Emergent Literacy Development in Adult L2 Learners: From Theory to Practice

Emergent Literacy Development in Adult L2 Learners: From Theory to Practice

Lisa Gonzalves (University of California, Davis, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2722-1.ch003

Abstract

Globally, many adults lack access to education due to gender, poverty, ethnic discrimination, political conflict, and geographic proximity. Moreover, many of these same adults may migrate at some point in their lives, needing to adapt to new linguistic settings. Oftentimes, such adults need to learn both an entirely new language and first-time literacy - not necessarily in their first language, but in the new language (L2) which they may not yet speak. By providing a robust overview of scholarship on emergent literacy acquisition in children and adults, this chapter heightens understanding of the complexity of acquiring literacy for the first time as an L2 adult migrant. The chapter provides practical guidelines on how teachers of L2 adults with emergent literacy can apply this knowledge in the classroom, focusing on three pedagogical areas - vocabulary acquisition, metalinguistic awareness, and academic socialization.
Chapter Preview
Top

Introduction

Around the world, many adults are denied access to education for political, economic, or social reasons. Consequently, today over 750,000,000 adults worldwide are considered illiterate – nearly 10% of the world population (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2017). Moreover, many of these same adults may migrate at some point in their lives, needing to adapt to new linguistic settings. Often, such adults need to learn both an entirely new language and first-time literacy – not necessarily in their first language (L1) (which is arguably more difficult to acquire as an adult than as a child), but likely in the new, additional language (L2), which they may not yet speak. The simultaneous development of first-time literacy combined with the acquisition of an entirely new language underscores the difficulty in the developmental processes such learners must face. To illustrate, imagine attempting to copy simple text from the classroom board while struggling to a) distinguish and recognize novel shapes (letters), b) recreate the novel shapes in tandem with the instructor’s own orthography, c) understand how to orient the paper you are writing upon, all while d) not having any idea what the teacher is saying or the meaning of what you are writing, and e) lacking a systematic understanding of all the parts and components of written language, how they relate to one another, and how to engage with such text. For these students new to literacy, understanding the world of print, particularly in a new language, can be an arduous undertaking.

While there exists a wealth of scholarship dedicated to second language learning and literacy, much of this literature is conducted on students who are literate in their L1 and therefore does not directly apply to L2 learners with emergent literacy (Bigelow & Tarone, 2004; Tarone, 2010). Moreover, research on adult emergent literacy in the L2 context is still relatively unexplored (Bigelow & Tarone, 2004; Strube, 2009; van de Craats, Kurvers, & Young-Scholten, 2006). As a result, practitioners suffer from a lack of materials and resources to teach first-time literacy to adult migrants in an L2 context; furthermore, many L2 teaching certificate programs do not include courses on how to teach students who are not L1 literate (McCluskey, 2012; Vinogradov & Liden, 2009; Young-Scholten, Peyton, Sosinski, & Cabeza, 2015). While some may say a natural starting point would be to first teach literacy to these adults in their L1 (Gillespie, 1994; Malaga, 2008; Roberts, 1994), in a multilingual classroom of immigrant and refugee background students from different countries such a suggestion may not only be impossible, but may not match the immediate goals of a learner adapting to a new linguistic environment.

This chapter aims to contribute to our understanding of the great complexity of acquiring literacy for the first time as an adult migrant in an L2 classroom. The chapter begins with an overview of the scholarship on emergent literacy acquisition in children, L1 adults, and L2 adults. Following, practical teaching guidelines are presented in three chosen pedagogical areas: vocabulary acquisition, metalinguistic awareness (including a sample classroom lesson), and academic socialization. These three areas were chosen due to their critical role in first-time literacy development in an L2 learning context (as elaborated upon in the literature review). The chapter concludes with discussion questions and additional resources.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Focus on Form: In pedagogy, an intentional method utilized by instructors to draw students’ attention to parts and patterns of language. The term can also refer to the students’ independent attention to the same.

Orthographic Form: The written representation of language and linguistic elements. It can include graphemic (i.e., letter) shapes and font, sound-meaning-graph correlations, and graph sequencing.

Cognitive Load: The amount of information being processed within one’s working memory. Cognitive overload, then, refers to data exceeding the capacity of an individual’s working memory. Pedagogically, teachers are advised to be mindful of the amount of novel data and tasks assigned to a student, to prevent overload (and stifle learning).

Academic Socialization: The process of being socially indoctrinated into the culturally-based norms of doing school; knowing how to think and act in a classroom (including understanding and responding to classroom cues), and how to interact with varying academic tasks to meet institutional expectations and gain educational success.

Metalinguistic Reflection: The act of expressing one’s thinking and understanding about linguistic parts of language. Examples include classroom dialogues, interviews, and written journals.

Cultural Dissonance: Potential confusion, uncomfortableness, and/or disagreement experienced by someone in a novel cultural environment. For example, second language learners may feel confronted with new types of classroom designs, sociocultural practices, and ethical values which may conflict with those they previously experienced and held.

Metalinguistic Awareness: The ability to understand language as a construction of various parts (phonemic, morphological, etc.), identify those parts in a word or sentence, and maneuver them for linguistic purposes (such as replacing/deleting sounds, stringing together morphemes, etc.). More specific terms such as metaphonological awareness, metamorphological awareness, etc., can also be used.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book:
Reset