The growing numbers of
minority language learners, especially Spanish speaking learners being the
largest percent, entering the school system has educational institutions
rethinking on best practices to implement in teaching these students
effectively.  More rigorous standards have
added to the academic and language demands on English Language Learners
(ELLs).  The use of a student’s native
language can be used as a bridge or a tool in the acquisition of oral language
and literacy development.  Teachers can also
build background knowledge through the primary language of ELLs. 

Acquisition of Oral Language

            Most children
develop language very efficiently in developmental stages as they begin to be
social beings trying to communicate their needs and wants.  However, language development needs to be
nurtured and children must constantly be exposed to language to expand their
vocabularies and comprehension.    It is important to also have a connection
between oral language and written language. 
For young people, their families are their number one source for conversations,
questions, responses, providing exposure to print and media and for just listening
to them while they speak or read aloud.  Practice
is what helps develop proficient language.

of Home Language

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            The importance of oral language and literacy practices
within the home setting is the same no matter what language is spoken.  The more language that a child is exposed to,
both orally and written, can help with skills like vocabulary, conceptual
knowledge, and language comprehension and makes it easier to acquire English more
efficiently (Palacios & Kibler, 2016, p.123).  Sometimes the cultural differences make this
difficult to assess in a child.  Teachers
may have a harder time connecting and communicating with students and families
from some cultures and this can make it difficult to be able to decipher the
student’s current level of proficiency. 


            Rising concerns with the reading skills of language
minority students, prompts a need for screening and early interventions for
ELLs entering school.  In a culturally
diversified RTI model with an additional tier proposed by Klingner and Edwards
(2006), an additional tier is added to correctly place ELLs in a classroom with
a teacher that is properly trained on how to implement culturally appropriate
instruction (as cited in Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010, p. 157).  School services and interventions would also
need to be provided to improve reading skills and continued progress monitoring
of those skills would also need to be implemented.  As stated in the Teaching Reading Sourcebook (2013), “Instruction in the essential
components of reading is necessary – but not sufficient…”, “ELL students need
more work in oral language development, vocabulary, and text comprehension than
native English speakers” (p. 18).  ELLs
will need much repetition of English instruction and will benefit greatly to
have a “buddy” with the same native language; this is not always possible.  Partner work and small group explicit
instruction can also help immensely.

Variations in Phonology

            Phonology is defined as how speech sounds form patterns.  Each language has its own set of sounds with
rules on how those sounds connect with each other to make new patterns.  From birth, humans learn distinctive sounds
from their own language.  Phonological
awareness is the ability to hear what sounds are and how they come together to
make words.  Phonological awareness
skills are important in order to develop good reading skills.

on Reading and Writing Development

            It is important to recognize the affect that phonology
has on the ELLs.  Some phonological
awareness skills such as larger /smaller units, words / syllable connections, onset
/ rimes and phonemes are predictable
patterns within a language and are the same from one language to another
(Honig, Diamond & Gutlohn, 2013, pg. 120-121).  Recent research has shown that
phonological awareness in one’s own native language predicts successful
literacy acquisition in the native language and transfers to a second language
even while those skills are still in the process of being developed (Denney,
2001, p. 3).  


            Students that
have phonological awareness in their native language have some of the skills
necessary to learn English.  It is
necessary for the teacher to screen students who may be at risk for below grade
level reading and to determine a starting point for instruction and which
students may also need additional support. 
Sometimes it is beneficial for screenings to take place in the native
language as well as in English.  The CORE
Phonological Awareness Survey may be a good place to start.  Teachers can also encourage families of ELLs
to provide reading materials at home in the native language and English
language.  As student’s reading skills
grow, their writing skills will also progress. 
Teachers can use spelling assessments to monitor their growing
understanding of how the written language works.  Phonological awareness instruction should
build from easier to more difficult, teach only one to two skills at a time, be
conducted in small groups, use manipulatives, be engaging, interesting and
offer plenty of practice with the use of games and interactive activities (Honig,
Diamond, & Gutlohn, 2013p. 120-121).

of Phonics

is the process of decoding written words into spoken words; also known as
reading.  As explained in Teaching Reading Sourcebook (2013),
phonics is the way that letters and sounds work together to allow spoken
language to be written down and written language to be read (p. 170).  Per the findings of the National Reading
Panel (2000), systematic and explicit phonics reading instruction significantly
improves all students reading and spelling along with significantly increasing
their ability to comprehend what they read (as cited in Honig, Diamond &
Gutlohn, 2013, p. 171). 

of Home Language Proficiency

            ELL students
with limited literacy skills in their native language may have a difficult time
with phonics instruction when learning to read and write English.  If a student has already learned that a
symbol (alphabet) has a corresponding sound, this knowledge transfers over when
learning a new language.  Although there
are similarities to learning to read across languages, there are several
inconsistencies in letters and symbols within the English language which can
make it difficult to learn.  ELLs will have
to learn which letters have consistent relationships and which do not and which
rules to use and when to use them correctly. 
Some letters may have different sounds or meanings in English than they
have in their native language and they will not have the help of using prior
knowledge to help decipher meaning for new vocabulary words.



            Good phonics
instruction provides ELLs with knowledge of how the English language works and
gives them effective decoding strategies to become a fluent reader.  Phonics can be implemented into other reading
instruction such as story-time, language activities and small group
tutoring.  Once students know three to
four letter associations, word reading and word building activities can be
implemented.  This is the beginning of
reading.  There are many assessments that
the teacher of ELLs can administer for screening, instruction, progress
monitoring, and diagnostic purposes.  The
Yopp-Singer for phonemic awareness assessment and the Core Phonics Survey for
Phonics assessment are good places to start.

Acquisition of Academic Vocabulary
and Content

            Many children will learn to decode but will not gain
meaning of text until their vocabularies have expanded.  Vocabulary can be learned throughout the
entirety of one’s life and is ever-expanding. 
According to research by Lervag and Aukrust (2009), vocabulary seems to
be a major predictor of early reading comprehension skills in both first and
second language learners and limited vocabulary in second language learners can
explain the lag in reading comprehension skills (p. 619).  Academic vocabulary are words associated to educational
subjects that are used to define, identify, name, explain, and understand content
and concepts being taught.

of Authentic Use of Language

            Real life examples of language used in everyday situations
is considered authentic material.  ELLs
need authentic material to help them acquire the meaning and use of basic words
that do not usually require instruction. 
Authentic material in language learning can be more interesting to the learner
and have students use strategies to interpret meaning.  This can be, but is not limited to, videos,
newspapers, magazines, comics, books, pictures, radio, music, games, websites,
clothing, and food to name a few. 
Teachers have to check for age appropriateness and for content and skill


            Teachers can
search basic words from the Dale-Chall List (Chall and Dale, 1995) to find 3,000
words that most young readers already know without instruction.  However, ELLs may require explicit
instruction for these basic words.  Many
of these can be taught visually and using authentic material that helps
conceptualize not only the meanings, but how English language is connected to
and used in everyday life.  Teachers will
help ELLs use background knowledge, contextual cues and strategies to help ELLs
interpret the meaning of these basic words. 
Comprehension tasks can be done in ELLs native language if necessary.  Because vocabulary is continually learned
throughout a lifetime, students must be taught strategies to figure out the
meaning of new words on their own.  In
the book Teaching Reading Sourcebook
(2013), there is a vocabulary activity worksheet that helps students learn
strategies and will help teachers monitor their learning (p. 794).     

Use of Cognates

            Cognates are words in two languages that have a similar
meaning, spelling, and / or pronunciation. 
Using a student’s prior knowledge from their native language can help
ELLs figure out the meaning of new English words by relating the cognate pair
from both languages.  Knowing cognates
that connect native language with new learned language is considered a strategy
for learning new vocabulary words.  Some
languages do not share many cognates with English, but Spanish and English
share quite a few.

in Vocabulary Acquisition

            Per research
discussed in Teaching Reading Sourcebook
(2013), ELLs do not usually find and use cognates on their own, but require
explicit instruction on reliable cognates between their two languages (p. 496).  There are false cognates that have similar
spelling between two languages but different meanings and teachers should try
to be aware of these for their students. 
English / Spanish cognates are the most commonly used and can be
everyday basic word pairs.  Many of these
cognate pairs are considered high-frequency words in both English and Spanish
and can be used as early as Kindergarten or First Grade to help ELLs with the meanings
of these English words.


            Teachers can use
strategies for teaching vocabulary by using cognates in the classroom.  Read alouds and student group or partner
reading can be highlighted with words that are cognates.  Look for similar spellings, check meaning in
both languages and pronunciation; if the word is a true cognate pair, and add
it to cognate chart in the classroom. 
Have students match English / Spanish cognate pairs or have students
circle different letters within these pairs. 
Also help students pick out false cognates.  Teaching common Greek and Latin roots also
tend to be English / Spanish cognate word pairs and can help with increasing
vocabulary; therefore, also increasing reading comprehension.


Instructional Implications for

            With increasing numbers of ELLs in schools, the
importance of standardized measures of addressing the needs of teaching these
students have come about.  Standards for
students have increased with Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and this has increased
academic and language demands on ELL students. 
It will be up to educators to implement more teaching and learning
strategies for literacy and language development to successfully teach these
students.  Teachers will need more
training from higher-learning facilities when receiving their degrees, and will
need ongoing collaboration and professional development in language acquisition.  Support teams and support structures will
need to be available to teachers to also help meet these new demands.


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