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Bilingual Basics

Bilingual Basics News, Volume 8:2 (August 2006)

by User Not Found | 11/03/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Editor’s Overview of This Issue
    • BEIS Newsletter Mission Statement
    • BEIS Steering Committee 2006-07
    • Call for Manuscripts
  • Articles and Information
    • Negotiating Multicultural Identities: Transnational Teachers of English in Mexico
    • How Ethnic Turkish Teachers Navigate Their Way Through the Stormy Seas of Bilingual Politics in Denmark
    • Teachers of Bilingual/Multicultural Children in Past and Present Times
    • Strategies for Supporting Students’ First Languages
    • Monolingual TESOL Teachers Fostering Students’ Native Literacies
    • Teaching English Language: Overlooked Components of Mainstream Classroom Instruction
    • Stepping Into the Shoes of English Language Learners: Empathizing With Their Linguistic Struggles

Leadership Updates Editor’s Overview of This Issue

Nancy Dubetz, Lehman College, CUNY,

Each spring, the BEIS newsletter invites manuscripts that relate to a particular topic of interest to educators of bilingual children in TESOL. Articles in the current issue address the topic of preparing and supporting teachers of bilingual children. The seven articles included in this issue address such important questions as

o What are the characteristics of teachers who support children's learning through two languages?
o How do bilingual teachers negotiate the politics around bilingualism and bilingual education?
o How do bilingual teachers entering the profession today compare with previous generations of bilingual teachers?
o How can all teachers be prepared to promote bilingualism and biliteracy?

This issue opens with "Negotiating Multicultural Identities: Transnational Teachers of English in Mexico" by Mary Petrón. The article offers insights into how the instruction of transnational teachers is informed by their knowledge of both U.S. and Mexican contexts and their sensitivity to the needs of their Mexican students who will eventually negotiate two cultures themselves.

The second article, "How Ethnic Turkish Teachers Navigate Their Way Through the Stormy Seas of Bilingual Politics in Denmark," by Shelley Taylor, describes how bilingual teachers must navigate their way through current political responses to bilingualism without losing sight of their professional goals. The cases of two Turkish bilingual teachers illustrate how these teachers advocate for their students and become (c)overt activists—lobbying for programs and providing counter discourses to negative views.

In "Teachers of Bilingual/Multicultural Children in Past and Present Times," Eva Yerendé offers an insightful comparison of the similarities and differences between the characteristics and teaching contexts of previous and current generations of bilingual teachers.

"Strategies for Supporting Students' First Languages," by Yvonne and David Freeman, describes three strategies for supporting students' first languages in classrooms where children speak many different languages and where teachers do not speak the languages of their students.

The following article, "Monolingual TESOL Teachers Fostering Students' Native Literacies," by David Schwarzer, provides a set of 10 practical strategies that TESOL teachers can use to foster multiliteracy in their classrooms.

In "Teaching English Language: Overlooked Components of Mainstream Classroom Instruction," Julian Jefferies and Maria Estela Brisk argue that teachers must be aware of the forms that oral and written language take in academic contexts and develop explicit objectives to address these in teaching English language learners. They illustrate this point by offering specific examples of academic language from mathematics and science.

This issue closes with "Stepping Into the Shoes of English Language Learners: Empathizing With Their Linguistic Struggles" by Maria Arreguin-Anderson. The author describes how she helps her preservice teachers develop empathy for ELLs by exposing them to instruction in an unfamiliar language. It seems fitting to close the issue with a reminder to all teachers that developing empathy toward the linguistic struggles of bilingual children is as critical to student learning as is teaching academic concepts and language.

BEIS Newsletter Mission Statement


The goal of the BEIS Newsletter is to provide a forum for the discussion of educational and sociopolitical issues in pre-K through postsecondary bilingual educational settings around the world.


The BEIS Newsletter is oriented to practitioners and teacher educators working in bilingual education programs around the world.


The BEIS Newsletter serves as a vehicle for the expression of ideas and scholarship related to teaching and learning in bilingual classroom settings. The newsletter also takes an advocacy position with respect to bilingual education. It includes articles, research summaries, book reviews, convention information, and general commentary.

Approved at the 2004 annual business meeting on March 31, 2004.

BEIS Steering Committee 2006-07

President Elect

Linda Evans,


David Schwarzer,

Past President

Ester de Jong,


Sarah Cohen,

Members at Large

Madeline Milian,
Maria Coady,
Jerry Berent,
Milli Kushner,
Mayra Daniel,
Cheryl Serrano,
Francisco Ramos,

BEIS Newsletter Editors

Fall 2007 Editor
Shelley Taylor,

Spring 2007 Special Topics Editor
Nancy Dubetz,

Call for Manuscripts

Fall 2006 BEIS Newsletter
General Preconference Issue

What topics are appropriate for this general issue of the newsletter?

Summaries of the discussion groups you organized for TESOL 2006 are appropriate if of a general nature. (Summaries shorter than the length specified below are acceptable). Reactions to discussion group sessions that outline and further the dialogue are also appropriate.

Summaries of BEIS talks or workshops that you presented or attended at TESOL 2006 would also be of great interest.

Timely issues of relevance to our interest section will also be accepted.

What topics work better for a theme issue?

The Spring 2007 BEIS Newsletter will deal with language policies and their impact on ELLS. Submissions on this topic should be submitted to Nancy Dubetz (, the editor of the spring theme issue. Deadline: June 1, 2007. A detailed call for manuscripts for the spring issue will be posted in the fall 2006 BEIS Newsletter.

What else will appear in the fall BEIS newsletter?

This general issue includes preconference information, ballots, and a wider range of articles than in the theme issue.

When are submissions due, and who should they be sent to?

Due date: October 30, 2006
Editor: Shelley K. Taylor (

Submission & abstract info: Length, style, tips

Submission Length: 1,000-2,000 words (max)
Abstract: 50 words (500 characters or less)
Style: Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (5th Ed)
Tips: Begin with central ideas or conclusions, keep sentences short (16 words max),
keep paragraphs short, and chunk information (heads, subheads)

Articles and Information Negotiating Multicultural Identities: Transnational Teachers of English in Mexico

Mary A. Petrón, Texas A&M International University,

I'm just me, I'm bien pocha . . . I guess I am not from here or there, I'm both from here and there. That doesn't sound too good, but it is. It really is. I like being in both places. And I think it is good to be from both places. Like I see the world or life bigger than just Americans or Mexicans see it. And really I can live here or I can live there. It doesn't really matter that much. But I can't live there without coming here de vez en cuando and I can't live here without going there sometimes. (Lidia, transnational teacher of English in Mexico)

Within the confines of the nation state, the identity issue is generally framed in all-or-nothing terms. In the United States one must be 100 percent American, whereas in Mexico, one must be cien por ciento mexicano. Allegiance to both is viewed as treasonous somehow, as is evidenced by the popular tirades presented in the U.S. media regarding "those Mexicans who just don't want to assimilate" or in Mexico by the discourse that attributes a myriad of social problems to U.S. influences. Yet, as is illustrated in the opening quote by Lidia, who has spent her entire life going back and forth between the two, choosing one or the other is not an option. Her experience suggests that transnational individuals have unique ways of viewing and understanding the world that are nurtured on both sides of the border.

I spent a year and a half in Mexico studying five transnational individuals who acquired their English as the children of working-class Mexican immigrants to the United States and who were employed as English teachers in rural public schools of Nuevo Leon, Mexico (Petron, 2003). Lidia, Elvira, Nora, Carely, and Laura are part of transnational family networks with essentially two home bases, one in the United States and one in Mexico, with immediate family members living in both. These teachers offer great insight into issues of identity, language, and culture.

First, English is a heritage language of transnationals within the context of Mexico, much like Spanish would be their heritage language in the United States. They display many of the same linguistic strengths and weaknesses in English that speakers of Spanish as a heritage language often display in the United States: high degrees of oral/aural proficiency in nonacademic contexts and less developed literacy skills. Furthermore, English is part of their identity and their families' past, present, and future. However, in contrast to many Spanish as a heritage language speakers in the United States, who are often viewed as deficient in Spanish as measured against an educated monolingual Spanish speaker (Valdés & Geoffrion-Vinci, 1998; Villa, 1996, 2001, 2002), these individuals are viewed as English language experts within the context of Mexico. Indeed, it is quite telling that education officials in Mexico have often referred to these individuals as maestras mexicano-americanas (Petron, 2003).

Second, their classrooms in Mexico are centers of nonstop language and cultural lessons informed by their own experiences in the United States. They spend a great deal of time working on pronunciation because it has been their experience that Americans have little tolerance for heavily accented English. They constantly substitute or add to textbook vocabulary. They speak in contractions, requiring the same of their students because, as Elvira stated, "If you can't hear the difference between should and shouldn't and you don't say them right, you're going to have problems over there [referring to the United States] 'cause nobody says the whole thing." These transnational teachers provide students with cultural "translations" of textbook pictures that typically reflect the U.S. school setting but are often incomprehensible to children in rural Mexico. At the same time, they engage in pedagogical code-switching in which they use the English words their students are learning and Spanish to ensure the children grasp the cultural information, as is evident in following excerpt in which Lidia is explaining school lunches in the United States.

Mira el dibujito del boy. Tiene una bandeja con su food porque allá te dan de comer en la escuela al mediodía. Allá los kids están en la school desde las eight in the morning hasta las three in the afternoon y por eso, they eat at school en vez de la casa. Y ¿Y ves el cartoncito ahí? It's milk. Porque todos los children tienen que tomar milk in school. [Look at the picture of the boy. He has a tray with his food because over there they feed you in school at noon. Over there, kids are in school from eight in the morning until three in the afternoon and that's why they eat at school instead of at home. And see the little carton there? It's milk. Because all the children have to drink milk in school.]

Finally, these individuals have keen insights into the complex nature of globalization from the perspective of those who were affected by globalization before it became fashionable to discuss it. While Mexican education officials stress the growing importance of English for use within Mexico, these transnational teachers tend to assume English is needed for use outside of Mexico. As the children of rural, working-class parents forced by economic circumstances to leave Mexico, they relate to the plight of the rural poor. Consequently, they believe many of their students will immigrate to the United States and must be taught the language and culture necessary for survival al otro lado [on the other side]. The following example is from one of Nora's classes:

Nora: Okay, now, el libro dice yes, pero les voy a enseñar otra palabra más importante que significa lo mismo [the book says yes, but I'm going to teach you a more important word that means the same thing.] Yeah. Now everybody. Yeah.
Student: Ticher, ¿Cómo se escribe yeah? [Teacher, how do you write yeah?]
Nora: No importa como se escribe. Lo más importante es que lo digas bien. Yeah. [It doesn't matter how it's written. What is important is that you say it well.]
Student: Yeah.
Nora: Porque si te para la migra al otro lado y te pregunta, "Are you a U.S. citizen?" Eres ciudadano? Y tú le dices, "yes." Pues, la migra va a saber de inmediato que no eres de allá porque los de allá dicen, "yeah." [Because if immigration stops you on the other side and asks you, "Are you a citizen?" and you tell them, "yes." Well, immigration is going to know right away that you are not from there because everyone from there says "yeah."]

Trueba (1999) posited that Latinos in the United States have multiple, shifting identities. This ability to shift, to feel at home on both sides of the border, is part of the cultural heritage of transnationals. It is this heritage they seek to pass on to the next generation so that their children and students will be able to participate fully in familial networks that transcend the border (Kandel & Massey, 2002; Massey, 1987; Massey, Goldring, & Durand, 1994). These transnational teachers in Mexico are playing a critical role in the Americanization of Mexican youth and are a valuable source of pre-immigration information (Brittain, 2002).

Brittain, C. (2002). Transnational messages: Experiences of Chinese and Mexican immigrants in American schools. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing.

Kandel, W., & Massey, D. (2002). The culture of Mexican migration: A theoretical and empirical analysis. Social Forces, 80(3), 981-1004.

Massey, D. (1987). Return to Aztlan: The social process of international migration from western Mexico. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Massey, D., Goldring, L., & Durand, J. (1994). Continuities in transnational migration: An analysis of nineteen Mexican communities. American Journal of Sociology, 99(6), 1492-1533.

Petron, M. (2003). I'm bien pocha: Transnational teachers of English in Mexico (Doctoral dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 2003). Dissertation Abstracts International, 64, 4323.

Trueba, E. (1999). Latinos unidos: From cultural diversity to the politics of solidarity. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Valdés, G., & Geoffrion-Vinci, M. (1998). Chicano Spanish: The problem of the 'underdeveloped' code in bilingual repertoires. Modern Language Journal, 82(4), 473-501.

Villa, D. (1996). Choosing a 'standard' variety of Spanish for the instruction of native Spanish speakers in the U.S. Foreign Language Annals, 29(2), 191-200.

Villa, D. (2001). A millennial reflection sobre la nueva reconquista. Southwest Journal of Linguistics, 20(1), 1-13.

Villa, D. (2002). The sanitizing of U.S. Spanish in academia. Foreign Language Annals, 35(2), 222-230.

How Ethnic Turkish Teachers Navigate Their Way Through the Stormy Seas of Bilingual Politics in Denmark

Shelley K. Taylor, The University of Western Ontario,

It is important for students, teachers and educational policymakers to be aware of how their present and future activity not only concerns children in classrooms, but also fits into the overall language policy of a state or nation. (Baker, 2001, p. 367; original emphasis.

In the above passage, Baker (2001) explained how closely linked the teaching situations of educators involved in bilingual education are to state or national responses to bilingualism. This paper examines the politics of bilingualism in Denmark over the past quarter century, a period that spans

  • public recognition of the need and benefits of bilingual education for minority language children of immigrant backgrounds, and the subsequent development of bilingual programs,
  • crumbling consensus on the value of bilingual education, leading to program demise, and
  • all-time low political and public support for first language (L1) instruction for minority language children of immigrant backgrounds.

During these phases, educators committed to teaching minority language children have been required to weather many political storms and navigate their way through the stormy seas of program changes. This paper reviews and draws lessons from their (re)actions in the hope that they may inform bilingual educators elsewhere.

This paper presents a brief case study of two ethnic Turkish teachers, Songül and Emine, and their (re)actions to the politics of bilingualism in Denmark. Initially teachers in a Danish-Turkish bilingual education program, they managed to hold their heads above water, even after the program was cancelled. They weathered the stormy seas of political maneuvering, keeping their eyes on the target, and forged spaces to meet their goals. In so doing, each made a difference. How they managed to stay focused is described in the following sections, which provide contextual information and the case study.

Contextual Information
Highlights of changes that have occurred in bilingual education and L1 teaching in Denmark over the past quarter century are described below. This paper focuses on the consequences of these policies for bilingual teachers and the offspring of foreign workers who came to Denmark from Turkey in the 1970s. Their parents arrived before Denmark permanently closed its borders to immigration in 1973 (Just Jeppesen, 1993).

Denmark of the 1980s
In the early 1980s, two school psychologists wrote a report documenting how stigmatized and undervalued immigrant children from Turkey felt in the public school system (Sahl & Skjelmose, 1983). It also documented their academic underachievement. Public opinion at the time was relatively favorable to immigrant minorities; hence, a bilingual/bicultural program was launched in response to the report. Until then, a "two rule" had been in effect, prohibiting the placement of any more than two minority language children in any one classroom at a time (Taylor, 1997).

The goal of the bilingual/bicultural program was to improve ethnic Turkish children's educational experiences, acquisition of Danish, and academic outcomes. Songül and Emine, the two ethnic Turkish teachers, were involved in the program from the outset. They taught alongside Danish colleagues in a transitional bilingual education program. Half of the students received instruction in Danish, and half received instruction in Turkish, with the percentage of Danish-medium instruction gradually increasing for ethnic Turkish children over the years.

Denmark of the 1990s
By the late 1980s, the political climate was less favorable to immigrant minorities. The bilingual program was cancelled, as instruction in a language other than Danish nettled politicians at all levels of government. Soon afterward, local politicians declared that Danish could not be a second language for children in Denmark, and pronounced Danish as all children's first language (Taylor, 1997). This pronouncement reflected growing public sentiment about the threat of minority languages to Danishness, a sentiment expressed in a public cry for "Danish! Danish! Danish!" In this anti-minority-language climate, Songül and Emine were reassigned as bilingual support teachers, with limited responsibility for teaching Turkish-as-a-mother-tongue classes.

Present-day Denmark
The right-wing government currently in power in Denmark has its own political agenda and educational language policies. They make it easy for the few children from present and former Danish territories (Greenland; the Faro Islands) to receive L1 instruction, but difficult for the many second-generation immigrant children (Kristjánsdóttir, 2003, 2006). This situation supports Baker's (2001) point that a state's language policy holds implications for teachers' present and future activities. It also raises the following questions, which are addressed in the final section:

  • What are Turkish bilingual teachers such as Emine and Songül doing now that the educational circumstances of ethnic Turkish children seem headed back to their former position of inferiority?
  • How can these teachers keep their eye on the mark under these circumstances?
  • What lessons can bilingual educators in other contexts draw from this case study?

How to Navigate the Stormy Seas of Bilingual Politics
These questions are best answered by describing Emine and Songül's current positions and the advocacy spaces they have opened up for themselves. Following the demise of the bilingual/bicultural program, Emine gained further teacher qualifications in the area of special education, specializing in speech and hearing problems. However, she was dissatisfied with the limited amount of second language children she could reach on a one-to-one basis in her new position. Therefore, Emine opted for what she felt was the best space to work with minority language children. She chose to go back to teaching in the same school where she had taught in the bilingual education program. This time, her teaching position was in a "reception class": a year-long, sheltered Danish-as-a-second-language (DSL) program for new arrivals-refugees or children entering the country as part of family reunification.

Songül now plays a dual educational role as consultant and teacher. She works as a consultant in a large Danish municipality, in the bilingual children division. Songül is also district coordinator for Turkish L1 teachers. Her duties include liaising with school administration and minority parents from Turkey, and teaching in-service courses (i.e., she teaches ethnic Turkish teachers how to teach Turkish L1 classes). In addition, she teaches DSL in a reception class.

Neither educator is teaching in bilingual education now. However, both have found spaces in which they can better minority language children's school experiences, either as teachers, or indirectly (e.g., by teaching Turkish L1 teachers). How can Emine's and Songül's cases inform bilingual educators in other contexts? First, they illustrate how closely the teaching situations of educators involved in bilingual education are linked to state responses to bilingualism (Baker, 2001). Second, they illustrate how bilingual educators who keep their eyes on the mark can achieve their professional goals in the face of adversity.

These cases illustrate that, for bilingual educators to meet their goals, they must:

  • roll with the tides, navigating their way through the stormy seas of political responses to bilingualism by staying abreast of trends in language policymaking;
  • find spaces to advocate for students by being (c)overt activists, lobbying for programs, or providing examples of counterdiscourses in existing programs; and
  • find ways to enable minority language children to succeed.

In short, they must evolve with the times, no matter how difficult they might be or how beleaguered they might feel, without giving up their ideals or losing sight of their goals.

Baker, C. (2001). The politics of bilingualism. Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (3rd ed) (pp. 366-400). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Just Jeppesen, K. (1993). Skolen-en nøgle til integration ? [School-a key to integration?]. De fremmede i Danmark [Foreigners in Denmark] (Series No. 3). Copenhagen: Danish National Institute of Social Research.

Kristjánsdóttir, B. (2003). Viljen til undervisning i tosprogede elevers modersmål [The will to provide instruction in bilingual children's mother tongue]. In C. Horst (Ed.), Interkulturel pædagogik: Flere sprog-problem eller ressource? [Intercultural pedagogy: More languages-problem or resource?] (pp. 85-11). Vejle, Denmark: Kroghs Forlag.

Kristjánsdóttir, B. (2006). Evas skjulte børn: Diskurser om tosprogede elever i det dansk nationalcurriculum [Eva's hidden children: Discourses on bilingual pupils in the Danish national curriculum]. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Danmarks Pædagogiske Universitet [Danish Pedagogical University], Copenhagen, Denmark.

Sahl, F., & Skjelmose, C. (1983) Du er ingen ! [You Are Nobody!]. Tåstrup, Denmark: Høje-Tåstrup Centre for Pedagogical and Psychological Counseling.

Taylor, S. K. (1997). 'I treat them all the same': Educator role definitions and child multilingualism in minorities in a minority.

In J. N. Jrrgensen & A. Holmen (Eds.), The development of successive bilingualism in school-age children (Series No. 27, pp. 159-185). Copenhagen: Royal Danish School of Educational Studies.

Teachers of Bilingual/Multicultural Children in Past and Present Times

Eva Yerendé, University of Texas at Arlington,

Teachers of bilingual/multicultural children are often identified as insiders or outsiders—that is, individuals who share or do not share similar sociolinguistic and cultural backgrounds with their students (Bustamante-Jones, Young, & Rodriguez, 1999; Green, Tran, & Young, 2005). This distinction is addressed in the context of the growing disparities observed between the socioeconomic, linguistic, and cultural profiles of students and teachers particularly among African American and Latino communities (Ladson-Billings, 2001; Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995; Mercado & Santamaria, 2005). The consensus of these discussions is that insiders are better positioned to function as role models and cultural brokers for students from minoritized and underprivileged backgrounds in a formal educational system that has historically objectified students and teachers from minoritized communities (McDonald & Monkman, 2005; Spring, 1997; Trujillo, 1996). Moll and Ruiz (2005) used the concept of "educational sovereignty" to highlight the privileged standpoint that insiders occupy as students, teachers, researchers, and policymakers to transform the structures and the processes of their educational experiences and consequently alter the "larger educational ecology" in the United States (p. 300).

In this paper, I use the concept of "educational sovereignty" as discussed by Moll and Ruiz to identify different profiles of Latino/a teachers and to explore their significance in the continuous effort of Latino communities in the United States to authenticate their educational experiences across time and space. My work with student teachers and mentor teachers these past two years (2004-2006) has brought to my attention the different academic experiences that exist between past and present generations of bilingual teachers. Similar to the situation described by Green et al. (2005) for California, in Texas, bilingual candidates in undergraduate teacher certification programs tend to be Latinas in their 20s with previous (K-12) academic experiences in the United States. The fact that many of these individuals were students in bilingual/ESL programs themselves is an intriguing aspect of their academic experience, which differs from the academic experience of previous generations of bilingual/ESL teachers of Latino/a origin in the United States.

Through autobiographical and ethnographic accounts (Lemberger, 1997; Trujillo, 1996), past generations of bilingual teachers, researchers, and other school personnel have informed us about the challenges that they faced growing up at a time when young children were forced to learn in a school language that they did not understand and often under the threat of physical, verbal, or psychological abuse. Their narratives and testimonies evoke the pain and the isolation resulting from restrictive monolingual educational policies that forced young children to learn in language(s) and dialect(s) that they did not understand (Crawford, 2004; Ovando, Combs, & Collier, 2006; Trujillo, A., 1996).

Certainly, much less is known about the perspectives of the teachers who attended bilingual/ESL programs in U.S. schools and then chose to become bilingual/ESL teachers themselves. What connections do these people make between what they experienced as students and what they aspire to achieve as teachers in bilingual/ESL programs? How do they position themselves in the continuous efforts of Latino communities in the United States to authenticate their educational experiences across time and space? What bodies of knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and social networks do they use to advance their understanding of bilingual/ESL education in the United States based on what has happened in the past and what needs to happen in the immediate future?

The existing literature suggests that past generations of bilingual/multicultural teachers were prone to link their linguistic and cultural diversity with the overall advancement of the communities they represented, whereas the present generation of bilingual/multicultural teachers seems prone to approach this diversity as a marketable commodity that improves their individual ability to compete in local, national, and transnational markets. In her study on student activism among university students of Hispanic descent, Heidenreich (2006) suggested that the present generation of Hispanic students lacks the political clarity if not astuteness of past generations that experienced on a personal level the violence of segregated schooling. This is indeed a provocative thought to consider in relation to the increased (in numbers and intensity) anti-bilingual and anti-immigration measures of the present times. The criminalization of Spanish in the schools of working-class people (MacGregor-Mendoza as cited by Moll & Ruiz, 2005, p. 304) and high-stakes testing, which affect all teachers but more so teachers of bilingual/multicultural children, have created new opportunities for political engagement.

To offset the grim reality of hostile and punitive laws that render poor immigrant children particularly vulnerable in monolingual school environments, the present generation of bilingual teachers can tap into two different and interrelated funds of expertise: their personal capital as students and teachers in bilingual/ESL programs and the collective capital of bilingual education as a field that has grown to become a significant thought collective powerful enough to influence the way that people think and act about language and schooling.

A closer and more systematic engagement with the personal and collective histories of bilingual education can help us move the discussion about the characteristics of teachers and students beyond manageable competencies and learning outcomes. In the case of Bilingual/ESL education, the fixation with minimum competences and learning outcomes tends to privilege standardized varieties of English and Spanish at the expense of the linguistic and cultural specificities of the learners. To cope with chronic shortages of "highly qualified teachers" in Spanish-English programs, many school districts across the USA recruit teachers from Spanish-speaking countries other than the USA. While the academic background of these teachers is undisputable, their linguistic and cultural profile tends to be significantly different than the profile of their students and colleagues.

The political and pedagogical implications of the linguistic and cultural discontinuities of the Latino communities in the USA are multiple (Rumbaut & Portes, 2001; Suárez-Orozco & Suárez-Orozco, 2001). For one part, synchronizing the collective voices and the political power of the present generation of Latino/a teachers may be more difficult today than in the past Furthermore, actualizing visions of "educational sovereignty" as suggested by Moll and Ruiz (2005) runs the risk of being an elusive process contingent upon the ability of classroom teachers to code-switch efficiently between different linguistic and cultural varieties of Spanish and English.

In this respect, affirming diversity within diversity (Nieto, 2000) is a tremendous challenge and opportunity at the present time because it questions the familiar ways of negotiating power within the bilingual/multicultural communities of the USA and the society at large. To address this challenge, teachers of bilingual/multicultural children would have to be able to develop self-emancipatory visions of teaching and learning (Trueba, 2004) consistent with the experiences of the communities that they serve and ideally represent.

Bustamante-Jones, E., Young, R., & Rodriguez, J. L. (1999). Identity and career choice among Mexican American and European American preservice bilingual teachers. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Science, 21(4), 431-446.

Crawford, J. (2004). Educating English Language Learners: Language Diversity in the classroom. Los Angeles, CA: Bilingual Educational Services, Inc.

Green, T. D., Tran, M., & Young, R. (2005). The impact of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, languages, and training program on teaching choice among new teachers in California. Bilingual Research Journal, 29(3), 583-598.

Heidenreich, L. (2006). Against the grain: Confronting Hispanic service organization in times of increasing inequalities, 1930 and 2005. Journal of Latinos and Education, 5(2), 123-137.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2001). Crossing over to Canaan: The journey of new teachers in diverse classrooms. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Ladson-Billings, G., & Tate, W. F., IV. (1995). Toward a critical race theory in education. Teachers College Record, 97(1), 47-68.

Lemberger, N. (1997). Bilingual education: Teachers' narratives. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

McDonald, V., & Monkman, K. (2005). Setting the context: Historical perspectives on Latino/a Education. In P. Pedraza & M. Rivera (Eds.), Latino Education: An agenda for community action research (pp. 47-74). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Mercado, C. I., & Santamaria, L. J. (2005). A new vision for Latino/a Education: A comparative perspective on research agendas. In P. Pedraza and M. Rivera (Eds.), Latino education: An agenda for community action research (pp: 11-43). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Moll, L., & Ruiz, R. (2005). The educational sovereignty of Latino/a Students in the United States. In P. Pedraza & M. Rivera (Eds.), Latino education: An agenda for community action research (pp. 295-320). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Nieto, S. (2000). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education. New York, NY: Longman.

Ovando, C., Combs, M. C., & Collier, V. P. (2006). Bilingual and ESL classrooms: Teaching in multicultural contexts. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Rumbaut, R. G., & Portes, A. (Eds.). (2001). Ethnicities: Children of immigrants in America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Spring, J. (1997). Deculturalization and the struggle for equality: A brief history of the education of dominated cultures in the United States. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Suárez-Orozco, C., & Suárez-Orozco, M. M. (2001). Children of immigration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Trueba, E. T. (2004). The new Americans: Immigrants and transnationals at work. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Trujillo, A. (1996). In search of Aztlán: Moviemiento ideology and the creation of a Chicano worldview through schooling. In. B. A. Levinson, D. E. Foley, & D. C. Holland (Eds.), The cultural production of the educated person (pp.119-149). New York: SUNY Press.

Strategies for Supporting Students’ First Languages

Yvonne Freeman, The University of Texas at Brownsville,, and David Freeman, The University of Texas at Brownsville,

The National Clearinghouse of English Language Acquisition (NCELA) reported that in 2003-04 there were over five million English language learners (ELLs) in schools in the United States (NCELA, 2004). In the past 10 years the ELL population has grown 65%, and the diversity of those students continues to challenge teachers and schools. Although 82% of ELLs in the United States are native Spanish speakers, Hopstock and Stephenson (2003) found that school districts identified over 350 different first languages for their second-language learners. In many schools in countries where English is the language of instruction, students start their schooling speaking a language other than English.

Bilingual programs, especially dual language and maintenance bilingual programs, teach English and the content knowledge they need to succeed academically at the same time that the students maintain and develop their first language (Lindholm-Leary, 2001; Hopstock & Stephenson, 2003; Rolstad, Mahoney, & Glass, 2005). Because students are studying content in their first languages, they do not fall behind academically while they are acquiring English.

However, in classrooms where students speak several different first languages, the challenges are greater. Good bilingual education is usually not possible because of a lack of certified bilingual teachers in all the languages; a lack of materials in the students' first languages; and sometimes, in states such as Massachusetts, California, and Arizona, a legal requirement to teach students in English only. Unfortunately, even when there are teachers and materials and no restrictions against bilingual education, there is often a lack of support for bilingual education because of a lack of understanding of the theory and research that support teaching students in their first language as well as in English (Crawford, 2004; de Jong, 2002; Krashen, 1996; McQuillan & Tse, 1997).

Even when teachers do not speak the first languages of all their students, they can use the first languages to support their students' learning. Three strategies for supporting students' first languages are implementing preview/view/review, using bilingual books, and carrying out language comparisons. In the following sections, we describe each strategy briefly in the hope that readers can take these ideas and adapt them for use in their own settings.

An important strategy for drawing on the first language and teaching academic content for all English learners is preview/view/review (Freeman & Freeman, 1998, 2000). In this strategy, key concepts are introduced in the students' first languages. Then students are given opportunities to work with those concepts in their new language, English. Teachers use a number of techniques to make the English instruction comprehensible, such as hands-on activities, visuals, and realia. Finally, students are allowed to review the concepts in their first languages to clarify, summarize, and ask questions.

If teachers do not speak their students' first languages, other students, paraprofessionals, or community members can be used to give the preview and review. If there are no resource people to help, students can be grouped by first languages, brainstorm on topics in their first languages, and report back to the teacher in English for both the preview and review portion of the lesson. Figure 1 shows how preview/view/review works. This strategy helps all English learners, whether they have developed academic proficiency in their first language or not.



First Language

The teacher, a paraprofessional, a parent volunteer, or a bilingual students gives an overview of the lesson or activity in the students' first language (this could be giving an oral summary, reading a book, showing a film, asking a key question, etc.). Students can also be put into same language groups to brainstorm what they know about the topic and report back in English.


Second or Target Language [English]

The teacher teaches the lesson or directs the activity in the students' second language using a variety of techniques to make the input comprehensible.


First Language

The teacher, a paraprofessional, a parent volunteer, or a bilingual student summarizes key ideas and raises questions about the lesson in their first language. Students may be grouped by their first language to summarize key ideas and report back in English.

Published Bilingual Books
Another good way to bring students' first languages into the curriculum is by using bilingual books. These books might be teacher- or district-made when few materials are available through commercial publishers, or they may be books produced by publishers dedicated to bilingual and multilingual materials. When we lived in Fresno, California, we worked with teachers who had sudden new waves of immigrants come into their classrooms. Because materials in their students' first languages were seldom available, creative teachers found ways to create books students could learn to read and at the same time were culturally relevant. One particularly good example came from Doua Vu, a graduate student and expert in the Hmong language and culture for the school district. Doua wanted children in the district to learn Hmong and, at the same time, appreciate their cultural heritage, something she saw slipping away as children became assimilated into the English-dominant culture. Doua took pictures of children dressing up in traditional Hmong clothing to celebrate Hmong New Year. Then she used those pictures to write a predictable book, Dressing Up to Go to Hmong New Year/Hnav Tsoos Hmoob Mus Tom Tshav Pob, in both Hmong and English that could be photocopied in color. Teachers throughout the district enthusiastically used her book with their children, thus validating the children's first language, Hmong, and also celebrating the importance of the Hmong New Year.

When available, teachers can use bilingual books representing the different languages in their classrooms. Some publishers have dedicated themselves to finding bilingual books for teachers and online searches can help teachers locate books they need. For example, at the International Children's Digital Library at Children can choose to read books in English or another language including such languages as Arabic, simplified Chinese, Filipino, and Tagalog. At, teachers can locate bilingual books for children in 35 languages ranging from Arabic to Yoruba. there are multicultural books from Asian countries and Latin America. For some time, Cinco Puntos Press ( has produced engaging bilingual books in Spanish and English. Many other publishers can be located by means of simple Google searches. Teachers can use these bilingual books for oral and written language development in English by asking students to talk about and write about the books. Students can use these books to develop their first language, or they can use the first language text as a resource when they are reading in English. In addition, teachers and students can carry out language comparisons by looking together at the texts in both English and the other languages.

Comparing Languages
In classes with students from different language backgrounds, teaches can engage students in different kinds of language comparisons. For example, students can study cognates, or they can compare syntactic structure, phonology, or spelling patterns. By studying similarities and differences across languages, students become more aware of their first language and of English (Freeman & Freeman, 2004).

Quite a bit has been written about drawing on cognates when teaching English to students with closely related first languages. This is particularly true of Spanish-speaking students learning English. Williams suggests that teachers and students look at texts together to identify cognates. Then students can work in pairs to find cognates on pages photocopied from textbooks. In addition, teachers and students can create a classroom cognate wall or a cognate dictionary (Williams, 2001). Rodríguez (2001) suggested that students classify cognates. For example, some cognates have the same spelling, others vary in predictable ways, and still others have the same root. As they work with cognates, students become more aware of how they can draw on their first language resources as they read in English.

English also has cognates with many other languages, and a study of these related languages can be fascinating to students. While we were living for a short period in Lithuania, we noticed that the ingredients on the back of the corn flakes package were given in 13 languages. A look at the words for those ingredients sparked a fascinating discussion. For example, corn in German is mais, more like maíz in Spanish. But in Slovenian, it is koruza, perhaps closer to English. In Lithuanian, Latvian, Polish, Czech, Croatian Slovakian, Yugoslavian, and Hungarian, the words for corn all begin with kukur- and have different endings. Discussions about these types of spellings help students and teachers appreciate word roots, spellings, and meanings.

In addition to looking at the similarities in vocabulary as shown in cognates, students can analyze other similarities and differences between their first languages and English. For example, they can look at the syntax. English and Spanish both follow a subject-verb-object pattern, but Japanese shows a different pattern, subject-object-verb. In English, adjectives usually precede nouns, and in Spanish they follow nouns. English words can begin with three consonant sounds, as in split or street. However, in Spanish, words don't begin with spl- or spr-; instead, Spanish words have an e before these consonant blends. Teachers can engage students in linguistic investigations to compare their first languages with English.

The above suggestions are only a few ways in which teachers can bring students' first languages into their classrooms even when the teachers do not speak those languages. Strategies like those suggested not only validate students' first languages and cultures but bring educators to a deeper understanding of their students and the complexity of learning in another language.

Crawford, J. (2004). Educating English learners. Los Angeles, CA: Bilingual Education Services.

de Jong, E. (2002). Effective bilingual education: From theory to academic achievement in a two-way bilingual program. Bilingual Research Journal, 26(1), 1-15.

Freeman, D. E., & Freeman, Y. S. (2004). Essential linguistics: What you need to know to teach reading, ESL, spelling, phonics, and grammar. Portsmouth, NH, Heinemann.

Freeman Y. S., & Freeman, D. E. (2000). Preview, view, review: An important strategy in multilingual classrooms. NABE News, 22(2), 20-21.

Freeman, Y. S., & Freeman, D. E. (1998). ESL/EFL teaching: Principles for success. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Hopstock, P., & Stephenson, S., (2003). Native languages of limited English proficient students. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Krashen, S., (1996). Under attack: The case against bilingual education. Culver City, CA : Language Education Associates.

Lindholm-Leary, K. J. (2001). Dual language education. Clevedon, United Kingdom: Multilingual Matters.

McQuillan, J., & Tse, L. (1997). Does research matter? An analysis of media opinion of bilingual education, 1984-1994. Bilingual Research Journal, 20(1), 1-27.

National Clearinghouse of English Language Acquisition (NCELA). (2004). The growing number of limited English proficient students 1991-2002. Washington, DC: United States Department of Education.

Rodríguez, T. A. (2001). From the known to the unknown: Using cognates to teach English to Spanish-speaking literates. The Reading Teacher, 54(8), 744-746.

Rolstad, K., Mahoney, K., & Glass, G. (2005). The big Picture: A meta-analysis of program effectiveness research on English language learners. Educational Policy, 19(4), 572-594.

Williams, J. (2001). Classroom conversations: Opportunities to learn for ESL students in mainstream classrooms. The Reading Teacher, 54(8), 750-757.

Monolingual TESOL Teachers Fostering Students’ Native Literacies

David Schwarzer, The University of Texas at Austin,

The purpose of my presentation at the BEIS Academic Session at TESOL 2006 was to discuss the role of monolingual TESOL teachers teaching increasingly more and more linguistically diverse classrooms. In the presentation, I focused on the following questions:

  1. How are we preparing monolingual teachers (including mainstream and TESOL teachers) to deal with public school classrooms in the United States that are linguistically diverse and multilingual?
  2. How do we view students' native languages in our schools: as a "national resource" that is being wasted or as a "national liability" to be fixed?
  3. What are some of our unresearched attitudes and misconceptions about the roles of monolingual teachers teaching our students' native languages?
  4. Do we want to maintain students' native languages and literacies or do we want to foster them?

At the end of the presentation, I provided a list of 10 practical ideas for monolingual teachers interested in fostering multiliteracy among their students. In this short article, I address 10 practical ideas for monolingual TESOL teachers to use in their classrooms (Adapted from Schwarzer, Haywood & Lorenzen, 2003).

  1. Create a multiliterate print environment. Multilingual posters placed in the school community are crucial to fostering multiliteracies in the classroom. The teacher and the community can create a rich and ever changing multiliterate print environment by asking parents to write, find, or create posters with the alphabets of the languages spoken in the class. They can also display and use some key phrases such as welcome, exit, good job, and so on, in all the languages. The bilingual writing of students' names as part of the classroom multiliterate environment can be encouraged.
  2. Use literature in students' native languages. Authentic texts in students' native languages are important to the development of students' native literacies. Children's books have the potential to bridge school and students' home cultures. Teachers can encourage parents, siblings, or older students from the same language background to come to class and read a book in the child's first language for the whole class. This kind of experience may have long-lasting effects in students' appreciation of language as a resource. The classroom library can include books and other authentic texts in the languages spoken by the children in the classroom. Some books might come with audiotaped versions that could be used in the listening center. Some teachers may ask community members to create their own audiotaped versions of the books.
  3. Create a multiliterate project to be conducted by a community member in the native language. Teachers can include writing and reading activities to be conducted with a community member in the native language throughout the school year. Dialogue journals—"the use of a journal for the purpose of carrying out a written conversation between two persons, in this case a student and a teacher, on a regular continuous basis" (Staton, 1988, p. 4)—are a good example of such an activity. Such projects may enhance students' literacy development in both English and their native languages. The TESOL teacher becomes the orchestrator while the community members become the facilitators.
  4. Create predetermined and curriculum-relevant language centers that are supported by multiliterate community members. Fostering literacy in students' native languages can become a curriculum-relevant activity in the TESOL classroom. Students' native literacies could be used as another teaching tool in the content areas. Teachers will be able to teach certain content-area phrases such as dolphins are mammals in all the languages represented in the class. If students see their native language being used only to tell stories and not for content-area instruction, they might think that there is no real need for their native language in their academic lives.
  5. Create audiotaped cassettes with greetings, basic conversations, songs, and stories in the students' native languages. Community members can become active participants in the production of audio- or videotapes of students' songs, story telling, discussing the daily weather forecast, daily greetings, and so on. These cassettes can be used together with written posters; teachers and students listen to the cassettes and point to the text at the same time in order to make connections between the oral and the written utterances.
  6. Assess students' literacy in their first language. TESOL teachers may benefit from a basic assessment of students' reading and writing proficiency in their first language. Teaching English as a second language to literate students in their first language is very different than teaching English to students struggling to read and write in their native tongue. Proficient readers of Urdu sound very similar to proficient readers of English and struggling readers of Hebrew sound very much like struggling readers of English.
  7. Start learning words and phrases in the students' first languages as well as your own heritage language. It is important for the monolingual TESOL teachers interested in fostering students' native literacies to model this behavior for them. If teachers demonstrate their commitment to learning their own family heritage language as well as learning how to read and write some key words or phrases in their students' native languages, that will have a profound effect on students' attitudes toward their own native languages.
  8. Involve the community as active participants in the class. Community members can become invaluable partners in the multilingual school community. We need to be resourceful; parents, community activists, clergy, volunteers, older siblings/students, and staff personnel are untapped resources available to all of us in our own local communities. Students can create family and school language usage trees (Schwarzer 2001) to showcase the range of languages used by children and their family members within any particular school and classroom community.
  9. Find ways to translate school letters and formal information sent to parents into all of the languages available in the learning community. TESOL teachers are always trying to engage their students' families in the school community. Translating all the school materials into all the languages spoken in one school community is overwhelming. However, the TESOL teacher can create a running letterhead including a word such as hello in all the languages available in the classroom community to be used in the teacher's correspondence with the homes. Also, the weekly or monthly report sent home to keep parents informed on students' progress might include phrases in students' native languages such as "great job! I am proud of you! Keep up the good work." The TESOL teacher should consider sending one short formal letter a year in the students' native tongue to reassure the family of the school's commitment to the development of students' native language and literacy proficiency.
  10. Use the students' culture and experiences as a catalyst for multiliteracy development. When teachers explore students' cultures in the classroom, native languages appear (e.g., bar mitzvah, quinceñera, fajitas, kinaaldá). Teachers and students can generate bilingual lists of cultural relevant words and concepts both in their native tongue and in English to be posted in the classroom. In this way, students and teachers will benefit by exploring the use of students' backgrounds and cultural assets as a catalyst for multiliteracy development in the school setting (Schwarzer 2001).

    The purpose of this short article is to engage monolingual TESOL practitioners in considering ways to foster multiliteracy development in their classroom. Many children are learning English in our second language classes while losing precious words, phrases, and sentences in their native tongues. There is no telling what the long-term consequences of this national neglect might be.

Schwarzer, D. (2001). Noa's ark: One child's voyage into multiliteracy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Schwarzer, D., Haywood, A., & Lorenzen, C. (2003). Fostering multiliteracy in a linguistically diverse classroom. Language Arts, 80(6), 453-460.

Staton, J. (1988). An introduction to communication. In J. Staton, J. Shuy, J. Peyton, & L. Reed (Eds.). Communication: Classroom, linguistic, social, and cognitive views. Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex.

Teaching English Language: Overlooked Components of Mainstream Classroom Instruction

Julian Jefferies, Boston College,, and Maria Estela Brisk, Boston College,

Students learning English as a new language can develop substantial fluency in social and survival language through exposure to and interaction with an English-speaking community. This fluency in social and survival language usually develops rapidly, as children spend most of their day socializing with other children. But their exposure to academic language is limited only to school, and may be extremely limited if their ESL classes do not include academic language development (Chamot & O'Malley, 1994). This limited exposure limits the formal oral and written language these students can produce in an academic environment.

For this reason, English language learners are prone to use the everyday language that they know in lieu of the more formal academic language required in schooling. For example, for her essay entitled "Why Music is Essential to Life," Carolina, an English language learner, wrote

Music! There's different tunes, sounds and meanings. There's every type of music for many individuals. There's Bachata, Merengue, salsa, Reggae, Caribbean Reggae, hip hop, R & B, Rock & Roll, Metallic, and Romantic music, My favorite. So there you go any type of music you wanna listen too, you would have a great selection. (Brisk & Harrington, 2006, p.182)

Carolina's essay displays the characteristics of informal language: using incomplete and simple sentences (Music!), personal language (So there you go . . .), and vague determiners (There's every type . . .). Although perfectly fit for informal oral and written communication, Carolina's writing does not display the features of academic language needed to communicate in the context of schooling.

Teachers need to be aware of the forms that language takes in academic contexts, whether spoken or written. They need a better understanding of the features of this language, which is typically organized in patterns that are different from the organization and structure of informal language (Schleppegrell, 2004). Most important, teachers need to be explicit about the expectations of language use in the classroom, and this need should translate into clear language objectives for each lesson. Classroom language includes a continuum of registers, from the informal conversation among students, to the more formal presentation of ideas to the register required in written academic discourse (Gibbons, 2003).

The kind of academic language required to succeed in school can be introduced in the earlier grades, by making students aware from the beginning of the shape that language takes in formal settings. For example, even an activity such as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be an opportunity for students to turn their focus on the language required to write a procedure: "First, take two slices of bread. Second, spread the peanut butter on one of the slices. Then, . . .". Teachers can focus, for example, on the imperative mood (take, spread) or on the temporal connectives (first, second, then . . .) needed to produce this kind of writing.

Academic language is not limited to just the English language arts. Especially for nonnative speakers, English is both a target and a medium of instruction: They are not only learning English as a subject in their language arts class, they are also learning through English in their content-based classes (Gibbons, 2003). In a content classroom, academic language is used by the teachers and in instructional materials to present and explain new information. Consequently, in order for students to succeed, academic language needs to develop at the same pace as the construction of curriculum knowledge in the content area (Chamot & O'Malley, 1994; Gibbons, 2003).

In mathematics, for example, students need to master specific syntactic structures in the language in order to understand concepts and be able to solve problems successfully. One of these characteristics is the lack of correspondence between mathematical symbols and the words they represent. For example, in order for students to understand the phrase "the square of the quotient of a and b," they must know that the first part of the expression (the square of) has to be translated last, and the second part (quotient of a and b) goes in parentheses to signify the squaring of the whole quotient (a/b)². At the same time, sentences such as "the number a is five less than the number b" prove confusing to students who are not familiar with this comparative structure, and who then confuse the equation a = 5 - b with the correct a = b -5 (Dale & Cuevas, 1992).

When it comes to language objectives, even a simple one such as "students will be able to report orally and in written form in correct complete sentences or phrases" can aid the language development of students. In a high school mathematics class, for example, the teacher focused on this objective for the whole class. Typically students would respond with one word, leaving it up to the teacher to provide a context for the word. Requiring a full sentence gave students an opportunity to practice language and to demonstrate knowledge and understanding. When a student gave an example of the termequidistant in the sentence "My shoulders have the same equidistant from my neck," the teacher used the opportunity to ask the students to think about the term as an adjective (equidistant) or a noun (equidistance), and to rephrase the sentence, asking them to reflect on the language needed to express the concept correctly—that is, "My shoulders are equidistant from my head." This example illustrates how teachers can help students pay attention to language explicitly in order to aid the understanding of mathematical concepts.

The academic language of the discipline is closely linked to the concepts the students have to master to be fluent in the subject. When hypothesizing about the results of a science experiment, for example, students need to be aware of conditional sentences in order to appropriately express these notions. Students need to be aware that conditional sentences express the dependence of one set of circumstances (the main clause) on another (the dependent clause). In addition, the dependent clause usually starts with the subordinating word if: for example, "If we put the north pole and the north pole together, they will repel each other." Thus, a teacher could present this sentence frame to students while they make predictions before doing an experiment.

Teachers need to find a way to talk about the language of their discipline in ways that help students to think about the linguistic structures needed for comprehension and production of texts. This does not mean that they must become English language arts teachers, as such a teacher will not be able to talk about the language of mathematics or other content areas; it means that they must be well versed in the structures that the language takes in their discipline. While paying attention to academic language, however, teachers should not forget about the context in which this type of language is appropriate, thus allowing students to use their everyday language, first language, and other registers, in order to make meaning.

Brisk, M. E., & Harrington, M. M. (2006). Literacy and bilingualism: A handbook for all teachers. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Chamot, A. U., and J. M. O'Malley (1994). The CALLA Handbook: Implementing the cognitive academic language learning approach. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Dale, T., & Cuevas, G. J. (1992). Integrating mathematics and language learning. In P. A. Richard-Amato & M. A. Snow (Eds.), The multicultural classroom: Readings for content-area teachers (pp. 9-51). White Plains, NY: Longman.

Gibbons, P. (2003). "Mediating Language Learning: Teacher Interactions with ESL Students in a Content-Based Classroom." TESOL, 37(2): 247-273.

Schleppegrell, M. J. (2004). The language of schooling: A functional linguistics perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Stepping Into the Shoes of English Language Learners: Empathizing With Their Linguistic Struggles

Maria G. Arreguin-Anderson, Texas A&M University at Kingsville,

High expectations can be a heavy load to carry on one's shoulders, especially when you are an English language learner (ELL) attending school in the United States. Five million ELLs were enrolled in the public school system in the 2003-04 school year (National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, 2005). These students must master content and unfamiliar language structures in instructional settings where the use of strategies specifically designed to meet their needs are often absent. Cummins (2000) stated that second language learners acquire language and content most successfully when "they are challenged cognitively but provided with the contextual and linguistic supports or scaffolds required for successful task completion" (p. 71). In other words, they need to be exposed to instruction that is comprehensible (Krashen, 1985).

Linguistic Empathy

Only a genuine understanding of the linguistic barriers experienced by ELLs in a mainstream classroom can lead to a visible impact on instruction delivery. The initial excitement that most immigrant children bring with them when attending a U.S. school for the first time quickly fades when they find themselves sitting in the middle (or even worse, the corner) of a room surrounded by strangers, listening to a language that is impossible to decipher. Under these circumstances, it is imperative that general education teachers, bilingual teachers, and ESL teachers step outside their comfort zone and into the shoes of an ELL to gain a true feeling of the linguistic barriers faced by bilingual students in mainstream classrooms. Linguistic empathy can be a driving force behind a consistent implementation of instructional strategies that make content instruction accessible to ELLs. A number of scholars have recognized building empathy toward second language learners' difficulties and cultural differences as one of the major areas of concern in teacher preparation (e.g., Carrasquillo & Rodriguez; Cummins; Genesee; and Mohan, Leung, & Davidson, as cited in Dong, 2004). Peterson (2001) indicated that establishing a relationship of empathy with another individual allows us to perceive "depth and substance, meaning and complexity, value and beauty beyond what we had seen previously and beyond what we had projected onto them" (p. 65).

The emotional side of language acquisition, addressed by Krashen (1985) in his affective filter hypothesis, takes into consideration the students' anxiety levels, attitudes, and motivation when learning a second language. This hypothesis suggests that a stress-free environment lowers the affective filter and encourages active participation. When teachers fail to provide concrete examples, or speak at a fast rate without stopping to check for comprehension, the levels of anxiety experienced by the ELLs rise and as a result, students cannot be "open to the input" (Krashen, 1985, p. 3).

Empathy toward the linguistic struggles of an ELL will prompt the teacher to provide not only an instructional but an emotional refuge in which the students have direct and consistent access to learning. A common misconception among educators is the belief that instructional strategies and teaching practices utilized with "mainstream" students will effectively foster academic growth in all situations. This assumption places minorities at a disadvantage by promoting a one-size-fits-all approach to education.

A Case Study

In October 2005, after having discussed instructional modifications for ELLs with five groups of preservice teachers at a university in South Texas, I saw that a direct experience with traditional instruction in an unfamiliar language would convey to these teachers a better understanding of the feelings of isolation endured by ELLs. With this in mind, I invited a friend of mine to deliver a lesson in Chinese, his mother tongue, to the five groups of preservice teachers. The guest speaker and I decided that the topic would deal with Chinese culture and that for approximately 12 minutes, only traditional lecturing would take place. The last three minutes of the minilesson would include the use of visuals and Internet sites.

Once the lesson began, the preservice teachers were amused. They looked at each other and smiled as they looked at the guest speaker intently, as if trying to find clues from gestures or tone of voice. Five minutes later, the audience seemed lost, but patiently sat through the storm of concepts and information delivered to them. However, after the minilesson, the feelings expressed by the undergraduate students included frustration, shock, bewilderment, boredom, and sadness as illustrated in the words of one of the preservice teachers:

This lesson was a real eye opener because I felt really lost and dumb. I began to day dream after a while because I got really bored. I can just imagine how the children feel when they don't understand the language or the material being covered. As a future teacher I would use more hands-on activities, group work, and more visuals to help children who are having a hard time understanding.

Educational experiences generally tend to follow patterns that empower or weaken the individual's self-concept. Cummins (2000) believes that participants in a relationship are empowered through their collaboration and that affirmation of one's identity is the result of such collaboration. One of the participants talked about her feelings after being exposed to the minilesson in Chinese:

I felt lost. I literally felt as if my self-esteem was dropping and I began to wonder if the people around me felt the same way. I did not fully understand the emotional effect that a situation likes this can have on a person because here in the valley, there are mostly Hispanics and I can speak and read both Spanish and English very well, so I fit in comfortably. This experience left me a lifelong lesson not to take things or individuals for granted. Regardless if the child is an ELL or just a struggling reader, we as educators must make an effort to take the first step in becoming the advocates for these children and give them a chance for a better academic future.

In the responses regarding the implications for instruction based on this experience, the accommodations mentioned by most preservice teachers included:

  • Use of visuals
  • Use of manipulatives
  • Slower rate of speech
  • Use of native language
  • Vocabulary instruction

These suggestions address ways in which educators can provide comprehensible input so that students have real opportunities to construct meaning. Cummins (2000) indicate that students can advance through different levels of cognitive and academic language development by being exposed to new information in context-embedded situations. As stated by a preservice teacher:

The importance of using some form of sheltered instruction seems to make it relevant through this experience. I was looking for something to give me a clue. It was not until I saw the names of the years that I understood, in part, what the lesson was about. So manipulatives and visuals are a must! We are told, but I don't think we really understand until we are exposed to the situation on the "other" end.

The emotional side of second language learning is often neglected in our classrooms. Empathy can transform teachers' attitudes and, consequently, the type of instructional strategies utilized when teaching ELLs. Empathy brings caring into the equation as it conveys the message that teachers and students are partners in the educational arena. A true dialogue in education can occur when instruction is truly accessible and the doors to learning are open to all students.

Cummins, J. (2000). Language, power and pedagogy: Bilingual children in the crossfire. New York: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Dong, Y. R.. (2004). Preparing secondary subject area teachers to teach linguistically and culturally diverse students. Clearing House 77(5), 202. Retrieved May 20, 2006, from

Krashen, S. D. (1985). The input hypothesis: Issues and implications (4th ed.). New York: Longman, Inc.

National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition. (2005). The growing numbers of limited English proficient students 1993/94-2003/04. Retrieved May 29, 2005, from

Peterson, T. (2001). The sensitiveness of the soul. Educational Horizons 79(2), 65-68. Retrieved June 6, 2006, from