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Teaching English Language Learners


Language proficiency is basic to learning any other discipline. Research has been carried out in the area of teaching the English language learner (ELL). Some argue that proficiency in a native language increases the chances for learning the English language. Others still argue that children need to be taught to develop oral proficiency in English before they can be taught how to read and write. Indeed research has found out that those children who have undergone bilingual education programs usually achieve higher performance than their counterparts who have not. Contrary to this, decisions regarding bilingual education are made at higher levels of administration of the schools rather than at the teacher level. This becomes a challenge for the classroom teacher to implement such strategies. This paper shall therefore focus on addressing ways the teacher can maximize their reading instruction to cater for ELL who may be in his/her class.

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Teaching English Language Learners

Lanica (2004) suggests that being able to read and write in one’s native language for children enables them to succeed in reading and writing in the English language. Ford (2005) supports this assertion by basing it on phonological awareness. Ford stipulates that it is the ability to reflect on how words sound when spoken and not focusing on their meaning. She asserts that improvements in phonological awareness postulates to improvements in reading abilities. The literacy development in one language can be enhanced through the phonological awareness in another. Hence, teaching children to read and write in their native language is very important in developing literacy for English. In my class, this is applicable especially if the native language has phonology closer to that of English.

In cases where there are no programs to teach on the native language since there are few story books and other learning that have been translated into native languages, researchers suggest that teaching oral proficiency in the native language is important before learning to read and write in English so as to develop phonological awareness for the language which would then be useful in understanding the phonology in the English language (Ford, 2005). Mora (2008) agrees with this by emphasizing that ELL needs development of oral language focusing on speaking and listening. He further agrees by stating that the ELL students need to be provided with opportunities to enable them to discriminate between sounds and words by hearing and ultimately speaking. This he asserts increases the scope of their vocabulary and practice of their oral skills. This ideally is true in the real classroom since children who are able to pronounce are also able to differentiate the same words but with different meanings. Native speakers of English in this case are able to differentiate the pronunciations of words even without clearly understanding their meanings. Additionally, in day to day interactions, the children are able to discriminate words and thus able to deduce meaning from their native language.

Further, children are able to communicate effectively in their native language hence boosting confidence and increasing interest and motivation for learning English. This understanding helps the children in later learning of verbs, nouns and other basics of the language. Additionally, oral proficiency in the native language enables the children to think logically thus increasing chances for learning the English language. Researchers further argue that bilingual children have higher oral development than monolingual children. Ford (2005) asserts that bilingual children have higher development of metalinguistic skills than monolinguistic children. According to Ford a metalinguistic attitude develops due to the challenges that a child faces in early years in learning a new language which translates to viewing language from a linguistic and not content approach. This allows the child to develop phonological awareness that is applicable in the learning of other languages and English. Mora (2008) supports this argument by arguing that different cultural exposures allow children to develop different literacy abilities. Bilingual students have a wider scope of culture exposure which enables them to have higher phonological abilities.

Further research provides that there is a difference between acquiring a language naturally and learning it in school (Lacina, 2004). This is extended by Mora (2008) who argues that children who are native speakers of English face teachers who are of the assumption that these children can differentiate sounds within words that give them totally different meanings as well as consonants and vowel sounds. This ability forms part of the metalinguistic knowledge which enables them to control their linguistic processes. These children are taught on assumptions that they understand the general basics of the English language and that this can be translated to the process of teaching them reading and writing skills. However, this may not be true since the spoken language does not sometimes cater for the discrimination of sounds and words and can leave children confused. This is applicable in schools as most native speakers of English focus more on the meaning of content rather than linguistic content. Additionally, they are affected by cultural differences in terms of the fact that the spoken language differs in sound and meaning from one place to another. This prevents children from being flexible. Further, being the formal language, mere oral proficiency in it lowers their attitude in learning it. Ford (2005) argues that this is applicable in the native languages as well. Children who are proficient orally in their native languages do not necessarily have to know how to read and write in the same for them to develop proficiency in the English language.

Strategies for Teaching ELL

The critical nature of ELL due to the fact that learning the English language is important for its applicability in other disciplines has led to the development of strategies to cater for them. Mora (2008) provides this in terms of programs. The first program provides for reinforcement and extension of the basic program through requiring extra support to ELL of 30 minutes. The second program is meant to help ELL acquire English efficiently and quickly through extended hours of instruction. The third program requires the provision of additional instructional materials while the last program is an intensive assessment and intervention program which focuses on literacy and language development. However, the effectiveness of these programs depends on the teacher’s ability to understand the phonology as well as learning of the systems of the alphabet of the students’ native languages. This is extremely difficult for the teacher especially where the students have different native languages. Further research shows that the use of examples from the native language of the ELL does not necessarily increase their attitude towards English (Lacina, 2004). The assumption that extended learning time increases proficiency for the learners does not hold. This is because learning depends on much greater factors such as their readiness, motivation, age, and attitude among others while developing proficiency for the learners is not the sole responsibility of the teacher. The mode of assessment of ELL takes place after just one year. This is ironical because proficiency in any language takes effect after 5 years of instruction.

There are six strategies for teaching ELL. They include: vocabulary and language development, guided interaction, authentic assessment and metacognition, explicit instruction, universal themes and context based on meaning and modeling, visuals and graphic organizers. The universal themes suggested are difficult to achieve since there may always be learners who are not familiar with the content. Additionally, the use of modeling, visuals and graphic organizers may prove expensive for the schools while the duration of time taken by the teacher may be considerably high thus limiting adequate preparation for the teacher. Effective implementation of the strategies requires collaboration from all those involved such as administrators, parents, teachers and the students themselves. In addition, the use of these strategies does not always guarantee that the learner will acquire proficiency in learning because it requires time and patience to develop (Mora, 2008).

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Ways a Teacher can maximize their Instruction in a Class with ELL

The implementation of the strategies set by policy makers proves a challenge because of the cost, time and effort required in terms of collaboration that is not always provided. The main means of achieving learning in class would be through differentiated instruction where English language learners are given more explanation especially on vocabularies (Mora, 2008). Further, the teacher needs to motivate and encourage ELL students through initiating communication on social, personal and academic matters. Additionally, it is important to always introduce vocabulary, preview text material and explain what to expect, activate the prior knowledge of the students about the topic and have them pause to evaluate their understanding. Learning also needs to be collaborative by involving discussions among ELL and English native speakers.

Reference List

  1. Lacina, J. (2004). Promoting language acquisitions: Technology and English language learners. Childhood Education, 81(2), 113-116.
  2. Mora, K. (2008). Literacy instruction for English Language Learners.

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StudyCorgi. "Teaching English Language Learners." December 6, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Teaching English Language Learners." December 6, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Teaching English Language Learners'. 6 December.

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