Pluzhnyk I.V. The approaches to English study of immigrants in primary school in the United States of America

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Плужник Ірина Володимирівна – студентка Педагогічного інституту Київського університету імені Бориса Грінченка, спеціальність «Початкова освіта», кафедра іноземних мов і методик їх навчання Київського університету імені Бориса Грінченка

Стаття присвячена проблемі вивчення англійської мови в школах США, де навчаються діти-іммігранти. Викладена важливість використання різних підходів і програм для швидкого і ефективного вивчення англійської мови як другої іноземної. Визначені підходи, які використовують викладачі Америки для ефективного опанування англійської мови дітьми-іммігрантами в початковій школі.

Ключові слова: підходи, вивчення англійської мови, діти-іммігранти, початкова школа, Сполучені Штати Америки.

Статья посвящена проблеме изучения английского языка в школах США, где учатся дети-иммигранты. Изложенная важность использования различных подходов и программ для быстрого и эффективного изучения английского языка как второго иностранного. Определены подходы, которые используют преподаватели Америки для эффективного освоения английского языка детьми-иммигрантами в начальной школе.

Ключевые слова: подходы, английского, дети-иммигранты, начальная школа, США.

The article is devoted to the problem of the English study in schools in the U.S.A, where children of immigrants are learnt. The importance of using different approaches and programs for the quick and effective English learning as second language is outlined. The approaches which American teachers use to effectively English mastering of the children of immigrants in primary school are defined in the article.

Key words: English study, children of immigrants, primary school, the United States of America.


Problem setting

According to view, the children of immigrants comprise the largest-growing segment of the youthful population in the United States. Nearly ten per cent of the students currently attending primary schools in the United States are classified as English Language Learners (ELL); that is to say, students who are immigrants from other countries and only start learning English.

Elementary school is an important stage in the development of each child. Children of immigrants are no exception. Immigrant students who arrive to enroll in school are often nervous – they usually don’t speak the language, they don’t know what will be expected of them and they may even fear for their safety. Many of these children are not fully literate in their native language, much less in English. Therefore immigrants in learning English in primary schools of America should be based on creativity, comfort and at the same time - efficiency. It seems to us, that the key to create an enabling environment is the allocation approaches to effective English study of immigrants in primary school in the United States of America.

Last scientific researches and publications analysis

Today there are many articles that reveal problems and different aspects of adaptation and integration of immigrants in the language environment in America. Many articles and publications have been devoted to this subject by S. Nieto, K. Baker, M. Brisk, J. Crawford, S. Del Valle, C.L. Schmid, J. W. Tollefson, T. Wiley, W. E. Wright, B. Bullivant, D. Short, B.Boyson, many other scientists.

W. E. Wright says that between 1820 and 1996, 63 million immigrants arrived in the United States. Demographic projections indicate that by the year 2040, one third of all children in America will be immigrant-origin youth; and all of these will be speakers of languages other than English. These children will enroll in U.S. public schools in increasing numbers and our teachers- both experienced and novice - will need to acquire the necessary preparation for working with children from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

S. Nieto adds, that the men and women in the proverbial public school ‘trenches’ do not need statistical data to inform them that the face of the American classroom is changing exponentially; nor that many teachers are not adequately prepared for the impact and subsequent repercussions of a growing population of immigrant-origin youth who do not speak English. Each of the scholars shares with us its author's views on resolving this problem, but they all are united in the fact that using approaches in the English study of immigrants in America is significant supporting step in the rapid learning of second language and comfortable adapting to new conditions.

Formulation of the article’s purpose

While schools’ primary role is to educate all children in the community, they also serve as a key platform for promoting immigrant integration for the entire family.

Teachers can truly make a difference in the lives of the immigrant children in their classrooms. While increased diversity brings additional challenges, the overarching goal is to meet the educational needs of every child. The more diverse the population, the more important it is to determine what strategies and approaches will reach the most students, especially immigrants. So, given the above, there is a need to allocate from large number of strategies and approaches only those that teachers can effectively use in elementary school.

The aim of our research is to summarize effective approaches which are used by teachers to teach English of immigrants in primary school in the United States of America.

The statement of basic material of investigation

In the early twenty-first century American education seems to be entering a period in which a variety of approaches to the education of immigrant children will be employed, based upon local judgments about what will work best and what parents want; a new emphasis on accountability for results will prevent schools from sliding back into the old complacency about whether immigrant students learn or not.

The lack of English proficiency of immigrant students, together with their different scholastic experiences in their countries of origin and their specific cultural features present many challenges for the U.S. educational system. The most important problem, without a doubt, is to find the best way to teach them simultaneously both the new language and the academic content of the grade in which they are enrolled, so that they do not fall behind their English-speaking peers [5, p. 30].

Immigrant students, if they are indeed to be incorporated into the social and economic fabric of the nation, need the same rich and broad curriculum that most parents contend they want for their children. But they also need more. They need:

  • additional instructional time to acquire English skills and the standard curriculum;
  • explicit instruction in academic English;
  • explicit instruction in the culture and norms of American society;
  • emotional and often social service support to address the traumas of refugee and migrant experiences;
  • a roadmap for navigating the educational and occupational systems in this country. In spite of this, they often receive less, not more, instructional attention [3, p. 361–373].

Given the complicated history of language diversity in The U.S., what are the best approaches to help children of immigrants effectively learn English in primary school? In the U.S. actively use a lot of different programs and approaches to effectively English study of immigrants. Let us focus briefly on just few of them:

Bilingual education – the long history of the U.S. with language diversity has shown that knowing more than one language is an asset rather than a disability, particularly in these times of globalization and increased immigration. That`s why primary schools of U.S. actively use the approach of bilingual education. Bilingual education has been part of American education since 1839. It involves teaching academic content in two languages with varying amounts of time spent in both the native language and secondary or foreign language depending on the specific program [1, p. 66].

Encouraging development of the native language - as teachers encourage children to maintain their first language we also support the development of the foreign language. When students feel relaxed and confident, language learning is maximized. As we know that literacy developed in the native language will transfer to the foreign language. Teachers and families can use materials, such as children's books in native immigrant language, to build children's confidence in their literacy skills. These materials may be the basis for learning English. Reading books, newspapers, publications, etc. in both languages – native and foreign – will help student to understand similarities and differences between languages and transfer his knowledge on foreign language to quick and effective English study.

Providing visible signs of children's native language - teachers can label classroom objects and areas in native immigrant language. Authentic materials that incorporate labels and texts should be provided (for example, signs, catalogs, toys, household objects, newspapers, and menus). Teachers may also serve as role models by learning and using a few words of their language, thus demonstrating that taking risks in learning another language is valued.

Learning about the culture of immigrant child, and teaching acceptance - if teachers share knowledge of immigrant culture, all children in the class may benefit from opportunities to learn about language and cultural differences and similarities. Teachers can influence the motivation of their immigrant students by creating an accepting social environment. Classmates can be challenged to understand what it feels like to be somewhere where people speak a language different from their own and, thus, not understand what is going on around them.

Be sensitive to children's struggles, and follow a routine - entering a new class can be intimidating for an immigrant child who may be faced with social isolation and linguistic constraints. Establishing and following predictable routines can be helpful. The routines allow children to concentrate on the language and what they are supposed to be learning, rather than on figuring out what is happening

Planning real-world language lessons and providing a print-rich environment – include field trips, lessons with animals and plants, role-playing, and demonstrations of real-life activities, which can form the basis for language lessons. Conducting pre- and post-discussions, writing a story together about the experience, cutting out sentences and rearranging their order, and changing the story by changing some words are game-like activities that enhance language and literacy learning.

Acknowledging children's strengths, and using portfolio-style assessment - when teachers regard children as capable, they are more likely to see their unique strengths and build upon them. Teachers face the challenge of fairly assessing the knowledge of immigrant students. Observational notes recording children's abilities as demonstrated in the flow of classroom activities can be combined with samples of student work in a portfolio. This approach can supplement report cards in conveying evidence of students' progress.

Allowing for the developing stages of language production - teachers working with children in the initial preproduction or silent stage may help the children "take in" the language by including music, movement, and dramatic play. Teachers may respect the silent phase by not requiring a child to speak, as well as by accepting forms of communication such as writing, drawing, and nonverbal responses. Children in the second stage of language acquisition (early production) may be asked questions which require a "yes" or "no" response or which require them to identify a familiar object or finish a statement. Subsequently, in the final expansion or production stage, teachers can motivate students to be more descriptive, developing speaking skills of immigrant children.

Aim for comprehension - communicating meaning should always be the aim for teachers of a foreign language. Parroting teachers' speech does not promote language acquisition. A great deal of trial and error takes place as a young child learns a language. In addition, there are individual differences in language-learning time frames. Teachers may be supportive by having accepting attitudes during the trial and error phases. Instructional practices that emphasize grammar and construction are not recommended as they may interfere with the developmental progression of language acquisition. Songs and chants are excellent for reinforcing pronunciation and correct word stress and developing listening and better understanding of English.

Allowing children opportunities to practice their language skills with peers, and encourage student participation - it is important for children to practice their language skills with peers. Teachers should structure interactions to ensure that foreign-language learners do not become socially isolated. Shared reading, cross-age activities, cooperative learning groups, peer tutoring, and community inquiry are valuable for all children.

Interaction between school and families of foreign language learners - is key to effective student learning. Among the methods used to promote communication between schools and immigrant families is the appointment of resource persons specifically responsible for welcoming and guiding immigrant pupils and serving as a liaison with their families is a widespread practice in U.S. Providing professional development for teachers and administrators on effective ways to connect with parents is one successful approach to having families more involved in the education of their children. The theory of funds of knowledge, in which teachers engage in ethnographic research with the families of their students in order to discover the talents and strengths of those families and use them in crafting the curriculum, is a case in point. This approach assumes that all families can make significant contributions to the education of their children [2, p 28-44].

Let me also tell, that teachers are the most important school-based influence in improving student achievement, especially for immigrant students and English language learners. To meet the challenges of teaching and learning on a national and state level, educators and policymakers need to create or facilitate the following:

  • a set of mutually agreed-upon standards for English language teaching and professional development.
  • assessments that accurately measure English language learner progress, strengths and weaknesses, and school accountability.
  • passage of an immigration bill that encourages all students to achieve academically at all levels.
  • support for school reform to ensure safe and effective learning environments for all students [4, p. 61–79].


These approaches are effectively implemented in America, because in and out of school children of immigrants are always in English-speaking environment, which helps them to learn English quickly. The American teachers develop in the children of immigrants skills of reading, handwriting, spelling, listening, and speaking. The U.S. emphasis on reading and writing is replicated in other countries, it helps children of immigrants quickly and more affordable perceive the new teacher training material. The methods of teaching listening and speaking skills to children of immigrants, however, vary. It depends on the current level of language knowledge of the immigrant children. Some teachers and school districts prefer phonics; others use the whole language approach or a combination of several methods such as phonics and guided oral reading. It also includes reading, listening and discussing of stories, biographies, and other forms of children's literature.

These approaches also can be effective in Ukrainian schools. The successful start of learning a foreign language in our elementary school, using these approaches, helps create high motivation in students to learn English. The only minus is the lack of foreign language environment in our country. But teacher can make good language environment in his English class, helping and motivating students to learn English in different ways. They are:

  • contribution the development of an enabling environment for the implementation of aforementioned approaches;
  • using a variety of techniques to make content concepts clear (e.g. hands-on activities, demonstrations, gestures, body language);
  • support for learning and student performance of tasks through instruction, modeling, questioning, feedback, graphic organizers, and more, across successive engagements. These supports will be gradually withdrawn as the learner will develop more and more autonomy;
  • using a wide variety of teaching methods, including bilingual education;
  • using a variety of questions types, including those that promote higher-order thinking skills throughout the lesson (e.g. literal, analytical, interpretive questions);
  • base teaching and learning on the needs of individual students, which offers practice and well structured criticism to help students improve.
  • organization of small competitions and role plays to develop competitive spirit. Children learn English in a fun way, with help of different didactic games, they are proud of their achievements and are motivated to improve their current level. Another advantage is that they improve at the same time and teamwork skills and creativity.
  • teaching many means of communication, including a strong focuses on of reading, handwriting, spelling, listening, and speaking.
  • observing students interacting informally across different settings and in both languages, if possible.
  • observing students reading, writing and listening. Note the strategies they use and how they can best express what they know.
  • creating performance assessments in which students can demonstrate their understanding of content concepts in multiple ways.

Thus, the success of practical implementation of American approaches in Ukrainian elementary schools depends on the level of readiness for the introduction of approaches to involve children to English language, its culture and at the same time, not suppressing, but only maintaining the patriotic feelings and pride for our native country - Ukraine.


  1. D. August, K. Hakuta. Improving schooling for language-minority children. - Washington DC: National Academy Press, 1997. – Pp. 66–85.
  2. J. Crawford. Educating English learners: language diversity in the classroom. - Los Angeles: Bilingual Educational Services, Inc., 2004, - Pp. 28–44.
  3. S. Nieto. Affirming diversity: The socio-political context of multicultural education. - Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1992. – Pp. 361–373.
  4. R. Takanishi. Leveling the Playing Field: Supporting Immigrant Children from Birth to Eight. - The Future of Children, 14(2), 2004. – Pp. 61–79.
  5. W. E. Wright. English Language Learners Left Behind in Arizona: The Nullification of Accommodations in the Intersection of Federal and State Language and Assessment Policies. - Bilingual Research Journal, 29 (1), 2005. – Pp. 1-30.

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