If you have experience with any babies or toddlers, you probably recognize that the way we humans learn to speak happens in stages. After simply being able to make sounds, we first understand that those around us are making specific sounds that mean something; we understand. Then we start producing one-word utterances. We move to two-word phrases and then to more complicated phrases and sentences. It is the same when we learn a second or additional language, and these five stages are predictable:

Level 1 - Pre-production (starting up),

Level 2 - Early Production (beginning),

Level 3 - Speech Emergence (developing),

Level 4 - Intermediate Fluency (expanding)

Level 5 - Advanced Fluency (bridging over)

(Krashen & Terrell, 1983).

The rate at which students progress through these stages depends on a myriad of factors: personal attitude and motivation of the student, personal attitude and motivation of the teacher, instructional strategies utilized, a student's level of formal education, family background, length of time spent in the country, ESL instruction provided in prior American schools, and on and on. Understanding these stages and these factors is important in providing the best language instruction to your ELLs. It allows you to work within his or her zone of proximal development — that gap between what students can do on their own and what they can with the help of more knowledgeable individuals (Vygotsky, 1978). Not only does your student's and your own instructional success increase with this knowledge, but your district's success increases as well, as the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act requires ELLs to progress in their content knowledge and in their English language proficiency. Therefore, understanding how ELLs progress through their acquisition of the English language is vital to everyone's success.

Below you will find a chart from TESOL outlining the five stages of language acquisition along with general receptive and productive abilities.


(Chart retrieved from TESOL at the following site: http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:p4UUXfaAPjYJ:www.projectshine.org/sites/default/files/English%2520Language%2520Proficiency%2520Standards%2520in%2520the%2520Core%2520Content%2520Areas.pdf+performance+definitions+of+the+five+levels+of+english+language+proficiency+tesol&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESjqz9YLIVMVvZ2ekLzb1AHaTkozqApjv4hRJLKMLM-AD1uNFprfERK8wh2NUJ3JpdKvzbEotXExMZnXMgTetiCtiW3t9JMN_9mQiO0VJIeoEqkjc-GWgU5f7mmRx5IRXR5X_Pgq&sig=AHIEtbRIYmKhCkTB6B64p4a8Ia91d77B2Q)