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Literacy Development for ELL Students

Speed and fluency with a new language will vary from one child to the next.

Like adults, children vary in the speed with which they acquire a new language. Some children may have perfect pronunciation, but may not understand the meaning of the words they speak, and some children may communicate well with peers in the playground or park, but may not understand any of the words spoken by a teacher at school.

Language acquisition is a very complex process that may not always follow a straight path. A student may appear to be communicating with increasing regularity, but then will become silent and shy. While an observer might see an apparent decrease in the student's language skills, an informed tutor or teacher may understand that this is part of the natural course of learning a new language--the learner is simply more aware of the language he or she doesn't understand, and therefore is more shy about participating in conversation.

Oral language must come first for ELL students. Once they have developed oral language skills in English, they can begin to learn about writing and reading in English.

While a literacy tutor's goal is to help a child learn to be literate, it is important to remember that when tutoring children who are English Language Learners, the acquisition of oral language must precede written language. As a tutor you may expose your student to written words and text through reading and telling him or her stories, but the student should not be expected to begin reading or writing until a foundation of oral language has been developed.

While children who learn a new language will do so in a variety of ways and at different speeds, most will pass through a series of stages that describe the process of learning a new language.