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ESL Students Should Speak Native Language At Home

OSSINING, N.Y. – Students who are learning English as a second language should solidify their reading, writing and speaking skills in their native language at home, and their English skills will quickly blossom, said Mirla Puello, the Ossining School District's director of English and ESL.

"Parents often ask me, 'In what language should I speak and read at home?'" Puello said during an informational interview on Monday. "My answer is, if you are a Spanish-speaking parent, read, write and talk lots in Spanish and we'll take care of the English."

Studies show that children with strong native language skills learn a second language much quicker, Puello explained.

About 12 percent of students in Ossining schools are classified as ESL students, Puello said. In order for students to be placed in the ESL categories, parents must first fill out a Home Language Questionnaire that asks questions relating to what languages are spoken at home.

If a student is labeled through the questionnaire as a potential ESL student, he or she is invited for an interview conducted according to state guidelines that then determines whether or not the student will be placed in ESL classes.

ESL classes follow two models: a "push in" model where an ESL teacher works collaboratively with a classroom teacher in a regular classroom, and a "pull out" model where a few students are pulled out of regular classrooms for ESL instruction.

"Twenty years ago, ESL instruction involved learning a lot of labels like 'desk,' 'table.'" Puello said. "Now they have to learn English and content simultaneously. The classroom teacher and ESL teacher work together. The classroom teacher may modify content so that all the students understand."

In the middle of the school year, ESL students take a New York State achievement test which measures proficiency in English. Once a student passes that test, they are identified as no longer needing ESL support, Puello said.

Ossining also offers a Dual Language program that aims to have students be bilingual. Some ESL students are in the program, which accepts students through a lottery method.

Puello emphasized that learning a new language takes time. Language experts divide language acquisition into four stages: the Pre-Production Stage when a student is in shock from the first time hearing the language being spoken all day long, "Early Production" when a student can say "yes," "no," and very short sentences, "Speech Emergence" when a student can speak sentences and understand stories that are read out loud," and "Advanced Fluency" when a student's language ability is compared to native speakers.

"It takes five to seven years to get to the advanced stage but some kids pick it up quicker, and some require still more time," Puello said.

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