5 Myths About English Language Learners

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ELL myths: Brilliant or Insane

5 Myths About English Language Learners

By Jason R. Levine

1 – ELLs need to study grammar.

Studying a language to develop a conscious understanding of grammar remains the norm. Unfortunately, so does not learning the language to fluency. While raised awareness of English structure (e.g., knowing parts of speech or how clauses join together) can be useful, focusing on grammar does more harm than good. For one thing, it activates critical thinking, which impedes fluency and natural acquisition of the language. Moreover, the average learner finds it boring and stressful.

The solution lies in getting large amounts of comprehensible (and enjoyable) input and practice. On this path, the leaner grows to be both an accurate and fluent user of English.

2 – ELLs should have a native English speaking teacher.

In fact, they need a teacher who motivates them to practice English out of class. No teacher, native or non-native, can possibly provide sufficient practice in the classroom. A good English teacher is an inspiring facilitator and guide. This teacher moves learners to seek opportunities to practice and, in the classroom, engages them in communicative activities, where they can put the language to use. This requires experience and expertise, not English as a first language.

3 – ELLs need to learn a specific standard of English.

Countries where English is the most widely spoken language have a standard variety as well regional dialects. It may generally be best to learn a standard variety first. But which one? An English Language Learner living and working in Canada (or planning to do so) would do well to learn standard Canadian English. These days, however, it’s more common for learners to need English to communicate with others who, like them, are using English as a second or foreign language.

Unless it’s clear that a learner needs or wishes to learn a particular variety of English, it is increasingly difficult to make the argument that they should.

4 – ELLs become fluent if they live in an English speaking country.

 Living abroad can be a wonderfully enriching experience, but it is not necessary to achieve fluency in a language. And it can sometimes make it harder. The essential piece to language learning is consistent exposure to comprehensible input. Some people are fortunate to have a nurturing immersion experience abroad but many are not, as comprehensible input is usually in short supply. Learners may be confused or frustrated by how little progress they are making. This can lead to avoiding situations where they’ll need to use English, miring them in a vicious cycle.

5 – ELLs need to learn in a classroom.

Though the language classroom can be a magical place, what happens out of class has greater impact on a learner’s proficiency. Class time is too short to get the repetitive input and practice needed to become proficient in English. Reading stories, participating in conversations, watching video clips, and listening to songs can all happen in the classroom; but these activities can be done outside of class with greater frequency (and often more meaningfully) when a learner is inspired to do them.

The classroom has traditionally been the way to meet and interact with a teacher and other learners. Today, however, an online teacher may be more accessible and affordable than a teacher in a physical classroom. Moreover, a community of online learners is typically more diverse and dynamic than an English class “on the ground”.


Here’s Jase doing “Stick, Stuck, Stuck” his song to practice irregular verbs (Note: The students wrote the verbs on the board and they rap with Jase during the next part of the lesson).

Jason R. Levine, also known as Fluency MC, is an English language teacher, trainer, and “knowledge entertainer.” He has conducted workshops for students and teachers in 17 countries and is currently on the Rhyme On Time tour in Europe with Gallery Languages. You can check out Jason’s work, including his new online practice program, the Weekly English Workout, on his website: www.fluencymc.com

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series, The uNseries, and other books from some of education's most reputable teachers and leaders. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Connect with @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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