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Barriers, Challenges and Difficulties Faced by ELLs Research Paper

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Updated: Jan 2nd, 2022

Introduction and Background

The English language learner (ELL) student population has continued to grow worldwide (Curran, 2009). The data provided by the “National Center for Educational Statistics indicates that the ELL student population has grown by a high percentage of up to 65% by 2005” (Lonigan, 2006, p. 23). Young ELL students are faced with various challenges while trying to master the English language that is in most cases new to them (Clarke, 2009). Teachers and other students wrong judge the ELL students as having low abilities.

This paper seeks to identify the barriers, difficulties faced by English language learners, as well as their strengths in literacy learning. The paper will specifically address the barriers, challenges, and strengths of young ELL students (K-3) in learning to read. It is believed that this research paper will provide relevant data from which teachers and administrators can draw to support English language learners in building language proficiency (Clarke, 2009).

Challenges and specific interventions

All children are “born ready to learn a language to communicate with other people in their lives” (Richek, Jennings, & Lerner, 1996, p. 12). In the course of the first few years, many children get equipped with the necessary basics in the language (Rudell, 2001). Language learning is a difficult task that requires a lot of effort. However, learning one language is a normal process that occurs naturally. The trouble begins when the children are required to learn a second language such as English. Available literature indicates that several barriers and challenges affect young ELL students, especially when learning to read. Below are the challenges that are seen to affect young ELL students in developing reading skills. The analysis includes how the challenges can be addressed using the strengths of the young ELL learners.

According to Dr. Clarke who runs an early childhood consultancy, the lack of sense of belonging within the school community is a great barrier to English learners in their early years (2009). These children lack a “place for themselves in their interaction with others” (Clarke, 2009). The worst cases are seen when these children are rejected by others as this denies them opportunities of listening and practicing to speak English. Thus their efforts to learn and read English are not complimented. This is especially seen if the affected pupil is from a different culture (Clarke, 2009). In the article “supporting children learning English as a second language in the Early Years”, DR Clarke stresses the need for cultural understanding to assist the ELL pupils to adjust smoothly and interact with others for them to be successful English learners (2009).

The second barrier to young ELL students is the minimal application or lack of contextualized language learning (Rudell, 2001). For effective comprehension, the children need to learn with a lot of visual materials. This is important for them to “tie known concepts to the new vocabularies learned in class” (Curran, 2009, p. 7). Classroom settings often provide a de-contextualized environment and this often complicates learning for young ELL students who are from another language background other than English (Lonigan, 2006).

The third challenge or barrier to young English language learners is an extended silent period. The silent “period can be defined as any prolonged period of time when learners of English as an additional or second language refuse to try and speak English” (Rudell, 2001, p. 34). In this sense ‘prolonged’ refers to a period of one month or more after the exposure to English (Clarke, 2009). This barrier depends on the specific behavior and attitude of a given child. In the worst scenario, the child also makes a habit of avoiding the use of non-verbal language. Most of the affected children are “usually fluent users of their first language and continue to use it at home” (Rudell, 2001, p. 34). However, if the child is suspected of going through ‘language delay’ then specialized interventions should be carried out. According to the “Challenges and initiatives in early childhood Education Report on Arab Resource collective workshop”, the following strategies can be used to support children experiencing the silent period (Clarke, 2009, p. 12). First, the early childhood professionals need to be at the forefront in modeling the practice of talking and listening; show to other learners that the silent pupil can communicate; make efforts to include the learner in a range of group activities; accept and praise the learner’s minimal contributions; focus the conversation on other children in the group if the learner seems reluctant to be included in the interaction; and finally make use simple language which is supported by visual materials (Rudell, 2001).

The fourth challenge often occurs when young ELL students are offered difficult reading tasks that are not relevant for their stage of learning. Such tasks will turn will reduce their confidence in themselves and affect their concentration. Teachers of young ELL learners should be aware of their students’ reading abilities and thus should be able to assign tasks that are within their comprehension. The children should be encouraged to engage in a range of activities with books and reading exercises that are relevant for them. These children will “enjoy simple stories, repeat repetitive phrases in books, anticipate the ending of a story or the stages of a story, join in with shared reading, and recognize letters, logos, and signs among others” (Lonigan, 2006, p. s15).

The fifth challenge often lies in the belief that “English language learners don’t understand what is going on or don’t want to participate in the learning activities” (Curran, 2009, p. 20). The ELL teachers should be able to understand the reasons that are making the students behave in this manner. In most cases, students behave this way when the learning activities lack comprehensible input. Comprehensible input can be achieved by making good use of the following: appropriate facial expression, for instance giving the learners a node to proceed on during a reading task; by use of “gestures and body movements”, this way the teacher can help the learner to have a better understanding of words and concepts; the best approach to aid in comprehension is the use of visual aids (Rudell, 2001, p. 7). For instance, for younger children, names of objects should be represented with drawings or pictures of the objects to assist them to connect (Clarke, 2009).

The sixth challenge is often presented by the teachers who try to treat ELL students as special cases that require special attention. This will draw the attention of other students to the ELL in a way that will affect his/her reading skills. This often leads to such students pretending not to understand what they are being taught. However, they are out playing with other students they are seen to speak just fine (Richek, Jennings, & Lerner, 1996). Thus teachers should realize that it is “important that English language learners have the opportunity to interact and negotiate for meaning” (Richek, Jennings, & Lerner, 1996, p. 40). The teacher should not make the student think that he/she has a real big problem in a way that kills the student’s morale.

The seventh challenge or hurdle is presented by cultural differences. Cultural differences may lead to miscommunication by different interpretations. Children raised in families with strong cultural backgrounds are more likely to be affected. Different cultures have different interpretations for things such as “responding to eye contact, relationship with figures in authority and expectations about classroom participation” (Clarke, 2009, p. 18). The instructors of young ELL learners should be able to understand this and take appropriate steps to help the students. Common “visual language is effective in enabling the students to transfer their patterns of thinking from their first languages to English” (Richek, Jennings, & Lerner, 1996, p. 9). Alternatively, the teacher can use reading materials that have been adjusted to fit the student’s culture. This has been shown to “increase the ELL performance by up to 20 percent” (Clarke, 2009).

Implementation of intervention strategies

The intervention strategies aim to show how the teachers can build around the student’s strengths to assist them to develop proper reading skills. Thus the teachers should be able to “draw on the student’s background experiences and encourage connections between academic concepts and student’s own lives” (Curran, 2009,p. 23). This will go a long way in assisting the students to understand why they need to communicate in the English language. This can be achieved by a variety of interventions such as formulation of proper strategies that will encourage students to learn how to read in their first languages and then transfer the concepts to English learning; the teacher should be able to establish a link with the learners “culture and family by using culturally congruent teaching methods” (Clarke, 2009, p. 13). The young ELL learner should be made to be proud of their culture by being given opportunities to teach other students about his/her culture or language. There should be extensive use of multicultural literature to develop the student’s interest in reading; the teacher should use “engaging instructions such as cooperative groupings to engage learners” (Clarke, 2009, p. 19). The “ELL pupils should be able to connect words meaning by using nonverbal clues and non-linguistic representation of ideas, including multimedia, manipulative, simulations and modeling” (Curran, 2009, p. 23).

Conclusion

This research paper sought to identify the barriers, difficulties faced by English language learners, as well as their strengths in literacy learning. It has been established that ELL students are faced with multiple challenges and barriers most of which are due to their cultural differences. The cultural difference leads to different perceptions that are interpreted differently by the other students and teachers and thus affecting the ELL learner. The paper has shown how teachers can make use of students’ strengths to create the appropriate environment for better reading development (Curran, 2009). If the strategies are properly implemented then this will go a long way in alleviating learning difficulties for young ELLs.

Reference list

Clarke, P. (2009). Supporting Children Learning English as a Second Language in The Early Years (birth to six years). New York: Victorian Curriculum and assessment authority.

Curran, M. (2009). Fostering English Language Learning in Early Childhood Settings: THe successful Transisition. New Jersey: The state Universtiy of New Jersey.

Lonigan, C. (2006). Development, assessment, and promotion of preliteracy skills. Early Education and Development. Web.

Richek, C., Jennings, J., & Lerner, J. (1996). Reading problems: Assessment and Teaching Strategies.. Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon.

Rudell, M. (2001). Assessment of students Progress in subject Area reading and Writing: Teaching Content reading and Writing. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

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