Supporting Young English Learners In and Outside the Classroom

Jan 25, 2012

By Emily Firgens

Young English Language Learners (ELLs) face a host of unique issues in learning and developing language skills that differ from native English speaking children. These children require supports that promote their early language development and meet their needs in appropriate ways. The winter 2012 edition of AccELLerate!, a quarterly review from the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, helps provide a practical, in-depth look at how teachers, administrators, policymakers and parents can all help support young ELLs. Presenting research and recommendations for practice and policy, the journal's articles are a welcome addition to the body of literature on guiding young ELLs' early language development.  

Addressing topics from vocabulary knowledge and instruction to family engagement and professional development, the journal hits on a variety of important areas for ELLs. It also highlights new data, such as by the time ELLs are in second grade they are on average two standard deviations below their native English speaker counterparts in vocabulary knowledge. Research emphasizes the importance of shared reading, paraphrasing, and questioning techniques to help children gain vocabulary skills. Providing training and on-going mentorship to teachers of young ELLs is also critical.

Additional articles emphasize the importance of direct vocabulary instruction as well as promoting interactions with monolingual English-speaking peers to both help build vocabulary and develop social relationships between ELLs and native English speakers. ELL students also benefit from the explicit teaching of learning strategies. By asking children questions like, "When you are speaking English, and you can't say the word you want to, what do you do?", teachers can help students understand the strategies they use in completing learning activities and help make a plan to use these strategies when learning new English words. Understanding learning strategies and how to implement them will help students develop skills critical to later academic success.

Reaching out to parents in formal and informal ways, such as regular teacher-parent meetings or community based parent-children literacy groups, can also help children as they work on literacy skills at home. Articles on teacher training and professional development can help support ELLs, as can guidance on respecting a child's native language through sharing and learning a few words with the classroom as a whole.

Early childhood educators and policymakers at the federal, state and local level all play a role in influencing ELLs language development, from helping young children develop vocabulary skills to the intentional development and implementation of early learning guidelines and other standards that guide school policies toward ELLs. Supporting young ELLs will take the cooperation and commitment of all of these individuals.

Find out more about CLASP's work to promote cultural competency for young children and see the winter edition of AccELLerate!  

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