This is a continuation of the article, "Maintaining student progress."

The United States is a nation of immigrants from many different countries and groups. They face many challenges, including adjusting to a new culture, learning a new language and mastering content areas.

“There are currently more than 180 different language groups represented by the students in America's schools. Students who speak English as a second language (ESL) constitute a significant percentage of the nation's school population: schools currently provide programs for nearly 3 million ESL students, and it is estimated that this population is growing two and half times faster than that of native English-speaking students (Shore, K. 2018).”

Maintaining progress is essential. Students may “jump ship” if they feel that their needs are not being met and go to a different school. Teachers need to identify problems and work to resolve them quickly.

As I wrote last October, “Students are always on the lookout for a ‘better’ ESL program. One must keep in mind is that they mean ‘different.’ Any problems that they may have will just go along with them to the new location. So the best strategy is to be proactive in providing incentives for the students to stay on in their current program (Magrath, D. October 29, 2018).”


ESL students, like many regular students, face hurdles as they start college. Reading is one vital skill that must be addressed. Students may need to read the equivalent of two or three books a week if one counts the textbook, outside readings, research on the internet, reserve books and periodicals related to their fields of study.

We learn to read by reading, just as we learn L1 by using it to comprehend and communicate. Reading is fundamental to language acquisition and must be a major component of L2 teaching programs.

“There is growing evidence supporting the Reading Hypothesis, the hypothesis that we not only ‘learn to read by reading’ but also that reading is the source of our reading ability, our ‘educated’ vocabulary, our ability to handle complex grammatical constructions, our ability to write in an acceptable writing style, and much of our spelling ability (Chew, P. & Krashen, S., December, 2017).”

Supply learners with high-interest learning material and they will be motivated to advance quickly so they can better understand. If one is motivated to learn French cooking at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, the potential chef can start by reading recipes in French rather than dry political articles, for example.

Interesting content-area readings are much more likely to be comprehended and remembered. ESL reading material should focus on what the students know and what interests them, and it should be appropriate for their age and grade level (Rivers & Melvin, 1977).

The goal of beginning reading instruction is to help students develop a pleasure-reading habit. This is a practical goal; it leads to competence in literacy in general, including reading ability, writing, vocabulary, spelling, and grammar, and leads to knowledge in several areas, including science, history, and practical matters (Krashen, S. April 17, 2019).

Speaking and communication

A high school student makes these comments on L2 learning for an article in The Standard-Examiner, based in Ogden, Utah. She feels that there should be a focus on speaking and communication skills.

“Even at schools that do focus more on making sure you speak with a proper accent; this principle can be extended further. Perhaps schools can adjust programs to make hearing and understanding basic sounds of a language central to the beginning of the curriculum. Instead of working through endless pages of vocabulary, students could submit recordings of themselves practicing sounds and make a record of when they recognize these sounds. As kids move toward understanding what people say, reading and writing the language can follow more naturally (Clark, S. February 25, 2018).”


Adjusting to a new language and culture is a major problem for some ESL students. Students may be fluent in English after having studied in their home countries or in an intensive program, but they often need additional language training and support when they begin their academic studies.

For many international students, mastering the English language is one of the biggest hurdles to conquer when settling into life studying abroad in an English-speaking country (Study International Staff, April 17, 2018).

Students can feel isolated. They are far from their extended family and friends in a strange place without their normal support groups.

Navigating American culture, meeting hundreds of new people from all over the world and balancing their studies can be overwhelming for any student, but having to cope with language barriers on top of all that can feel isolating (Study International Staff, April 17, 2018).

Teaching hints

Shore (2018)offers these tips for helping ESL students in the classroom. Testing and placement are vital, so learners will be placed at the right level.

Ongoing, informal assessment will give you a clear picture of where the student is in the his or her level of study. One can be a fluent speaker but till not fit in. Next make any new students feel that they are part of the group.

Make sure to say her name correctly, communicating friendliness and patience with a warm smile and relaxed body language.

Part of this would be to assign a new student a partner to show him around and orient him to the school. If the partner has a different L1, then both will need to practice their English together.

Ask a responsible and friendly student to help the newcomer find his way around school, master classroom routines, get involved in games at recess, and understand directions.

Try to use “sheltering” techniques providing charts, diagrams and pictures as well as using simplified vocabulary and gestures. A handy visual aid would be a picture dictionary for example. These helps will allow the new student to learn the key words necessary for the school environment.

Providing high-interest reading material is another idea. This material can include readings about the local area and the host university taken from the college newspaper for example. Online versions of the campus paper are often available as well.

Focus on what the students can do. Students may of other skills that they can use that they can share with the large group such as art or music. Also, they can share aspects of their culture that others may have an interest in such as folk songs or stories.

Consider a whole-group social studies unit on family origins and cultural heritage. You might display a world map on the bulletin board and have all students put pushpins with their names on their families' countries of origin.

Students should be encouraged to participate in school activities even if they are beginning language levels. There are plenty of clubs that students can join as well as sports activities and guest lecturers in fields that may interest the students.

Encourage participation in less language-demanding subject areas: music, art, physical education, and certain areas of the math curriculum (such as computation).

This participation will enhance L2 acquisition as they focus on the task at hand and use L2 for real communication. Playing soccer on an intermural team will provide students the opportunity to learn language and practice with their peers while doing something helpful and fun.

Teachers should be allowed to help students learn. Here is an example where students work on real problems in their community and come up with solutions.

“If students are going to stay engaged, schoolwork has to be meaningful and connect to real-world initiatives. At Lab Atlanta, a community 'makerspace' in Atlanta run by a private school, high schoolers can take a semester long course to invent projects that promote sustainability for their city, such as addressing air and water quality and improving public transportation (Dintersmith, T., April 30, 2018).”

Helping ESL students achieve their goals

“Without question, the fastest-growing student population in the United States is English language learners. Nearly 3 out of 4 classrooms include at least one English language learner and just one-third of these students reach basic proficiency on national exams in math and reading. That’s half the rate of their non-ELL peers. Further, the dropout rate for ELL students is double the national average and the achievement gap with non-ELL students has remained constant for nearly two decades (Namnun, R., June 20, 2018).”

Students may seem fluent because they can converse readily, but academic proficiency requires more time to achieve. There is a need for high-quality instructional materials, especially for the upper grades where students are preparing for college and careers. Also, their families are mobile, and as they move to different districts, they may lag behind.

With an effective curriculum, ELL students can achieve the dual goals of establishing language fluency while reaching grade-level mastery across each subject. When the curriculum addresses the needs of these students, English language fluency and grade-level mastery across each subject is achievable.

Namnun recommends context rich instruction:

“Consequently, context-rich instruction can dramatically accelerate the development of fluency. Context-rich instruction—which might include visualizations, text, audio and active learning opportunities—offers multiple ways of demonstrating the meaning of an unfamiliar word or concept.”

Content is understood when they can understand at least 85-90% of the material. Instructors can provide multiple ways for learners to understand the material such as pictures, diagrams, synonyms or alternative explanations.