Everyone in the world speaks some form of dialect

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					Dialectical Differences and

Their Impact on Learning


      Carrie Brown
       Everyone in the world speaks some form of dialect. The informal standard

dialect is what is socially acceptable in society. People who have more money and

power in society determine what dialect is socially acceptable. Typically, these

people have attended college and are considered mid-management and above.

Comparatively, vernacular dialects are not looked upon favorably by people who

are educated and have more money. Yet both dialects are equally complex and

follow specific dialectical rules and patterns. Also, the number of words in a

person’s oral vocabulary stays consistent to 12,000-18,000 words regardless of

dialect. There is a direct correlation between if a group has been historically

viewed as inferior, and the negative way their vernacular dialect is viewed by

society. Therefore, people who speak a vernacular dialect are often looked down

upon, and not considered as highly educated, or intelligent. The way they speak

can influence not only how they are viewed by others, but how they learn to read

so they can be successful in a society whose acceptable form of communication is

informal standard dialect (spoken language) or formal standard dialect (book


       As a teacher, one invariably has concerns that a vernacular dialect can

affect literacy development. One concern is that students will not be able to

transition between what they say and what they write. When a student writes,

they sound out what they say and they will sound out words incorrectly. For

example, if a student was writing the word “another” but pronounced it “anotha,”

they might spell it with an “a” rather than an “er.” As a reading coach, my

response to that concern would be that although dialect might affect invented

spelling, it doesn’t affect learning correct spelling. Every dialect has consistent
patterns. For example, if they pronounce another with an “a,” they will also

pronounce butter “butta and father “fatha.” If they learn that another is spelled

with “er,” they will conclude on their own that butter and father also end in “er”

as well as other words that have the same pattern and they will spell those words


       Another concern is that a vernacular dialect might affect their reading

comprehension due to lack of word recognition. According to Phil Gough,

Reading Comprehension equals word recognition times hearing capacity. When

reading or being read to, a child with vernacular dialect might not recognize the

word choice being used, thus affecting their comprehension. As a coach, I would

say that in this case a child needs to use their context processor more than

his/her orthographic processor because it will be more helpful to them. The word

might not be familiar, but they need to use the context surrounding the word to

figure out what the word means. Yet, in order to learn book language, students

need EXPOSURE and OPPORTUNITY to practice so I would encourage a teacher

to continue to do read alouds with rich language and to provide books for

students to read at their instructional level so those with dialects are exposed to

unknown words in context.

       Another way a vernacular dialect can affect literacy development is if a

teacher makes judgments about a student’s ability. According to Wolfram and

Christian, “people who hear a vernacular dialect make erroneous assumptions

about the speaker’s intelligence, motivation, and even morality.” These

assumptions can have a direct result in how the student does in class, or affect

student placement in ability groups. It is important to recognize that although
everyone needs to learn standard English in school, those who speak a vernacular

dialect do not start out on equal footing as those who speak informal standard

English. Therefore, it is an extra hurdle for them to develop a facility with certain

standard forms of dialect. As a coach, I would educate teachers on how to not

misinterpret speech dialects as a means for recommending a student for speech

services or special education.

       Finally, a huge concern among teachers is that students that speak in

vernacular dialects might be negatively labeled in their academic and

professional futures. If I was a K-2 Language Arts Curriculum Developer, I would

first advise teachers to be aware of the way that they respond to a student’s

dialect and embrace it as it is part of a student’s cultural heritage. Boav and

Hymes studied dialectical changes in groups in Mexico. One group would be

taken over by another group and had no trouble assimilating to a new dialect IF

they felt respected by the group taking them over. If a student feels alienated by

another group due to dialect, they will embrace their difference and try to keep

their dialect rather than try to learn another culture’s dialect. Students need to

learn how to embrace their own dialect, yet be trained to code switch in a

professional setting so as not to be judged negatively. It is easier to blatantly

speak about linguistic differences and code switching with kids at a middle school

age. Therefore, with the younger kids, I would also recommend teachers to

immerse students in books with rich language. This subjects students to different

vocabulary that is considered “standard.” In doing so, teachers are teaching

acceptable forms of language, yet remaining sensitive to the predicament those

with a vernacular dialect face.
      A good teacher must be cognizant of how a dialect can affect a person’s

learning and future success. That knowledge should guide their instruction to

help make the a child’s classroom experience as positive as possible.

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