First Language Acquisition
Learning a first, or native, language is an unending process. Children ages 6-12 continue to learn vocabulary, semantics, syntax and phonological distinctions. Also, reading and writing are taught at each grade level increasing the cognitive level used within each academic subject. An adolescent entering high school and continuing on to college must acquire enormous amounts of vocabulary and more complex writing skills. Language learning is a life long development.
Second Language AcquisitionTo assure cognitive and academic success in learning additional languages, a student's first language must be developed. A child who is illiterate in their native language will struggle learning a second language. Immigrant children who have had 2-3 years of first language schooling in their home country before moving to the United States take at least 5-7 years to reach typical native speaker performance.
With ENL services, students do reasonably well in the early years of school (K-3), but 4th grade through high school are more challenging. This is when academic cognitive demands increase due to the content of the curriculum. Students are learning concepts and vocabulary at the same time. Parents can help their children by speaking in their native languages at home to develop cognitive skills.
According to Jim Cummins, Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills (BICS), the informal language used on the playground, school bus and cafeteria and usually takes 2-3 years to develop. Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) refers to more formal academic language used in content areas of curriculum and can take 5-10 years to master.Chart from Making Sense: Small-Group Comprehension Lessons for English Language Learners by Juli Kendal and Outey Khuon