Helping ELL Students With Articulation

So I’ve been studying for the Praxis for Teachers of Other Languages (Yikes it’s going to be tough!!!) I’ve discovered two more resources for studying that will also be helpful for teachers who need resources knowing more about places and manners of articulation, as well as the International Phonetic Alphabet, check out Mobi Lieberman at The Ling Space (videos on YouTube and @

There is also an interactive IPA chart at .

English Phonemes and Pronunciation

English is one of the most complex languages in the world to learn, mostly because the 44 phonemes can be represented by more than 1,000 different letter (or grapheme) combinations! This video explains the 44 English phonemes and how they can be represented using the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, which is useful for linguists, speech pathologists and ELL teachers in analyzing speech patterns.

Language Acquisition

Learning language is natural to humans. Unlike reading and writing, our brains are actually wired for listening and speaking! This innate ability helps us to communicate for survival, working, recreation, learning and millions of other activities. The process for learning a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth, etc.) language is similar to the process of learning a first language, although certain factors, such as age, environmental factors, intensity of exposure and other variables can impact the rate of acquisition, as well as the extent that a person acquires the language. This article at Colorin Colorado, Language Acquisition: An Overview by Kristina Robertson and Karen Ford explain the six stages of language acquisition as well as offer strategies for teachers to facilitate language acquisition.

Another fantastic resource for ELL teachers, classroom teachers and school leaders is this document: Help! They don’t speak English Starter Kit (which is way more positive than it sounds like!) It has fantastic resources for new ELL teachers and a million ideas in it from strategies for teachers to fostering partnerships with parents.

The final thing I want to mention in this post is that there is a difference in the types of language that students acquire. Social language, or Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS), develops much faster, usually in 1-2 years because it is the language needed to interact and “survive” in everyday situations. Examples of BICS/social language includes asking to go to the bathroom, talking to friends, ordering food. Academic language, or Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP), on the other hand, generally takes up to 5-7 years to reach proficiency. Academic language is so tricky because it encompasses technical vocabulary, as well as discourse patterns found in academic writing such as test questions and textbooks. Examples of academic language include math vocabulary, science vocabulary, if____then_____, however, idioms, expressions, etc.

Jim Cummins was the researcher who theorized that language is like an iceberg. What we often see are students who appear proficient, but struggle in school. What we see is a tiny fraction of language needed to navigate school (BICS), but what students really need is often much deeper, (CALP.) Check out this post for more info: BICS v. CALP


Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners

English spelling can be difficult for many students. Because of the variations in orthographic systems and phonological sounds across languages, spelling is even more challenging for English language learners. This excerpt at Colorin Colorado – Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners can help mainstream teachers better understand how to analyze students’ spelling patterns and offers strategies for differentiating spelling assessments for ELLs. One helpful idea is to analyze a student’s writing sample and make a chart of words students are near proficient, learning and not learned yet.

Making Progress in Learning English

Learning English is extremely difficult! There are outdated spellings, irregular words, silent letters, irregular phonics rules, borrowed words, homonyms and multiple meaning words. It’s amazing that people are able to learn it as a second language at all! However, people successfully learn English all the time. Through listening and speaking practice over time, English language learners can be successful. At times, as they learn new grammar rules, they may appear to be doing worse rather than better. As this video shows, there are stages to language acquisition and what we see happening is not always indicative of true understanding. Check out this video for more.