A Rationale for Teaching Oral English to ELLs

By Mary Ann Zehr — September 02, 2009 1 min read
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Educators often diminish the importance of focusing on students’ skills in speaking and listening in English as well as reading and writing, says a thoughtful post over at a new blog created by Ballard & Tighe, which publishes an English-proficiency test. The post is written by three consultants who specialize in education for ELLs at the Teacher Writing Center.

The writers say that “practical experience and formal research underscore the significance of oral language as a critical part of an English-learner’s achievement of full language proficiency.” Speaking English is a precursor to reading and writing, they argue. They go on to say that the teaching of oral English is especially neglected with older ELLs. In the upper grades, educators tend to particularly focus on reading, writing, and academic content, and diminish the importance of helping students to speak English better.

In nearly a decade of reporting on ELLs for Education Week, I’ve seen very little emphasis in schools at either the primary or secondary level on teaching oral English. I can recall only one time that I observed classes for ELLs in a school that deliberately set aside time to teach oral English. Those lessons occurred at Mountain View Elementary School in Salt Lake City, which I visited in May.

I have seen quite a few elementary school teachers spend time talking with ELLs about a particular topic and making sure they know vocabulary words connected with that topic as a preview to reading a story. That’s also teaching oral English.

But my experience indicates the writers of the post at Ballard & Tighe’s blog are right in saying the teaching of oral language often gets squeezed out of the curriculum.

Readers, I invite you to weigh in on this. Do you think that ELL teachers typically spend enough time on development of speaking and listening?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.