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Instructional Issues Relating to Long-Term English Learners

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

Teachers of long-term English learners face a variety of instructional challenges and opportunities. This lesson highlights some of these issues and discusses how teachers can be effective in delivering quality instruction to long-term English learners.

Long-Term Challenges

One of the skills successful teachers develop is the ability to effectively deliver instruction to different populations of students. For teachers of long-term English learners, this requires them to keep several instructional considerations in mind. Two of these involve oral language development and academic language development.

An understanding of these components is vital to address instructional issues relating to long-term English learners. For our purposes, long-term English learners are students who have had several years of formal English education, but whose first language is not English. As they develop their language abilities, it can become more difficult for teachers to promote the growth of advanced language skills across different subject-specific curricula. One reason for this is that an increasing familiarity with English means that less lesson time is spent on language instruction in favor of subject content delivery.

Placing long-term English learners can also sometimes be difficult because these learners may or may not have the language skills that match their non-English abilities. For instance, a student may be great or even exceptional at math, but if he or she lacks the English language skills to communicate effectively in an advanced math class, it can be difficult to know at which level to place the student. On the other hand, some long-term English learners may actually feel discouraged if they are required to constantly study and fulfill language requirements that may be too easy or too repetitive. Therefore, it's important to find the right balance of language instruction and relevant subject content delivery when placing students in academic programs.

When teachers approach these issues with a well-conceived plan, the outcomes can be advantageous for students. Let's take a look at a few suggestions for tackling them.

Oral Language Development

What happens when your long-term English learners no longer need the aid of a dictionary or review time to speak at a near-native English level? What can you do when spending a large portion of lesson time on new vocabulary is no longer necessary?

There comes a point when most long-term English learners will be comfortable and capable enough with English that focusing primarily on language instruction is no longer necessary. At this point, teachers can shift the focus to promoting oral language achievement across the curriculum. This can be accomplished in several ways:

  • Developing expansive subject-specific vocabulary skills.
    • Encourage students to focus on vocabulary that is not typically used outside of subject-specific discussions.
  • Focusing on delivering real-time oral arguments and opinions.
    • Give students opportunities to discuss complex topics without the benefit of preparation time. For instance, begin a lesson with an impromptu class discussion on a topic that's been covered in class.
  • Providing opportunities for advanced oral language discourse.
    • Utilize formal debates and thoroughly-researched presentations that require students to prepare and practice delivering advanced language content.

Each of these practices can help your long-term English learners develop language skills that go beyond simply learning vocabulary and perfecting grammar. Focusing on English usage that will benefit students in higher education, professional, and social settings can help you overcome many of the instructional issues that may arise with this type of student.

Academic Language Development

While academic language development shares several commonalities with oral language development, there are differences that should be taken into consideration. For instance, academic language development encompasses academic writing disciplines and requirements, which can be quite complex for even native English speakers.

One way to promote achievement across the curriculum is to ensure that long-term English learners are exposed to different types of established academic practices. These include:

  • Academic citation styles (MLA, APA)
  • Academic writing formats (essays, reports, studies, surveys)
  • Academic communication styles (descriptive, analytical, persuasive, critical)

If possible, have students actively engage with these practices by requiring them to use academic citation styles, writing formats, and communication styles. Remember to take into account the ability level of your learners when employing these types of academic language.

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