My English Language Student (progress report)
By Shara Lawrence-Weiss
Dr. Sally recently wrote a guest post for this site (To be Literate or Not to be Literate?) and it ties in so perfectly with my own life – I had to share!
For the last few months I have been working in a local elementary school in the Special Education department. Many of the children in our class have speech delays and we attempt to help them with articulation (they also receive speech therapy services). I recently signed up with an Online site, offering in-home specialty care, for the summer months. A family contacted me right away asking me to work with their son. Their son has been coming to my home for a couple of weeks now, three times per week. He comes over, after I get home from my school job. He stays for one to two hours.
The request was a simple yet tall order: “Please teach our son to speak English.” The parents moved to American, from China, about eight years ago. While they both speak English, it is muffled and inarticulate. The little boy is almost four years old and he has attended Preschool for two years already. As you may guess, however, many early learners also display muffled speech and unclear word pronunciation. So he has only been hearing ‘crackled’ English thus far.
[Related reading: Developing language skills in early childhood]
The mother asked me to play with her son. As a huge play advocate I happily agreed. My children join in, when I beckon them over. We talk, laugh, ask questions, name items that we are playing with, clearly state what we are doing and seeing and touching, etc.
During the first visit, this kiddo said one word to me in English. By the third play-date he stated about 20 words. During our sixth meeting he said at least 50 words. He can now say words to us without being prompted.
[Related reading: Develop language skills the nature way]
His mother and father had first assumed that he might be permanently delayed. I assured them that this was not the case. He was confused by the muffled English at home coupled with the Chinese terms – he was lacking in confidence when it came to naming things using the English terminologies.
He can now say things like: bubbles, sand, rice, please, thank you, trampoline, jump, shovel, park, slide, water, crackers, soft, car, truck, rocks, rake, tree, leaves, bush, bird, don’t eat, dirty, ice, fish, pinwheel, elephant, bear, monkey, I can do it, I don’t need help, please help me and more.
[Related reading: Emergent literacy strategies to use with babies and toddlers]
The mother hopes to bring him over more often, so that the progress will be more rapid.
Here are a few of the things I have done, to encourage the language development:
1. During our first visit I allowed him to play at my house without talking to him very often. I wanted him to feel safe.
2. I began to play with him and I named everything we did. At first I used very simple statements, just like I do when teaching infants to talk: “Ball. We have the ball now.” Or, “Fish. That is our pet fish.”
3. Many times, I got down on my knees to make direct eye contact with him, as I said words or showed him an item.
4. I invited my kids to join in on the play dates so he could hear them talk, also.
5. We inject humor into our meetings. My teen son went to the park with us and he made a bed and pillow from sand. He pretended to sleep. We all giggled and said, “Sleeping! It’s day time, though. He is napping in the sun. That’s funny!” The mother let me know that he walks around his home now, laughing about that and reminding her of the funny moment. During another visit, we all ran through the sprinklers together – laughing and giggling as we got soaked. I said, “Water!” and “Jump!” numerous times. At one point, I did not say JUMP when we jumped, to see if he would say it for me. He did.
6. As time has gone on, I’ve gotten a bit more persistent with him. Rather than simply stating words I will say, “Okay. I can see that you want to get off the trampoline now. Please ask for my help.” He will then say, “Please help me.”
7. When I sense that the lessons are overwhelming him, I back off and let him play alone for a while.
8. When he heads for the door I know he is ready to leave. I don’t push it. I let him go home early if he tires out. There’s always more time for learning on another day.
9. I didn’t ask for a hug until the sixth meeting. At that point he gladly gave me a high five, a hug and he even kissed me. He also said good-bye to my four kids and named each one by name.
10. I have not attempted to read with him yet. I’m working on language first. His parents told me that he doesn’t enjoy books yet. My guess is that he will enjoy them more after he is able to better identify with the terms inside those books.
During our last visit my six-year-old daughter said, “Mom – you’re not going to have this job for very long. He’s learning too quickly.” LOL.
I greatly appreciated Dr. Sally’s post about literacy. We come from different worlds but we always seem to land in the same place when it comes to education, early learning and literacy! Be sure to jump over and read Sally’s research-based tips. They are literacy gold!