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Embracing English Language Learners and Families in Our Schools

Updated on April 3, 2013

ELL Learners


Barriers For ELL Families and Learners

With the continuing increase in ELL learners in the United States it is important for educators to be able to relate to their varying needs. One of the biggest issues in education today is due to the fact that ELL learners and educators are not able to relate to one another. In addition, parents of ELL learners often feel as though they are not included in the education process and miss out on important information that pertains to their child’s success in school. This being the case, it is important for schools and communities to plan effectively in order to fully assimilate the English language learner into American society.

It is important to address the cultural impact of teaching an ELL student. First and foremost, language represents the single most difficult barrier between the student and the teacher (Hill and Flynn, 2006). Many students coming to this country come with a limited vocabulary and therefore are not able to communicate with the teacher and other students in the classroom. As such, it is important for teachers to consider the cultural barriers to educating these students. Teachers need to be aware of what background the student is coming from and how this impacts the student’s education. The customs, values, and non verbal behaviors in this country will certainly not always apply to other countries. Having a basic (at the very least) understanding of the culture in which the student comes from is important for many reasons. It allows the educator to make connections with the student and family and opens up the path for success later on.

Another barrier for ELL learners and schools in this country lies within the fact that students often are speaking both their native language and English in the home. Many parents themselves are not proficient in the English language and therefore rely on their child to continue to communicate in the native language (Sanchez, Sutton, and Ware, 1991). Oftentimes, theparents will utilize their child to communicate their needs in many different aspects (ie. Schoolmeetings, to pay bills, at the doctor’s office, etc.). An educator needs to be aware of thelanguages that are being used at home and the level at which the parents speak. If they are not proficient, alternatives need to be made to accommodate their needs. It is not impossible to find someone to interpret and to send forms home in the native language. In fact, there are many internet sites that provide various school related forms in other languages (Durango School District, 2007 and Harrisburg School District, 2007).

According to Hill and Flynn (2006), schools could foster six different types of involvement programs. The first one centers on parenting and schools typically would support parenting skills, provide family support, and have them provide information about their child to plan goals.

The second type is communicating. In this plan, schools learn to effectively communicate with families about the programs offered and create a two way channel so teachers and parents are on the same page.

In the third form the focus is on involving parents in volunteer activities within both the school and community. The school would provide training and linkages to help facilitate the process.

The fourth plan focuses on learning at home. Within this plan, the focus is on involving parents with their child’s education. This might entail providing homework in both English and the native language so the child and parent can do it together.

The fifth plan focuses on decision making. In this plan, parents are the most involved. They make decisions together and serve on committees. Finally, the last stage focuses on collaboration within the community. This involves work between multiple agencies.


Adger, C. T. (2000). School/community partnerships to support language minority student success.

Hill, J.D. and Flynn, K.M. (2006). Classroom instruction that works with english language learners. Alexandria: Association for Curriculum Development.

NWREL (2005).  Culturally responsive practices for student success: A regional sampler.

Sanchez, E.V., Sutton, C.P., and Ware, H.W. (1991). Fostering home school cooperation: involving language minority families as partners in education.


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