Most experts agree that it takes between five and seven years to acquire academic English, the language needed to succeed academically and professionally. Students may acquire social language (the language used on the playground or in the cafeteria) much more rapidly, but there is frequently a gap between social and academic English.
So what happens to students during five-to-seven-year span of time they are acquiring English?
The American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) lists the following as Normal Occurrences in English Language Learners during the period they are acquiring English.
The younger the child, the longer the silent period tends to last. Older children may remain in the silent period for a few weeks or a few months, whereas preschoolers may be relatively silent for a year or more.
Source: American Speech-Language and Hearing Association
Children with a language difference meet the communication norms of their primary (first language) community, but do not meet the norms of standard English.
It is important to distinguish these definitions so that English Language Learners are not misdiagnosed as having a language disorder, which can often be difficult to reverse.
Receptive Language Skills: Give short one- or two-step directions. Provide children with a visual model of what is being asked. Play "I Spy," "Simon Says," or other imaginative games
Expressive Language Skills: Read books with no words, have children make up their own story. Provide students with a verbal model/sentence frame, “This is a ______.” “I want the______.” Ask open-ended questions and encourage more words, more words, more details in every response.
Play music. Sing to them. Narrate everything you do. And with every response they give, add a detail or additional few words to it, so they can hear how to enrich and expand language, e.g. child says, "Look- a car!" And adult responds, "You're right! I see the big, red car!"
Yoko Giron, Lead Speech-Language Pathologist Assistant