Second Language Learner Issues and Software

Many Languages, One Mission: Education for ALL
Many Languages, One Mission: Education for ALL

Second Language Learners

The term Second Language Learner (SLL) indicates a person who is in the process of acquiring a second language which is different from their native language. Other terms for second language learners common to the United States whose primary educational language is English also include English Language Learner (ELL), English as a Second Language (ESL) and Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. (National Education Association)

As of 2010, students learning English in the United States speak more than 150 native languages. In California alone, there are roughly 1.5 million English language learners with Spanish being the predominate native language. The following table breaks down the top five languages spoken by SLL in the United States. (Lin)

Native Language
Percent of Population
Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin)

Teaching Second Language Learners

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Second language learners face a dual challenge. SLL not only face the challenge of learning a new language, they must also learn the new content that is presented to them.

The No Child Left Behind act of 2001 proposed by President Bush required that each state develop English-language-proficiency standards and implement English-language-proficiency tests. The state tests are designed to assess the individual state content standards as well as the language proficiency standards. States, districts and individual schools must report the progress of their second language learners separately from the rest of the school population to see if the institutions are meeting the needs of the SLL sub population as compared to the adequate yearly progress (AYP) standards. (Education Week)

The question presented to many states and individual districts is to decide which method of instruction is best for their second language learners. There are two main competing methods for instructing SLL. The first, English immersion, places the SLL into a classroom where instruction is only provided in English. The second method, bilingual education, presents content to the student in both English as well as the student’s native language. (Education Week) In a five year longitudinal study comparing the two different methods, there was only a statistically significant difference during the first two years of instruction in favor of English immersion. Once students in the bilingual education program reached the third year and instruction was presented primarily in English, students from both programs scored in similar ranges when assessed using a standardized state test. (Slavin)

What Second Language Learners Need

Since second language learners are presented with a dual challenge in learning both new academic content and a new language at the same time, assistance is needed on both levels. In order to learn a new language, such as learning English, learners must be proficient with the basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) as well as the cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP). This means that learners need to be able to listen, comprehend, speak, read and write adequately in order to fully be proficient in their new language. (Ivers)

Many states require their SLL to participate in language proficiency assessments every year. These tests assess the learners written, reading, speaking and listening abilities. Through these tests SLL are then classified into different levels of proficiency.

Second language learners need to practice listening, speaking, reading and writing in the language they are attempting to learn. (Becerra-Davies) The following table suggests strategies for each of the four areas SLL need practice in to become proficient in a new language. (Ormrod)

Practice Area
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Students follow oral commands
Follow along with a story that is being read out loud
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Orally define vocabulary words or repeat new words
Students recite a poem or short story
Students ask questions during class
Orally describe a situation that happened to them
With a partner ask and answer questions about a story
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Read language level appropriate stories
Complete reading comprehension questions
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Insert correct verb into a sentence
Use frame sentences to complete a sentence or thought
Write simple sentences stated by teacher

This video describes some issues that SLL face and some strategies teachers can employ to help the SLL work through the difficulties.

Advantages of Using Software with Second Language Learners

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Proper implementation of the correct software can meet many of the needs and challenges presented to SLL. Multimedia software can provide SLL with a variety of rich linguistic resources such as audio for correct pronunciation of words, repeating sounds and words. (Ivers) Software can also provide accommodations for SLL such as animations, video and graphics to demonstrate difficult concepts.

One area that SLL need assistance with deals directly with the acquisition of a new language. Software that is designed specifically to assist English language instruction and help SLL develop important language skills are often referred to as Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) applications. Many CALL programs offer bilingual and translation programs to assist the learners who are in the beginning stages of acquiring a new language. While many of the CALL programs can translate single words accurately, it is recommended that learners trying to translate full sentences be familiar with the language they are attempting to learn because many of the translation programs are not capable of evaluating the mechanical or grammatical factors.

Along with programs that aid the SLL with obtaining a new language, there are many software programs available that can provide help to the learner with the new academic content. Many of these programs offer support with listening comprehension, reading comprehension, speaking, writing, and provide real-life images. Many of the good programs allow the SLL to pace themselves and offer key vocabulary development. Along with the modifications for the academic content, many good software programs allow the teacher to customize the program for each learner. With these modifications available, both SLL and teachers can individualize and expand the curriculum for each individual learner. (Ivers)


The following sites provide information regarding language acquisition software as well as content specific software. The majority of the language acquisition software must be purchased while the majority of the content specific software can be acquired for free.
The important aspect to remember when using software to teach new content, whether it be to learn a new language or reinforcing content, is that the software programs are simply tools to be used. Good teaching is good teaching and these programs are provided to teachers to help make the content more accessible to students. It is the teacher’s duty to assess what each student needs and provide the right tools to help meet the needs of the students.

Language Acquisition
Rosetta Stone
Transparent Language
Tell Me More
Rocket Languages

Support with Content Area
Language Arts
Fast ForWord
AAA Math
Power of Research
Social Studies
National Geographic Kids: Dare to Explore

Becerra-Davies, R., (2011, March). EL Symposium. Symposium conducted at Montebello Intermediate.
English Language Learners. (2004, September). Education Week. Retrieved from
Ivers, K., (2003). A teacher’s guide to using technology in the classroom. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited
Lin, J. (2010, December). California tops nation in English language learners. Daily Report. Retrieved from
National Education Association. (n.d.). English language learners. Retrieved from
Slavin, R. E., Madden, N., Calderon, M., Chamberlain, A., & Hennessy, M. (2010). Reading and language outcomes of a five-year randomized evaluation of transitional bilingual education. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University.

Created by: Sharon MacLean