University of Cambridge

English language learner

The English Language Learner I chose is 14 years of age, and is currently attending a class for seventh graders with an extra after school class dedicated to learning the English language. She came from Korea, wherein Basic English is integrated into the curriculum. Although she has some background on English, her speaking and writing skills still need a lot of work as she cannot fully express her thoughts and feelings in English.

During my interview with her, I found out that they still speak mainly in Korean at home although her family does make an effort to practice English regularly. Her parents can understand some Basic English sentences and words although they do not have any skill in writing. Her siblings have about the same skill as hers in speaking and writing. In their native country, Korean is the dominant language although there is a strong emphasis nowadays to learn English. Koreans also tend to look outside their native country for better English instruction. She was first exposed to the English Language during her elementary education as it was integrated into the curriculum by the school she attended. She has basic reading and writing skills and understands basic concepts such as reading the text from left to right, sound combinations, and writing simple words. Coming from another country, she usually hangs out with other Korean friends who have been staying in the United States for some time. Being a friendly person, she also mingles with other Americans in the school and neighborhood at times.

Limited English proficiency remains as one of the most critical challenges facing immigrant families in the United States today, not only impeding their ability to improve their employment opportunities and increase their earnings but more importantly, limiting their ability to help their children prepare for and succeed in school (Martinez and Wang). Consequently, state education agencies are faced with their biggest challenge on overcoming the language barrier that exists between students and teachers in schools that have large immigrant populations who cannot speak English.

Generally, ELLs tend to perform poorly on academics and on standardized tests, and to drop out of high school at rates higher than their English speaking peers. In some cases, these can be directly attributed to deficiencies in the teaching and learning environment. English language learners fail because they do not have access to effective bilingual or English as a second language (ESL) instruction. They are disadvantaged by a scarcity of appropriate assessment instruments and a lack of personnel trained to conduct linguistically and culturally relevant educational assessments (Valdes & Figueroa, 1996). According to Brown (1998), the instructor has several alternatives in order to make sure that students get a good grasp of the language. Educators may make use of several approaches such as the “content-based” approach wherein students learn a certain language through studying a certain subject or topic (Kaufman et al 2005). In the case of those who need further special education services, they are disadvantaged by the shortage of special educators who are trained to address their language- and disability-related needs simultaneously (Yates and Ortiz, 1998).

At the same time, parents of ELLs face daunting barriers as they try to become informed and involved in their child’s academic performance in school. Arias and Morillo-Campbell (undated) identify these barriers as the inability to understand English, unfamiliarity with the school system, differences in cultural norms and cultural capital. While research supports the importance of parental communication and participation for improved student achievement, better school attendance, and reduced dropout rates regardless of socioeconomic background or ethnicity, it is a sad reality that many school programs make little effort to promote this.

Similarly, the recent rapid growth of ELLs in mainstream classrooms has been an equally enormous challenge to schools. Schools are faced with greater tasks to provide appropriate facilities, instructional materials, curriculum content, teaching staff, manpower and logistical support needed to respond to the learning needs of this group of students. Admittedly, even the school’s most committed and dedicated teachers cannot provide high quality education without appropriate skills and knowledge for educating ELLs. It is also important to create a positive environment so as to foster understanding and learning (Scott and Ytreberg 1990). Unless ELLs receive appropriate intervention, their difficulties may become even more serious and the gap between their achievement and that of their peers may further widen over time.

My first objective is the creation of educational environments that reflect a philosophy that all students can learn and that educators are responsible for helping them (Ortiz, 2001) so as to Steer ELLs towards academic success. The contexts in which educators teach and learn must also necessarily take into consideration the organizational culture of ELL students. If educators are expected to commit to the implementation of effective literacy practices for ELLs or others with Language Deficiency (LD), they must commit to initiating, implementing, and sustaining conditions that support efforts to create this kind of environment. This can only be achieved with the development of a professional-parent-community partnership that fosters shared knowledge, skills, and responsibility for the educational success of these learners. Parents of ELL students must be viewed as capable advocates for their children and as valuable resources in school improvement efforts (Cummins, 1994). Being involved with the families and communities of English language learners, schools gain better understanding of the social, linguistic, and cultural factors affecting ELL students which can be used as basis to improve instructional strategies and techniques. Involving families and the community in the educational process has a dual benefit for English language learners. First, it brings into the school community the parents of children who otherwise might be left out due to linguistic and cultural barriers. Second, it allows for teachers and students to integrate cultural and family knowledge directly into the curriculum.

My second objective is to foster family and community collaboration as schools connect ELL families with community resources and agencies upon the student’s enrolment. This is followed by making existing and future community-building programs in school accessible to ELL families through such activities as family nights, informational meetings, school involvement, homework assistance after school hours, etc. With the help of the community, schools encourage ELL families to maintain and develop their native language skills by educating them on the importance of native language. It is the educational institution that servers to empower the community and its members to accept the diversities of various cultures. They also encourage ELL families to participate in the educational community by exhorting parent volunteer in class activities or in the planning of a multicultural event, establishing a parent resource center or providing information in native language.

High quality family involvement requires that educational leaders build structures which respond to the needs of immigrant and non-English speaking families, and that teachers know how to access these resources. Districts must make available resources such as translation and interpretation services, and teachers must be aware of and know how to use them. Training and development for teachers and educators should also include adequate information regarding various cultures so that teachers can successfully interact and subsequently, form a partnership with the parents of English Language Learners. By understanding cultural norms regarding the respective roles of teachers and parents, teachers can work to involve parents and correct mistaken beliefs (Peregoy and Boyle 2004). Teachers can also use participatory strategies to weave cultural and family knowledge into the curriculum in ways that are directly relevant to students’ home and school life.


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Brown, J.D. 1998, New Ways of Classroom Assessment. TESOL

Cummins (1994). Knowledge, power, and identity in teaching English as a second language. In F. Genesee (Ed.), "Educating second language children: The whole child, the whole curriculum, the whole community" (pp. 103-25). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Garcia, S. B., & Dominguez, L. (1997). Cultural contexts that influence learning and academic performance. In Silver, L. B. (Ed.), "Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinic of North America: Academic Difficulties" (pp. 621-55). Philadelphia: Saunders Co.

Kaufman, Dorit, and Crandall, JoAnn (2005). Content-based instruction in primary and secondary school settings. Alexandria, Virginia: TESOL, Inc.

National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition. (2007). The growing numbers of limited English proficient students. Retrieved April 9, 2009, from

Ortiz, A. (2001). English language learners with special needs: Effective instructional strategies. Retrieved on April 9, 2009, from

Peregoy,S. F., & Boyle, O. F. (2004). Reading, Writing and Learning in ESL: A Resource Book for K-12 Teachers (4th Ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon

Scott, W and L. Ytreberg (1990). Teaching English to Children, Longman

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2004). Language minorities and their educational and labor market indicators— Recent trends, NCES 2004-09. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Valdes, G., & Figueroa, R. A. (1996). Bilingualism and testing: A special case of bias. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Yates, J. R., and Ortiz, A. (1998). Issues of culture and diversity affecting educators with disabilities: A change in demography is reshaping America. In R. J. Anderson, C. E. Keller, & J. M. Karp (Eds.), Enhancing diversity: Educators with disabilities in the education enterprise. Washington: Gallaudet University Press.