English language learners (ELLs) learn English primarily by listening to language in use around them, while using context to figure out what the spoken words mean. This language serves as the input or data that learners internalize and use to express their own meanings. Many ELLs go through a "silent period," during which they listen and observe more than they speak. Effective teachers are aware that ELLs who are quiet in class may be hard at work listening and comprehending. ELLs may take longer to answer a question or volunteer a comment because they need more time to process the meaning and to formulate an appropriate response. With time and lots of opportunities to listen, observe, participate, and interact, ELLs progress in understanding and are able to produce language that is increasingly complete, complex, and grammatical. This is similar to the natural way that most young children learn the languages spoken by their families at home--in the context of activities and relationships.
Listening to the distinctive sounds and rhythms of English provides the foundation for speaking English and for literacy development. As ELLs listen to literature that is read aloud, they become familiar with its language (e.g., Once upon a time; happily ever after) and its structure (introduction of characters and setting, problem, solution), which are important prerequisites for reading.
Oral language and interpersonal relationships also support the development of writing skills. Students write for the audience of their classmates and are eager to hear what others have written. When writing is the focus of social interaction, ELLs can thrive as writers. ELLs need daily opportunities to hear and use oral language in order for all their English literacy skills to flourish.
The listening instruction practices in this spotlight provide guidance on this important element of literacy. Teachers of all students will find useful insights and strategies in the sections Implications for ELLs and Strategies for Supporting ELLs below each practice under [What Is It?].