How do socioculturalism, context embedding, and Lily Wong Fillmore's three crucial components play into the language-learning environment?  Are there any ways that a program like Mango can employ...

How do socioculturalism, context embedding, and Lily Wong Fillmore's three crucial components play into the language-learning environment?  Are there any ways that a program like Mango can employ all of these concepts?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The language-learning theories of socioculturalism and context embedding, alongside the Mango Language Learning Program, stand in stark contrast to the theory proposed by Lily Wong Fillmore concerning what is crucial for teachers to know to be able to teach academic English language usage effectively. Academics note that there is a significant difference between conversational English and academic English and also note that English Language Learners (ELLs) can demonstrate fluency in conversational English without also being fluent in both reading and writing in academic English. The theories of socioculturalism and contextual embedding relate to conversational English; the Mango program also teaches only conversational English. Fillmore offers methods teachers can use to help ELLs achieve literacy in academic English.

Socioculturalism is a branch of the constructivism learning theory. Constructivism teaches that knowledge is not absolute; knowledge is only a subjective construction formed in a person's mind. As a person acquires new information, that information is shaped by the person's own personal beliefs and experiences, and it's this shaped information that we consider to be knowledge. Therefore, knowledge is never absolute but instead always a product of a person's own subjective thinking. Socioculturalism takes constructivism one step further. Instead of knowledge being shaped only by a person's own subjective mind, knowledge is also shaped by the community and environment a person interacts with. Hence, knowledge is shaped by a society's culture, history, and politics, not just shaped by the separate individual. Teachers of language learners apply socioculturalism in the learning experience when they understand that students learn based on their interactions with the teacher, other students, and even the rest of society (Simon Fraser University, "Major Learning Theories of the Twentieth Century"). If teachers can create a learning environment in which students can freely interact and participate, then learning is enhanced (Eun & Lim, "A Sociocultural View of Language Learning: The Importance of Meaning-Based Instruction," TESL Canada Journal).

The theory of context embedding goes hand in hand with socioculturalism. A context-embedded language is one in which understanding is not just derived by the words in the language but by physical gestures, facial expressions, oral cues, and other sociocultural contexts, such as setting (in a classroom, in a store, in a church, etc.) and who is speaking (a friend, a parent, an uncle, a supervisor, etc.). Context embedding is really only seen in conversational language, not in academic language. Therefore, teachers of language learners can enhance conversational language learning by implementing socioculturalism and providing context-embedded tasks to help further develop language comprehension.

The Mango Language Learning Program makes use of both socioculturalism and context embedding to teach conversational English using the context of real-life situations in which native speakers converse, and the language learners hear the conversations on audio files as well as review lessons in "vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, and culture" (Decorah Public Library, IA, "Mango Language Learning Program").

Though both socioculturalism and context embedding are useful for teaching conversational language, teaching academic language still remains a problem that is addressed by Fillmore. In her article "Supporting Access to the Language & Content of Complex Texts for EL & LM Students," Fillmore even flat out asserts that the comprehension of academic language cannot be taught, it can only "be acquired" due to the fact that academic language is "much too pervasive and varied" to effectively be covered in any academic units (p. 8). Hence, learning to comprehend academic language is a growing process for students, and Fillmore essentially proposes that teachers need to know the English language well enough that they can effectively help ELLs reach the ability to comprehend academic language on their own. She asserts that one crucial component of a teacher's knowledge must be English grammar; however, a teacher only needs to know grammar well enough to be able to analyze a complex academic sentence in terms of phrases and clauses. The teacher "does not need to know the grammatical terminology" well enough to be able to identify phrases and clauses in terms of grammatical concepts, like prepositional phrases, independent clause, etc. (p. 37). She further asserts that the second most crucial component of a teacher's knowledge is the ability to identify the subject of a sentence, especially because a subject in academic writing can be long and complex, and to identify the predicate of a sentence. A third crucial component of a teacher's knowledge is being able to look at each part of a sentence and see exactly "what that part communicates," "what it does," and how it relates to the other parts of a sentence (p. 37). For example, an adjective in a sentence plays a very specific role, and understanding that role along with the roles of all parts of speech helps a reader comprehend the meaning of a sentence.

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