If a student has a language other than English spoken in the home and has completed the Home Language Survey at enrollment, the student will be assessed for English Language Proficiency. If the student qualifies, he or she is then an ELL. ELLs may be born in the USA or come from other countries.
Pre-functional – Pre-production or the silent period. New students just listen. Some may not speak for weeks or months. Don’t force them. Some will start using simple learned phrases and simple sentences.
Beginner – Students will develop a vocabulary of about 1000 words; speak in one or two word phrases, memorized chunks and simple sentences. This may last about 6 months. High Beginner–Students will develop a vocabulary of about 3000 words, use simple sentences, ask simple questions, read easy stories, and write simple sentences.
Intermediate – Now students have a 6000 word vocabulary, use more complex sentences, and ask questions. They will still have grammar errors.
Advanced – It can take 4 – 10 years to achieve this. Students are able to cope in the classroom but will still need help with vocabulary, idioms, writing and content such as social studies.
Researcher Jim Cummins differentiated between social and academic language.
BICS - Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills
This is social language and develops in 1 – 3 years. This is the day-to-day language needed to interact with other people. ELLs use BICS on the playground, in the cafeteria, on the bus. This language is context based.
CALP – Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency
This is academic language and takes 5- 7 years to develop. There are general academic words and content specific words. Academic language is context reduced, especially in the upper grades.
According to Cummins, students who have developed BICS but not CALP do not lack higher order thinking ability; they simply lack the language to succeed in school. This is especially apparent in the writings of our English Language Learners who are challenged with conventions of English writing, spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
Take time to consult with the ELL coordinator to find out the student’s English proficiency level. Other important information is the amount of formal schooling, student’s literacy in their first language, degree of acculturation into the USA, and level of family support. Yvonne and David Freeman, authors of Academic Language for English Language Learners and Struggling Readers distinguish among three types of English Language Learners: (1) those newly arrived in the United States but well educated in their home country, they may succeed in school but face the challenges of learning English quickly enough to pass standardized or state assessments; (2) others may come with limited academic knowledge in their own countries due to limited access to education, and these students must learn how to read and write in English along with attaining and developing content area knowledge in English; (3) the last group are the long term English learners who have been in the United States for an extended time, speak the language quite well but lack academic English.