English Language Learners

Posted on July 24, 2019

Why Learn the Linguistics of English (and Not Just the Words)

Only a month in, the student’s teacher suggested that she attend a different elementary school that may have more resources to help English learners. I suggested it was unnecessary as she already speaks English and only needs to work on pronunciation and grammar. She is not starting from the beginning. As she does have a private tutor 6 days a week, she is even in a more resourceful environment than a whole different classroom could offer her. Schools that focus on English learners have entire classrooms full of engilsh learners, and the one-one attention can be limited. Not only that, the time spent clarifying and teaching English takes away from other subjects. A separate linguistics class would be necessary to offer the services I offer her, and even that would be full of other students who will not have individual attention.


Now, only 2 months in, the student is nearly fluent. She works on vocabulary and tenses. She no longer needs to practice dialect so much– only a few difficult tones here and there. She is a more eloquent speaker and understands differences between “can” and “may,” “would” and should,” “will” and “may,” and other differences between words of the same variety. Even native english speakers have a difficult time understanding the differences. With so many other subjects to focus in elementary school, students may not learn to fluently apply these words until they enter college, the workplace or not at all.


Many Asian languages have no “tenses.” Simply adding a word to the end of the sentence is enough. This may be why English learners tend to say things like:

“I eat yesterday.”

“I eat today.”

“Tomorrow I eat…”

Many languages also do not have plural forms of words for example,

“One dog”

“Two dog”


Before teaching linguistics, I have spoken to many English learners and those who speak English as a second language. The little tense errors an English learner makes (even if they do consider themselves fluent) “trips” the mind of a native Englsh speaker. The words are not so smooth, as the listener needs continually mentally take a step back to understand the person. This is not to say that they are not understood (but there may be misunderstandings at times), only that they may struggle in a fast-paced environment.


Another area English learners should focus on are the sounds of the letters themselves. Hispanic Spanish speakers have different sounds for very similar letters. The most obvious difference is the letter V, but this sound is easily learned enough. The sound that is tough to learn the most is the “t” sound, which in Spanish, makes a “th” sound. This makes learning words with the sounds “st” even more difficult. Once again, the dialect makes it frustrating in the workplace.

While English is not a tonal language– that is a language where the vowels just going up or down changes the word completely, the ups and downs of the English language convey the emotion and attitude a person has in the conversation. This can create misunderstandings the speaker may not even be aware of.

There are many sounds and dialects of English in The United States itself. The dialects that are most easily understood are the west coast and north eastern dialects. I, personally, don’t know why, but it may have something to do with the media itself, and how certain sounds are easier to understand than others to the general public and non-native English speakers around the world.


Don’t take this the wrong way. No one is trying to change you, only to help teach you connect in your community. This creates a more comfortable and successful environment for you and your child.