Extra challenges faced by English learners

EL Student Infographic

By Anna Gao and Jeanne Kim,
Bluedevilhub.com Staff–

Junior English Learner Hyejun Hong studies for her American Literature class using her electronic translator and a Korean and English version of the book The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
Junior English Learner Hyejun Hong studies for her American Literature class using her electronic translator and a Korean and English version of the book The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Two English learners shuffle into their first period classroom. The bell rings, and as class begins, the teacher starts talking. Confused by the teacher’s assignment for the day, one of the EL student leans over to the other and asks a question in his native language. The other EL student acknowledges his confusion and whispers translations in his ear.

For many students at Davis High, juggling academics and extra-curriculars is hard enough, but a handful of  students must handle these normal hardships and break through a language barrier as well.

According to the spring 2014 California Language Census, EL students make up 22.7 percent of the total number of students enrolled in public schools in this state.

English proficiency may vary amongst these students, but they all face common difficulties.

“EL students have a dual challenge, that is to learn English while learning academic content.  They do require more time to complete assignments because of the limited language and the need for translation,” school district EL Coordinator Mary Khan said.

“I think we need more time for like doing homework. We can’t do, like American students, so I always late, I can’t turn it in on time. Some teachers give me extra time. But I can’t get good grades because I’m late,” sophomore YeongSeon Jo said.

Many EL students require more academic help than the average student, especially in World Civilization classes.

“The [World Civilization] textbook is actually really dense and at a very high lexile level than even a tenth grader who is not an EL student wouldn’t enjoy or even be able to get through with ease,” EL teacher David Achimore said.

English classes are also difficult because of the novels and essays.

“It’s a struggle, of course, to be in classes like World Civ. You know, you think about the World Civ text book, or a novel in English which are almost entirely in English dialect, not just academic English but spoken English. It can be very daunting,” EL teacher Anthony Vasquez said.

Junior Hyejun Hong agreed with Vasquez.  “American Literature is the hardest class. I bought the Korean book. I said to my mother, ‘I can’t do the English one. I can’t understand it. Please buy me the Korean one.’”

Hong is currently in the English Level Development four class, the highest level available at DHS.

According to the Los Angeles Unified School District, ELD four is classified as an advanced intermediate class where students are able to write and speak with more complex sentences.

“Reading the books, I’m really slow. I’m a lot slower than other students because I don’t know a lot of it. Especially the slang words,” Hong said. “It’s really hard to understand the novel.”

The Academic Center offers help to these students for these reasons.

“I do know that students who take advantage of the Academic Center and go in after school do get a lot of help,” Achimore said.

The Academic Center was founded in 2009, aimed to aid EL students transition better into the academically rigorous environment of DHS. One form of help they receive is a UC Davis mentor. Some of the mentors were previously EL learners from DHS.

“They received help here and sometimes they’re like ‘oh when I was here there were no Farsi speaking students’ and now I see them come back to give back to the high school,” Academic Center supervisor Marie Michel said.

Another difficulty for English learners is on the social front, but many English learners seem to be connected to other students who speak the same native language. This makes the transition to an American school easier.

“There was one of my friends here, he’s living here, his name is Kasra. He was with me so he helped me. And when I went to my classes my teachers helped me,” sophomore Shayan Shahbazi said.

Hong said that she also gets a lot of help from the teachers and her peers. However the transition has been difficult. “I don’t have much friend,” Hong said.

Vasquez had observed that English learners usually do not feel as connected to the school because they did not grow up in Davis. To remedy this, Vasquez has made efforts to nominate EL students to friendship days.

Although EL students have some hardships, ELD teacher Vasquez believes that their hard work pays off in the end.

“[English learners] are motivated, strong students, they work thrice as hard and they are better for it and they actually become bilingual and puts you on par or above your peers,” Vasquez said.

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