Language is Learned in Social Contexts

This posting is a continuation of the previous posting, the eight elements of language. The seventh will be explained here. Language is learned in social contexts. We stated above that social interactionists believe that language learning resides in meaningful social interactions within a supportive environment. Humans are social and curious, and we want to be included when we’re interested in what’s happening around us. So, an environment that sparks a desire to be involved and to know what is going on is critical. Another important element for the learner is a guide who knows how to listen, how to explain, how to answer questions, and how to negotiate meaning in that environment. For young children, caretakers are the guides who interact in meaningful ways. For English learners, the teacher and friends are the guides who construct meaning through comprehensible language input. Of course, the learner is not a passive recipient. Negotiating meaning is a joint venture.  Learner and guide are partners in constructing meaning. A good guide modifies and adjusts language to the level of the learner for maximum understanding as the learner participates in attempting to understand.
As the teacher, your role is critical in providing a rich context in which your students can engage in learning and, consequently, learn English. With this in mind, you can do a great deal to set up your classroom environment so that students have multiple opportunities to talk to one another as they explain, clarify, complete projects, and construct meaning together. You can also model for your native English speakers how to be helpful guides for the English learners in the classroom. We will talk more about providing rich social contexts for English learners in the next postings. Read the last elements of language in my next posting!

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