Tuesday, 25 October 2011

ESL Learners and language delays

I LOVE working in the heart of North York;  we don't have to go too far to experience various regional cultures, it's charming and welcoming.

A social experience is always just down the hall, street, or down the block at the local grocer. Working with clients from diverse backgrounds is an obvious reality for most professionals in the Greater Toronto Area; as Torontonians we are diverse, and proud of it. In addition to being multi-cutural our city is also multi-lingual. I speak English and French, but that's it (and is barely the tip of the ice berg in terms of the languages spoken in T.O.).

When working with early learners with language delays, it is essential to examine the child's language skills relative to the primary language spoken in the family home; too often a child is scored too low because his first language is French and the assessment is conducted in English. A thorough practitioner would account for all of these details, and believe me it can be difficult. There are a tremendous number of variables which impact learning style and rate; before a meaningful program can begin an intensive assessment always occurs. The assessment results are held as the baseline upon which future progress is measure; as a result, it's important that as practitioners, we get it right (not over or under estimated any child's ability). The results of which are delivered to the parents in an individual support plan (ISP), which also must consider that English may not be the parent's first language. SO many variables, but it seems like the least we can do as practitioners.

A child with limited language requires systematic instruction tailored to the unique learner profile. Personally, when working with early learners that speak English as a second language,  I tend to focus mostly on pairing single words with gestures; I try to use the child's name a lot "Timmy come" while gesturing towards me; "Mikey play" while gesturing to the toys. Like always in my teaching, I strive for maximum spontaneous eye-contact and try to meet the child's sensory needs through various activities aimed at keeping the child calm and regulated (play dough, small patterning materials, glorb, shaving cream, corn starch, seeds and rice).

When the learner is more advanced, and assuming he or she still speaks English as a second language, I tend to  break down my sentences to short and clear phrases; I continue to pair gestures with words and use varied visuals to assist in the process of generalization. I like to focus on labeling programs to start, because it gets momentum going. I tend to stress the importance of annunciation (this often leads to phonics review) and depending on the child, may target any combination of social skills, math skills, reading skills, and conversational skills. Receptively language is another go-to goal whether or not the child has language delays. I find that a lot of the students that speak more than one language, while also possessing a language delay (however slight or severe), benefit from several components of ABA therapy including but limited to the domains listed above.

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