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We Need to Support Students Who Are Still Learning English

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This piece was published in partnership with Student Voices, a nationwide network of high school student writers and activists. The author is a junior at North Hollywood High School.

It’s easy to forget that the United States has no official language. Practically everything we read or hear is in English, to the point where it becomes the status quo for all interactions in our lives. For a country as diverse as ours, it’s easy to imagine how this presumption of monolingualism can make the lives of many confusing and difficult. And English Language Learning students, especially, should receive an equal education regardless of their level of fluency.

Speaking from experience, learning a language that you don’t use at home is difficult. Growing up, I remember how I could understand everything in Koreatown, only to lose myself in a world of gibberish outside the neighborhood. I eventually learned to speak English fluently, but that took concerted teaching and specialized care — and watching TV.  A variety of Saturday morning cartoons allowed me to approach the language at a pace I could handle. Little by little, I was eventually able to overcome the hurdles of comprehension to be here now to write this article.

Despite the stereotypes of what being an English Language Learner (ELL) looks and sounds like, ELLs make up a diverse group of people united simply by the fact that they are in the process of learning English. ELLs — different from ESL (English as Second Language), which refers to the type of instruction ELLs receive — are students who are learning English as well as the other areas of study that their peers are. Sometimes ELLs are pulled out of the classroom for individual or one-on-one language lessons. But ELLs are also frequently included in their primarily English-speaking classrooms through accommodations in lessons and instruction. Just as much as we provide a sound education to any other student, we should provide people new to English the same resources. In 1974 the Supreme Court decided unanimously in Lau v Nichols that the lack of ESL education was in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yet as the number of ELL grow, it is time for a national conversation about how we to properly fulfill these civil rights established not only by our legislative body but also the highest court in the country.

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