Words, thoughts, and discourses are critical for teachers to consider when developing oral language in students. These faucets to oral language cannot be separated but rather need to be addressed as a whole because as they intersect and intertwine students grow and develop. How then can teachers develop these faucets in unison? Oral language development can be a challenge for teachers, however, they can create concrete experiences using positive social interaction that incorporates the Zone of Proximal Development and the more knowledgeable other (MKO).
Exposure to a language is critical; learners need to listen and practice the language to acquire competency in the language. According to Bahktin (1986) “we know our native language- its lexical composition and grammatical structures- not from dictionaries and grammars but from concrete utterances that we hear and that we reproduce in live speech communication with people around”. This supports the need for social interaction between the learner and the ‘More Knowledgeable Other (MKO)’ as proposed by Vygotsky (1978). The teacher in the classroom is the MKO who can interact with the learner through modeling and demonstrating the language. The teacher cannot only speak ‘to’ the student but rather ‘with’ the student creating socio-cultural interactions and ultimately allowing the learner to experience the language in authentic situations. Bahktin (1986) purported that ‘Language is realized in the form of individual concrete utterances (oral and written) by participants in the various areas of human activity’, and that learning to speak requires the construction of utterance. As learners speak, they develop various speech genres for diverse purposes. This informs teachers on creating concrete experiences such as teaching in context and not in isolating words and sentences and exposing learners to various speech genres. Subsequently, language learning should not be based on simply identifying parts of speech in sentences but rather the learner using and listening to these language structures in purposeful conversations and discussions. The learner needs to be able to respond to the utterances of the teacher, therefore ‘addressability’ of the teacher’s utterances is important. The utterance must address someone and have the characteristic of ‘answerability’ which invites a response (Bakhtin, 1986, p. 95). The top-down approach of the teacher telling and talking without offering the opportunity for students to respond hinders the learning of language and suffocates language development. Classrooms should be filled with rich conversations and discussions which allow for the usage of the English language as well as provide opportunities to critically respond to ideas within a context.
Bahktin (1986) pointed out “thoughts are shaped in the process of interaction and struggle with others’ thought;” this implies that the more the classroom teacher engages in dialogues the more the students will be able to practice the language and eventually acquire the phonological, semantic, and syntactic component of oral language to the level of automaticity. Hence, collaborative dialogues are encouraged because it enables both the speaker and listener to take both roles and respond to each other consequently developing thoughts. Across the curriculum, the engagement of collaborative dialogues can be incorporated in all lessons and not limited only to the language arts. For example, in math class instead of only explaining how to calculate simple interest, the students can be engaged in discourses that examine the effects and implication of interest rates and how it affects the economy, bargaining power and standards of living. Subsequently, developing a greater understanding of the mathematical concept and allowing for the construction of one’s own understanding of knowledge by expanding vocabulary, meaning and contextual language. The Social Interaction Theory claimed that learning precedes development as stated: “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (inter-psychological) and then inside the child (intra-psychological)” (Vygotsky L. , 1978). This means that the learner learns through a process that involves socially interacting with others, making sense of new words, and understanding meanings based on usage. They internalized the components of the language while at the same time practicing and purposefully using it. The learning environment because it is non-threatening allows them to freely make errors and self-correct themselves and learn through real and authentic experiences.
Since, the social interaction creates the authentic experience the teacher can incorporate Vygotsky’s theory which, conceptualized learning from the ‘More Knowledgeable Other’ (MKO), which refers to someone who knows more about the content than the learner. Through interaction, the learner will develop the required knowledge or skills because learning is not one-directional but rather a result of social interaction with an older person or peers within a social and cultural environment. Speech is considered a cultural tool that allows a child to communicate needs but eventually, it is internalized, and this leads to higher learning. Through social interaction, the behavior is modeled, demonstrated and instructions given so collaborative dialogue is evident. Additionally, Vygotsky Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) as defined as ‘the discrepancy between a child’s actual mental age and the level he reaches in solving a problem with assistance” (Vygotsky L. , 2012, p. 198) is relevant because it provides the opportunity for the child to learn more of the language than possible alone. There is a zone of what the child can learn without the aid of another person and beyond that is the zone representing what the learner can learn with adult or peer assistance. When a student is learning a task, their accomplishment and growth will be greater if they are assisted by someone who is much more knowledgeable and will enable language development beyond their singular abilities. For this to occur, the person assisting needs to be much more knowledgeable than the learner, there must be social interaction and activities to scaffold learning (McLeod, 2019). Scaffolding, according to Bradley & Bradley (2004), are contextual activities that help, guide, and assist the learner as they embark on a learning experience. As the learner works within his zone, activities are given that provide instructions, and directions to help the child navigate the learning zone and acquire the elements of the language. Scaffolds are like crutches that offer support to learning the language but as competency improves, the scaffolds are gradually removed so that the learner may practice the speech and internalize the ideas independently.
This can be applicable in Belizean classrooms which is most cases are populated with students who are learning English as a second language primarily because of the immense cultural diversity that exists in the country, however, many times that is ignored because Belize is an English-speaking nation only on paper. Recognizing this misconception suggests that classroom teachers should utilize ideas that develop oral language and speech in schools and not assume that children can develop it naturally. Non-speakers of a language tend to not want to speak in class in fear of making errors, therefore, teachers need to create a supportive environment. This environment can capitalize on the cultural and linguistic wealth that students bring to the classroom. The supportive learning environment can include persons who know the language to help the non-speaker to scaffold the language and acquire more of the discourses that he is immersed in. Additionally, the home language can be used as the springboard for the acquisition of the new language. Piaget in McLeod (2019) believed that language can be learned through assimilation and accommodation, therefore the student can use their acquired language, in this case, Spanish or Kriol, to assimilate new language structure that the More Knowledgeable Other is assisting with as he navigates through the zone of proximal development. Furthermore, the primary discourse of the student can accommodate phonology, syntax, and semantics of English since some similarities existed between these languages. For example, many of the words in Kriol are English words pronounced similarly, but their meanings differ such as the word ‘ignorant’ which is a known word in both languages but differ in meaning in Kriol and English, the students can then assimilate and accommodate the new meaning to their existing schema through the assistance of the adult.