Language Support Programs for Limited English Proficiency Students in English-Speaking Schools

Mark D. Offner
Aichi Insitute of Technology (Toyota, Japan)
offner [at]

Originally published in
Bulletin of Aichi Institute of Technology
Vol. 45A, pages 53-65
March 2010
*Contains minor capitalization revisions

Abstract: One of the more difficult challenges faced by English-speaking schools throughout the world is the successful integration of limited English proficiency (LEP) students into the mainstream class ensuring the successful learning of grade-level content while limiting stress to the students. Currently the field is obscured by a variety of models and terminologies that are described and used in different and conflicting ways making it difficult to determine which programs are most practical for a given situation. This paper introduces a unique organizational structure to establish clarity and uniformity in describing the common programs noting strengths and weaknesses to identify suitable models for a variety of academic settings.

1. Establish Premises

It is vital for any reputable system to be based on a set of underlying principles that provide the systematic framework for what follows. Without a strong foundation the system would lack cohesion and stability. Likewise all good English language support systems should establish foundational premises to build on. These premises are at the heart of the pedagogy underpinning the systems. They may be stated as “non-negotiable beliefs” that an institution or group of individuals holds to be true. Perhaps some of the more important ones regarding English language programs are:
     1. all students are capable of learning another language;
     2. success can be achieved by applying the proper methods tailored to the students’ needs;
     3. learning is on-going;
     4. students learn better when their unique self, background, and cultural heritage is appreciated, valued, and respected.

These premises are core beliefs represented by a few simple statements that all others can be distilled down to or from which others can be derived. The number of possible premises presented here have been reduced to a minimum and stated simply in an attempt to be all-inclusive and widely relevant, although other “truths” are certainly applicable. All viable programs must be anchored in the premises. Building on these premises a successful program must address related issues in a timely manner while instilling in the students the necessary skills for acquisition of the language(s) as they grow and develop on an on-going basis.

2. Determine Objectives

A good quality program should have objectives that in practical terms represent the reason for being. The objectives provide the focus for the development of programs to support the system based on concrete premises and helps shape them. The effectiveness of the emerging models can better be assessed by clearly stating objectives against which they can be measured. Some common objectives might be for the LEP student to:
        1.    become fluent English proficient (FEP);
        2.    maintain grade-level in the core subjects;
        3.    maintain native language proficiency.

As with the premises, program objectives will vary depending upon the school and its constituencies. The objectives stated here in a very basic form are fundamental to most any English support program. Although the circumstances and goals will vary from student to student these three objectives are generally prioritized in importance in the order presented. Essentially the programs must enable LEP students to achieve a sufficient level of proficiency in the English language to be mainstreamed into the classroom to continue the learning of the core subjects without falling behind in their formal education. Neither should LEP students fail to maintain their first language as it is arguably a crucial component for them to fully benefit from their learning experience.

2.1 Objective 1: English Language Proficiency

Learning English is the first and foremost important objective, especially for students living in an English-speaking country where English is necessary not only for academic studies but for effectively functioning in the society. For students living in their native country and attending an English-speaking school, maintaining proficiency in the native tongue may continue to be a top priority. However, because of the fact that LEP students are enrolled in an English-speaking school, it is a natural part of the educational process that the learning of English supersedes, but does not necessarily need to replace, native language proficiency as they strive to be successful in their studies.

2.2 Objective 2: Maintaining Grade-Level

One of the biggest obstacles facing LEP students is the initial emphasis, and resulting investment of time and energy, placed on the mastering of the English language leaves little time for the learning of the core subjects. This is usually not intentional, however with the enormous amount of time devoted to the learning of English and time spent in special instruction either within the class or in a pullout situation, it is often difficult for the student to keep up with the mainstream class. This especially applies to subjects where a good command of English is necessary for understanding the content of the course. To address this problem the language support program needs to ensure that LEP students do not fall too far behind making it impossible for them to succeed in the core subjects.

2.3 Objective 3: Native Language Proficiency

In many cases, as in the past when immigrants arrived in the United States, the urgent desire to be accepted and assimilated into the new culture relegated maintaining one’s native tongue and culture to secondary importance and in some cases was considered undesirable. However, as the world becomes increasingly international in character and global in outlook, bilingualism and biculturalism are generally accepted as a distinct advantage. In education, retaining fluency in one’s native language is valued not only as a good indicator of future success, but is arguably a necessary prerequisite for successful acquisition of the second language. Nevertheless, despite how desirable and advantageous retaining native language fluency is, emphasis is naturally placed on English language acquisition to enable the students to comfortably adapt to their new language environment and to keep up with their studies in the English-based or bilingual curriculum.

3. New Organizational Structure

There are many terms commonly used to describe the various models and methods, and although they are used with frequency as immutable nomenclature, the reality is they are often defined and perceived in very different ways. For example, “sheltered immersion” and “structured immersion” are often used interchangeably, but in other instances they are used to describe methodologies with significant differences. An added complication occurs from the lack of consistency in the methods employed and even in the proposed objectives. To clear up this confusion resulting from differences in terminology, usage, and the blending of methods where it is difficult to know whether a method does or does not include a specific component or how to delineate one from another, this paper proposes to rearrange and organize the programs and models in a simple, easy- to-understand structure.

Approaches (e.g. Cognitive vs. Behaviorists) and techniques (e.g. audiovisual and audio-lingual) in language teaching are considered outside the scope of this paper. Although adherence to a specific approach or use of a particular technique will influence the teaching style, the tools employed, and how the lessons are actually conducted in the classroom, for the purposes here they are not considered pertinent as they do not directly affect description, categorization, nor the purported objectives of the methods and models. Therefore, to avoid fragmenting models and methods into a variety of splinter groups according to minor variations as is commonly done, many of the systems have been consolidated under a single model or method because the differences separating them actually represent discrepancies in style and technique rather than profound philosophical differences. This organizational structure arranges the following categories in hierarchical sequence from top to bottom (followed by the number of categories in parenthesis): programs (2), models (4), and methods (8). It may be useful to remember as a 2-4-8 Organizational Structure (scroll down for outline).

3.1 The Programs

A program refers to the part of the school curriculum that deals with English language support for the LEP student. It provides the foundation and parameters and encompasses the models, methods, approaches, techniques, plans and anything else that is used to describe, guide and conduct the English support system adopted by the school. Therefore the top most category consists of programs of which there are just two: Additive and Subtractive. These programs can be described by their objectives.

The objective of an Additive Program is to have all students in the school achieve fluency in two (or more) languages. It teaches and develops both the first language (L1) and the target language (L2), in this case English, together. On the other hand, the objective of a Subtractive Program is to have the LEP student achieve fluency in the English language as quickly and completely as possible. It transitions the LEP student into English-speaking where English becomes the dominant language and the LEP student’s native tongue is either lost or becomes the second language, especially with regard to academic studies. Referring to a program as “additive” aptly describes the school-wide curriculum of a truly bilingual program as it applies to the courses offered throughout the entire school. Referring to a program as “subtractive” more narrowly applies to an independent part of the school curriculum that offers support designed specifically for LEP students.

3.2 The Models

The next category consists of models. Models refer to the framework and design of the English language program. It characterizes the philosophical and pedagogical base of the methods. A model is not only defined by its objectives (additive or subtractive), but also describes the manner in which a program is integrated into the school curriculum. Models represent certain beliefs about how language is learned subscribing to a specific set of research-based dogma. Generally, models are difficult to change and often a school district or a state in the U.S. will require the use of a specific model in public schools. As research continues new models may eventually emerge that might be categorized under a neutral program providing more educational options, although currently none exist.

It is inevitable that each of the four models is further divided into methods that determine application muddying the waters somewhat, however this organizational structure should help with conceptualization as it narrows the field down to a small number of basic models and their methodologies. A simple way to represent an additive model is: L1 + L2. A simple way to represent a subtractive model is: (L1) ---> L2.

3.3 The Methods

In the hierarchy of this organizational structure, methods fall under the models and all varieties of methods for supporting LEP students are consolidated under the four models. The methods provide more detail on the practical aspects concerning implementation of the models. They describe the way the models perform and how the class is conducted. Methods are dynamic and flexible. They can be adjusted to suit the needs of the LEP students, not only as an individual student’s needs change, but may also be altered to accommodate changes in the demographics of the student body and the greater school community.

Methods can be divided and subdivided almost endlessly when approaches and teaching techniques are factored in. To maintain simplicity and clarity in this structure, the eight methods are based on the more obvious and distinctive components pertaining to where the English language support takes place and the medium used. Methods describe components of the models such as pullout language support, in-class ESL instruction, and the language and to the degree it is used in the mainstream or ESL class (also influencing teacher language qualifications).

Methods are often subdivided by describing in more detail the finer elements such as: how long students receive English language support (early-exit or late-exit), composition of the class (ratio of native English speakers to LEP students), focus of instruction (content-based or language centered), age group (for use in elementary, middle or high school), etc. Although these differences are important for a detailed analysis, they tend to be highly variable. For example it is not always clear when exactly early-exit ends and late-exit begins, or when early-exit morphs into late-exit due to special circumstances, or when content-based is mixed with a more traditional language-centered approach, blurring the distinctions. Because these distinctions remain fluid, they are grouped together under a more general method type and therefore do not affect the overall organizational structure. This allows different aspects of these elements to be recombined and reworked without the need to create numerous elusive minor categories.

To better understand the pros and cons of each model it is necessary to understand the methods employed by each. To prevent confusion in the following discussion, it should be kept in mind that common labels for describing types of English language support systems often use the term “model” and this paper adheres to this standard usage for clarity when referencing them - although these “models” are actually considered to be methods in this paper.

4. Additive Program

Currently there is just one model under the Additive Program. As previously stated, additive models are limited to programs where English is added to the L1 of the student without dominating it. A model is considered to be additive when both the L1 and L2 are valued, taught, and developed together. Not all bilingual models have this as their stated objective and therefore they are not classified together under the umbrella term “bilingual model” as is the accepted practice. One of the features of a developmental or maintenance bilingual model as defined here is that it must be additive.

4.1 The Developmental Bilingual Model

The main defining factor of this model is that the English language learner (ELL) retains fluency in his or her native language. The ELL will also be able to keep up with the core subjects without language presenting an obstacle. This model is based on the belief that content knowledge will pass more easily between languages (native language and target language) when it has first been comprehended and fully digested in the first language. The Developmental Bilingual Model fully adheres to and complies with the premises and objectives as described above by respecting each student’s linguistic and cultural influences without relegating any single one to second place.

The developmental model may at first appear to be the ideal system, but it is important to note that strictly speaking a school where the curriculum is based on this model does not categorically qualify as an English-speaking school. It is in the best sense a bilingual school where the objective is to preserve and develop the minority group’s native language along with the goal of achieving English language fluency. However, it has an important role in this organizational structure as it effectively promotes English language acquisition and serves as a comparison for and helps to inform and influence other models and their methods.

4.1.1 The Pullout Bilingual Method

This method respects and supports the ELL’s native language and culture but does so separately from the mainstream class and therefore there is no exchange of languages, although use of the minority language is not necessarily prohibited in the mainstream. The ELLs receive “tutoring” or similar support outside the grade-level class using content material and are normally not introduced into the mainstream class until they have thoroughly learned their academic studies in their native tongue. Integration into the mainstream class is usually done slowly while receiving ESL assistance and at the same time native language support is on-going for the purpose of maintaining age/grade level fluency. This model is sometimes referred to as Structural Home Language Immersion or a Maintenance Bilingual Model.
The greatest disadvantage with this method is the motivation to learn English may not be adequate resulting in the ELLs never fully becoming fluent in the target language because of the relative ease of relying on their native tongue for comprehending their lessons. A level of basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) may be achieved, however achievement of cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) is usually more elusive. Also, because of the large amount of time spent separated from the mainstream class, the ELLs may not be able to fully assimilate into the school environment contributing to a kind of maladjustment with the potential to negatively affect overall academic performance. As with the other bilingual models, this model is not practical for highly multilingual schools as it necessarily fragments the school into language groups potentially creating a culture of exclusiveness.

4.1.2 In-Class Bilingual Method

In this method the ELL attends the regular class with no special intensive English instruction and is encouraged to learn in his or her native language. The success of this method requires that only a single language group be schooled through the languages (mother tongue and English) in the regular mainstream classroom with a bilingual teacher. The ELL is naturally exposed to English during the class session as much of the lesson is conducted in English and normally the majority of students are conversant in English. The ELLs learn English through manipulation of content material and subject matter and continue to learn the core subjects at grade level without the difficulty of dealing with a language barrier because both languages are used to understand the content. A distinct advantage for any open-minded individual is that all cultures and respective idiosyncrasies and ideologies are equally respected and allowed to coexist without one taking precedence over or overshadowing the others.

When the focus of the class is for the ELLs to achieve English language proficiency (ELP) together with the native language, the approach is commonly referred to as a One-way Dual Language Model. This term is used to distinguish this approach from what is commonly called a Two-way Dual Language or Dual Enrichment Model where there is a two-way exchange of both languages between the students in the class. The English-speaking group learns the minority group’s language and the minority group learns English while students in each group retain and develop fluency in their own native tongue. Often the ratio of ELL to native English speaker is as high as 50/50, but is usually lower and can be as low as 30/70.
The In-class Bilingual Method is appropriate only for schools where the ELLs have a single shared language and cannot be employed in international schools where it is common to have multiple language groups. This method is also difficult to implement in a large educational institution due to the necessity of securing impartial and all-inclusive resources that are not readily available. It is difficult to obtain unbiased textbooks that present and accept all views equally in all subjects. Teachers must not only be bilingual themselves, but must also be bicultural with a deep enough understanding of the ELL’s native culture to avoid unintentionally offending the culture when presenting class material. It is also difficult for a teacher to maintain an even balance in language use so as not to favor one language over the other. Schools will need to provide library books, textbooks, and other learning material in the student’s native language as well as in English. These requirements place an extraordinary burden on the school’s board and finances.

5. Subtractive Program

All models that seek to transition the LEP student to English speaking are considered to be subtractive. This includes models that may not have this transition as a stated objective, but provided that a model does not actively grow and develop the native language of the individual, it is considered to be non-supporting and therefore subtractive. It may be argued that the ultimate goal of some of these models is not necessarily to replace the L1 of the student with English and therefore should be considered “neutral” programs. However it is revealing that the major focus (sooner or later) is almost exclusively on the English language to the detriment of the mother tongue, especially in the area of CALP. For models under this program, maintaining fluency in the native language is typically the responsibility of the individual and when or if native language support is provided it is to a much lesser degree than that of the English language. Normally any initial intensive native language support is gradually phased out.

A subtractive model may add a component where the LEP student has the option of choosing an elective class that develops fluency in the native language, but this is not an inherent part of the model and is therefore not considered additive. Instead this would be a kind of “subtractive plus” program model where optional native language support is added on. Adding to an existing model or mixing parts of different methods to form a unique hybrid may be appropriate for better addressing the special needs of individual students and institutions. However the resulting menagerie of methods is not easy to pin down or accurately categorize and initially must simply be acknowledged as new hybrids that are usually applicable in narrowly defined, school-specific environments - although it is possible that they may eventually evolve into new, universally-recognized models.

5.1 The Submersion Model

Submersion is by definition an in-class model. It may be viewed as the diametric opposite of bilingual education. Methods using this model submerse the ELLs in English by immediately mainstreaming them in the hopes that they will naturally “absorb” the language. ELLs are placed in the regular English-speaking classroom and given no, or very limited, special language assistance. The expectation is that by hearing English all day every day in school the ELL will naturally come to understand the language using visual clues and will learn to speak and understand English through trial and error. This model focuses almost entirely on the first objective of achieving English language proficiency, but does little to support objective two and completely disregards objective three as outlined above.

Submersion is commonly accepted as a bona fide educational model although there is ample justification against recognizing it as such because it does not require any special technique or strategy to implement. Instead, it is often simply the default process of accommodating ELLs enrolled in a school that offers no dedicated or formal ESL services or support. Arguments supporting submersion as an effective language teaching/learning method are tenuous at best.

5.1.1 The Simple Submersion Method

This is sometimes referred to as the “sink or swim” method. Students are given no formal instruction to help them learn the English language and are provided with no explanations in their native tongue to assist with comprehension. Theoretically the need to keep up with the rest of the class provides the motivation for the ELL to decipher the language used in class to make sense of the content material.

Although students are presented with the concentrated opportunity to hear natural English in a normal setting, being surrounded by English does not necessarily guarantee success in mastering the language. It is generally accepted that a certain period of formal language instruction is needed for transference from the native language to the target language to occur. Even a limited amount of ESL instruction is predicated to enable the ELL to at least gain a foothold in the target language before being completely submersed in it. It has been demonstrated that natural absorption of the language can take place in everyday life contributing to  BICS, but it has not proven very effective in an educational setting where CALP is needed and especially when time is of essence for language learners to proceed with their education in the core subjects.

Some schools, depending on the location and make up of the student body, are not actually able to provide a complete submersion environment as there may be a large number of English speakers of other languages (ESOL) in the school who prefer to use languages other than English outside the classroom. With this method there is the possibility that ELLs become wrongly labeled as intellectually inferior if they are unable to comprehend the material, although it is simply due to the obstacle that language presents. ELLS may also be stigmatized as slow learners because they do not always master speaking, reading, and/or writing in the target language as quickly as expected. The result is that the student may experience low self-esteem and motivation and this often translates into becoming a problem student due to the negative psychological impact of unrealistic demands being placed on him or her. Furthermore, no attempt is made to maintain the student’s mother tongue resulting in the danger that the student will not attain native level fluency in any language at all.

5.1.2 The Sheltered Submersion Method

This method can be summed up by “sink or swim with a life line.” The teacher uses simplified language and attempts to provide the ELL with explanations adjusted to the student’s comprehension level and offers extra help as much as possible without disruption to the rest of the class. The student is provided with pictures, artifacts and other material to assist in language acquisition in the mainstream classroom. The ELL is likely to feel more comfortable in this type of class compared with the Simple Submersion Method, and therefore may be willing to take more risks and participate more fully enhancing his or her learning experience.

Although the ELL receives some extra help under this method, realistically the extra help and attention given to the student may be quite limited due to the many other obligations the teacher faces in providing for the class as a whole. Also, the teacher is typically not trained in ESL. As with the Simple Submersion Method, the student may not understand the language enough, or learn it quickly enough, to be able to construct content knowledge in the core subjects to keep up with the rest of the class. As this gap widens, the student is often branded a slow learner. As motivation ebbs, the student may be prone to engage in disruptive or bad behavior. No native language instruction is provided leaving the responsibility of native language retention and development entirely up to the student and his or her family or caretaker. As with the previous method, the result may be that the student is unable to achieve fluency in either language.

Many researchers would categorize this method as immersion and equate it with the In-Class ESL Method listed below, but instead calling it “Sheltered Immersion.” However, because the help actually provided is really rather limited it is a better fit for the submersion category. More extensive language assistance (predicating ESL training) is considered to be immersion in this paper.

5.2 The Immersion Model

The methods using the Immersion Model may be viewed as a more sympathetic approach when compared to submersion. In immersion the ELLs receive special language support and mainstreaming is either immediate or delayed, however the students eventually integrate into the regular class where the content material is learned entirely through the medium of the English language. The teachers are trained especially in the teaching of ESL and the student can feel a high degree of comfort in an ESL environment. These models are often referred to as “structured” or “sheltered,” however this paper maintains that a defining feature of these models is that they are structured and considers the terms “structured immersion” or “sheltered immersion” to be redundant. Immersion without structure is quite simply submersion. This model addresses the first two objectives presented above, but does not formally address objective three because no long-term support is provided for maintaining the ELL’s native tongue.

5.2.1 The Pullout ESL Method

The pullout method requires the student to spend a given amount of time learning the English language with a trained ESL teacher away from the rest of the class. The student may feel most comfortable in this type of classroom and is able to learn in a relaxed environment without the fear of making mistakes and therefore may be more open to taking risks. The mainstreaming into the regular class is often incremental where the student initially participates only for short periods and only during the learning of certain subject matter with the amount of time spent in the mainstream classroom gradually increasing as language proficiency progresses.

When the students receive instruction in the ESL class that does not coordinate with or use content material from the regular class lessons, it is usually referred to as an ESL model. This is the style typically used in the teaching of a second language at a language school. Sometimes this method is applied as what is generally called Intensive English where students spend the entire school day studying the English language until they achieve a level of proficiency that allows them to participate in the mainstream class. Another application of the pullout method is regularly referred to as Content-Based ESL and entails the teaching of the English language through the use of the same material as taught in the mainstream class. This requires that lessons be coordinated between the ESL and mainstream teacher and acts as a safety net to prevent ESL students from falling behind in the core subjects while also ensuring that they achieve CALP. The student is under less intense pressure to learn the target language as the risk of falling behind in their core curriculum studies is reduced contributing to a much lower level of stress.

The pullout method usually varies somewhat depending upon the age group. These approaches are often classified as early-exit or late-exit. This distinction is made according to how long an ESL student is kept in a special ESL learning environment and provided with ESL support. Early-exit is more common in early elementary school and the student is normally mainstreamed into the lower grades often after a single year of ESL instruction. Although care is taken to ensure that new content material or subject matter is not introduced to the mainstream class during ESL pullout sessions, typically a pullout method is early-exit as the more time spent in the ESL classroom the more likely the student will fall behind in the core subjects. Late-exit provides the student with as much help and on-going support as necessary to ensure complete assimilation and competency in the English language. Normally when a late-exit approach is implemented, content-based ESL instruction is used to ensure that the student does not fall too far behind in the core curriculum. A late-exit approach may provide the ESL student with continued ESL support throughout elementary school and may eventually transform into an in-class method. In middle school, and sometimes high school, the pullout method takes the form of a designated ESL class where the students are divided into groups according to their English language ability and attend the class during certain periods of the day often scheduled against elective classes. Although late-exit classes are designed to allow the student plenty of time to completely assimilate the language and content material, there still remains a strong incentive to exit the student as quickly as possible as the more time spent away from the mainstream class the further behind the ELL is likely to fall, especially where socialization is concerned.

One disadvantage of this method is that the ELL misses a large part of the core subjects in the beginning and may fall far enough behind that he or she finds it difficult to catch up. When the ESL class is content based this is not as great a problem however the risk still exists when the ESL teacher does not have enough time to cover all the material to the extent and depth of the mainstream class. Another problem is the ELL is overly “protected” in the ESL environment where the student finds the grade level class much more stressful than the comfort of the ESL classroom and resists the attempt to be incorporated into the mainstream. A student will often need to be pushed into making the switch into the target language and this transition is not always smooth. It is difficult to know how much or far to push, and in turn could be met with not only resistance, but even belligerence on the part of the student. As a solution, sometimes a decision is made to make a clear cut away from reliance on the native tongue and this could be detrimental to the student with profound consequences. The ELL may be ostracized and ridiculed by other students as they are treated differently and are not able to spend time sharing in the same experiences as their peers to strengthen friendships. If this situation continues for any length of time, ELLs could find themselves in a kind of limbo that becomes increasingly difficult to break out of as they fail to fit into the educational program of the school. As a result, if the conditions of premise number four (students learn better when their unique self and cultural background are valued and respected) are not met, the student is disadvantaged and could inadvertently be set up for failure.

5.2.2 The In-Class ESL Method

As a way to address the pitfalls of the Submersion Model and the Pullout Immersion Method, the In-Class ESL Method allows the ELL to remain in the regular class with his or her peers but at the same time receives specialized English language instruction. In this method the classroom teacher provides extra explanations and clarification when necessary to assist the ELL in comprehension of content material. This method is commonly referred to as “Structured Immersion” or even “Sheltered Immersion,” although it is more narrowly defined here since many would consider the pullout method and approaches described in the previous section to fall under this category as well. The In-Class ESL Method is similar to the Sheltered Submersion Method previously presented, but differs mainly in the training of the teacher. The classroom teacher in a Submersion Model does not necessarily have ESL training and attempts to deal with the language deficiency by simplifying and providing (limited) extra help with gestures and other visual clues. However, in the In-Class ESL Method the classroom teacher must be fully trained in the teaching of ESL as this is the main determining factor in the success of the method. This is sometimes labeled as a “direct method” where the student is provided with modeling of the second language in a context that is guided and geared toward their individual level. The direct method is purportedly a more “natural” approach to language learning. This method is often referred to as ESL in the Mainstream.

The In-Class ESL Method, when compared to submersion, can be demanding in that an extensive amount of time and expense needs to be invested by the school for it to really be effective. Ideally all teachers in the school should be trained in ESL and the school will need to ensure that teachers’ ESL qualifications are kept current. Additionally the school should employ ESL experts whose job is to fine-tune the method when necessary and to train new teachers in ESL as well as keep teachers abreast of new methodology. There is the possibility that the influence of ESL in the classroom may cause the non-ESL students, as well as the more advanced ESL students, to be less challenged and they may tend to underachieve by indolently “piggybacking” on the ESL assistance provided to the class. If this continues for any length of time where there is either a high turnover of ESL students or large numbers at a variety of levels within a single class, this piggybacking, however unintentional, may become habitual and impede progress.

5.3 The Transitional Bilingual Model

ESL students are taught English in this model through the use and support of their native language. The ESL student is provided with instruction in his or her native tongue as a way to assist second language acquisition. Although age-level native language competency may not be maintained in the long run, native language retention and development is initially encouraged and built on as a means to achieve better success in second language acquisition and to prevent the student from falling behind in his or her studies. The teacher must be bilingual as the student’s native language is used to aid comprehension and to assist in transitioning to English.

Although traditionally classified as a Bilingual Model, this model uses the ELL’s native tongue only as a quick and effective way to move the student toward embracing English as the preferred language. It is similar to the Developmental Bilingual Model with one very important difference in the main objective. The Transitional Model seeks to ultimately transition the non-English speaker to an English-only speaker or to “predominately English speaking.” On the other hand, the Developmental Model seeks to add English in the sense that the non-English speaker becomes an English speaker while at the same time retaining fluency in the heritage language. The methodology, too, is very similar for both models as the ELL studies English with a bilingual teacher teaching content material in the student’s native tongue, but again the difference is that in the Transitional Model native language support is phased out and the focus is eventually on English only and the student mainstreamed as quickly as possible. Thus the former is subtractive while the later is additive. As a result, this model meets only the first two objectives, but does not fulfill the third.

5.3.1 The Pullout Transitional Method

The ELL receives instruction outside the mainstream class by a teacher who is bilingual. For the same reasons as Content-Based ESL, the ELL students are taught content material in their native tongue to prevent them from falling behind in their academic studies. This method is based on the principle that transfer of content material to the target English language occurs more easily and completely when the subject is first learned in the native language. In this way the Pullout Transitional Method is significantly different from the Pullout ESL Method which does not teach in and support the native language. Eventually, however, the overwhelming emphasis is placed on acquisition of the English language relegating the L1 of the student to second place.

The biggest challenge facing this method is the smooth and successful transitioning of the student into the English-only mainstream class. This method has all the same pitfalls as with the Pullout ESL Method: falling behind, inability to fully assimilate, ostracism, and stress-related inability to succeed creating a downward spiral. Although a strong native language component is desirable and recommended, it is often not practical to incorporate as a formal part of the curriculum in many English-speaking schools, and in particular international English-speaking schools, where the student body consists of native language speakers from a diversity of countries. The school may find itself in the financially draining position of needing to provide a broad range of native language class levels in a variety of languages for ELLs with only a small number of students in each class.

5.3.2 The In-Class Transitional Method

In the In-Class Transitional Method students participate in the mainstream class and a bilingual classroom teacher or designated interpreter translates English instructions and explanations into the ELL’s first language. This ensures that the ELL’s progress is not impeded by the opacity of a foreign or second language when constructing content knowledge in the core subjects. ELLs may participate more fully in the class in an inclusive and nurturing environment. This is commonly called Concurrent Translation and is usually considered to be a kind of Bilingual Model.

This method has been extensively used for many years in the teaching of English conversation in language schools characterized by traditional grammar translation although it has been in steady decline due to mediocre results. The major problem is that ELLs tend to tune out the English when they know that a native language translation will soon follow. Also, teacher translation can be inaccurate and incomplete hindering language learning. Constant translation often results in slow-moving lessons sometimes causing the English speakers to lose focus and become inattentive. Most notably, though, this method would simply be too time-consuming and cumbersome to work in a classroom that includes a mix of ELLs from diverse language backgrounds requiring a multilingual teacher or interpreter.

6. Transitioning

Transitioning is a critical component of all successful models but unfortunately is often not emphasized or constructively implemented. Regardless of whether the ESL student is in a pullout situation and needs to be integrated into the regular class as in the Pullout ESL Method, or is already attending the mainstream class in a Bilingual or Submersion Model, there is a very distinct period of time, often lasting for a number of years, where the ESL student is in a period of transition from relying on his or her mother tongue to make sense of the material presented in the class to understanding the information entirely through the medium of the second language (English). Many programs fail in this because the extent and duration of the transition is not properly addressed. It is vital that ESL students receive enough long-term support to help transition completely into the mainstream English-speaking class, and this requires that the methods take into account the developmental needs of the students as they mature and are confronted with increasingly complex subject matter. Obviously in a bilingual setting mainstreaming into an English-speaking class is not an issue, nevertheless the concept of transitioning is germane to achieving CALP in English in all models including the bilingual class.

Transitioning applies to all areas of second language development where the tendency is to focus on speaking and listening comprehension without providing the necessary on-going support in the language arts of reading and writing. When done too quickly, and if the educators are not vigilant in diagnosing problems or difficulties as they arise, the student does not receive the support needed to successfully transition and many times the blame is placed on the student compounding the problem.

7. Best Practices

Regardless of the method used, some basic factors that play a critical role in the success of most programs have been identified and are commonly accepted to constitute good practice. These factors are almost universally acknowledged as necessary for a language support program to succeed in most any school. These would include the following more obvious ones:
        1. active involvement of ESL parents in their child’s education and a consistent and open line of communication between the parents and classroom teacher(s) and administration;
        2. supportive school administrators committed to the professional development of staff, particularly in ESL;
        3. good vertical and horizontal alignment of the curriculum to facilitate student interaction across grades and to promote collaborative learning serving to provide clear goals and expectations for the ESL student;
        4. qualified staff and administrators trained in the programs and models used by the school with ESL experts who stay abreast of current trends and can provide the leadership to inform and train the staff.
These factors broadly apply to educational institutions with a coherent English language program for ELLs and are not dependant on special situations or circumstances.

Two less obvious factors have also proven to have a positive influence on the success of the various educational programs employed by schools. First, the school should provide an academically challenging environment and have high expectations for the success of the ELLs. This may seem counterintuitive but experience has shown that students perform better and achieve more when they are consistently challenged and encouraged to excel. Secondly, schools are able to achieve a higher rate of success when they remain flexible and can easily adjust and adapt to the changing needs of their students as they fine-tune systems to promote learning. This may seem obvious, but many institutions are encumbered by policies and entrenched practices that cannot be easily altered. Furthermore, teachers and administrators are often prevented by the rules enacted by the school district restricting their ability to adopt new methods or models and change programs that would help them perform in the best ways possible to effectively address the ever changing needs of the students and the community at large.

8. Conclusion

The case for the Developmental Bilingual Model is most compelling for use in English-speaking schools if the following condition is met: the ELLs consist of a single common language group. It will perform best when a school has abundant resources with an expertly trained and experienced staff. The Submersion Model is not recommended for students with little or no English especially when the school is in a non-English-speaking country. The Immersion Model is the most versatile and is recommended for most English-speaking schools. To address the lack of native language maintenance and development, it is recommended that a native language component be added where feasible. The Transitional Bilingual Model, being a kind of hybrid between the Developmental Bilingual Model and the Immersion Model, tends to be inferior to both as it does not fully develop bilingualism nor does it transition as effectively as immersion. Ultimately all schools should be open and flexible to modify models or methods in unorthodox ways to better meet the needs of the ELL and effectively address the demands of their unique circumstances.


Adams, Margaret and Jones, Kellie M. “Unmasking the myths of structured English Immersion: why we still need bilingual educators, native language instruction, and incorporation of home culture.” Radical Teacher Winter 2005. 22 Dec. 2009 < p/articles/mi_m0JVP/ is_75/ai_n16439994/>

“Bilingual Education: Different types of bi- or multilingual education.” University of Michigan. 16 Dec. 2009 < different_types_of_bilingual_education>

“Bilingual Education Vs. English Only.” 2003. 19 Feb. 2010 < 16/ems24.shtml>

“A glossary of English-language learner (ELL) program models.” Jan. 2010 <http://74. 125.153.132/search? q=cache:79D1OBlpKcJ:>

Greenberg, Lowell J. “Language Acquisition, Glossary of Second and Primary Language Acquisition Terms.” 13 Mar. 2010. 19 Jan. 2010 <>  

Hunemorder, Rebecca. “ELL in Elementary Schools.” University of Michigan. 27 Nov. 2005. 19 Feb. 2010 < 356.hunemorder/home>

McKeon, Denise. “Different Types of ESL Programs.” ERIC Digest. Dec. 1987. 19 Jan. 2010 <>

“Migrant and Bilingual Education: Description of Bilingual Education Instructional Models.” Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), State of Washington. 24 Feb. 2010 < instructionalmodels.aspx>

Montague, Nicole S. “Critical Components for Dual Language Programs.” Bilingual Research Journal 21:4. Fall 1997. 15 Dec. 2009 < pdf/ar5.pdf>

Rennie, Jeanne. “ESL and Bilingual Program Models.” Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL). Sep. 1993. 3  Dec. 2009 < rennie01.html>

Rossell, Christine.“Teaching English Through English.” Educational Leadership #9. Dec. 2004/Jan. 2005. 3 Dec. 2009 < Marriott/eesl4340lmTeachingEnglishThroughFall08.pdf>

Saville-Troike, Muriel. Inroducing Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

“Types of Bilingual Programs.” Northern Arizona University. 7 Jan. 2010. 3 Dec. 2009 <http://74. 125.153.132/search?q=cache: ymaocaTkJ3sJ:>

Vandergriff, Jim. “Bilingual Education.” EDUC 201 School & Society. June 2002. 24 Feb. 2010 < 201%20Web%20site/Bilingual%20Education.htm>

“What is Dual Language?” National Dual Language Consortium. 14 Oct. 2009. 19 Jan. 2010 <>


Outline of a 2-4-8 Organizational Structure

I. Additive Program                                I. Subtractive Program

Develops both native language and English language                 Transitions to and develops English language only

A. Developmental Bilingual Model                           A. Submersion Model

ELL is provided with native language and English                     ELL is immediately mainstreamed and "naturally"
  support in or outside the class                                                       absorbs English

 1. Pullout Bilingual Method                                                     1. Simple Submersion Method

ELLs maintain native language separate from the                        ELL is mainstreamed with no English language          
  mainstream class                                                                            assistance

 2. In-Class Bilingual Method                                                     2. Sheltered Submersion Method

Native language and English taught together in the                      ELL is mainstreamed and provided with limited
  mainstream class                                                                            English language assistance

                                                                                  B. Immersion Model

                                                                                                      ELL is provided with special ESL support in or
                                                                                                         outside the mainstream class

                                                                                                      1. Pullout ESL Method

                                                                                                       ELL is provided with English support in ESL class
                                                                                                           prior to mainstreaming

                                                                                                       2. In-Class ESL Method

                                                                                                       ESL-trained teacher teaches English and content in
                                                                                                           the mainstream class

                                                                                   C. Transitional Bilingual Model

                                                                                                        ELLs are transitioned to English-speaking initially
                                                                                                           using their native language

                                                                                                        1. Pullout Transitional Method

                                                                                                        ELL receives bilingual instruction outside the
                                                                                                           mainstream class to assist transitioning to English

                                                                                                        2. In-Class Transitional Method

                                                                                                        Bilingual mainstream teacher translates class content
                                                                                                            into ELL's native language to assist transitioning
                                                                                                            to English

End Note: To prevent exceeding the maximum number of pages allowed in the publication of this paper, the author was not able to include research references and footnotes, barring this from being a proper research paper. Although there exists much research supporting the assertions made in the paper, all of the points raised have been experience first hand by the author who graduated from an international school with bilingual, bicultural children who also attended an international school, and as an ESL teacher and education committee member at an international school charged with establishing ESL policy. References to current "methods" and "models" do not come from any one source and are found as general terms in the public domain.