30.  How do you know if a child has a language problem or a learning problem before a whole year has gone by without much success?

English Language Learners (ELL’s) or students with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) sometimes have difficulty listening and speaking (reading and writing) English words because the sounds of English are sounds very different from the sounds of their primary language(s). For example, Spanish speakers generally have only ONE of two possible English sounds: /sh/ or /ch/. Spanish speakers tend to say either /share/, /shop/, /wash/ or /chair/, /chop/, /watch/, but it takes a lot of time and effort for Spanish speakers to learn to hear and say (read and write) /share - chair/, /shop - chop/, and /wash - watch/. Teachers may think that this difficulty in hearing and saying (and eventually reading and writing) English words --and particular sounds in English words-- is a LEARNING difficulty. IT IS NOT. It is an instructional problem that the TEACHER must address, not the student.

Other speakers of other languages may have difficulty listening and saying other English words and sounds again simply because these words and sounds are not in their primary language(s). In other cases, cultural differences interfere with the production of appropriate English sounds. For example, some Cambodian high school ELL’s were having lots of trouble saying English words like "this, that, those," etc. They were referred to the Speech and Language Specialists who worked with them for many hours. After many arduous efforts at trying to pronounce these English words –and FAILING--, the Speech and Language Specialist finally discovered the source of the difficulty. In Cambodian culture, showing your tongue to another person is very disrespectful. To say "this, that, those," etc., these Cambodian high school students literally had to stick their tongues out at the teacher, and they just could not do that out of the very high regard Cambodians have for teachers!!!

The way words are arranged in a phrase or sentence in one language to express a certain message may be totally different from the way they are arranged in another language to express the same meaning. For example, in Spanish both expressions "hombre pobre" and "pobre hombre" are possible. In English both of these totally different messages would be expressed with the same word order "poor man" but with totally different intonation patterns. One intonation pattern would indicate that the man has no money, he is poor. Another intonation pattern would refer to the sorrowful state of a man, even if he is the richest man on the planet (Think of the last year of multibillionaire Howard Hughes!)

A diagnosis of a LEARNING PROBLEM can only be made if the English Language Learner (LEP student) has language difficulties in (h)is/er own primary language (L1). Difficulties in L2 –English—usually result from inappropriate instructional strategies. Correcting these difficulties is the responsibility of the teacher, NOT THE STUDENT’S. An ELL may be having difficulty learning:

  1. The sounds of English within words – Phonological difficulties
  2. The combinations of sounds of English in different word positions, initial, medial, final positions -- Phonological difficulties
  3. The combinations of sounds of English that signal a particular meaning, like "past tense," "third person singular," "plural of count nouns," "possessive forms of proper nouns," etc. -- Morphological difficulties
  4. How words are ordered in a sentence to convey a certain meaning – Difficulties with Syntax
  5. How phrases and sentences are linked together – Difficulties in Syntax
  6. The meaning of certain words -- Semantic difficulties
  7. The use of words and expressions to convey meaning through idiomatic expressions – Semantic difficulties
  8. The use of intonation patterns to convey meaning – Fluency difficulties
  9. The culturally appropriate circumstances to use certain words and expressions - Fluency difficulties


TEACHERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR PROVIDING APPROPRIATE INSTRUCTIONAL ACTIVITIES TO CORRECT THESE DIFFICULTIES. English Language Learners do NOT have any learning problems. TEACHERS must attend to their instructional responsibilities and teach what students need to know!!!!




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