American Indian English Language Learners: Misunderstood and under-served

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English Language Learners (ELLs) represent the fastest growing segment of pre-K-12 students in the United States. Currently, Montana has the highest percentage of ELLs who are American Indian/Alaska Native. Although there is tremendous linguistic diversity among students, more than 80% of ELLs in the US speak Spanish as their first language. This is not the case in Montana, where 80% of ELLs are American Indians who do not necessarily speak their heritage languages; yet, their academic English skills are inadequate to support content mastery. Students whose first language is an American Indian language and who are learning English as a second language (ESL) are easier to identify as ELLs. Students who do not speak a heritage language but have not acquired academic English proficiency are harder to identify. This unique group of ELLs had their English acquisition framed by parents/grandparents or guardians themselves who were ELLs who did not fully acquire Standard English and currently speak and model a non-standard or non-academically proficient variety of English. Recommendations for how to broaden policy perspectives to facilitate comprehensive educational support for the full range of culturally and linguistically diverse American Indians in all classrooms are highlighted.




Carjuzaa, J. & Ruff, W.G. (2016) American Indian English Language Learners: Misunderstood and Underserved. Cogent Education 3(1), 1229897.
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