Why Children with English Language Learning Difficulties Need Specialized Help with Reading

June 23, 2023

English Language Learning Difficulties

Children with English language learning difficulties can struggle in a traditional classroom environment. Expecting a child to learn and master subjects when lessons are taught in a language that is foreign to the child can lead to learning deficits and gaps in proficiency. This is why children with English language learning difficulties might need specialized help with reading and other subjects, too.

Imagine trying to learn a simple concept without comprehending much of what is explained. This is the experience of many ELL students in classrooms across the country. Not only do these children need to translate what the teacher is saying, but they also need to facilitate that translation into directions to help them learn. Reading in a foreign language can be incredibly challenging; children who aren’t proficient in English can struggle with standard language arts or reading assignments. After all, how can a child retell the story if they can’t even understand the story because of a language barrier?

How can teachers help ELL students gain reading confidence and boost reading proficiency? Each school district could have a unique approach and teachers also might have preferred methods for helping ELL students.

English Language Learning Difficulties

ELL Programs in Classrooms

School districts might utilize different programs and/or strategies to guide the classroom experience for English language learners. In some cases, the student might have a private translator who can explain lessons to them in their native language.

Some children are semi-proficient in English, and, while they can get by in a traditional classroom, they might struggle to master concepts in reading and other subjects. How can teachers (or parents) help children who are identified as English language learners succeed, thrive and hit grade-level benchmarks for reading?

Again, strategies used to guide these students could vary per district. What happens, though, when ELL students leave the classroom and head home?

Five Reading Strategies to Help ELL Students

Once children go home, resources might be limited. However, there are a variety of tools and strategies that children can use at home to help them with reading assignments. Teachers (and parents) can recommend these five strategies:

  1. Reading the same book in English and the child’s native language
  2. Using phonics apps or programs
  3. Accessing translation services via sites like Google
  4. Listening to a book
  5. Using a reading program like Readability

Reading the Book in English and a Native Language

To help children better understand how a word from their native language translates to English, teachers might recommend that children read a book in both languages—English and their native language. School districts might be able to supply ELL students with these books; however, public libraries also can order books in other languages.

Reading Rockets explains that when children can read well in their native language, this proficiency can help them read better when they learn English. Encourage children to read books in their native language and trying to read the same book in English.

English Language Learning Difficulties

Use Phonics Programs or Apps

Learning a language begins by understanding the letters that make up the words in that language. Thus, reading in English should begin by helping ELL students learn and understand the English alphabet and the sounds of each letter. Phonics lessons are an important part of reading and are the basis for ‘the science of reading.’

Teachers can provide ELL students with enrichment materials that help them gain phonics proficiency. Children with internet access at home also could utilize apps or computer games focused on phonics mastery.

Translation Services via Google and Other Sites

Online translation programs could be helpful for children to decipher directions for homework or to provide other guidance in their native language. However, these translators aren’t always accurate. Some teachers use this online translation feature as a classroom resource; in fact, SCETV explains that the translator feature can be used to help facilitate understanding via conversations in class, to provide textual translations and even to translate students’ homework and assignments.

Listen to a Book

Listening to an audiobook also could help ELL students better understand a story or even pick up on new words. Students can listen to the story as they follow along in the book; this allows them to hear and see the words.

ELL students also could listen to the book in English and follow along in a book written in their native language or vice versa. This strategy could help children better grasp the translation of the book and decipher meaning.

How Readability Can Help ELL Students Gain Reading Proficiency

Readability has been used by Lori McGinley, a third-grade teacher at Salisbury Elementary School (Salisbury, Penn.), to help her ELL students and other struggling readers in her classroom. McGinley encouraged her students to use the program in class for 10 minutes in class and 10 minutes at home.

The students that used Readability consistently increased their reading fluency by an average of 27.16 words per minute. These students had a 41 percent greater fluency growth than those who didn’t use the program (they only gained 19.25 words per minute).

Readability can be accessed by students from a computer or a mobile device; the program requires internet access. The program is designed to help students gain confidence and reading proficiency; Readability can be used by children in kindergarten through sixth grade.

The program is leveled for each child’s ability. Children should begin the program at one reading level below their current level; this helps children feel more confident when they begin to use the program. At each level children have access to a bookshelf of high-interest fiction and nonfiction books. Children read these books aloud.

Readability is designed with a built-in AI tutor that is programmed with voice recognition capabilities. As the child reads aloud, the tutor learns their unique voice and intonation. The tutor also understands if a child is struggling to pronounce a word or needs help. Like a real tutor, the AI tutor provides feedback, offers encouragement and helps children along the way.

The tutor also measures the child’s reading data. As the child reads, the tutor assesses reading fluency (measured in words read per minute). At the end of each book, the tutor also quizzes the child about the book; this end-of-book assessment measures reading comprehension. However, if a child answers the question incorrectly, the tutor shows them a section from the book that helps them answer the question and reads this section aloud. The child can then attempt to answer the question again.

For ELL students, vocabulary lessons are important to gaining proficiency in English. Every Readability book includes a list of vocabulary words. Children also can tap any word in a book or story to hear the definition or hear the word used in a sentence. Every vocabulary word is collated into a master list that students can practice, explore and review whenever they wish.

Parents might wonder about the price of reading programs like Readability. While private reading tutors are often an expensive option for parents, Readability is affordable and accessible to children 24/7. Readability requires a subscription; parents are charged $19.99 per month. One account can be used for up to three children, and parents can cancel any time.

Parents and teachers interested in exploring the program can sign up for a free seven-day trial period. During the trial, children have access to all the features and stories of the program. Sign up today and find out how Readability can help ELL students gain proficiency and confidence with reading.