21. How can I access the level of learning of a non-English speaking student if I don’t understand them and they do not understand me?

This question seems to relate exclusively to students who have just arrived from a country where a language other than English is the primary language. However, this question is relevant, too, for language immersion programs where English speaking students receive all their instruction in another language. Moreover, this question is very relevant for all teachers teaching a new concept or a new key idea for the first time, or introducing a new discipline to students who have never had any knowledge about the new subject matter they are just beginning to study. In essence, all students –English speaking and non-English speaking—may encounter learning situations where what the teacher is saying –in English or in another language—is completely "foreign" to the students. "It’s all Greek to me" is a common saying among students, even when their teachers are teaching in the same language the students speak.

To answer the question, then, I would like to strongly suggest that it is very wise for teachers always to assume at the beginning of ALL lessons that the students facing them are at the Pre-Production stage of Language Acquisition, whether they are acquiring English, English-as-a-Second Language, or acquiring the language of the content area. Students at the Pre-Production level can only demonstrate comprehension or understanding through actions and gestures. So, where should a teacher begin teaching? Always the teacher should begin by providing opportunities for students to OBSERVE.

As the teacher begins (h)is/er lesson, the students must be able to perceive, see, OBSERVE what the teacher is talking about. Because the teacher must ALWAYS obtain evidence of learning at every step of the lesson, the students must be making ACTIVE observations, that is, reacting with an action or a gesture as the teacher points to the visual aids or visual/auditory/kinesthetic stimuli and talks about them.

Thus, all teachers can reach all students at their level of learning if every step of the lesson requires students to provide evidence of learning through active participation in the lesson. Pre-Production level students –whether because they speak a language other than English or because they are just beginning to study a new concept in English—need lessons where they can:


The students at the Pre-Production stage can be active participants in all lessons where they can DO SOMETHING, DO ALL ACTIONS LISTED ABOVE, rather than ONLY reply orally or in writing.

Once the teacher has evidence that students can, through actions, observe, recognize, locate, identify, classify, practice, collect, distinguish, categorize, repeat, match, show, select, construct, assemble, arrange, put things in order, etc., now the teacher, in (h)is/er lesson can provide students opportunities to:

During the same lesson, and AFTER the teacher has evidence of learning because students can perform the actions listed immediately above, that is, the students have achieved sufficient language mastery on the topic of the lesson to progress to the Early-Production stage of Language Acquisition, the teacher can provide students opportunities to:

LIST, UNDERLINE, REVIEW, INTERPRETE, COMPOSE, DICTATE, POINT OUT, RECORD, REPORT, PREDICT, EXPRESS, PLAN AND EVALUATE. Students who can perform these actions give evidence to the teacher that they have reached the Language Acquisition stage of Speech Emergence.

Finally, the lesson should end with opportunities for students to:

RELATE, GENERALIZE, DEMONSTRATE, OUTLINE, SUMMARIZE, SUPPOSE, ESTIMATE, JUDGE, EXPLAIN, DEBATE, ILLUSTRATE, INFER, REVISE, REWRITE, ASSESS, INTERPRETE, JUSTIFY, CRITIQUE, ETC. Students who can perform these actions have reached the Language Acquisition stage of Intermediate Fluency for the topic of the lesson.

During the same lesson, the teacher must also provide opportunities for vocabulary development by writing on the board, listing on charts, posting on walls or bulletin boards, ALL the words in the lesson grouped by meaningful categories. And, of course, the content area teacher should have, BEFORE the lesson, worked together with the English-As-A Second Language (ESL) or English Language Development (ELD) teacher, and the Primary Language (L1) Teacher or Instructional Assistant or Tutor, as needed, helping the ESL/ELD and L1 teachers prepare the students for the content area lesson through appropriate English vocabulary development lessons and L1 concept development lessons. Helping non-English and limited English proficiency students requires TEAM WORK!!!!

There are many ways a teacher can access the learning level of any student, whether an English proficient student learning a new subject in English, or a student with limited or no English proficiency learning content area through English, or an English speaking student learning content areas through another language. I have provided many suggestions of how a teacher designs (h)is/er lessons to encourage very active participation by ALL students. That is the best way to access the learning level of, and to obtain evidence of learning from, any and ALL students.




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