English as an additional language

From Academic Kids

English as an additional language is used to refer to the learning of English by speakers of other languages. The term is commonly abbreviated to EAL. In British usage, this is also simply called English language teaching or ELT. EAL covers both ESL -- English as a second language, and EFL -- English as a foreign language.


Types of EAL

ESL refers to the learning of English within an English-speaking region, generally by refugees, immigrants and students. (The term has been criticised on the grounds that English may not be someone's second language but their third, fourth, or more.) TESL is the teaching of English as a Second Language.

EFL indicates the learning of English for eventual use in a non-English-speaking region. It can occur either in the student's home country (think of millions of schoolchildren around the world, sweating to achieve the level necessary to read this page as fluently as you are doing now), or, for the more privileged minority, in an anglophone country which they visit as a sort of educational tourist, e.g. after graduating from university back home. TEFL is the teaching of English as a Foreign Language.

If the many acronyms are confusing, it may help to simplify. ESL tends to concentrate on English for daily needs and for living in an English-speaking community, particularly for those newcomers who are immigrants or refugees. EFL tends to concentrate on English for academic success (whether in the local school exam system or in post-graduate study abroad), or for professional success, i.e. within an office where English is sometimes needed.

Part of the confusion is created by the funding structure. Again, as a gross generalisation, in English-speaking countries such as Canada, Britain, and the United States, the government pays for ESL to integrate newcomers into the wider society, while the individual student or his sponsor (parents, boss) pays for EFL, often at an intensive English language institute.

It is worth noting that ESL/EAL/EFL programs also differ depending on the variant of English being spoken; "English" is a term that can refer to various dialects, including British English, North American English, and other dialects. For example, students studying ESL/EFL in Hong Kong are more likely to learn British English, especially British idioms, which may make travel to the United States marginally more complex for them, as North American English uses very different idioms and slang. For this reason, many teachers of English as a foreign language now emphasize teaching English as an international language (EIL), also known as English as a ­lingua franca (ELF).

EAL-related associations

  • TESOL Inc. is the international professional organization of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, based in the United States.
  • IATEFL is the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language, based in Britain.

Common European Framework for Languages

Between 1998 and 2000, the Council of Europe's language policy division developed its Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. The aim of this framework was to have a common system for foreign language testing and certification, to cover all European languages and countries.

The Common European Framework divides language learners into three levels:
A. Basic User
B. Independent User
C. Proficient User

Each of these levels is divided into two sections, resulting in a total of six levels for testing (A1, A2, B1, etc).

The Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) took the CEF levels and developed a series of "can-do statements" which describe what a learner should have achieved at each level. ALTE calls the steps "level 0 - 5" rather than using the CEF terminology.

This table compares EFL exams according to the ALTE/CEF levels:

ALTE levelCEF levelIELTS examBEC exam and CELS examCambridge examPitman ESOLTOEICTOEFL
Level 5C27.5+-CPEAdvanced910+276+
Level 4C16.5 - 7HigherCAEHigher Intermediate701 - 910236 - 275
Level 3B25 - 6VantageFCEIntermediate541 - 700176 - 235
Level 2B13.5 - 4.5PreliminaryPET-381 - 540126 - 175
Level 1A23-KETElementary246 - 38096 - 125
Breakthrough levelA11-2--Basic--

Difficulties for Learners

Although English is no more or less difficult to learn than any other language, it poses a number of difficulties for most of those who attempt to learn it either formally or through immersion in an English speaking culture. Although many factors, such as idiom and appropriate familiarity or formality face the learner of any language, English does have some unique characteristics that pose a hurdle for most of those who grew up speaking another language.

  • Sounds – English does not have more individual consonant sounds than most languages, but the "th" sound, common in English (the, this, that, thin, etc.) is not a sound in most other languages, even others in the Germanic family (eg, English "thousand" = German "tausend"). Although natural for native speakers, many learners substitute a "d" or "t" sound that is more natural for them. Even practised second language speakers like Prime Minister Jean Chrétien of Canada carry this habit after mastering vocabulary and grammar. Another sound that is uncommon in other languages is the "ng" (as in "singing") – even some native speakers of English substitute an "n" sound instead. English also has a higher than average twelve pure vowel sounds and diphthongs (double vowel combinations) compared to five in most Romance languages.
  • Consonant Clusters – Most languages alternate consonant and vowel sounds. Many have some double consonant clusters. However, English commonly has double and even triple consonant clusters (eg, "desks") that pose a great problem for learners, particularly when they occur over two words (eg, "milk shake"). Learners often try to force vowels in between the consonants (for the two examples above "desekas" or "milakashak"). Learners from languages that always end words in vowels (eg, Italian) try to end all English words in vowels – "make" comes out as "make-a".
  • Vocabulary – English has by far the largest vocabulary of any language. Even fairly well educated English speakers understand more words than are in many languages. However, despite its wealth of words, English still has many common words that have multiple common uses (eg, "run") that can overwhelm a learner. Moreover, because of the wealth of vocabulary, English often uses several words to mean the same thing, although some may be used more commonly in formal situations (eg, "guts" versus "courage", "fortitude", "bravery"). Most other languages have a closer "word to idea" ratio with fewer multi-use words, and fewer words for each subject. For example, Japanese learners often know the word "pants" from their English lessons, but have no idea what "trousers" are.
  • Dialect vocabulary – English does have a "world vocabulary", where words mean the same thing to a Briton, American, Canadian or Australian (for example "head" for the thing that sits on your neck). However, not only do Americans and Britons use different words for the same thing ("hood" versus "bonnet" for "engine cover on a car"), often the same word can mean quite different things in a different dialect (eg, "fag" is a vulgar word for "homosexual" to an American, but means "cigarette" to an Englishman). Some words are incredibly limited in their geographical application, such as "jambuster" in Winnipeg for what the rest of North America calls a "jelly donut".
  • Unstressed vowels – The "schwa" is an unvoiced vowel that is common in English, but unknown or rare in other languages. Quite unconsciously, English speakers frequently replace a long or short vowel with a schwa in a word's unstressed syllables. For example, inform has a distinctly pronounced short 'o' sound in its stressed syllable, but when the stress shifts in the derived word informa'tion, the short 'o' reduces to a schwa or a syllabic 'r' (depending on the dialect spoken). To a learner, this means that the syllables "an", "en-", "in", "on" and "un" often sound exactly alike. A native speaker can easily distinguish "an able", "enable", and "unable" because of their position in a sentence. However, learners can't often make such a distinction. Moreover, learners tend to overpronounce English vowels in the same situation, which makes the speech sound strained and out of rhythm – "An AbEl", "EnAbEl" and "UnAbEl", where most native speakers would say "nAbl" in all three cases.
  • Stress timing – In English, stressed syllables are roughly equi-distant in time, no matter how many syllables come in between. Although it is not the only stressed timed language (German and Russian are stress-timed as well), the majority of world languages are syllable-timed, with each syllable coming at an equal time after the previous one. Commonly, Romance language learners develop a staccato rhythm when speaking English that is disconcerting to a native speaker.
  • Shortening – When an ESL teacher stresses enunciation, they are often doing their students a disservice, as English speakers commonly combine consonant and vowel sounds. For example, a teacher may consistently use "going to" and stress that their students do the same. However, most native English speaker wouldn't pronounce it that way – native speakers say "gonna", as well as "shoulda", "coulda" and "woulda". As such, learner's speech sounds too formal, tends not to have a natural rhythm, and the learner has difficulty listening to natural English. For example, no native speaker of English would have difficulty understanding what a native of Manchester, England meant by "yallright?" although this may totally confound a non-native speaker.
  • Null articles – Not all languages have articles (a, an, the), and some languages are missing one or the other (for example, Russian has no definite article). However, most languages that have articles use them consistently. For example, French nouns (apart from proper nouns) almost always take a definite or indefinite article. However, many English words can be used without an article, for instance if they are pluralized. Learners often try to force articles in front of words where they sound unnatural to a native speaker, even though they are technically being used correctly. For example, one French language web site used "The Judgments" where an English speaker would almost certainly have just used "Judgments".

See also

External links

simple:English as a foreign language


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