Jason Carroll

Digital Supports for English Language Learners

The number of English Language Learners in the US today continues to increase rapidly. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an average of just over 10% of students in developed countries are learning in their second language. The US has almost double this number however. The disparity is even greater in many US schools where over 30% of the population is learning in a second language.


The number of English Language Learners in the US today continues to increase rapidly. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an average of just over 10% of students in developed countries are learning in their second language. The US has almost double this number however. The disparity is even greater in many US schools where over 30% of the population is learning in a second language.

 

While Spanish is the top language spoken by English Language Learners in the US, this can vary widely by region. Learning in a language that is not your own and having little or no English speakers at home to help can cause a significant achievement gap. This gap only grows larger as the complexity of content increases. The purpose of this post is to provide a few technology options and add-ons that can help English Language Learners succeed in the classroom.

Below you will find five common supports that can assist English Language Learners in a variety of grade levels and content areas. While it is by no means an exhaustive list, it should provide you with a great place to get started:

Electronic Translation Tools – Having access to a translation tool is probably the most obvious support on this list. That doesn’t make any less important however. Students who do not speak English as their primary language often understand the majority of English words. It is the content specific words that are rarely used in normal conversation that often cause confusion. Simple tools such as Google Translate can quickly provide translations on any web connected device.

Text-to-Speech – Learning to speak a language is not the same as learning to read and write in that language. Many times students learn to speak in English, but then struggle to keep up with all of the reading required. A great support that can help increase comprehension and reading speed for English Language Learners is Text-to-Speech.

Text-to-Speech (TTS) software reads digital text aloud. Proper TTS software should include the ability to highlight each word as it is being read aloud, in addition to controls for speed, volume and voice selection. Software such as Read&Write for Google Chrome and Read&Write for Windows/Mac also include a variety of foreign voices that students can use to have text read aloud in their native language. Text-to-Speech also helps students learn to pronounce words correctly.

Visual and Talking Dictionaries – Having access to the definition of a word you are not familiar with is always helpful. Unfortunately for students who speak English as a second language this is not always a comprehensive enough solution. Additional supports, such as dictionaries that include Text-to-Speech and/or a visual component can increase the likelihood that students will understand a word’s true meaning. Simple tools like the Google Dictionary Chrome extension can provide the definition of any word and speak the word aloud to help with pronunciation. For the complete definition to be read aloud, a more advanced support such as the premium version of Read&Write for Google, which also offers a picture dictionary, can be used.

Word Prediction – Not long ago word prediction was considered strictly an assistive technology support used mostly by individuals with physical disabilities who had difficulty typing. Fast forward to today and most people use a form of word prediction everyday on their smartphone or tablet. Because the English language does not always follow the alphabet principle (meaning not all words are pronounced according to individual letter sounds), added confusion for English Language Learners can occur when writing. Word prediction can help.

Take “phone” for example… Learners who know the English alphabet would likely assume that phone would start with an “f” instead of a “ph”. This would be incorrect however. Word prediction can help English Language Learners who spell phonetically make correct word choices. An added benefit is that most word prediction software allows the word to be read aloud. While smartphones and tablets can provide a certain level of support, advanced word prediction applications like those found in Read&Write have a number of improvements and options that can help even the most reluctant writers.

OCR Supports – For any of the above technology supports to be useful, students must have access to digital text. Text coming from websites, Word or Google documents, PDF files or other electronic sources work fine for the most part. Worksheets, printed textbooks and locked or inaccessible digital files will not work however. To overcome this files can be scanned and OCR’d using additional software. Some scanners may have OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software included. Otherwise supports such as Snapverter (an add-on for Read&Write for Google Chrome domain or group customers) can help to make content accessible.

Hopefully the list above will serve as a good starting point when looking to integrate more technology with English Language Learners. What additional supports, software or other EdTech related tools/resources would you recommend?

 

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