Language Barriers in the Classroom

From: Sara, Thomas; Cindy Brown; and Jessica McDavid
Course: EDST258: Cultural Diversity, Teaching, and Schooling
College: University of Delaware
Instructor: Eugene Ematusov
ChildrenObservations: Yes
Date: 12/15/98
Time: 8:48:19 PM
Remote Name:


Language barriers in the classroom has become a major problem due to the growing number of minority students who do not speak English. This is such a huge problem because these kids are not getting the same opportunities to meet their full potential. This is not right because it is causing these kids to not succeed in school. There are several ways to deal with this problem. The four options are, creating equal education for all students, motivating kids through support systems both inside and outside of the classroom, doing away with standardized tests and lastly by using various forms of non-verbal communication amongst diverse children. All these options are possibilities in dealing with the dilema of language barriers. Through much research and observation the conclusion that has been made is that the second option is thethe best. Though it seems that motivating kids through support sytems both inside and outside of the classroom seems to be the best choice, in reality the ideal solution would be to incorporate all four options into the classroom.


It was silent in the classroom as Julio went up to the board. This was it he thought to himself, as he eagerly approached the front of the room. He looked around at all of the faces that were in front of him, he knew them all by heart, but still he cold not shake the uneasiness that swept over him. You see, today was the very first day that Julio had to give a report all in English. This was a difficult challenge for him, not just because he was uncomfortable speaking in front of his peers, but because his primary language is Spanish. But this was something that he felt that he needed to do, and fear or no fear he would make it through his report. Luckily for Julio, he was not the only one in the classroom whose primary language is not English; in fact he was among the majority of students there.

The idea of having a classroom that is primarily occupied with students who have little English proficiency is becoming an ever-present reality. Today, children like Julio are facing the challenge of learning how to adapt themselves into English alongside a myriad of other students in the same position as himself. The number of children in this country that are language minority students is currently very high. "As of the 1990 census, 6.3 million children, or 14 percent of the nation's school age-population, were language minority children." (Equal Educational Opportunity and Non-discrimination for students with Limited English Proficiency. A Report of the United States Commission of Civil Rights. P.1)

The rise of language deficient children into the school system is placing an increasing emphasis on how to best adequately teach these children. "As the number of students in the Nation's schools has increased dramatically, the challenges surrounding equal educational opportunity to students with limited English proficiency have emerged as a major national issue." (Equal Educational Opportunity. P.1)

Even thought language minority students can be found in all states in the country, they are most heavily concentrated in several states such as, California, New Mexico, Texas, New York and Arizona. Although, this problem is not only isolated to these heavily concentrated areas. It is becoming increasingly understood that almost every school district in the country has students that are limited in their English proficiency. This is a wide- ranging problem that is encompassing most teachers of this time. (Equal Educational Opportunity. P.2)

There is an increasing difficulty with the problem of so many students not being proficient in English. This is the notion that the number of languages being spoken has increased to incorporate a wide variety of native language speakers not just the traditionally assumed Spanish. The idea that there are so many diverse languages is important for the schools to understand because; "School districts need to know the number of languages spoken and the size of the population who speak each of the languages to make long-and short-term plans for language and other services, allocating financial and human resources." (Educating Immigrant Students. What We Need To Know To Meet the Challenges. P.38)

Also, it is important for schools to recognize the multitude of languages being spoken in the classrooms so that there can be adequate workshops offered to teachers. This would in turn ensure that teachers were exposed to dealing with difficulties that may arise in multi-lingual classrooms. Teachers who have not been offered classes on BI-lingual education may treat minority children differently because of their inability to relate to them. Children quickly realize this and are often intimidated in the classroom. "Many young people may know some English but do not speak it in classrooms for fear of being ridiculed by peers and criticized by teachers…However, as educators committed to public schooling, we believe it is crucial to children's self-image and self-confidence to be able to ask and answer questions and present solutions to problems in front of their teachers and peers. For this reason alone we believe that adjustments made by classroom teachers to instructional strategies, evaluation systems, and classroom management to involve immigrant students actively are indispensable." (Educating Immigrant Students. P.147)

Studies have shown that domestic black students do not do as well as Asian or White but, better than Mexican and Puerto Rican students. Is this because these students are not proficient in English? Many people feel that because immigrants can not speak English they do not want their children to learn English, but truthfully this is a major misconception. Most immigrants realize that English is imperative to their children's success and achievement in the United States. (Educating Immigrant Students. P.149) In order for anyone to fully achieve in society today they must know English. Hispanic, families are most likely to use another language in the home than any other group. Due to lack of information, and long workdays, parents may not know where, when, or how to get their children help with their education.

Parents need to know that there are numerous things they can do to be involved with their child's education. Among the ideas that we feel would be most beneficial are; making yourself known to your child's teachers, be sure to expect the most from your child's school, and lastly show your child that their education is essential to achieve in society. It is imperative that you make the effort to find time to talk to the teacher. Whether it is at parent meetings or over the phone, it shows the teacher as well as your child that you feel their education is important. Be sure that your child is receiving the attention that he/she needs. If you feel that they are being deprived of adequate services, do not be afraid to let the school know. Alongside this, it is very important to show your child that they will not be able to reach their goals without the academics offered in school.

American schools are becoming more and more diverse each year; therefore teachers must have knowledge of other cultures as well, in order for these children to be successful. Teachers need to make all children feel comfortable in all school environments. Parents need to be involved therefore schools need to provide support systems outside of the classroom. Standardized tests are often biased and need to be done away with when dealing with minority students. Creativity, by the teacher to incorporate all children is also very successful. Cultural diversity in the classroom provides opportunities for everyone. It is not only necessary for teachers to encompass all children, but crucial to success in a diverse classroom. (Cultural Diversity and Creativity in the Classroom. P.1) Option 1 Creating equal education for all students Another way of overcoming the problem of language barriers is equal education for all students. Providing equal opportunities for all students to be able to learn the same materials in the same ways. In other words providing all students with all of the advantages of learning and not putting any student at a disadvantage for any reason. There have been several programs set up to help ensure equal education for all students and to help immigrant students to succeed in school. Two successful programs dealing with language barriers are BI-lingual education and English as a Second Language program. Both programs help to integrate immigrant students into the classroom.

"BI-lingual education is a special effort to help immigrant children learn English so that they can so regular schoolwork with their English-speaking classmates and receive an equal educational opportunity." ( With BI-lingual education children are taught in their native language for part of lessons and in English the other times. The reasoning behind this is that with this method the children are able to learn English in the classroom, while they are still able to learn other subjects in their native language. The idea of BI-lingual education has had many positive outcomes for integrating children of all backgrounds into one classroom to learn together.

English as a second language program has similar ideas of BI-lingual education. The difference is that ESL doesn't use the child's native language in instruction. ESL focuses on teaching language skills in English so those children can learn their content in English. This program is also very successful in helping immigrant students to fit in and to succeed in the classroom. One of the reasons this program is so successful because like BI-lingual education it does not strip the students of their native language but helps them to have an equal educational opportunity along with the other kids.

Through our experiences at the Latino Community Center we have been able to see the success of ESL programs. We were able to see this because the program we were apart of was an example of how an ESL program works. Though most of the kids spoke Spanish we communicated to them in English and were able to teach them a lot even though we weren't using their native language. By doing this we were helping the kids to gain knowledge and to learn English which will be helpful to them later on in life.

BI-lingual education and ESL programs are just a couple of the programs that help give immigrant students equal educational opportunities. There is no way that a student can succeed if they are treated differently than their peers; therefor every effort needs to be made to make these students equal.

Option 2 Motivating kids through support systems both inside and outside of the classroom. "People often believe that immigrants do not do as well as native-born students because they are disadvantaged by immigration to and settlement in the new country." (Educating Immigrant Students) Language barriers are just one of the many disadvantages that immigrant students face. Since immigrant students do face even more disadvantages then non-immigrant students they need even more support from home and from school to help them succeed in the classroom.

Immigrant students face the following disadvantages, English is their second language; therefore it is not used often in the home. Immigrant students do not get enough support from families because English is their second language and due to this most parents don't understand the US educational system causing contacts between parents and school very little. Beliefs of the parents conflict with the beliefs of the schools. One way the beliefs of parents differ from the beliefs of the schools, is the role that the school should play in the child's education. Immigrant children are not as socialized as native children because of the cultural differences they come from, and a gap occurs between institutional integration and social integration. (Educating) This is only a small list of the obstacles that immigrant students have to overcome in order to succeed in a US classroom and in order to help them to succeed they need all the help they can get in order to be motivated.

These are a lot of things for a child of school age to have to deal with and because of this it is especially important that the child receive support not only from the school, but from the parents as well. From these disadvantages the child is getting a lot of negative responses which is prohibiting the child to succeed at the highest level possible. We have seen this with the kids at the Latino Community Center. The reports from these kids teachers had nothing positive to say about the kids, they could only come up with a long list of negative things about the students where we were able to find many positive things about the kids. These children desperately need to have some positive responses in order to get ahead.

Usually because of the way society has come to view immigrants teachers tend to look down upon these kids making it even harder for them to succeed. The parents and the schools desperately need to work together in order to help make things better for these kids. Option 3 Standardized testing of students with limited English proficiency may lead to biased placement.

The idea of using standardized testing as the sole means of assessing the language proficiency of students may be biased or discriminatory. Standardized tests can create a major barrier to appropriate placement for students who may require special programs. Standardized tests also create barriers to equal education. Such tests fail to consider a student's relative proficiency in English and his/her native language that may ultimately lead to misclassification of students. In order to fully determine language proficiency of a student, authority must assess the students speaking, reading, writing, and auditory (comprehension and listening) skills.

Instructors should also identify the child's proficiency in their native language as well as English. Children who are not fully proficient in their native language may have difficulty learning English. Teachers need to address each student's needs in other ways than just using standardized tests. For example, a child like Emily from the LACC can fully understand English; she can speak it very well, yet she can comprehend it off of paper. Therefore, if she were given a standardized test she could easily be misplaced in a classroom with children who do not speak or understand English at all. Ultimately, this would limit her opportunity to communicate in English. Children like Emily need personal attention to determine their individual needs. Option 4 Various arts can be a form of non-verbal communication amongst diverse children. Young children are often more capable to communicate than adults even if there is a language barrier between them. By using creativity-arts, crafts, gestures and other creation children can understand each other. At young ages children are rarely embarrassed by their body language and it is often ver easy to tell what a child feels or is thinking by their expressions. Teachers can successfully portray all cultures by using various art and play materials. Different colored paper can represent different races. While working at the LACC we noticed that a child's drawing would reflect their culture. Whether it was because of the colors used or style, there was a differentiation. As well, dolls and other figures are available to represent various races. Children through their artwork can mix, match and get positive feed back from everyone. Certain gestures are universal and can make all children feel comfortable. This in turn can make learning a lot easier. If a child is comfortable they will be less embarrassed when trying something new. Art and music have a tremendous impact on all children at young ages, as they are active in these relaxed environments they feel accepted by all. This idea of non-verbal communication may not be as intellectually stimulating for the children as other options but it certainly is a creative way to incorporate all children. Case Studies Involving Practical Experiences with Language Barriers Case number one: I was able through a tutoring experience, obtain the progress reports that the teachers had filled out for some of my students. One in particular stood out above the rest and it was the one that was written about a little boy whom I had grown accustomed to. This is because I over the course of the semester have gotten the opportunity to really get to know him. The report stated that he had no real strengths and yet listed a myriad of weaknesses. I was really upset to witness this because in the time that I had been with him I had found many, many strengths. Including that he is a very personable little guy with an upbeat attitude and a smile. He loves to kid around with you and is very comfortable around strangers. He is an incredible artist and that is how he best seems to express himself. He generally cares about his sister and her well being and that he would rather play a Barbie game with her than his favorite game by himself. These are just a few strengths that popped into my head, there are so many more. I feel that not only is he being hurt by this kind of teacher's observation because it instantly stereotypes the child as someone with a tremendous amount of strengths coupled with some weaknesses. His weaknesses primarily are his lack of proficiency in English. But, I also feel that the teacher is missing out as well. Obviously, if she can not list any strengths than, she hasn't really been afforded that opportunity to get to really know him, and that is a shame because he can really touch you with the magnitude of wonderful qualities (strengths) that he posses. Case number two: Last year, I was tutoring for one of my courses and I was doing it in a low SES middle school near where I live. The students here are primarily Hispanic with some blacks, yet the minority of the students there are white. I was to tutor about four kids at any given time, which is a challenge to begin with out language barriers. I found that in this case the most challenging to begin with out language barriers. I found that in this case the most challenging aspect of the tutoring wasn't just that these kids were behind, but that they were behind in a way that I didn't really know how to help them because they were behind because they spoke primarily Spanish. In most cases, all these children spoke at home was Spanish and for most of them, their parents don't even speak English. This poses a problem because when we were doing group work and we were discussing what we had done some of them had such strong accents that they were saying to me. The negative implications of which are that the child feels stupid like they did something wrong because they need to repeat their answer again to me. On top of that, they realize that it is their language deficiency that is holding them back from being understood and they might not be as inclined to raise their hand for another answer because they would feel that it was embarrassing. Also, if a teacher can't hear what her student is asking of her, and she must always ask for a clarification she might not be as willing to call on the child as often, which in itself has a myriad of negative components to it. Case number three: A lot of times in both the LACC and the primarily Hispanic middle school that I have tutored in, it is easy to see that the children prefer or seem to feel that it is more comfortable to use Spanish. English, in my experiences seems to be used within the classroom or when they need to explain an answer. However, if they are left to communicate amongst themselves they will switch quickly into Spanish, and it seems that they use this to communicate in everyday conversation as with friends and we, in general, use a more relaxed conversation when communicating with friends than we would in the classroom.

Also in both of my tutoring practicums, I noticed that when addressing me or when I was working with the children they would use English because that was the language they would switch into Spanish. Sometimes other students would fill me into what the children were saying and in other cases I could tell from the context of the body language and the commotion that the children were talking about things that were probably not appropriate. Here is another example of how language barriers can affect teachers and student interactions and the student's performance in the classrooms.

Summarization of Results, Conclusions and Our Analysis Based on the aforementioned options that include the following ideologies. Creating equal education for all students, the motivation of kids through support systems both inside and outside of the classroom, the re-evaluation of standardized testing of students with limited English proficiency and how various art can be a form of non-verbal communication amongst diverse children. We feel that the single most important option that enables language growth in children with language barriers is that of option two. This option states that it is through the motivation of students by using methods and materials both inside of the classroom and outside to promote a learning environment that adequately incorporates the accusation of the English language into the child's life is essential. This is achieved by providing the support that the child needs within not only the classroom but also the teacher or teachers as part of a school-wide focus on promoting the advancement of language-deficient children. However, school systems alone cannot make the marked, essential difference. To have the means to help these children to overcome their language barrier requires the balance of the school support as well a support from the home. We have, throughout this paper listed several ways in which parents can be involved and actively engaged in the education of their children. We cannot stress enough how essential this is to the growth of the child and their ability to acquire the desired English language skills.

Even though we think that the best method out of the options listed above was the idea that it is through external and internal motivation that language barriers can be crossed, we feel that the most ideal of all options would be to incorporate all of these aforementioned characteristics into the classroom. We feel this would be best because it provides the optimum learning experiences for the children.

If administrators, educators and parents try to work together with the common goal of providing the best possible education for the child, language deficiency can be resolved. Through the combination of creating equal education for all of the students in the classroom, providing motivational resources, re-evaluating of the standardized testing and the integration of other assessing methods as well as utilizing various forms of art into the classroom the child will be able to be immersed into a school that will enable him or her to achieve at optimal levels.

Works Cited

Equal Educational Opportunities and Nondiscrimination for Students with Limited English Proficiency, Federal Enforcement of Title VI and "Lau v. Nichols," Equal Educational Opportunity Project Series, Volume III. 1997.

Preissle, Judith and Xue-Lan Rong, Educating Immigrant Students, What We Need to Know to Meet the Challenges. 1998.

The Case Against Bilingual Education,

Tubbs, Janet, Cultural Diversity and Creativity in the Classroom. 1992.

Last modified August 06, 2015