English language learners (ELL) are students who are not yet fully proficient in reading and/or speaking English. Learning a new language is easier for younger children, and older elementary children or teens have more difficulty gaining proficiency. However, even adults can learn another language and gain full proficiency.
What are the three basic English language learner levels? Students might fall into these categories:
About the English Language Learner Levels
Educators need to learn the proficiency level of ELL students to ensure these students receive the amount of support they need to be successful in the classroom setting. Some students could have no understanding of the English language. These students would need to be provided with a translator who could ease them into the new setting.
Students with a basic understanding of English still require support. However, as these students have a slight working knowledge of the English language, they might be able to utilize online tools or other resources to guide their classroom experience.
Intermediate learners are those who have a functional grasp of English. Again, some supportive guidance would be helpful and necessary. However, these students might be able to communicate with their teacher in English and be adept in translating English in text.
Proficient English language learners have full knowledge of English. These students are bilingual (or even multilingual); while they could make errors in speech or when writing, these errors would likely be minor; some errors could be related to colloquialisms.
What is an English Language Learner?
An English Language Learner (ELL for short) refers to any student or individual who is learning the English language. These individuals fall within different categories of fluency or proficiency. Some may lack any understanding of English; others have a small working knowledge.
Individuals and students who are multilingual are proficient in two or more languages. These children fully grasp the language, can express themselves in the language accurately, and have few communication issues when conversing in English via speech or in written form. Some children might be fluent in four or more languages.
According to the most recent data from the United States Department of Education (2014-2015), there were more than 4.8 million English language learners in classrooms across the country. The Department of Education reports that ELL students account for one out of every 10 students.
Beneficial English Language Learner Activities
Parents of children who are learning English as a second language can provide help at home. Teachers also can provide ELL students with activities outside of the classroom that strengthen their grasp of the language and gain proficiency.
Easy ELL activities include:
- Reading a book in a native language and English
- Practicing the sounds of the alphabet
- Watching television shows in English
- Playing the game Pictionary
- Playing Scrabble
Word-centric board games like Scrabble and Pictionary are recommended by the site Overseas. These games help children learn to create words in English and identify these words (and terms). The site also recommends playing the game Hangman.
Children with an advanced grasp of the English language, however, also can play these games to build stronger vocabulary skills. In addition, as the English learning level of a child increases, teachers (and parents) can encourage them to read books in English. However, ELL students might need to start out by reading more basic books and gradually increasing the difficulty of their reading level as their language proficiency increases.
How to Improve English Language Learner Proficiency
Some children need to gain proficiency quickly. Others could simply struggle to gain proficiency in English. Beyond basic activities, how can parents and educators help students who struggle to learn English?
There are many lesson-based resources for helping children gain proficiency in English. For some children, playing games, reading books, and listening or immersing in the language simply doesn’t work.
Resources for English Language Learners
- Online resources
- Language schools
- Community resources
There are many online resources that can help children learn English. The internet offers virtual learning opportunities and apps to help facilitate language. Google and other sites offer translation tools; these tools can be used as resources to help support ELL students as they work to gain proficiency.
Many cities offer language schools that work with students to help them learn English. These schools (or classes) can be offered through local colleges, public schools, or even private language schools and/or tutors. Parents can research the options in their area.
Many communities also offer support to ELL students. Community organizations might offer language classes or resources to help new families find translators. Local nonprofit organizations also could offer resources to families.
Free Resources for ELL Students
Some families might not have the financial means to pay for private tutors or schools to help their child learn English. What other resources are available?
Local nonprofit organizations could offer free resources to families needing language assistance. The English Language Learner In-Home Program offers free tutoring, computer training, and other opportunities to families and individuals who need support.
The program is funded by donations. Families and individuals can reach out to the program coordinator online. There are resources and tutors available to families across the country.
Families who need additional language help for their child also can reach out to their child’s school district. Additional resources may be available; the school also could facilitate communication between the family and a district social worker who can help provide options and resources.
Using a Reading App for Students Learning English
Reading proficiency is fundamental to learning. Children who are learning English might struggle with reading proficiency and reading comprehension as they learn to read in English. A lesson-based reading app like Readability can be used at home or in the classroom to help ELL students increase their reading proficiency and feel more confident reading in English.
Readability is designed for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. Children begin the program one reading level below their current reading level; this is recommended to help children acclimate to the program and its features.
When they use Readability, children have access to a 24/7 reading tutor. This tutor is powered by AI and is programmed with voice recognition software. At each reading level, children can choose to read any book in their online leveled library. These books are read aloud; as the child reads, the tutor understands if the child needs help. The tutor also measures the child’s reading fluency (words read per minute) and tests their comprehension of each story by initiating a quiz at the end of the book.
ELL students also have access to vocabulary enrichment tools and a read-aloud audiobook feature. Every book in the child’s online library features a vocabulary list that they need to master. In addition, children can tap or click any word in the story to hear the definition or listen to the word used in a sentence. As hearing a story can help ELL students better understand the pronunciation of words and capture the emotion of the story, Readability also provides a feature called Storytime that lets students enjoy an audiobook experience.
Parents who are interested in using Readability to help their child gain proficiency in English can sign up for a free seven-day trial of the program. School districts interested in using Readability to help ELL students can reach out to explore trial options, too.