation and attendance as important factors in student success. ESL students will particularly benefit if they regularly attend their classes to maintain a sense of consistency and normalcy in unfamiliar surroundings. An assessment of existing skills (Gardner 15) is also critical to student success an academic competence. Finally, the development of effective time…