Second Language Learning and Language Arts.


The number of English as a Second Language (ESL) students entering American colleges and universities today is approximately twice as many as was projected for the I 990s. In actuality, more than a million people entered annually (National Center for Education Statistics, 1993). Many of these students are mainstreamed into academic content courses while they are still enrolled in ESL courses. The diversity means educators are positioned to help students ease their way into a new language and culture while still retaining their own. Many ESL students feel overwhelmed and frustrated in college classes because they are learning a new language along with new and complex concepts. They are expected to perform at the level of native speakers even though their proficiency in the English language is quite often inadequate for the task. The current study demonstrates the benefit of pairing a speech class with a content area course, e.g., psychology, as a method to improve English language listening and speaking skills. Introduction Colleges and universities in the United States traditionally enroll large numbers of students from non-English speaking backgrounds. The high percentage of linguistically mixed students places greater demands on education. Therefore, it is imperative that professors develop the necessary skills and commitment to help English language learners (ELL) comprehend academic discourse (Carrasquillo & Rodriguez, 1996; Pally, 2000; Schmitt & Carter, 2000; Snow & Brinton, 1984, 1988,1997; Wesche & Ready, 1985). International students’ difficulties understanding lectures in English are sometimes attributed to lack of familiarity with rhetorical structure rather than sentence-level misinterpretation, even when language proficiency seems adequate (Mason, 1994). Researchers observe that unsuccessful students fail to notice how the details of a lecture fit together as points in an argument (Burger, S., Chretien, M., Gingras, M., Hauptman, P., & Migneron, M., 1984). Murphy (1996) suggests that basing an English-for-academic-purposes syllabus on sustained-content teaching provides important opportunities to practice “comprehending-to-learn academic content material … as distinct from instruction in learning-to-comprehend” (p. 109). Murphy further notes that live delivery of academic lectures favors interaction and thus simulates the type of give-and-take discourse that international students struggle with in college and university settings. Effective instructional practices for ELL require educators to know the principles of second language (L2) acquisition, students’ cultural backgrounds and experiences and the politics of diversity. Research on English as a second language (ESL) demonstrates the effects of social organization in the classroom on second language development and the critical role the instructor plays in constructing opportunities for learning (Carrasquillo & Rodriguez, 1996; Enright & McCloskey, 1985; Wong Fillmore, 1985). In order for international students to succeed academically, they need additional practice with course content. Such practice will, at the same time, help them improve their English language listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. Pairing a speech class (an ESL class that emphasizes aural and oral production) with a content area (in this case, a psychology course) offers the students an ideal situation. Sustained content presents opportunity for incidental vocabulary learning because it provides multiple exposures to words in a single domain (Schmitt & Carter, 2000). Content specific vocabulary favors incidental learning as students repeatedly encounter words and gradually develop a sense of word meaning and use. Although both academic and content-specific vocabulary have frequency within sustained content texts, only content-specific vocabulary possesses salience. The present article summarizes findings of an English as a Second Language (ESW study