There’s no one comprehensive strategy behind educating English-learners in California. Instead, it’s a mishmash of programs, many of which leave students struggling to learn English for years.

This week, cohosts Scott Lewis and Laura Kohn discuss what research is showing to be the best ways to educate English-learners.

Author and education expert Ruby Takanishi joins the show to talk about a recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that examined the most effective ways to educate English-learners.

Takanishi said that even though more and more educators and researchers are promoting multilingualism at schools, school districts in several states are still lagging in providing adequate resources for students who don’t speak English.

“It is very clear that (English-language learners) in all states throughout the country are really at the bottom of the charts,” she said. “They have widest achievement disparities among different groups, including racial ethnic groups and economic groups.”

Takanishi chaired the committee behind the report, which found that it takes an average of five to seven years for a student to become proficient in English. On top of the academic challenges that presents, the report showed that many English-learners continue to struggle once they enter the workforce.

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Number of the Week

1 in 7: That’s the number of long-term English-learners in California. Long-term English-learners are those who enter kindergarten as English-learners and don’t speak English fluently for more than six years.

What’s Working

Chula Vista Learning Community Charter School: A local trilingual immersion school highlighted was in the report for its effective multilingual education program and its sophisticated approach to instruction, which includes problem-solving and project-based learning.

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    This article relates to: Education, English-Learners, Good Schools For All

    Written by Adriana Heldiz

    Adriana Heldiz is Voice of San Diego’s Assistant Digital Manager. She makes videos and helps manage the organization’s online presence. Adriana can be reached at

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    Children need basic knowledge and thinking skills as well as the ability to understand English. In my experience, basic knowledge and thinking skills are best taught in the child's native language for the first few years while the child is learning English.

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    Everyone agrees that all children should learn English. And, that is where the agreement ends. It ends because the students differ in their needs. For example, a child entering 1st grade with no English language. Where do you place that child? And, that is the biggest question today. 

      Ms. Takanishi talks broadly about the issue of second language instruction in the U.S. She wasn't addressing the issue here in San Diego. San Diego is very highly impacted by the proximity of the U.S.-Mexico Border. Children, for example, living in the U.S. near the Border interact, perhaps, daily with people in Mexico. So, some claim the "immersion" model works. Immersion in a language works if, and only if, the student has been isolated and is working with the new language 24/7. Immersion is the basic technique at the Monterey School of Languages(military). 

        At the Center for Applied Linguistics, second language acquisition occurs progressively with initial intensive use of the first language to help drive the second, over time. 

          Of course, all of this is very nuanced and complicated. But, a major problem has been the politicization of language learning.

    A strong contingent of people think people living in the U.S. should speak English a priori . They come from the idea that English is the only language. 

          Most people today think that circumstances dictate language.

    In a very unfortunate length of a statement is that second language acquisition(English learning) must be customized to the school, neighborhood. And, qualified teachers must be available. There is no "cookie cutter" to second language acquisition. It is very specialized work.Work, if done correctly and with compassion could yield fabulous results. 

         The other element is time. To thoroughly grasp the nuances of the English language and, by the way, culture takes an extraordinary amount of time and effort. The child mentioned above you entered 1st grade with no English background could be very competent by the 8th grade. And, here, I must include the elements of verbal, writing, reading, and reading comprehension. Usage of ANY language is essential for a pleasing experience.  It takes a huge amount of energy to understand and enjoy Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost.  And, the same goes for understanding Unamuno and Valle-Inclan.

        We wish our children to be powerful in the society of their eventual choice.