By: Amany Habib
 All languages are equal from a linguistic point of view:
They all have sound and sound systems
They all have words and word meanings
They all have grammar
 Languages exist wherever humans exist.
 Every “normal” child is capable of acquiring any language to which he/she is
 All languages are dynamic.
 Linguistically speaking, no language is superior to another.
--------------------------------------------Source: Why TESOL? Theories and Issues in teaching English as a Second Language for K-12 Teachers.
There are a number of components that are
universal and there are some features that
maybe unique to some languages.
The first component of language I would like to present
is phonology. What exactly is phonology?
Phonology is the study of sound (Greek).
How many letters does the English language have?
How many sounds does the language have?
The answer is much more.
In modern English, we have 26 letters in our alphabet. We do
not have 26 sounds that corresponds with these letters.
We have in American English approximately 48 different
sounds that can be created by these 26 letters.
If we have more sounds than letters that means that at times
some of these letters can have more than one sound,
correct? Yes!
Let’s explore this further. We have the letter “t” which gives us
the sound /t/ as in table. We also have the letter “h” which
gives us the sound /h/ as in hat. When we combine them,
we get a couple of different sounds. Right?
Some people think that we only get one sound when we
combine “t” and “h” but we actually get 2. Here are the
 Sound out the word THREE. Repeat it a few times.
 Now sound out the word THERE. Repeat it and think
about how the /th/ sound differs from the first
 Other examples: THIS and THIN.
 This sound is not common in all languages.
Please click on the mike for sound.
 C and H combined give us a new sound. Think of the
words child, porch, chew, etc.
 This sound does not exist in all languages which is why
many ELLs struggle with it.
 Exceptions: chic and chef. They are borrowed.
We have other examples that pose difficulty for some
English Language Learners (ELLs). Consider the
following minimal pairs which have similar “sounds”.
Pit and Bit & Tap and Tab
The previous examples include the sounds created by
“b” and “p”. These often confuse some non-native
speakers of English but for a different reason. If the
learners native language does not include one of the
sounds found in English they will not produce the
sound easily. In other words they will not differentiate
between the above examples. This is why teachers are
encouraged to pay close attention to areas where a
learner might struggle with the production of sounds
that maybe common in English but not in their native
 We also have five vowels in the English language but
we have 14 - 16 possible sounds that can be created
using these five vowels.
 Examples:
Heat – Hit & Beat – Bit
Suit – Soot & Pour – Poor
Here is a list of words that contain the most common
sounds created by vowels in English:
Heat, hit, pay, pet, hat, loot, foot, hut, the, father, hop,
slow, soy, house, and light.
 These varieties of sounds made by vowels create
difficulties for ELLs because we do not have a clear
pattern that can guide them with the pronunciation of
English words.
 Do not forget that we also have confusing issues that
relate to this inconsistency. We have two words that
look almost alike with only one letter difference.
Example: Pool and Poor. The “oo” in the middle
produce different sounds in both of these words.
 Another important issue we should remember when it
comes to the sound system of the English language is
the language variation. This term is often used to refer
to varieties of English which are numerous. For
Example: We have American English which differs
from British English and Australian English as well as
Jamaican, Canadian, Bahamian , etc. We also have
variations within the USA which include the ones
found in the south, Boston, Brooklyn, Cajun
Louisiana, etc.
 English varieties include differences in Pronunciation as well as
the use of different vocabulary which will be discussed later.
 Please remember that English Language Learners
need more than just vocabulary and grammar to
function successfully in their new language. They need
to learn a number of things including the sounds of
the English language particularly the ones with which
they are not familiar.
 Pay close attention and develop the necessary activities
that encourage the use and development of the sounds
ELLs find difficult.
 Finally: Remember that, depending on the
students’ native language, these difficulties
will vary from one learner to the other.
Teachers are encouraged to try to know
their students as individuals.
 What is morphology?
Morphology is the study of word
 This component of language
focuses on the internal structure
of words.
 Morphemes are the smallest unit of linguistic
meaning or function. For example: consider the words
sheep and dog. Each one of these words is a single
morpheme but I can put them together and create
another word which is sheepdog. I can then say that
this new word consists of 2 different morphemes. I can
also take it to another level and pluralize it which gives
us “sheepdogs”. Now this word contains 3 different
morphemes because the “s” is considered a morpheme
as well.
 we can add {er} at the end of a verb to change its
 We, however, should be careful because a morpheme
such as –er can serve two different purposes in English.
 When it is at the end of a verb, it creates a noun but
when we place it at the end of an adjective it performs
a different function.
 Consider the changes in the following
 Play – player
 nice – nicer
 The morpheme in these examples is the
same in spelling but has a different meaning
and function depending on the word to
which it is attached.
 Similar to this will be the –ly at the end of
many adverbs such as beautifully,
wonderfully, hardly, extremely, slowly, etc.
Conversely, an –ly ending does not
guarantee that the word is an adverb. The
adjectives friendly, lonely, and lovely end in
–ly but are not adverbs.
 We can breakdown words and find not
only their roots or stems but also other
morphemes that help us form new
 The word disorganization is a good
example. We can breakdown it into disorgan-iz-ation.
 Lexical morphemes have meaning and can
stand alone. Examples are man, girl, play,
 Grammatical morphemes, conversely, are
mostly used to specify a relationship
between 2 lexical morphemes or modify
one. Examples are at, and, the, etc.
 Free morphemes include lexical or grammatical morphemes
and they can stand alone. Examples: nouns, verbs, etc.
(lexical) or prepositions, conjunctions, and articles
 Bound morphemes include lexical or grammatical
morphemes but they cannot stand alone. Examples: suffixes
and prefixes (all affixes in English are bound morphemes).
 Fair is a free morpheme. Fair-ness includes a free morpheme
and a bound morpheme which is - ness. Carelessness includes
1 free morpheme and 2 bound morphemes; -less and -ness.
 Many of these issues related to word-
formation cause difficulties for ELLs. There
are so many words to learn and then there
are other affixes which change these words.
 Teachers try to provide helpful tips to ELLs
as much as possible in the area of
morphology. Examples: When you see or
hear the prefix re- it most likely means to do
again. When you see or hear the suffix –tion,
 Something to remember about morphology and ELLs:
 Acquired earlier:
 - ing
 - s (plural)
 Helping Verb “to be”
 Acquired later:
 - ed (regular past tense)
 - s (Present tense – 3rd person singular)
 -‘s (possessive)
 What is Semantics? This particular branch of language
refers to meaning.
 What makes a speaker of English make sense of a
sentence such as this – “I saw the science teacher in
the lab.”?
 When we say something like – All kings are males. A
person who knows English will agree because he or she
learned that the word king refers to a male who rules a
 If this same person hears the following sentence, he or
she will tell us that it is wrong – All bulls are females.
This person knows that bulls refer to males which
makes this sentence wrong. How does this person
reach this conclusion? Knowledge of meaning.
 When one says: Nancy postponed her wedding. We
understand that Nancy put off her wedding. We
understand that to postpone means to put off.
 Many words in English have more than one meaning. This
results in confusion for many ELLs. Ground is a good
example. It could mean a solid surface, it is also used in the
following examples: they covered a lot of ground in the
meeting (dealt with a variety of topics), Stand one’s ground
(be firm), On what ground do you… (cause or reason),
parents sometimes ground their children, and finally it is
the past tense of grind as in ground coffee.
 Language can be ambiguous sometimes which affects
meaning and comprehension. When someone says : I
saw the French history professor. One can wonder
if the professor teaches French history or if he is from
 Meaning is a big part of language. Speakers of any
language and learners of any language need to get the
semantics of that language in order to communicate
with others successfully.
 Remember that ELLs take time to acquire this part of
language. Learners do not stay at the simplest form of
the language for very long. At some point they move
from subject, verb, object (SVO) to more complex
sentences which require a good understanding of the
 When using complex sentences, teachers need to
paraphrase or explain what they mean.
 Another component of language is Pragmatics which
has to do with language use and not language
structure. This area of language focuses on how
language can be affected by context.
 Most speakers of a language know what to say
depending on the situation and the person to whom
they are speaking. One might say, “Pass the salt” to a
close or a familiar person or “Will you please pass the
salt” to someone who is not.
 Speakers of a language also modify their speech based
on their knowledge of the listener. A person talking to
an adult or a business associate might use a language
that is different from what someone uses with his or
her toddler. We normally simplify our language when
speaking to young children.
 In general, a person would not tell a co-worker that he
took the choo-choo train to work.
 Pragmatics, like most components of language, takes
time to fully acquire. It takes knowledge of the
language, the culture, the people, etc. before one can
perform well in this area of language.
 The reason this area of language can be difficult is that
much of what we utter can be implied and/or indirect.
We do not always speak in full sentences and
organized thoughts. This results in choppy sentences
and phrases that confuse ELLs.
 Teachers need to encourage social interaction between
ELLs and native speakers of English. When students
have a good source (input) of the new language, they
learn more about what is acceptable and what is not.
 This component of language takes years to acquire.
 Syntax is most related to grammar. It has to do with
sentences and their structure.
 The English language has a certain word order we have
to follow if we want to create useful language. The
basic sentence in English consists of subject, verb, and
object (SVO) as is represented in this simple sentence:
I eat breakfast. This sentence is grammatically correct
because the words are presented in the right order.
 I could add to the previous sentence and make it more
complex – Every morning, I eat breakfast at 7 o’clock
and then I go to school. Again, the sentence follows an
acceptable word order in the English language. If I
said: Breakfast I eat. The listener will immediately
realize that the sentence does not follow the correct
word order.
 Compare these examples: The boy ate a sandwich vs. A
sandwich ate the boy. One sentence is correct because
it follows the right word order but although the second
one followed the right word order it did not make
sense because it was not semantically correct.
 This is a reminder that one needs to acquire all of
these language components in order to perform
successfully in a new language. They overlap to a great
extent but they are essential to both social as well as
academic success of the learner.
 Again, this component of language is difficult because
the basic sentence structure becomes a part of a
complex sentence which has to be formed correctly in
order to make sense.
 In English we have nouns, verbs, adjective, and
adverbs. We also have articles (determiners, the, a, an),
prepositions (in, on, up, near, at, …), conjunctions
(and, but, or, etc.), and pronouns . Then we have
phrasal categories which include noun phrases (the
smart girl…), verb phrases, and prepositional phrases
(… in the park).
 Often times, a sentence will include many of these
different parts of speech. (Example: The teacher
taught a new lesson on Monday.)
 A sentence can be complex in English which results in
confusion if ELLs are still in the beginning stages of
language acquisition. The confusion could also be
caused by ambiguity of sentences created by native
speakers of English which could have more than one
 Simplify sentences whenever possible. Teachers can
use complex sentences but they are encouraged to
follow them with simplified language particularly
when they relate to key topics.
 Also keep in mind that many languages follow
different sentence structures. In English we have SVO
but some other languages follow Verb Subject Object
(VSO) and so on. This means that teachers need to be
aware of this time it will take a learner to adapt to
following a new word order in the new language. Be
prepared to work with these learners until they get
used to the new sentence structure in English.
Learners should not be punished but should be given
opportunity to practice.
 Languages have different components and successful
communication in a new language depends on learning as
much as possible about each component in order to
produce language at the social level as well as academically
 We want our ELLs to be able to meet their social needs
which is an important goal the TESOL organization made a
priority. They need to be able to communicate their needs,
feelings, thoughts, etc. They also need to be trained to use
language academically which means that teachers need to
introduce academic language as early as possible.
 Introduce ELLs to all four language modes (listening,
speaking, reading, and writing) as quickly as possible
but also keep in mind that learning a new language is
neither easy nor fast. It is a complex process that takes
many years.
 Denham, k. & Lobeck, A. 2010. Linguistics for Everyone –
An Introduction. Boston, MA. Cengage Learning
 Brown, S. & Attardo, S. 2008. Understanding Language
Structure, Interaction, and Variation. 2nd Ed. Ann Arbor,
MI. University of Michigan Press.
 Parker, F. & Riley, K. 2010. Linguistics for Non-Linguists .
5th Ed. Boston, MA. Pearson/Allen and Bacon.
 Fromkin, V., Rodman, R. & Hyams, N. 2007. An
Introduction to Language . 8th Ed. Boston, MA. Thompson.

Language and its Components