English Language Learners (ELLs) refers to a linguistically diverse group of students who are not currently proficient as English speakers and are in the process of developing their language skills. They may have recently immigrated to Canada or they may have been born in Canada and live in homes in which the spoken language is not English. ELL is a universally accepted term in the Kindergarten to Grade 12 setting, as well as among adult non native English speakers.English as a Second Language (ESL) is the term that schools use when describing the programs being used to educate non native English speakers.
Learning English is important as it is the most common second language in the world. It goes beyond simply being able to communicate with English speakers. Having an additional language allows you to engage more easily with other global citizens. English helps to bridge communication and is often the default language in countries where there are multiple languages spoken.
Knowing how to speak English can open up doors across the globe in many ways. English is the language of international business, is used frequently by international governing bodies, and is used on the most popular websites. One of the most exciting features of learning English as a second language is that many schools offer you the chance to travel abroad and be immersed in the language! Language acquisition is much more than studying a vocabulary list; it is about being engaged in a new culture and experiencing new opportunities.
Supporting our English Language Learners
ELLs typically require specialized or differentiated instruction in both the English language and in their academic courses. Language development is tracked over the four categories of reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
A variety of resources and strategies need to be considered in order for ELLs to be successful. Providing support in literacy including: pre-teaching vocabulary, using visuals to increase comprehension, technology and consistently scaffolding the individual’s learning along the way are essential. Recognizing the value of the English language learner’s home culture and native language as well as understanding their background while utilizing their prior knowledge increases opportunities for greater success.
Based on current research (Cummins and Early, 2015) there are six principles that serve as a foundation for supporting ELLs. These principles include:
- providing a safe, welcoming environment to learn
- making input comprehensible
- acknowledging the difference between conversational and academic language proficiency
- encouraging academic conversations
- supporting the learners’ first language
- teaching linguistic form and function
An element of successful ELL instruction is ongoing, intentional assessment. It is important to establish the learner’s baseline level of proficiency in order to scaffold the academic content to fit their language proficiency level. Knowing the level is essential in order to identify the types of instructional support these learners require. No two ELLs are the same. They have the double challenge of learning academic content as well as the language in which it is presented.
Immigrants, international students, and non-english speakers also must learn to adjust to many other changes, in addition to a new language, when moving to a new country. These obstacles can lead to feelings of being isolated, frustrated and overwhelmed. It can be difficult to determine the difference between Culture Shock and Mental Disorders such as Anxiety and Depression. The good news is that there are many evidence-based interventions that support emotional and social well-being in general. Important to everyone’s wellness is social connection. Assuring that newcomers have a support network within their communities and schools is an essential first step. Coaching newcomers, using a culturally sensitive lens, to engage in positive brain health practices such as getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly and engaging in appropriate use of screen time will enable individuals to stay emotionally stable and handle the challenges that come their way.
ELLs are constantly trying to catch up with their English speaking peers. Through continued support; both academic and emotional, this gap becomes more narrow.