An ESL Topic of Education: Language Barriers and Linguistic Hurdles

Attitudes toward ESL topics and educational language barriers are as diverse as the students and the educators embedded in the overall situation itself. It's well known that many nationwide ESL programs are inadequate. Why is this the case? Basic enough, it's due to the many “lack there-ofs.” Consider the marginal amounts of training, the narrow-minded or ignorant views, as well as the preconceived disadvantaged statuses of many non-english speaking students.confusion-language.jpg

What's needed to fill in this void? How about a new perspective.

A wider lens of perception must be looked through by educators and researchers of the field when dealing with ESL problems and other language difficulties in public schools. Considering both sociocultural and psychosocial theories, ESL complications can be better presented to the public schools. This presentation could unfold mainly from a rooted perspective, an angle focusing on the origin of a culture or from a standpoint of varying language(s).

Undeniably then, the language and linguistic factors are more than pervasive in the education sphere.

The topic overall, too, is vast, at first; however, the aim is to overcome the immensity of this complication and display how educational language barriers are, in fact, conquerable, all through basic means of awareness and scaffolding diverse knowledge.

It's essential to note, as stated previously, that both educational language barriers and the difficulty surrounding ESL programs are each originally rooted in varying cultural perceptions, which, in turn, lead to varying implications for instructors and students in a diverse classroom setting. To spearhead this “communication breakdown,” of sorts, there's a need for comprehensive cultural awareness for all educators, with an aim in mind to spur a more sensitive frame of reference in consideration of all backgrounds and languages.

It is this sensitivity and acceptance that is so vital to the future achievement of all ESL and minority students across the nation.

Attitudinal Teacher Perspectives Toward ESL Students

Information collected from “Predictors of Mainstream Teachers' Attitudes toward ESL Students,” written by Cheryl Stanosheck Youngs and George A. Youngs, Jr., opens a good deal of topical analysis concentrating on how teachers perceive ESL students and what can be done to improve their perceptions. The main point here is to raise awareness through an immersion of diversity, in effect, expanding collective knowledge to better educators' outlooks and their overall acceptance of students categorized as ESL “worthy.”

Some Disadvantaged Problems of ESL Attitudes Among Teachers:

  • Mainstream teachers' attitudes toward ESL students are likely to affect what ESL students learn.”
  • The concept of a “self-fulfilling prophecy” can occur solely based on instructors' indifferent or negative outlooks and/or expectations toward ESL students. However, it's significant to note this problem only exists and persists based on the many misconceptions about ESL students.
  • Unfortunately, research suggests that mainstream teachers often possess misinformation about the native cultures of ESL students and expect less of students using nonstandard English.”
  • Thus, there is reason to be concerned that significant numbers of mainstream teachers may find it difficult to create a truly welcoming atmosphere for ESL students and that this may negatively affect learning.”
  • Unfortunately, few mainstream teachers have been prepared to address the linguistic challenges and cultural differences present in diverse classrooms.”

Some Considerable Points to Improve ESL Attitudes Among Teachers:

  • ...mainstream teachers with graduate degrees held more positive attitudes toward language-diverse students than did teachers without such degrees.”
  • ...teachers and other helping professionals must possess a concrete awareness of cultural differences and of specific cultural groups in order to work effectively with students and clients from different cultural backgrounds.”
  • A more abstract level of multicultural knowledge should include an understanding of how knowledge itself is created, how it can be viewed as a social construction, and how it can be a product both of a unique culture and of a particular power structure; knowing this about knowledge sets the stage for teachers to be critical of their perspective on society”

Theoretical Frameworks: Exposing The Pedagogical Need for Multicultural and Bilingual Acceptance

Keeping theories in mind it's imperative to mention two pivotal theorists -- each connected to one another -- whose contributions to minority student-based studies and language barriers within public schools has raised much awareness.

Namely, we have John U. Ogbu and Margaret A. Gibson.

Ogbu goes into great detail about sociocultural implications of involuntary and voluntary minorities amid the power [structure] culture. Gibson, on the other hand, discusses Ogbu's ideals and their detailed implications to simplify the broad complexity of his content and examples.

John U. Ogbu:Ogbu.jpg

Main premise of Ogbu's writings are to outline the status of educating minority students, both of involuntary and voluntary statuses -- and, for our topical purposes -- from a social and linguistic viewpoint.

He asserts from an ethnographic stance that “ among nonimmigrant (or involuntary) minorities a disproportionate number of children experience social adjustment problems and are not academically successful compared with other children.” From this assertion, the implications could be a myriad combination of factors.

For sake of sociological focus, Ogbu states “...these minority children often differ in significant ways from dominant-group children in culture and communication and in terms of power relations.” This implies that there is a combined social and linguistic convergence under the dominating power culture. The implications of this are severe in nature, as Obgu mentions “Some scholars have argued that cultural and language differences create conflicts in teaching and learning situations and that these conflicts, in turn, adversely affect the school success of minority children.”

These outlined differences in culture and language can be better improved by taking into mind -- and not ignoring -- three characteristics of understanding the variability in minority school performance:

  1. Broader historical and societal forces are capable of both encouraging and discouraging minorities' success in school.
  2. A groups collective positioning toward school and wanting success as a determining factor of overall academic achievement; focus should rest on aspects other than family backgrounds and individual abilities or efforts.
  3. The minorities' own understandings of the meaning of and the “how-to” of schooling, mainly from the reference point of their own social reality.

The above list points out a major aspect of Ogbu's writings – perspective.

As Ogbu states, “conventional explanations have given insufficient attention to understanding why minorities behave the way they do from the point of view of the minorities themselves.” What's happened instead is an evaluation of minority academic behaviors from a biased, dominant-group perspective, ones from the dominant-group's social reality. To combat this unfair assessment Ogbu constructed what he calls the “Cultural Model.” Under this model each group, whether dominate or subordinate, has their own distinction. It can be described as each group's “respective understandings of how their society or any particular domain or institution works and their respective understandings of their places in that working order.”

Each cultural model will vary between the dominant-group culture, the involuntary immigrants and the voluntary immigrants. All the aforementioned have exacting implications regarding school treatment, segregation and overall success.

Margaret A. Gibson:

Gibson takes some of Ogbu's general, yet somewhat singular ideas, simplifies them, and attempts to give them more breadth in consideration of two significant, interrelated factors: barriers to achievement and the forces of positivity, both toward academic engagement and success.
To start, Gibson takes note of Ogbu's factors when he examined minority schooling situations, specifically mentioning the cultural, language and dialectical circumstances. From her own ethnographic studies she introduces an optimistic adaptation strategy coined “accommodation [and acculturation] without assimilation,” or, variously described, “additive acculturation.”

From this strategy Gibson makes note of an important concept that “while many minority youth and their families recognize the importance of being skillful in the ways of the dominant culture, they still rejected...assimilationist agenda and severely sanctioned those young people who deviated too far from their [own] community norms.”

Thus, despite minorities' acceptance of "additive acculturation," they still have pressures within their own cultural group to be true to themselves and not stray.

This could be the cause of what Gibson refers to as replacement forms of acculturation, primarily terming it “subtractive schooling.” The concept here is to directly display how “additive acculturation, while helpful, may not be enough to propel minority youth toward successful school engagement when they are confronted by a system of schooling that embraces and indeed fosters a subtractive or replacement form of acculturation.”

So then, the underlying point?

Instead of building on students' individual cultural and linguistic knowledge while being sensitive to their heritage to create biculturally and bilingually competent youth in an additive way, schools are doing the opposite; explicitly so, institutions subtract these identities from said youth, all to their social and academic detriment.

Even from Gibson's positive frame of reference, it seems that “optimism, a dual frame of reference, high aspirations and a belief that formal education is the path to a better life -- qualities identified as characteristic of many successful minority youth -- frequently prove insufficient in the face of assimilationist pressures , institutional racism, low teacher expectations and the many other barriers that minority youth too often encounter on the path to academic success."