The Rough Ride for English Learner Students Into ABCs

The Latino population in schools is growing at a rapid rate. According to Office of English Language Acquisition:

  • Los Angeles County had the highest total number of students who were ELs in the U.S. during SY 2015–16.
  • Los Angeles County experienced the biggest increase in total number of students who were ELs in the U.S. between Sys 20111-12 and 2015-16.

These numbers are likely to go up as time goes on. How are schools and teachers handling this influx of EL students? Are they rolling out the red carpet and extending welcoming arms? Yes and no.

The approach is “yes” to open classrooms doors. However, the answer is “no” to implementing any positive changes for these new EL students. Schools welcome these students while keeping existing charts and other ABC instructional materials in place. Schools still use the same English-only material as ever. The widely accepted rationale is that it is up to the students themselves “to learn English” then the ABC program will function for them. This approach leads to Latino EL students falling behind and sometimes taking as long as three years to learn to read their ABCs.

Why the wait? Why the built- in delay? We can do better by these young learners and prevent them from falling behind. Spanish and English are similar languages. Hispanic kindergartners are already familiar with many English letter sounds (ie: ‘R’, ‘P’, ‘A’, ‘S’, etc.) through family names (ie: Ramon, Pedro, Anna, Susanna, etc.).  All that students need to learn are the symbols (ie: A, B, C, etc.) for familiar sounds. These students are halfway into the ABC system (knowing the sounds) without the teacher ever taking advantage of this asset.

The current reality is that teaching presumes focusing on what the student already knows. Then, later, introducing user-friendly examples, COGNATES, into the program (ie: “B is for BICYCLE/bicicleta”). The usual English-only examples (“B is for BEAR/oso”) automatically place children on the low end of ABC literacy. Cognate Spanish/English examples, “T is for TURTLE/tortuga,” does the reverse. Cognate examples enable Hispanic kindergartners to receive a positive assist.



For more information about Spanish/English Cognate ABC materials check out:


P.O. Box 5314 Culver City, CA 90231 * (310) 836-6730

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