English Language Learners (ELL)

language [láng gwij ] (plural languages); noun

Communication with words; the human use of spoken or written words as a communication system.


Why do we learn another language?

  1. Community - “Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats… somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever and however we come into our power… Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we weep or falter… A circle of healing. A circle of friends… Somewhere where we can be free… Somewhere where we truly belong.” Not belonging is simply not an option… we all belong to something, at some level… This is nothing more than to broaden the number of “peeps” in your world. Look around… these people are your resources… invest in them... and treat them right. “Tell me how many languages you speak and I will tell you how big your world is.” In other words, the more languages you speak, the more opportunities you have for community.
  2. Communication - You need it to survive. Without the ability to communicate you wouldn’t survive ("cabin fever" and engrish.com).  English is the fourth most spoken language in the world with 375 million speakers. And 750 million people learning it as a second or third language. More people learn English as a second language than any other language in the world. In other words, the more languages you speak, the more opportunities you have for communication.
  3. Job - Knowing another language makes it easier to get a job, and often it makes your job more fulfilling and is shown to increase your salary. It also opens up the world for you career wise in an ever increasingly small world. “The number of languages you speaks determines how big your world is.” You should know that it is now standard practice to ask you if you speak another language at job interviews.
  4. Become a more educated world citizen - Perspective is power. You will be a better-rounded person. You will learn more about the world and your place in it. You can relate to people on a deeper level, and have a better perspective of how things in the world work. Be part of the multilingual movement…
  5. Gain a better understanding of your own language and culture - You will know why you say and do some of the things you do… those unconscious rules. You will be able to talk about what is good in your culture and what needs to be challenged because linguistically and socially you will have something to compare this to. English is made up of Anglo-Saxon and Latin. Our Academic language is based on Latin. By learning English you increase your ability to work in the academic atmosphere of the university.
  6. Sharpen your cognitive and life skills - Research has shown that learning another language will help you score higher on standardized tests such as the HSPE and the SAT. In addition, it will help you increase your problem solving and higher order thinking skills and make your vocabulary much stronger. Moreover, make you more creative and increase your life span up to four years longer by making your brain more elastic. Wow!
  7. University - Learning another language will help you advance your education. Many universities are looking for people with multicultural experience. You need four years of English to graduate from High School… it will also help you get into college, and it will help you get scholarships to pay for college.
  8. Travel - You will have a chance to go to other places and have very fulfilling experiences, often being adopted by new families and learning different perspectives. You will be able to take care of basic needs and those of your family and friends. You will also be able to gain experiences from first hand sources that you would never be able to understand if you didn’t speak another language. In other words, the more languages you speak the more profound experience you will have and it will open more opportunities for you during your adventure.
  9. Social justice - 14,000 children die everyday because of hunger. You will now find new opportunities to make the world a better place. By learning English, we can finally start to identify with other parts of the world, and be able to find out what is really going on outside of our country. English newspapers hold incredible information about what is going on in this world… you just need to be able to understand them. How can you make this world a better place for your grandchildren?
  10. Fun - It is something unique and new to do. Make some life long friends, gain access to art, music, literature, architecture and film. And it is true... learning something new is just plain fun....
  11. This is a magical English class - I can give you credit for English or Elective and you have an advocate in your classes…. It can do cool things for you that other classes will not. This class is an opportunity and you should take advantage of it. You need 31 credits (including 4 years of English) to graduate form High School. We can help you do this… and we can help you and your family reach your academic and language goals. In addition, you don’t have to read old English or literature that is far above your reading level.

“The acquisition of language is doubtless the greatest intellectual feat anyone of us is ever required to perform.”

-Leonard Bloomfield, language (1933)

“Just as birds have wings, man has language.”

-George Henry Lewes (1817-1878)


What do you mean “learn another language?" In order to know a language well you need the following five things:

  1. Reading - Facilitate communication via written text. Examples include newspaper, books, magazines, notes, and warning labels.
  2. Writing - Facilitate communication via written text. Examples include email, letters, and text messages.
  3. Listening - Facilitate communication via verbal and nonverbal cues. Examples include radio, television, and pop culture.
  4. Speaking - Facilitate communication via verbal and nonverbal cues. Examples include: friends, neighbors, singing, ice cream vendors, persuasive speeches, giving directions, intimate conversations, try to talk to my English Plus teacher about my grade, and push my friends and teachers to speak English.
  5. Culture - Gain Knowledge and Understanding of Other Cultures, Gain insight into the Nature of Language and Culture, and Participate in Multilingual Communities at Home and Around the World. Examples include holidays, rites of passage, core values, ethics, customs, and important social events.

This is the magical formula. If you are missing any one of these five components in your language acquisition, your ability to function in another language is greatly reduced.


How do we learn another language?

  1. How long - Research shows that it takes 2-5 years for Basic Language Skills or survival Spanish (BICS) and 5-10 years for Academic Spanish (CALPS).  Where are you in your English development (see Jim Cummins)?
  2. Comprehensible Input/Visuals - Are there any pictures or other visual clues to help you understand such as body language, and hand gestures? 80% of language is what you see… What are the visual clues to help you understand what is going on? (See Stephen Krashen)
  3. Listen Carefully - Listen carefully to everything a person is saying in the target language, if you still don’t understand ask for clarification.  You are looking for the main idea! The goal is communication… Following along in our book using your finger will make a huge difference. OH, and don’t multitask… you will miss the "gist" of what is happening… For example, don't do homework from other classes when I am talking, try to use the target language in class, don't try to listen to music or write a text message... You will loose points for this AND you won't learn very well.
  4. Read a lot! - The best way to improve your language is by reading. This is a very important goal to try to reach for… Once you can read independently and find the main ideas, you can really start improving your language skills and sharpen your grammar and pick up a lot of vocabulary and phrases as well without even leaving the country. If you really want to get better read a little bit everyday! How about emails and texting? Why not switch your phone into another language?
  5. Set goals - Choose small obstacles you want to overcome and pursue them until you achieve them. (For example – read a short novel and understand it) A person without goals is like a ship without a rudder… A person without goals is like a plane without wings… You may look cool but you won’t go very far.
  6. Take notes - Keep a piece of scratch paper handy to write down words you don’t understand, and add them to your growing vocabulary list.
  7. Practice, practice, practice - You should plan on practicing your new vocab a minimum of 10 minutes a night. Make Flashcards and spend time going over your new vocabulary words, read, talk to people… You can hold roughly seven things in your short term memory. You have to attend to those seven things more than thirty times in an authentic meaningful moment to put it in your long term memory. To keep this in your long term memory, you have to continually revisit it or the ability to access it will get difficult.
  8. Don’t be lazy! Push yourself! - It is very easy to feel tired and “not in the mood”. Do a little each day, even when it is difficult and you will get a lot done over time…. Remind yourself WHY you are doing this and that the reward will pay off. If you don’t feed the dog… it will die… and if you don’t feed your brain it will also die. Be more than a passive learner. Don’t daydream in class, don’t forget your homework, and don’t get behind… be conscious rather than unconscious. Constantly be looking for the main ideas of what is going on…
  9. Ask for help - When you don’t understand or need help! Ask your neighbors… they are amazing resources… Come see me for encouragement, support or any question at all. I am available before school, during lunch, or after school. Many of my students check in with me at once a week or every other week. You should plan on seeing me at least once a week.
  10. Make the most of your situation…. Most people would LOVE to be in your shoes… Count yourself Lucky…. Most of the world doesn’t have the opportunity to go to school at your age.
  11. Go for the extra credit - Fight boredom (being bored is a great way to develop a mental illness); oh, and it will help your grade. Make dinner for your family once a week… check out an American Cookbook from our library… I will accept ANYTHING that has to do with the American world that you encounter out there… how about a Why? What? How? Quiz… anytime you like…
  12. Look for authentic opportunities - Try talking to native English speakers as much as possible! Take advantage of the opportunities you have to learn! Try going to a church… travel… School activities (like homecoming).
  13. Incorporate English into what you like to do - Join a club or sport at school. Surround yourself with English as much as possible.
  14. Teach your parents and friends - Label everything in your house. Practice with your parents. What’s the best way to learn something? Teach it!
  15. Be creative - Brain research shows that our second language (after puberty) is stored in the right/creative side of the brain not in the left/logical side (the French nun missionary Vespa accident). Stimulate your language development by being creative… tease the right side of your brain.Also, use your five senses whenever you can. The more senses you use, the better it will stick in your head.
  16. Don’t forget to keep practicing your first language - And other languages you know and enjoy. Try and find friends who speak your first language to continue to practice. Sing in church, we have 100 books in Russian and over 100 books in Spanish in our library at MBHS… Maybe this is a good time to start learning your next language… How about Sign Language? It is very visual…
  17. Be organized - Use your calendar, Keep you r portfolio clean, being organized will not only get you more points, it will help you acquire language skills.
  18. Come to class everyday, be on time everyday, participate and bring your materials for success everyday - Bring your portfolio, pen, pencil, glue, book and calendar. “90% of life is just showing up," said Woody Allen. Oh, and be on time… “In America, if your not ten minutes early, you are late.” In my class that means you are here two minutes before the bell rings so you can get your pen, pencil, glue, portfolio, and glue out before the bell rings.
  19. The five pillars to success in my classroom - 1) Attendance and participation, 2) Consistent homework, 3) A well kept portfolio, 4) Prepared for tests, and 5) Extra credit.

"Language is a steed that carries one into a far country." 

-Arab proverb

“Tell me how many languages you speak and I will tell you how big your world is.”