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Misconceptions about Language Learners

wordleFollowing are some common misconceptions about second language learners. Understanding the process of learning a second language can help avoid making these faulty assumptions.

1) A LEP student who appears to speak English well is a fluent speaker.

A LEP student who can converse comfortably in English (i.e., social language) is not necessarily fully fluent in English. Oral language skills often precede reading and writing skills. Gaining fluency takes time and exposure to the language in many different contexts.

2) A LEP student who appears to speak English well is able to read and write at the same level.

A LEP student may converse comfortably in English, but not be able to read and write at a similar level. Research suggests that it can take up to five years of English language instruction before a LEP student will be able to read and write proficiently in English (i.e., academic language). Research also indicates that LEP students who have little or no prior education and who may be illiterate in their first language may take seven to ten years to achieve grade level proficiency (Thomas & Collier, 2002). Achieving academic fluency is a long, gradual process that is strengthened with effective instructional strategies (Cummins, 1979; Peregoy & Boyle, 2005).

3) A LEP student who is silent in class does not understand anything.

A LEP student who does not participate in class discussions is still acquiring an understanding of the English language and its grammatical structures.

During this "silent period," LEP students are attending to and internalizing the vocabulary and common patterns and structure of the English language.

Most LEP students bring a wealth of content knowledge and life experiences, as well as reading, writing, and thinking skills to the classroom that transfer from their native language to English (Cummins, 1981). LEP students may know the answer to a question because they have studied the concept in their native language; however, they may not have sufficient skills in the English language to produce an answer that can be understood by others. Typically listening comprehension precedes speaking, reading, and writing fluency (Krashen, 1983).

4) A LEP student who reads aloud well understands everything.

A LEP student who can decode (sound out) words while reading aloud may not necessarily understand the meaning of the text. Some LEP students have learned the sound/letter correspondence in English. They may “sound” as if they understand what they read; informal assessments can be done to ascertain if understanding is occurring.