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To increase nonnative speakers’ language skills, public schools in the United States of America enroll English language learners (ELLs) in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). While practicing the mechanics of language is an essential, practical foundation for future fluency, such an instructional approach ultimately lacks meaning over time. This issue is indicative of a larger trend in United States public schooling: language is taught as a means to something else – acquiring content knowledge, performing tasks like an extended debate – rather than studied for its already valuable, strange and complex nature. Since ELLs’ position prepares them for understanding the nature of language, in my paper, I employ ESOL as an example of the greater need for meaningful language teaching in the United States. Overall, I will consider the goals of ESOL and how to meet them meaningfully by addressing the following questions: What does it mean to have or use a language? and Given that ELLs are particularly suited to study the nature of language, how can the strangeness of language be incorporated into ESOL for students’ benefit?. Drawing upon works in philosophy of language and conceptual work on language learning, I suggest that language learning provides ELLs with another way of viewing the world, adding to their educational experience. Additionally, to ensure that the connection between language and worldview is made, ESOL educators must teach ELLs to reflect on the process of learning and using a language – in other words, thinking about how language shapes one’s way of thinking. In the end, I argue that inviting ELLs to make meaning through a process of “metalingualism” provides a more purposeful introduction to language acquisition, as well as a sustained understanding of the use of language and one’s place in the world.
Travis, Kara E., "World Class: A Case for Teaching the Strangeness of Language Through Metalingualism in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)" (2017). Educational Studies Summer Fellows. 1.
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