Looking Beyond English: Linguistic Inquiry for English Language Learners



This paper reports on a pilot project that explored the potential of linguistic inquiry in a high school English as a Second Language (ESL) class. In class meetings across the school year, students worked collaboratively to investigate noun phrase pluralization, language acquisition, writing systems, and translation in their own and other languages. Classroom observations and students’ oral and written work provide evidence that:

  • Examining the structures of the spoken and written languages represented in the ESL classroom captures students’ interest and engages them in critical inquiry about the nature of linguistic knowledge and their beliefs about language.
  • The cross-linguistic analysis of students’ home languages validates their languages in the school context, defining them as a rich resource worthy of study, rather than as a hindrance to education.

These findings are of particular significance in this time of English-only education in the United States, when students’ home languages are often rejected in schools.