Over the years, I’ve heard many well-intentioned but misinformed com- ments and questions about English language
learners and my teaching field. I
haven’t always responded with helpful
information, mainly because I didn’t
feel it was the appropriate time or
place for a lecture. This article allows
me to finally say what I should have
Here, in no particular order, are 10
common comments about English language learners and English as a second
language (ESOL) instruction that
deserve to be corrected.
1. All ESOL teachers speak the
native languages of their students.
“What languages do you speak?” is the
first question most people ask when I
In many ESOL classrooms throughout
the United States, however, that would
be difficult, if not impossible. I’ve had
as many as eight different languages
represented in my classroom, a level
of language diversity that’s not at all
I’ve spent a total of four years living
and working in Japan, so some might
assume that my foreign language
experience would only be useful when
teaching Japanese speakers. But in
fact, it’s relevant with all my students.
Because I’ve lived in another culture
and been a second language learner
myself, I can empathize with how my
students feel as they encounter a new
language and new culture.
Like me, many ESOL teachers have
2. English language learners will
studied foreign languages and lived in
other countries. Some ESOL teachers
are also fully bilingual in one or more
of their students’ home languages. But
even though we may not speak our
students’ native languages, we all have
training in how to teach English to
students who are learning English as
never learn English if they don’t
speak it in the home.
Research in second language acquisition says that when students are
lucky enough to have strong native-language skills, they will actually be
able to learn English more easily. 1 So
the best way parents can help at home
is to develop their children’s native-language literacy.
It would be wonderful if all schools
could help children develop literacy
IDEAS ABOUT ELLS
An ESOL teacher responds to 10 common
misconceptions about English language learners.