3. When should students with limited knowledge of the English language receive instruction through their native or primary language?

Primary or native language instruction is essential for developing the content area concepts that all students are expected to master at each grade level. While students with limited knowledge of the English language are learning English, their academic progress must continue through their primary or native language. That is the crucial role of primary language instruction: concept development.

Primary language instruction needs to be provided from Pre-school or Kindergarten on, or from the moment the student with limited knowledge of the English language - of any age -enters the public school system. Pedagogical, psychological and legal reasons provide the basis for primary language instruction.

Pedagogical reasons: It is literally quite impossible to learn something if the language of instruction is NOT understood by the learner - the student. I am absolutely positively certain that no one will ever learn anything from a teacher who teaches in a language the students cannot understand, even if this teacher delivers the most effective lesson ever taught. Students who do not understand, speak, read or write the language of instruction will not learn anything. No one can learn if they do not understand the language used to teach the lesson.

Primary language instruction helps students understand content area concepts while they learn English - in E.S.L. classes and through S.D.A.I.E. Primary language instruction needs to be totally linked and integrated with E.S.L. and S.D.A.I.E. content lessons. Through the thorough understanding of key content area concepts developed in primary language lessons, a solid foundation of knowledge is built that promotes mastery of English language skills and high levels of cognition and academic vocabulary.

Two key concepts that students need to develop through their primary language are how to (1) READ and (2) WRITE. Only through their primary language students will understand that what can be thought and spoken, can be written down by the speaker or someone else, and can then be read back by still another person. Learning to read and write in another language is easy once the basic understanding of the process of reading and writing in the primary language is mastered.

Psychological reasons:

(1) Retention of new learning -- New learning must be associated with learning already mastered for the new learning to be retained in the short-term memory and, eventually, in the long-term memory. Nothing is remembered --"learned"-- if what needs to be learned cannot be associated with some previous learning. Learning new content area concepts through the primary language helps in promoting associations of new and previous learnings.

(2) Transfer of learning -- What is well understood and learned through the primary language does not need to be re-learned through the second language. Students need only to learn HOW to say, read and write the new learning in the second language.

(3) Motivation -- Making new learning as meaningful to students as possible enhances the motivation to learn and to keep on learning. An unmotivated student, because he/she cannot understand the language of the lesson, is a student who will eventually stop learning, through any language.

(4) Positive reinforcement -- Success at any task is one of the most powerful positive reinforcers that promotes and sustains learning. Learning concepts, especially difficult content area concepts, requires tasks that insure successful performances by students. A student trying to learn new concepts through a language he/she cannot fully understand is a student who will not be successful.

Legal reasons:

(1) Equal Educational Opportunity -- Primary or native language instruction allows students with limited knowledge of English to study, learn and master key content area concepts appropriate for their grade level. Primary language instruction insures that all students are provided equal educational opportunities within the classroom and the school.

(2) Equal Access to the Curriculum -- The use of the student's primary or native language for instruction and for extra curricular activities --academic clubs, sports activities, musical, artistic and scientific competitions, etc.-- insures that students with limited knowledge of English have full access to the full curriculum offered by the school system: the formal academic curriculum, the extra-curricular school program, and all other educational activities offered by the school system.

(3) Prevention of academic deficits -- Instruction through the primary language insures that students who have limited knowledge of the English language do not fall behind academically while they learn English.

Depending on the types of educational programs offered by a school or district, the time for primary or native language instruction varies:

(1) Transitional programs -- Primary language instruction decreases the more English the students learn. The main goals of these programs are mastery of the English language and academic achievement through English.

(2) Developmental or Maintenance programs -- Primary language instruction continues throughout the entire educational program. English language instruction is provided from the beginning through E.S.L., and eventually --in 3 or 4 academic years-- instruction is delivered in English and in the primary language in roughly equal amounts of time. The main goals of these programs are spoken fluency in English and in another language (the native language of the students), biliteracy in English and the other language, and multicultural awareness and understanding.

A fluent bilingual teacher should provide primary language instruction with any of the following State of California Teaching Credentials and/or Certificates:

(1) B.C.C., Bilingual Certificate of Competence;

(2) B.-C.L.A.D., Bilingual-Cross-Cultural, Language and Academic Development Certificate. Teachers with C.L.A.D. or L.D.S. (Language Development Specialist) Certificates can team with fully certified bilingual teachers or bilingual instructional aides, to provide a fully integrated program of instruction that includes Primary Language Instruction, E.S.L., and S.D.A.I.E. In some circumstances, primary language volunteers and community members may assist with the delivery of primary language instruction. Cross-age tutors may also help. However, bilingual students in the same classroom with students learning English, and also learning the same material, are not the best translators.



For more in-depth information, classroom demonstrations, and "coaching" of new and/or experienced teachers, Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK offers:

1. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
2. Cross Cultural Diversity - Multicultural Strategies
3. Effective Instruction for English Learners (L.E.P. students) Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
4. Promoting Academic Success in Language Minority Students
5. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
6. Oral Language / Literacy Skills / Higher Order Thinking Skills
7. 50/50 Dual Language Programs: design, planning and implementation
8. The Structure of English / The Structure of Spanish
9. Transition: Introduction to English Reading

Web Site Programs for Teachers: Numbers 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9.
Web Site Programs for
Paraprofessionals: Number 3.
Web Site Programs for
New Teachers:
Enhanced Cultural Sensitivity - The Challenge of Students Diversity
Identifying / Responding to Students' Language Needs
Phonemic Awareness: Teaching English phonics to L.E.P. students
Relationship Between Reading, Writing and Spelling
Improving Reading Performance -- Building Oral Language Skills)

Write and e-mail any additional questions you may have, and Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will establish with you, your school or district a Technical Assistance Service Contract. Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will answer all your questions promptly and to your satisfaction.


For information and credentials please click on the link below or contact directly:


Educational Consultant, Program Evaluator

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Certification (12/2006)

3113 Malcolm Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90034-3406

Phone and Fax: (310) 474-5605

E-mail:  csssadek@gte.net