This is the third in a series of posts giving brief insights into why students studying English as a foreign or second language may not be succeeding in their studies. Hopefully these posts will inspire teachers to ask questions, research and discover more.
The effects of first language proficiency
The Interdependence Hypothesis was proposed by Professor Jim Cummins one of the world’s leading authorities on bilingual education and second language acquisition. This hypothesis does not examine one specific area of linguistic ability but overall linguistic competence and focuses more on everyday language or, ‘Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills’ (BICS) rather than the cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) of a person.
Cummins’ research is based on minority students, who are not necessarily individuals who have any type of language difficulty or disability but are just trying to acquire a second language.
Cummins theorises that these potential bilinguals need to have reached a certain level of competence in their native language before beginning to acquire a second language. He claims that the level of proficiency attained in the target language is dependent on the level of proficiency already attained in the native language. Accordingly, Cummins proposes that languages have a common linguistic foundation and if a person’s base in their native language has not been properly constructed and is unstable and they have not reached a certain level of native linguistic proficiency at the time they begin learning a second language, it will be much harder for them to learn or ‘place’ another language on top of this unstable or incomplete linguistic foundation.
How proficient are your students in their first language?
So, perhaps check your students’ proficiency in their first language. If they have not become fully competent in one of the language skills, it could very well be affecting the way and speed at which they will acquire their second or foreign language.
Cummins, J., “Linguistic Interdependence and the Educational Development of Bilingual Children.” Review of Educational Research, 49: (1979): 222-51.
Second language acquisition – essential information
“The information and advice on this page was written for FIS teachers in advance of the visit to the school of Professor J. Cummins. Cummins is one of the world’s leading authorities on bilingual education and second language acquisition. Mainstream teachers who have a knowledge of his theories and act on his advice will be in a much stronger position to help the ESL students in their classes.”
What can you do now?
Carry on getting the informative benefits from this series and read:
Are First Language Difficulties Causing Second Language Learning Struggles?
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