We are happy to unveil the Fall 2016 issue of the MinneTESOL Journal.  As always, this issue features scholarship that is interesting and relevant for our growing and diverse readership.  Our featured article is an invited piece from Elaine Tarone, recently retired from the University of Minnesota.  Dr. Tarone is well-known by many of us and has provided a wonderful article based on her 2015 MELEd conference keynote address.  It’s a perfect cornerstone for our 35th anniversary issue, tracing the history of languages and language education in Minnesota.

In addition, we have an assortment of excellent pieces that provide insights on meeting the needs of English learners in multiple settings: K-12, post-secondary, and adult.  Addressing the needs of newcomer students in a North Dakota high school, Bachmeier, Burdick and Shume offer recommendations for ways to support these students in our schools and community. Bull’s article complements this by outlining what teachers can do to support refugee students.  Turning to policy, Morita-Mullaney and Westerlund examine how state ESSA policies in two states – Minnesota and Indiana – will help shape federal policy.

Our contributions focused on post-secondary and adult learners explore multiple ways that instructors can support students.  Recognizing the challenges that writing presents to college learners, Peters and Mayer examine linguistic features of Somali language to better understand effective supports useful for writing tutors and instructors in a community college environment.  Zoss turns her attention to pronunciation instruction for adult English learners, identifying the importance of intelligible pronunciation for communication, employment and self-confidence.

As we move toward the end of 2016, we’d like to take a moment to share new developments with the journal, and to address some of the important events facing our world in the near future.

MinneTESOL Journal News

Open and Engaging Scholarship

  • This year marks the 35th anniversary of the MinneTESOL Journal!  We’ve seen many changes since 1981 in format and style, but through the years we’ve continued to focus on providing relevant, high-quality articles to the scholars, teachers, and teacher-educators who are part of MinneTESOL.  We look forward to what the future will bring.
  • We’ve got a new tagline: Open and Engaging Scholarship.  Thanks to editors and others who helped us capture the essence of our new journal in just a few words.
  • With this issue, we celebrate receiving our ISSN classification from the Library of Congress.  The new ISSN will allow us to apply for listing in databases to better expand the reach of our journal to readers and writers.

A Commitment to Core Values

But 2016 also marks a critical year for our world and our profession.  The nation saw an increase in the number of hate-related incidences following the results of the presidential election, and many of us have worried about the impact on our colleagues and students.  In response, TESOL International released a statement reaffirming the organization’s core values.

We’ve also experienced a post-election increase of hate crimes in Minnesota, and in response, MinneTESOL has issued the following statement:

Reaffirming Our Core Values

MinneTESOL proudly supports TESOL‘s core principles of individual language rights, respect for diversity, multiculturalism, multilingualism, and inclusivity, which are reaffirmed in the statement below.  As a local TESOL affiliate, we pledge to advocate for these principles and stand up for the rights of students and professionals in our field in the state of Minnesota.

Reaffirming Our Core Values: A Message to TESOL Professionals
from TESOL President Dudley Reynolds and Executive Director Rosa Aronson

Fifty years ago, TESOL became a professional association based on the core principles of individual language rights, respect for diversity, multiculturalism, multilingualism, and inclusivity. These values are just as critical today as they were then, and provide a solid anchor against the strong oppositional forces that are sweeping across nations. As we witness the unfolding of these troubling trends, TESOL International Association reaffirms these core principles and proudly welcomes professionals and students from all backgrounds and all creeds: they provide the rich texture of our community. Each year, we are honored to welcome thousands of our members to our worldwide events, as they come together to share their knowledge for their students’ benefits, and to network with their peers. We pledge to live up to our ideals of a global professional community in the face of all challenges.

Marking our 35th anniversary, and looking forward to the next 35 years, we at the journal publicly confirm our commitment to the core principles of individual language rights, respect for diversity, multiculturalism, multilingualism, and inclusivity.  This will be reflected in how and what we publish, and in the work of authors, editors, and any others associated with the MinneTESOL Journal.  In our view, supporting welcoming, safe and quality learning experiences is the foundation of our mission. A simple safety pin has been used as an image for standing up for others, especially those being discriminated against, and we encourage all of our readers to be a beacon of light in their communities.

Thank you

A huge thank you to our incomparable Technical Editor, Jen Vanek.  Thank you to the authors, our many talented reviewers, the support of the MinneTESOL Executive Board, and especially to you, our readers.  This work is only worthwhile if it meets the needs of readers.  So please, engage with this open-access journal by reading, liking, and sharing articles widely through your networks.  Keep up to date with the MinneTESOL Journal by joining our Facebook and Twitter communities.  Stay engaged, stay hopeful, and we wish you all the best for 2017.


A novel high school class called Partnership for New Americans pairs newcomer ELL students with mainstream students resulting in a peer support arrangement that facilitates newcomers’ transitions into American school life and promotes cultural sensitivity among mainstream students.

Adjusting to life in the United States presents a multitude of unique challenges for newcomer adolescents. Entering a new school with its own organizational systems, colloquial language, school culture, daily routines, and usual customs can be one of the hardest challenges these teenagers face. At Davies High School in Fargo, North Dakota, these challenges are addressed through a novel class called Partnership for New Americans where newcomer English Learners (ELs) are paired with mainstream peers who are proficient in English. The resulting peer support arrangement benefits both ELs and mainstream students.  The purpose of this article is to describe this innovative class and to offer some recommendations to other educators interested in pursuing a similar approach to ease the acculturation of newcomers.

Social Inclusion

What began as a conversation between an ESL teacher and a school counselor quickly turned into a starting point for a new class. Teachers, counselors, and school administration were all in agreement that there was a need for a smoother transition for ELs to integrate into the school setting. A social inclusion class that successfully paired special education students with mainstream students was already in place at Davies High School.  Could a parallel class be designed to pair ELL students with mainstream students?

Research literature about peer support arrangements targeting social inclusion of ELs is scant, but Kilman (2009) reports that a number of U.S. schools have launched initiatives to improve EL social inclusion by increasing interactions between ELs and English-proficient peers through classroom activities that foster peer interdependence, school-wide programs, after-school clubs, and cross-cultural school trips. American peer friendships have been found to contribute to a greater sense of school belonging among adolescent refugees (Trickett & Birman, 2005). Further, second language studies examining sociocultural dimensions of language acquisition have pointed to the importance of peers and peer scaffolding (Carhill, Suárez–Orozco, & Páez, 2008; Swain & Lapkin, 1998; Ohta, 2000). For instance, Carhill-Poza (2015) found that linguistic peer support while collaborating on academic tasks contributed to academic English proficiency of adolescent Spanish-speakers beyond individual predictors of second-language acquisition, including time in the United States and maternal education. Classroom-based opportunities for interactions with mainstream peers who are proficient in English have contributed to improved English language skills among ELs (Mehan, Hubbard, Lintz, & Villanueva, 1994) and have resulted in increased American acculturation that has been correlated with higher grades and greater school attachment (Wood & Clay, 1996; Trickett & Birman, 2005).

While few studies have examined the benefits of social interactions between ELs and mainstream peers at school, a separate body of research focused on a different population of students may offer some potentially valuable insights about the use of peer-mediated social interactions in secondary school settings.  Multiple research studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of pairing students with and without disabilities in peer support arrangements aimed at increasing social inclusion of adolescents with disabilities (e.g. Brock, Biggs, Carter, Catey, & Raley, 2016; Carter et al., 2016; Mpofu, 2003; Carter, Sisco, Melekoglu, & Kurkowski, 2007).  Such peer support arrangements benefit not only the students with special needs but also their mainstream peers (Carter, Moss, Hoffman, Chung, & Sisco, 2011; Cushing & Kennedy, 1997). At Davies High School, educators decided to draw on an existing course model designed for social inclusion of special education students to invent a new class named Partnership for New Americans.

From Pilot to Regularly Scheduled Class

The new class was piloted in 2014-15 as an overload added to the regular teaching schedule of one of the authors. Observational and anecdotal data collected during the pilot were shared with school board members, as well as the school district’s superintendent and assistant superintendents, who were all invited to visit the classroom and observe instruction. After the first year, it became apparent that this class provided many compelling benefits not only for ELL students, but also for the mainstream population.  Partnership for New Americans was then picked up as a regularly scheduled class and will continue to be offered in the years ahead. In 2016-17, the class is starting its third year of implementation at Davies High School and is expanding to another high school within the district of Fargo Public Schools.

Course Design

WIDA’s English Language Proficiency (ELP) Standards reflect the social and academic language needed and used by ELs for success at school; each of the five ELP standards targets a different language acquisition context: social and instructional settings, language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies (WIDA, 2007). The curriculum of Partnership for New Americans focuses on the development of social and instructional language and thus course design is based on WIDA’s corresponding ELP standard. Further, example topics offered in WIDA’s resource guide for ELP standards (WIDA, 2007) have been instrumental in curricular decisions pertaining topic selection. Table 1 provides an outline of course topics and associated assessment products generated through learning activities.

One of the first topics that is addressed in the course is the “Places and Faces” of Davies High School. Student pairs are sent out into the school building with a list of critical places and faces to locate and identify. With the guidance of their mainstream partners, students learn the names and locations of various places in the school building such as the cafeteria, library, and auditorium. Students also learn the names and faces of the critical staff members within the building such as the school nurse, principals, and attendance personnel. This topic addresses components of school life, use of register, identifying resources, and social interaction.

Overall, Partnership for New Americans provides an introduction to school life in the United States and fosters cultural sensitivity. The course is scheduled in tandem with a special education social inclusion course so that mainstream students are paired with newcomer ELL peers for one quarter and special education peers for the other. All activities are completed as a partnership between the newcomer EL students and their English-proficient partners. While the teacher designs and initially teaches the activities, the student partners are responsible for carrying out the activities and providing feedback to their peers and to the teacher.

Table 1. Course Outline for Partnership for New Americans

Quarter Topics Products and Assessments
1 Locker combinations, binder organization and Daily Planner, weekly calendars, appropriate use policy, school locations and staff names, Labor Day, classroom objects, common classroom commands and questions, likes and dislikes, oral presentation skills, Halloween.
  • School places and staff name assessment
  • Classroom Objects and Commands Digital Presentation
  • Likes and Dislikes Digital and Oral Presentation
2 Communication Topics: giving directions, talking on the phone, shopping, banking, traveling, composing a postcard, and giving and taking surveys. Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, Winter Vocabulary, and preparing for final exams.
  • Active participation in social communication activities
  • Winter Vocabulary Digital Presentation
  • Composition of a postcard
  • Create and give a survey
3 Study Skills and Strategies for Success at School: identifying strengths, goal setting, time and stress management, learning styles, note taking, and test taking.  Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day.
  • Motivational Quote Poster
  • Learning Styles Poster and Symposium Presentation
  • Produce notes in T-chart and Cornell Style
  • Create a test with multiple question formats
4 Career planning and research, job applications, workplace vocabulary, home country research, identifying social and cultural traditions and values, Spring Vocabulary, Easter, April Fool’s Day.
  • Career Research Digital and Oral Presentation
  • Job Application
  • Spring Vocabulary Digital Presentation
  • Home Country E-Book
  • Home Country Oral Presentation
  • Home Country Infographic Poster

Widespread Benefits

The benefits from the course are felt by newcomer ELs, mainstream students, teachers, and the school as a whole. Newcomer ELs acclimate more quickly into the school system, their ability to advocate for their needs increases, and they discover American culture through new friendships that otherwise may not have had the chance to form. Mainstream students are exposed to people from new cultures, learn empathy towards the challenges faced by new Americans, and enhance their own language and mentoring skills. ESL teachers who have taught this course found that they were able to cover more material per class period and observed faster and deeper language development. As the building actively sought to improve school climate, it was found that this course had a positive impact in terms of developing interpersonal relationships, increasing cultural sensitivity, and creating awareness of the unique needs of newcomer ELs.

Recommendations for Success

Four key insights gained through the experience of designing, developing, and implementing Partnership for New Americans are discussed below. Recommendations are offered with regards to managing social dynamics, coordinating the teacher and student roles, addressing scheduling matters, and advocating for the inception of the course.  Further, links to some useful instructional planning resources are provided.

Team Building

One of the most critical factors influencing the degree of success for the Partnership for New Americans course is the social dynamics within each paired team. A respectful, supportive, and safe relationship is essential for partners to learn from each other. Rather than randomly assigning pairs on the first day of the course, waiting a few days to get to know students first can yield long-term benefits. Icebreaker games and other team building activities that put students at ease during the early days of the course can also reveal helpful insights into student backgrounds, personalities, learning preferences, and other traits useful for the teacher to consider when pairing students.  

Paying particular attention to students’ personality types such as introversion and extroversion can be especially important. For example, a highly outgoing student could inadvertently enable a very shy partner to withdraw from participation, resulting in a poor match. Monitoring the compatibility between partners can permit the teacher to help smooth out friction before conflict arises, or to intercede if changing a match becomes necessary. While team building activities are particularly valuable in the beginning, they are an important asset worth incorporating regularly throughout the duration of the course.

The Teacher’s Role

A key feature of the Partnership for New Americans course is its student-centered, interactive, participatory character. Course outcomes are achieved primarily through student engagement in learning activities orchestrated and facilitated by the teacher. Direct instruction by the teacher does not play a significant role in the course design. While the course construction is centered on WIDA’s social and instruction standard, the day-to-day planning must remain fluid and flexible in order to differentiate for pairs’ learning needs and interests, accommodate inevitable class roster changes, and capitalize on school events and procedures as opportunities arise (e.g. locker combinations, school ID photos).

The essence of the teacher’s role is to plan, prepare, and introduce daily class activities, then to step back and support partnership teams as they engage in peer learning. Planning and preparing student-centered learning activities that provide meaningful contexts for social and instructional language development, however, can be a time-consuming challenge. It can be helpful to note that instructional resources developed for teaching English-as-a-foreign language (EFL) often target community-based social language (e.g. conversations at a store or post office) and thus are frequently suitable for use with minor adjustments.  Also, collaboration with school media specialists can yield access to appropriately leveled reading materials to support student research on home countries and other projects. Table 2 provides links to some particularly convenient and teacher-friendly instructional resources.

Table 2. Useful Instructional Resources

Website Connection to Partnership for New Americans
Overcoming Obstacles: Life Skills Education Academic study skills
Lanternfish ESL by Boggle’s World Social language for daily living
Fun with Grammar Social language development through games and activities

Scheduling and Enrollment Considerations

When scheduling a course like Partnership for New Americans, there are a number of scheduling factors worthy of careful consideration. First, this course can be implemented in conjunction with a special education inclusion course so that mainstream students are partnered with ELL students for one quarter and special education student for the other. Alternately, Partnership for New Americans can be scheduled as a stand-alone, semester-long course. Second, scheduling the course over the lunch run opens the door to a variety of learning opportunities in the authentic context of the lunch area.

Student enrollment variables may also function as parameters that impact the way a course such as this one is added to the school schedule. If feasible student numbers can still be attained, it may be advisable to consider restricting the course to mainstream students who are juniors or seniors because such students tend to be more mature and better equipped to function as peer mentors. Also, when the enrollment numbers of mainstream students and ELL students do not match, some partner teams can be set up on a 2:1 ratio instead of a 1:1 pairing.

Advocating for Course Inception

The Partnership for New Americans course would not have been possible without strong administrative support. In order to increase awareness about the value of the course, it is helpful to invite a wide variety of visitors to drop in and see the class firsthand. Additionally, formal invitations to special events, such as a quarterly cultural foods day, can bolster interest and provide a specific target date for visits. School and district administrators, counselors, other teachers, and even the local news media (e.g. Fargo Forum article by Helmut Schmidt, 2014) can become valuable partners to advocate for the course. When potential allies visit or opportunities to communicate with them in other contexts arise (e.g. school board meetings, school announcements, highlights featured on district website), it can be beneficial to share specific examples of academic growth and relate brief stories that demonstrate social benefits such as the formation of lasting friendships or increased participation in school activities.

An Exciting Path Forward

The enrollment numbers for Partnership for New Americans are increasing at Davies High School and beginning in the fall of 2016, another Fargo high school is implementing a semester-long version of the class that is not coupled with a quarterly special education inclusion course. Troy Cody, Davies High School Principal, aptly sums up the value of Partnership for New Americans by stating (T. Cody, personal communication, July 25, 2016), “We find that through this course, that not only do the new Americans transition in a more positive way into our school, our new Americans teach those general ed students a lot about cultural diversity in that class and in our building as well. It is a win‐win situation for all!”


Brock, M. E., Biggs, E. E., Carter, E.
W., Catey, G., & Raley, K. (2016). Implementation and generalization of peer support arrangements for students with significant disabilities in inclusive classrooms. The Journal of Special Education, 49(4), 221-232. doi:10.1177/0022466915594368

Carhill, A., Suárez–Orozco, C. & Páez, M. (2008). Explaining English language proficiency among adolescent immigrant students. American Educational Research Journal, 45(4), 1155–1179. doi:10.3102/0002831208321443

Carhill-Poza, A. (2015). Opportunities and outcomes: The role of peers in developing the oral academic English proficiency of adolescent English learners. The Modern Language Journal, 99(4), 678-696. doi: 10.1111/modl.12271 0026-7902

Carter, E. W., Asmus, J., Moss, C. K., 
Biggs, E. E., Bolt. D. M., Born, T. L., Brock, M. E., … Weir, K. (2016). Randomized evaluation of peer support arrangements to support the inclusion of high school students with severe disabilities. Exceptional Children, 82(2), 209–233. doi:10.1177/0014402915598780  

Carter, E. W., Moss, C. K., Hoffman, A., Chung, Y. C., & Sisco, L. (2011). Efficacy and social validity of peer support arrangements for adolescents with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 78(1), 107-125. doi:10.1177/001440291107800107

Carter, E. W., Sisco, L. G., Melekoglu,
M. A., & Kurkowski, C. (2007). Peer supports as an alternative to individually assigned paraprofessionals in inclusive high school classrooms. Research
and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 32(4), 213-227. doi:10.2511/rpsd.32.4.213

Cushing, L. S., & Kennedy, C. H. (1997). Academic effects of providing peer support in classrooms on students without disabilities. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 30(1), 139- 151. doi: 10.1901/jaba

Kilman, C. (2009). Lonely language learners? Teaching Tolerance, 35, 2009.

Mehan, H., Hubbard, L., Lintz, A., & Villanueva, I. (1994). Tracking untracking: The consequences of placing low track students in high track classes [Research Report No. 10]. Santa Cruz, CA: Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence.

Mpofu, E. (2003). Enhancing social acceptance of early adolescents with physical disabilities: Effects of role salience, peer interaction, and academic support interventions. International Journal of Disability, Development, and Education, 50(4), 435-454. doi:10.1080/1034912032000155202

Ohta, A. (2000). Rethinking interaction in SLA: Developmentally appropriate assistance in the zone of proximal development and the acquisition and L2 grammar. In J. Lantolf (Ed.), Sociocultural theory and second language learning (pp. 51–78). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schmidt, H. (2014, December 24). Social inclusion classes at Fargo Davies create connections for ELL, s
pecial ed students.
Fargo Forum. Retrieved from http://www.inforum.com/

Swain, M., & Lapkin, S. (1998). Interaction and second language learning: Two adolescent French immersion students working together. The Modern Language Journal, 82(3), 320–337. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4781

WIDA. (2007). English language proficiency standards: Grade 6 through grade 12. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Center for Education Research.

Wood, P.B., & Clay, W.C. (1996). Perceived structural barriers and academic performance among American Indian high school students. Youth & Society, 28(1), 40–61. doi:10.1177/0044118X96028001002



This brief illustrated review of 200+ years of Minnesota languages and language teaching reminds us to champion multilingualism and to hold true to our history while we influence our future. The article is based on Elaine Tarone’s plenary address at the first Minnesota English Learner Education (MELEd) Conference, Nov. 15, 2014.

In 1979 when I first moved to Minnesota to teach in the M.A. ESL program at the University of Minnesota, I had the mistaken impression that this was a fairly monolingual and monocultural place – certainly much more so than Seattle, where I had been living. My impression was reinforced by cartoons by Richard Guindon published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1979 for newcomers to Minnesota. Those cartoons made it clear, for example, that an ethnic restaurant was a place with spaghetti; a “mixed marriage” was when Norwegian and Swedish Lutherans got married; and an “ethnic” was someone with brown hair and brown eyes. I might have been forgiven for thinking that everyone in Minnesota except the international students at the university was a monolingual English speaker … and always had been.  But I would have been wrong.  Here is what I’ve learned since about multilingualism and English learner education in Minnesota.

Minnesota Languages until the Louisiana Purchase

It turns out that lots of indigenous languages were spoken in Minnesota for thousands of years. By 1500 most of the Native Americans living in what is now Minnesota spoke Dakota.  

Black Foot, Standing Bear, Big Eagle, Sioux picture
Black Foot, Standing Bear, Big Eagle, Sioux, Creative Commons by F.A. Rinehart, 1898

But in 1500 the Anishinaabe (also Ojibwe, or Chippewa) people migrated from the east and flooded into the north part of what is now Minnesota; there was conflict and the Dakota people moved to the south. Large areas including what is now the West Side of St. Paul were reserved for Dakota people until the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux in 1851.  Imagine: West St Paul was Dakota-speaking until 1851!

The 1600s also saw the introduction of a European language. French voyageurs were pursuing the fur trade, and the French, Ojibwe and Dakota languages came into contact with one another.

French Voyageur, Crane Lake, Minnesota

In 1680 French explorers, including Father (Père) Hennepin, were taken by an Ojibwe group to the only natural waterfall on the Mississippi River, a place the Ojibwe called owahmena.  The French decided to call the falls Chutes de San Antoine; the name later became St Anthony Falls.  The place names of Minnesota still reflect the linguistic history of the state: French names include Hennepin Street, the St. Croix River, Lac qui Parle County, Duluth, and my favorite, the redundant Mille Lacs Lake (“One thousand lakes lake”). Dakota names are Waconia, Winona, Wabasha, Kandiyohi, Mankato (a misspelling of Mahkota “blue earth”), Shakopee and of course, the very name of our state, Minnesota (from Mni Sota).   Ojibwe place names include Anoka, Bemidji, Chisago, Mahnomen and Wayzata.

Grand Portage Trail by Doug Kaye on Flickr

In 1731 a French speaker, Pierre de Verendrye, was the first European to traverse the nine-mile “great carrying place” in the northern part of what is now Minnesota; other French speaking voyageurs followed him on this passage, calling it the Grand Portage trail.  But in 1763 after the French and Indian War, the British took over the trail as a fur-trading route. By 1783, the English-speaking British Northwest Company was well established on the Grand Portage Trail (although the French voyageurs continued to work with them) (Lass, 1998: 64-65, 72-73).

English Speakers Settle in Minnesota

After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, English-speaking people from the Eastern part of the U.S. moved in to settle the new territory.

Louisiana Purchase picture
Louisiana Purchase by Natural Earth and Portland State University,

As Prof Harold B. Allen’s linguistic geography of the Upper Midwest would later show, settlers tended to move and settle directly west from their original East Coast homes, so that dialect maps looked like roughly horizontal strips across the map. Minnesotan English tends to reflect New England dialects while Iowan English reflects the English dialect originating a bit more to the south in Pennsylvania. Colin Woodard’s book American Nations states that these settlers brought differing cultural values along with their dialects. Woodard says the New Englanders who settled Minnesota valued public education, public libraries, higher education, democracy, and the common good, but also had a deep intolerance of anyone who did not share those values. Those who settled in Iowa were more pragmatic.

In 1819 Fort Snelling was founded by the U.S. federal government, which was worried about British expansion and wanted to extend U.S. jurisdiction. The English-speaking fort was built on a high spot at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers (a place called Bdote by the Dakota) that had been acquired in 1805 by Zebulon Pike by treaty with the Dakota (Lass, 1998: 82-85).  Fort Snelling in theory guarded land west of the Mississippi against settlement, but subsequent treaties in 1837 with the Dakota and the Ojibwe did permit settlers east of the Mississippi River (Keillor, 2008: 13).  Multilingual squatters – French-, English-, and Dakota-speaking — set up residence all around the fort.  Near Fort Snelling, mission schools were established to educate American Indian children who lived in local villages with their families. In 1834, Samuel and Gideon Pond established a mission school for Dakota children who lived with their families in a village located at Lake Calhoun (a lake which they knew by its Dakota name: Bde Maka Ska). The Ponds themselves learned Dakota and devised an alphabet to translate the Bible into Dakota (Clemmons, 2000), but we do not know how much Dakota was spoken in their school.

Fort Snelling picture
Fort Snelling by Seth Eastman (1808-1875)

In 1837, an English speaking Canadian named Peter Garrioch, aged 26, found himself stranded in Minnesota, having missed the last boat down the Mississippi before it iced over for the winter.  At the suggestion of Martin McLeod, a trader with the American Fur Co., he agreed to teach in Minnesota’s first public school at Camp Coldwater, which was located northwest of Ft. Snelling, around the present location of the V.A. Hospital.  McLeod gave him a contract for 6 months for $50, room and board. This first public school class was very diverse; it consisted of children of English, French, Swiss, Swede, Cree, Ojibwe, Dakota, and African extraction – an early documented case of a multilingual classroom. Garrioch’s attitudes toward young children were negative, and he did not linger in Minnesota after his contract expired and the ice melted (Gunn, 1939).

Settling Saint Paul

In 1838 Pierre “Old Pig’s Eye” Parrant, a sketchy 60-year old one-eyed French-speaking fur trader and bootlegger, staked a claim for a tract of land at Fountain Cave on the east side of the Mississippi River, near the current site of downtown St Paul.

Pierre Parrant, Pig's Eye picture
Pierre Parrant, Pig’s Eye

The spring inside the cave was a great source of water for his whiskey still, so he opened a bar there for Ft Snelling soldiers, French Canadians and Dakota alike; the bar and the surrounding community were called “L’Oeil de Cochon” (Pig’s Eye) (Lass 1998: 99).  Two years later, in 1840, a 29 year old French-speaking priest, Father Lucian Galtier, built a log church in the area and named it St. Paul (Lass 1998: 100).  For several years it wasn’t clear whether the growing town would be called Pig’s Eye or St. Paul. More French speakers settled nearby, along with indigenous people and metis (mixed French/native people). West St Paul was Dakota-speaking; the predominant languages in this little town were French and Dakota.

By the 1840’s the town was increasingly called St. Paul, as it became a more linguistically and culturally diverse river city of immigrants.  St. Paul’s Catholic parish held three services in one building: one in French, one in German, and one in English.   Swedes settled in “Svenska Dalen,” or Swede Hollow. Lower St Paul was called “Old French Town,” with French Canadian, African American, and Dakota inhabitants.

In 1847 Harriet Bishop, a 30 year old English-speaker from Vermont, a suffragist and temperance advocate with the New Englander’s penchant for intolerance, defied her parents’ advice and traveled west by herself to find adventure. She opened a school in St. Paul, keeping a journal recording her low opinion of the conditions in which she taught. Her first year she described her school as “a mud-walled log hovel covered with bark and chinked with mud” at St. Peter Street and Kellogg Boulevard; her classroom was very dark inside, with small paned windows, and rough planks forming benches for the children, and one chair for the teacher. During her first year in the “hovel,” Harriet taught 7 children, 2 European and the rest meti or Dakota. She spoke only English; her children spoke French and Dakota. Fortunately one meti girl was trilingual in French, Dakota and English, so this girl was tapped to act as a translator. According to Bishop, Dakota women and sometimes men would slip in the door and sit and listen to the lessons, presumably as translated by the young girl.

It was in fact a rough environment for a school. Bishop recorded that the first winter, temperatures dipped below zero, and that on one occasion 50 Dakota men just back from an armed skirmish with Ojibwe to the north stood outside shooting their guns in the air, terrifying the children. However, within two years, by 1849, Bishop was holding class for 40 children in a frame building at the bottom of Jackson St with the help of another woman teacher from the East (Morton, 1947).  They were obviously teaching academic content through English to English learners, though of course they, like the Pond brothers and Mr. Garrioch before them, were not trained ESL teachers.

Statehood and Education

In 1849, Minnesota became a U.S. territory; in that year, Martin McLeod, the fur trader who’d paid Garrioch to teach, authored legislation setting up a fund to provide free education to all children in the Minnesota Territory, regardless of race. However, in 1858, nine years later, when the Minnesota Territory became a State, that progressive New England style legislation was to be replaced by a system in which American Indian and African American children began to be educated separately — a sad outcome of Minnesota’s admission to the U.S. as a state (Clemmons 2000).  

Before that, in 1851, while Minnesota was still a U.S. territory, the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux and other treaties made the Dakota cede large swaths of land to white settlers (see map below).  

Map of Treaty of Traverse des Sioux
Treaty of Traverse des Sioux by CJLippert at English Wikipedia

As a result, just two years after McLeod’s progressive legislation, Dakota settlements were no longer allowed in St. Paul; Dakota people would now be restricted to the banks of the Minnesota River and out-state reservations that would turn out to provide too few resources to support them. In 1855, a small Hochunk (Winnebago) reservation was placed in Long Prairie as a buffer between the Ojibwe to the north and the Dakota to the south. The Arrowhead region of northern Minnesota, where there were Ojibwe settlements, provided more stable sustenance for hunters and gatherers, but, with their territory restricted, the Dakota became dependent on U.S. government food supplies, which were delivered only sporadically.  Now that the Dakota people were relocated, speakers of European languages began to move in to the west side of St. Paul, St. Anthony, and Minneapolis. Towns and villages were established across Minnesota, conducting business in a variety of European languages.

First white settlers New Ulm, MN Historical Society

In 1854 New Ulm was founded by the German-speaking settlers shown to the left, and soon after, Scandia became a town of Swedish-speakers. In 1854 New Englander John H. Stevens got special  permission from Fort Snelling to build a house west of the Mississippi River because his new ferry docked there. Then other English speakers moved in near him, and soon a town was incorporated west of the Mississippi. The settlers somewhat romantically gave their town a hybrid name composed of Dakota ‘Minne’ (water) and Greek ‘apolis’ (city). The original settlers were from English-speaking New England, New York, and Canada. Later immigrants moved there from Scandinavia, Germany, and Southern and Eastern Europe, speaking languages other than English and settling mostly in what is now Northeast Minneapolis. Italians lived in “Bohemian flats” close to the riverbank.

Higher Education in Minnesota

Methodist Founders of Hamline University Picture
Methodist Founders of Hamline University. Courtesy of Hamline University

Also in 1854, a group of English-speaking Methodists founded Hamline University in Red Wing, located to the south and just 100 miles east of German-speaking New Ulm. Women students would be expected to learn French and German while male students learned Greek and Latin. The Methodist founders (shown above) seemed a more relaxed group than those who founded the University of Minnesota six years later (shown below).

University of Minnesota’s First Board of Regents, 1861 Creative Commons picture
University of Minnesota’s First Board of Regents, 1861

In 1861, after Minnesota had become a state, the University of Minnesota was officially founded as an English-speaking university* with the help of John Sargent Pillsbury, an entrepreneurial New Englander.  Over the next few decades, other English-speaking colleges and universities were founded; in order, they were: Carleton College (1866), Augsburg College (1872), Macalester College (1874).   St Olaf College, founded in 1875, was the only bilingual institution of higher education, offering classes in either Norwegian or English. All the others were English medium, including “normal schools” that later became state teachers’ colleges: Winona (1858), Mankato (1868), and St Cloud (1869).  The beginning of the 20th century saw the founding in St. Paul of the two Catholic colleges of St Thomas (1903) and St Catherine (1905).  With the one exception of St Olaf, higher education in Minnesota was English-medium – befitting the state’s deep New England roots and values.

Driving the Dakota from Minnesota

By 1862, after numerous federal government treaty violations and defaults on payments for food, large numbers of Dakota families were starving. In 1862, a small group of frustrated young Dakota-speaking militants attacked Ridgely and New Ulm, triggering a brief war that took the lives of between 450 and 800 white settlers and some 21 Dakota (Carley, 1976:1; Wingerd, 2010:306-307). Atrocities were committed on both sides before Sibley’s troops quelled the uprising.  In the end, 303 Dakota men were convicted and condemned to death after speedy token trials conducted in English with the aid of interpreters. Minnesota Episcopal Bishop Whipple appealed to President Lincoln who commuted most of their sentences, but on the day after Christmas, Dec. 26, 1862, 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato, in what was then, and still remains, the largest mass execution in U.S. history (Lass, 1998: 130-133; Wingerd, 2010: 313-327).  

xecution of Dakota, Dec. 26, 1862 picture
Execution of Dakota, Dec. 26, 1862

Following the execution, 1600 Dakota women, children, and elders spent the cold winter of 1862 in a crowded internment camp on the river flats below Fort Snelling; more than 200 died. In the spring of 1863, Gov. Ramsey ordered all Dakota people to be “exterminated or driven forever” from Minnesota, and a federal law made it illegal for Dakota people to live in Minnesota. Most of the exiles went to South Dakota and Nebraska (Wingard 2010: 331-332). It was not until May 2013 that Governor Dayton repudiated Ramsey’s remarks, and flew Minnesota flags at half-staff in a day of reconciliation (Brown 2013).

After the Dakota War

After the Dakota War and over the next 20 years, immigrants from many nations in Europe, speaking many different languages, continued to pour into Minnesota land that was now emptied of its Dakota inhabitants. Most new immigrants were unskilled, illiterate workers from southern and eastern Europe & Russia (Kunz 1991), but many literate immigrants found ways to stay in touch with each other through native language newspapers. The Svenska Amerikanska Posten (Swedish American Post) for example began publication in 1885 and continued until 1940.  It was founded not only to provide news from back home but also information on the ways of American culture and politics; it even supported the learning of English (Anderson, 2014) because English had become the common language of schooling and government, and immigrants now had to learn English to live in Minnesota.

1887 saw the passage of the federal Dawes Act, which opened reservation lands to homesteaders and promoted the assimilation of American Indians across the nation. A key part of that assimilation was linguistic.  Beginning in 1887, federal Indian boarding schools were established for indigenous language speakers in every state, including Minnesota. Children were given European names and forbidden to speak their languages.  The teaching approach was simple and brutal: children were separated from their families and punished when they spoke anything but English. There were several Indian boarding schools in Minnesota, including the one pictured below in Pipestone.

Pipestone Indian School picture
Pipestone Indian School by MN Historical Society

Jim Northrup was an Ojibwe child at Pipestone Indian School before it was finally closed in 1953 (surprisingly recently). Northrup wrote this poem about his experiences:

“Ditched,” by Jim Northrup (1933)
A first grader, a federal boarding school.  Pipestone.
Said Aaniin to the first grown up, got an icy blue eyed stare in return
Got a beating from a second grader, for crying about the stare.
Couldn’t tell maw or dad, both were 300 miles away
Couldn’t write, didn’t know how. Couldn’t mail, didn’t know how.
Runaway, got caught. Got an icy blue eyed stare and a beating.
Got another beating from a second grader for crying about the blue eyed beating
Institutionalized…..Toughed it out …. Survived

Needless to say, the outcome of this teaching approach – survival – is hardly a worthy goal in English learner education. One of the common narratives of the boarding school experience by those who went through it was that they were not allowed to use their native languages; this resulted in growing native language loss, creating linguistic divides between families and a newfound disconnect between boarding school survivors and their families.

During this time, English use spread through virtually all schools and communities in Minnesota. During the last decade of the 1800’s, most St. Paul churches that had been holding services in languages other than English (e.g. German, French, Swedish, Polish) switched to English.   By the turn of the century, most schools were teaching English to immigrant families.

Hay Lake School, Scandia 1896 picture
Hay Lake School, Scandia 1896 Shared by Washington County [MN] Historical Society. www.wchsmn.org.
For example, at the Hay Lake School in Swedish-speaking community of Scandia (shown to the right), it was reported that the teacher had children take books home so their parents could learn English too.

Into the Twentieth Century

In 1897, Neighborhood House was founded in St. Paul by Eastern European Jews to be a community support resource for social services to immigrants. The organization provided services such as English language, sewing and cooking classes (presumably taught in English), and employment referrals (Kunz 1991). The Jewish, French, German, Irish, and Swedish speaking immigrants in Neighborhood House would later be replaced by speakers of Czech, Slovak, Italian, Polish, Spanish and Hmong.  

University of Minnesota Soccer Team, 1914 China Center, University of Minnesota picture
University of Minnesota Soccer Team, 1914. University of Minnesota Archives Gopher Yearbook Collection

As the 20th century advanced, more and more “foreign students” were admitted to Minnesota’s English-medium universities. In 1914 the first three students from China were admitted to the University of Minnesota;  they turned out to be stars on the soccer team, shown in the photo to the left. Many Chinese foreign students came to the University until 1949, the year the Peoples’ Republic of China was established and most international travel between the U.S. and China stopped. Foreign students from other countries took their places, with increasing numbers entering all Minnesota’s colleges and universities.

World War I brought a period of anti-German xenophobia among English speakers around the globe, including those in Minnesota. The St. Paul schools stopped teaching German, for instance, and the German Rathskellar (beer hall) in the basement of the Minnesota State Capitol, with its decorative walls featuring sayings in German, was closed.  But after WWI, immigration to the U.S. resumed.  For example, Spanish-speaking immigrants formed a Hispanic community in West St. Paul, which had its own community institutions such as Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. In subsequent years,  Spanish speakers continued to flock to Minnesota, finding work and new homes throughout south and southwest Minnesota (Lass, 1998).

Post World War II

After World War II, the US invested in its infrastructure, and provided subsidies for higher education. The Fulbright Educational Exchange Program was established in 1945, when Senator J. William Fulbright introduced a bill in the United States Congress that called for the use of surplus war property to fund the “promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.”  Colleges and universities began seriously recruiting foreign students as part of the effort to rebuild internationally.  In 1950 Macalester College’s president started flying the UN flag right under the US flag, and many future world leaders attended that school.  For example, in 1961, Kofi Annan, future Secretary General of the United Nations, graduated from Macalester. Such foreign students, already highly educated in their own countries, now needed to learn English at very high levels, and required highly professional instruction in what came to be known as English as a second language (ESL).  The U.S. government and colleges invested many resources to develop high quality ESL instruction in higher education to support them.  

By 1948, 25,000 foreign students were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities, and over the next decades their numbers expanded. During the same period, increasing numbers of immigrants came to the U.S. In 1965 the Immigration and Nationality Act opened the door to immigrants from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Southern and Eastern Europe who were also English language learners.

Prof. Harold B. Allen, 1965, University of Minnesota. First TESOL President. University of Minnesota Archives Photograph Files
Prof. Harold B. Allen, 1965, University of Minnesota. First TESOL President. University of Minnesota Archives Photograph Files

In 1948, to meet the needs of increasing numbers of foreign students in American higher education, the National Association of Foreign
Student Advisors (NAFSA) was founded.  NAFSA included a group of “English language specialists.” In 1964 they met in Minneapolis, where the ESL group within NAFSA began discussing whether to separate and form their own organization. Later that year this group held a separate conference in Arizona that 700 people attended, far more than expected.

The next year, in 1965, Harold B. Allen, a University of Minnesota linguistics professor and expert on American regional dialects, announced the results of a national survey of ESL teachers who supported the idea of a separate professional association. In 1966 a constitution for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) was approved, and Harold B. Allen was elected the first president of TESOL.

Prof. Betty Wallace Robinett, 1971, University of Minnesota. University of Minnesota Archives Photograph Files
Prof. Betty Wallace Robinett, 1971, University of Minnesota. University of Minnesota Archives Photograph Files

In 1968, Betty Wallace Robinett became a professor in the University of Minnesota Linguistics Department and director of both the M.A. program in English as a Second Language and the Minnesota English Center (MEC), an intensive English program for international students.  She instilled very high standards in the TESL professionals she educated; for example, the 2-year curriculum for the M.A. program required a full semester of linguistics, another of phonetics, a full year of English grammar, an English literature course, and 2 years of foreign language study, as well as three final qualifying papers (Plan B papers).

As TESOL President in 1973-74, and also the first editor of the TESOL Quarterly, Prof. Robinett was a professional role model for her graduate students. In 1974, a group of them traveled to Denver to attend the national TESOL conference. Inspired, they returned to Minnesota determined to establish a TESOL affiliate in Minnesota. In October, 1976, Kathleen Jacobson, Joyce Biagini, Deirdre Kramer, Wendy Weimer, JulieAnn Kvalbein and others called for the first Minnesota TESOL Affiliate organizing meeting, where MinneTESOL was created (Hansen 2014).  During its first four years, 1976-1980, MinneTESOL met at Macalester College, with Kathleen Jacobson as its first president.  In 1981, the MinneTESOL Journal was established, with Mark Landa as its editor at the University of Minnesota. Alumni of the University of Minnesota’s M.A. ESL program taught in colleges and universities across the state, establishing new programs to teach ESL to increasing numbers of recruited “foreign students” – by now, apparently the largest group of English learners in the state, all obviously highly educated and literate in their native languages.

The Peoples’ Republic of China reopened in 1974 and began encouraging academic visitors and tourism. In 1979 Prof. Robinett was part of a University of Minnesota delegation that traveled to China, where she was greeted (in English!) by many enthusiastic alumni with fond memories of Minnesota. On her return, Robinett became Associate Vice President of the University, and Elaine Tarone was hired to begin in Fall 1979 as Assistant Professor and director of ESL programs at the University of Minnesota.

University of Minnesota Delegation to China, 1979. University of Minnesota China Center
University of Minnesota Delegation to China, 1979. University of Minnesota China Center


Minnesota English Learners in the 1970s and beyond

The profile of the typical English learner in Minnesota began to change through the second half of the 1970’s. Beginning in 1975, after the end of Vietnam War, speakers of Vietnamese, Lao, and Hmong began moving to the Twin Cities.

Hmong Story Cloth picture
Hmong Story Cloth by Elaine Tarone

The largest group, Hmong speakers, settled primarily in St. Paul, where they are still the largest Hmong-American community in the U.S.  Many of these immigrants were not literate in any language – a new issue for ESL teachers in the area, and one that TESL professionals were ill-equipped to handle.  It was fortunate that the Minnesota Literacy Council, founded in 1971 to teach illiterate native speakers of English, was able to expand in response, and began to  train and organize volunteers to teach English to Hmong-speaking immigrants with limited formal schooling and literacy.

In 1982, Minnesota’s state department of education began requiring K-12 ESL licensure for public school teachers to meet the needs of growing numbers of immigrant English learners, and in that same year, the University of Minnesota opened its ESL licensure program. In 1984 Hamline University’s ESL licensure program began, and in 1985, the University of Minnesota started a dual licensure program (for ESL and foreign language public school teachers).  Immigration continued to diversify Minnesota’s public schools, and beginning in 1990, Somali immigrants displaced by civil war were added to the mix, most settling in the Cedar-Riverside area of Minneapolis, directly adjacent to the University. Many of these Somali immigrants were illiterate, just as the earlier wave of Hmong immigrants had been (Bigelow 2010). By 2002, Minnesota had the largest Somali community in the U.S. and today is home to an estimated 25,000 Somali-Americans, or a third of all those in the U.S.

English Language Teacher Education into the 21st Century

Many TESOL and foreign language teacher education programs were founded in the 1990’s.  In 1991 Hamline University started its TEFL Certificate Program; in 1993, CARLA was founded as a US Department of Education Title VI Language Resource Center to promote foreign language learning and teaching. CARLA focused especially on in-service professional development for teachers of all languages, whether world language or English as a second language, and hosted annual summer institutes and a biennial International Language Teacher Education Conference that brought nationally prominent teacher educators to the area.  Other colleges and universities also founded TESOL teacher education programs in the ‘90’s, including St. Cloud State and Mankato State University.

Beginning about 2004, Twin Cities’ college and university deans and vice presidents instituted massive reorganizations of TESOL and ESL programs in an effort to cut costs as legislative allocations for higher education waned. For example, in 2004 Hamline University’s TESL program structure was reorganized, and the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts Dean Steven Rosenstone closed the Minnesota English Center, citing financial constraints. Two years later, because the University of
Minnesota couldn’t successfully recruit international students without an intensive English program, a new one, the Minnesota English Language Program (MELP), (re)opened within the University’s College of Continuing Education. In 2005, the University of Minnesota closed General College, which included the Commanding English Program for immigrant English learners on campus.  In 2009 the MinneTESOL resource center at Hamline closed. In 2011 the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts Dean’s office again took action, closing the M.A. ESL program. Like the intensive English program earlier, the graduate program re-opened in a different college, this time the College of Education and Human Development, where it is now called the M.A. in TESOL.

There was a very good reason most of these programs did not stay closed: They were still needed, not just to prepare ESL professionals to teach international students at the state’s colleges and universities, but also to meet the increasingly diverse English learning needs of Minnesota residents on and off campus

See full PDF of the map: http://www.gis.leg.mn/pdf/sd/sd_homelang06_diversity.pdf

In 2007 census figures showed almost 10% of Minnesotans had a home language other than English; the top 6 of these were (in order) Spanish, Hmong, Somali, Vietnamese, Russian and Lao.  Just 7 years later, in 2014, the fourth largest home language was Karen (spoken by low literate immigrants from Myanmar).

But the linguistic diversity of Minnesota’s citizens today is not restricted to immigrants’ home languages. Late in the 20th century, K-12 language immersion programs for Minnesota’s English-speaking students began popping up like mushrooms all over the state. Today there are over 90 immersion programs offering elementary students whose home language is English, opportunities to become bilingual in Spanish, French, German, Chinese, or Korean. And, almost miraculously, the Ojibwe and Dakota languages were again being taught and learned in immersion schools in Minnesota.

The truth is that Minnesota never has been a monolingual English place.   It has been, and is, a multilingual place in which English plays the central role, but where other languages have essential roles to play as well.  There is at present a very rich multilingual and English learner history and environment in Minnesota: strong teacher education programs for both ESL and foreign languages, for K-12 and adult learners, and for domestic, international and immigrant students.   As people move more and more freely around the globe, as markets internationalize, as our children move not just out of state, but out of the country, our horizons have expanded exponentially. There is increasing need for Minnesotans to know English and other languages.  Not only has Mogadishu moved to the Mississippi (Bigelow 2010), but Minnesota’s young people are moving away to live in places around the globe.

Lessons from History 

What can we learn from this brief illustrated history?  What principles can we, as language teachers and language teacher educators, take away that might be useful as we educate English learners?

  1. The goal of English language education remains the same: Minnesota needs language learners to achieve high levels of English but also to maintain and develop their home languages to have a high level of bilingual competence — especially essential now in the 21st century’s globalized political scene and economy. Second language acquisition (SLA) researchers and applied linguists such as the Douglas Fir Group (2016) agree that multilingualism is good, not just for the brain but also for the economy, for global learning, and for national security. As we have seen, past attempts in Minnesota to turn English learners into English monolinguals have not gone so well (see Northrup 1993). A better goal is to help them become highly functioning bilingual speakers, in English and their home language.  By respecting the English learner’s home language, we respect who that learner is.  By maintaining high standards for both languages, we open new opportunities for all learners.
  2. Bilingualism is not just for immigrants.  More and more parents who speak English in their homes are sending their children to the growing number of language immersion schools across Minnesota, to give them the advantage of becoming bilingual speakers of English and Spanish, French, Chinese, German, or Ojibwe.  This means English learners are not the only ones in Minnesota trying to become bilingual to deal with 21st century realities.
  3. Both foreign language and ESL programs need to provide academic and professional skills in both the first and second language. We are not just teaching “survival” language for poor immigrants or social language for rich tourists.  As language teachers, we seek to encourage high levels of development of English and other languages to meet academic and professional goals.

In the 21st century, mastery of “English only” will not be enough. The goal of ESL programs as well as of foreign language and immersion programs must be to make sure all graduates are as bilingual and bicultural as possible in English and another world language. Future ESL programs should nurture students’ home languages while teaching them English, and future immersion and foreign language programs should nurture students’ home language, English, while teaching them a foreign language.  The outcome will be an even brighter future for multilingual Minnesota.


Anderson, Jim (2014, Dec 15) Swedish-language papers digitize. Minneapolis Star Tribune, p. A9

Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (n.d.). The land-grant tradition. Accessed June 15, 2016. http://www.aplu.org/library/the-land-grant-tradition/file

Bigelow, Martha (2010). Mogadishu on the Mississippi: Language, racialized identity and education in a new land.  Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Bond, J. Wesley (1853).  Minnesota and its Resources. New York: Redfield.

Brown, Curt (2013). Dayton repudiates Ramsey’s call to exterminate Dakota. Star Tribune, May 2, 2013.

Carley, Kenneth (1976). The Sioux uprising of 1862. Saint Paul: The Minnesota Historical Society.

Clemmons, Linda (2000).  ‘We find it a difficult work’: Educating Dakota children in missionary homes,
American Indian Quarterly 24, 4: 570-574.

Dahlheimer, Thomas Ivan (n.d.). History of the Dakota people in the Mille Lacs area. Accessed Nov. 1, 2015. http://www.towahkon.org/Dakotahistory.html

Douglas Fir Group (2016). A transdisciplinary framework for SLA in a multilingual world. Modern Language Journal 100 (Supplement 2016): 19-47.

Gunn, George Henry (1939). Garrioch at St Peter’s. Minnesota History, 20:119-128. Accessed June 28,  2016. http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/20/v20i02p119-128.pdf

Hansen, Adele (2014). Historical record. MinneTESOL Blog.  Accessed Nov. 1, 2015. http://minnetesol.org/blog/index.php/news/minnetesol-leadership-and-conference-historical-record/  

Huber, Molly (2014). MNopedia, Minnesota Historical Society. “Pipestone Indian Training School Baseball Team.” Accessed Nov. 1, 2015. http://www.mnopedia.org/group/pipestone-indian-training-school-baseball-team

Keillor, Steven J. (2008). Shaping Minnesota’s identity: 150 years of state history. Lakeville, MN: Pogo Press.

Kollenborn, K.P. (2012). “If they’re hungry, let them eat grass or their own dung.” Blogspot, 19th century American history, Minnesota. Accessed Nov. 1, 2015. http://kpkollenborn.blogspot.com/2012/11/if-theyre-hungry-let-them-eat-grass-or.html  

Kunz, Virginia Brainard (1991). Saint Paul: The first one hundred and fifty years. St. Paul: The St Paul Foundation.

Lass, William E. (1998). Minnesota: A history, 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Morton, Zylpha (1947) Harriet Bishop: Frontier Teacher. Minnesota History Magazine,  pp. 132-141.  Accessed Nov. 1, 2015. http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/28/v28i02p132-141.pdf

NAFSA (n.d.) The history of NAFSA: Association of international educators. Accessed June 15, 2016. http://www.nafsa.org/Learn_About_NAFSA/History/

Nord, James (2011) The Untouchable U: Older than the state, the University governs itself. Twin Cities Daily Planet (Sept. 21, 2011). Accessed Nov. 1, 2015. http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2011/09/21/untouchable-u-older-state-university-minnesota-governs-itself

Northrup, Jim (1993). Walking the Rez Road. Voyageur Press.

Wingard, Mary L. (2010). North country: The making of Minnesota. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press.

Woodard, Colin (2011). American Nations: A history of the eleven rival regional cultures of North America. New York: Viking.

*With the Morrill Act in 1862, it became a land-grant university which had federal support to offer agricultural and mechanical arts education to its citizens.

Thanks to Martha Bigelow, Karin Larson and Grant Abbott for contributions to the paper. Thanks to Rachel Juen, Employee, Historical Fort Snelling, for suggesting references and resources.



Adult English learners benefit from pronunciation instruction, reporting the importance of intelligible pronunciation for daily communication, employment, and higher self-confidence.

As a teacher, I want adult English learners (ELs) in my classes to have the language skills and confidence to use English outside of the classroom so they can participate in society, develop relationships, and thrive at school and work. Most ELs will tell you they want the same things, and they work very hard towards these goals. However, in my observations, even advanced-level ELs can struggle to achieve them because they lack intelligible pronunciation and linguistic self-confidence (LSC), especially when it comes to talking with native speakers (NSs).

The purpose my original study was to explore ELs’ perceptions of their own pronunciation and the relationship between their perceptions and LSC. The mixed methods study addressed the following two primary questions:

  1. What are advanced adult second language learners’ perceptions of their English pronunciation? 
  2. To what extent is there a relationship between second language learners’ perceptions of their English pronunciation and their linguistic self-confidence?

These research questions are explored in my original study, however they are not discussed in full in this article. Rather, the purpose of this article is to provide a brief summary of the major themes that emerged from data collected in my original study. This article features participants’ first had accounts of their perceptions of their English pronunciation and LSC. It also aims to provide practitioners with resources for teaching pronunciation.

Why is Intelligible Pronunciation and Linguistic Self-Confidence Important?

Intelligible second language (L2) pronunciation is important because ELs need it to function in daily life, participate in English-speaking communities, and develop relationships with people who do not speak the same first language (L1) (Gilbert, 1983; Murphy, 1991; Parrish, 2004). Managing daily life in an English-speaking environment involves communicating with native-speaking landlords, educators, and employers (Parrish, 2004). ELs are expected be able to interact with their peers, teachers, co-workers, and bosses in different kinds of situations (Murphy, 1991). Moreover, ELs need intelligible L2 pronunciation to be successful at school and work. Even advanced-level ELs otherwise considered proficient in English often need to improve their L2 pronunciation in order to meet academic and professional requirements (Johnson & Parrish 2010; Murphy, 1991).

To clarify, intelligibility refers to “the extent to which the listener understands an utterance or message” (Celce-Murcia et al., 2010, p. 32), and pronunciation instruction that centers on intelligibility prioritizes pronunciation features that have the greatest impact on the speaker’s communicative competence (Celce-Murcia et al., 2010). Research indicates that suprasegmental pronunciation features including stress, intonation, and rhythm affect intelligibility more than segmental features (individual phonemic sounds) (Celce-Murcia et al., 2010; Derwing 2003; Field, 2005; Gilbert, 1983; Hahn, 2004; Levis, 2005; Munro & Derwing, 2011; Parrish, 2004). Of course, individual learners have different pronunciation needs and can benefit from instruction on individual phonemic sounds as well (Celce-Murcia et al., 2010; Parrish, 2004).

The inability or unwillingness to use English outside of the classroom has been a challenge for many of the ELs in my classes. They lack the LSC to speak English with NSs, particularly in contexts that are ‘high stakes’ such as speaking to their boss at work. LSC is defined as “self-perceptions of communicative competence and concomitant low levels of anxiety in using a second language” (Noels, Pon, & Clement as cited in Hummel, 2013, p. 69). LSC is deeply connected to social contexts and social psychological factors, such as: motivation, identity, acculturation, anxiety, and the judgments of others (Dörnyei, 2003; Hummel, 2013; Noels et al., 1996). In fact, L2 communication can be blocked due to extreme anxiety experienced in certain communicative contexts (Woodrow, 2006). This is important because LSC is a significant part of language learning and relates to greater communicative competence and increased L2 usage (Noels & Clement as cited in Hummel, 2013).

Background and Inspiration for Research

My experience teaching intermediate to advanced-level ESL in adult education and teaching international teaching assistants (ITAs) in university settings has solidified my belief in the importance of pronunciation instruction (even at advanced levels) and fueled my curiosity to investigate the relationship between pronunciation and LSC. I was also inspired by Derwing’s 2003 study, “What do ESL Students Say About their Accents”. In Derwing’s (2003) study, participants were asked to give examples of instances when they had been discriminated against because of their accents, and there were more negative statements that reflected “lack of attention, rudeness, anger, and deliberate misunderstanding” (p. 557) than positive statements. What struck me the most about this study were the powerful firsthand statements from ELs about their pronunciation skills, so I decided to focus on ELs’ perceptions in my own study.

Maria was an adult student in my advanced-intermediate ESL class years ago, and a prime example of an intermediate-level learner who struggled with pronunciation and LSC. During conferences, I asked Maria how she felt her English was progressing, she became very emotional as she described her problems communicating. She said, “My co-workers don’t like the way I talk. They don’t understand me. My pronunciation is so bad. They say ‘What? Huh?’” Then she told me she recently turned down a promotion because the new position involved speaking English to customers. Now she regretted the decision and felt disappointed in herself for being too scared to take the job. The promotion would have meant a higher wage and more hours, which she needed to send more money home to her mother who was caring for her children. It also would have been a chance for Maria to interact with more people and perhaps feel less isolated at work.  

Maria’s problems with low LSC caught me off guard because she was generally intelligible and appeared confident in class. She was friendly, talkative, and even willing to get up in front of the class and do role plays with other students. It had never occurred to me that she struggled to communicate outside of the classroom.

In Maria’s case, low LSC was a greater barrier than her pronunciation. However, ELs have problems in both areas. Even those who are proficient in English but speak with an accent may struggle with pronunciation and LSC (Hummel, 2013). This became clear to me when I taught pronunciation to international students who were preparing to be teaching assistants for undergraduate students in the science, math, and engineering departments at a local university.

The majority of ITAs in this program were from countries such as India and China, and they were very knowledgeable in their fields and technically proficient in English according to the tests they had to take to enter the American university system. In the context of their home countries, they were probably considered highly intelligible in English, and perhaps had never experienced judgements of their pronunciation. This was specifically true for the Indian ITAs, who spoke a variety of English as a native language. In the context of studying and teaching in an American university, however, many were considered unintelligible.

One day before class, I heard a small group of ITAs discussing the anxiety they felt about their upcoming micro-teaching exam and about teaching in English to NSs. They said their speaking was the only thing that made them feel stupid. They were nervous that undergraduates would not respect them and thought they would be hostile towards them because of their accents. It was clear they perceived their pronunciation as a problem that negatively affected their ability to stand up in front of a classroom and deliver lessons.The next day in class I reassured them that their pronunciation was not a major barrier, and we practiced role play scenarios dealing with problems in the classroom and projecting confidence while teaching. The ITAs reported that these activities made them feel more prepared for real-world teaching.

The Study

Primary research was done at a local urban language institute with advanced-level adult learners from the two highest level ESL classes. Participants consisted of six women and four men from a variety of countries including: Iran, India, Colombia, Thailand, Spain, and Somalia.  All of them were highly educated in their home countries, and two completed advanced degrees in the US. The majority of the participants were employed at the time of this study.

The research tools were a questionnaire and one-on-one interviews. Ten participants completed the questionnaire, which consisted of 22 ranked choice questions using a 4-point Likert scale of strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree about pronunciation skills, feelings about pronunciation, and experiences using English outside of class. Eight of those ten completed one-on-one interviews, which focused on topics similar to the questionnaire and encouraged participants to give personal examples. Data from the questionnaires and interviews were analyzed and reported individually, then data from the questionnaire and interviews were analyzed to find major themes. In this article, only major themes and selected samples of participants’ comments are presented.

Theme One – Pronunciation and Quality of Life

ELs report a perception that their L2 pronunciation affects the quality of their lives in terms of their general communication skills, relationships with NSs, and, most notably, career advancement. Participants in this study reported using English on a daily basis in a variety of contexts. Most use English with colleagues at work, other ELs in their classes, and NSs in the community. A few of the participants are married to NSs, and use English at home. Moreover, data collected in this study showed that ELs are keenly aware of the role of pronunciation for academic and professional purposes. Participants reported they would need to speak English for educational and employment purposes. They indicated that they would qualify for a wider range of jobs, present themselves better in job interviews, have more professional job offers, and be able to advance at their current places of employment if their pronunciation was better.

Malee spoke of the work opportunities and the confidence she would have if her pronunciation was better. She said,

My life would be easier, especially for working. In my opinion, this country is all English, and people want to hire people who speak English, and writing. If we have clear speaking it would be benefit to help customers and clients. Also in daily life-shopping. More people would understand and I would feel more confident.

Likewise, Julia, Carlos, and Rajan stressed the importance of their pronunciation for career advancement. Julia said, “I would get a really good job [if I spoke English better]. Part of the interviews in Spain are in English, so if you speak well they will be interested in you.” Carlos commented, “It will improve my job because I have a Master’s degree, but I’m inspector. It’s lower level job. I need to improve my speaking and listening. In my interviews my English is broken. Companies want to hire people with good English” Rajan reported, “I would have gotten a job earlier. It matters for professional jobs. Maybe it matters when I speak at interviews. I don’t get the job because of my pronunciation. Maybe they don’t tell you up front, but it’s a factor. I had two job interviews and I didn’t get. They might think I’m a competent person, and I can deal with situations if my pronunciation is good.”

Theme Two – Self-awareness of Pronunciation

ELs often do not understand what their pronunciation problems actually are in terms of the features that research suggests contribute most to intelligibility because they have not been taught.  At the time of the study, nine out of ten of the participants were enrolled in English classes, and three of the participants were taking a pronunciation class. Those enrolled in the standard ESL class were studying grammar, reading, and writing.

Pronunciation instruction was not part of their class. The three who were taking pronunciation specifically seemed to enjoy their class and felt they were improving their speaking in general. However, when asked how their teacher incorporated pronunciation into the class, the majority reported learning a variety of segmental features (individual phonemic sounds) not suprasegmental features (word stress, intonation, and rhythm, for example). These findings are concurrent with those in Dewing’s (2003) study, in which she suggests the fact that her participants claimed segmental problems were the root cause of their communication problems indicates that they do not know what their pronunciation problems really are.

When asked what they do in pronunciation class, the majority of participants reported listening and repeating activities and practicing individual sounds. Only one participant mentioned working on the suprasegmental feature: stress.  For example, Carlos said, “The teacher works with individuals to suit their language needs. You know how Asians needs /l/ and /r/ and for Spanish, we need /I/? We also listen to the CD and repeat pronunciation.”  Malee reported, “We listen and repeat dialogs, work on individual sounds, and some stress.”

Theme Three – NSs Attitudes towards L2 Pronunciation

ELs report perceiving positive attitudes among NSs towards people with accents, and they do not perceive that they have been treated differently because of their accents. However, ELs think Americans would respect them more if they pronounced English well. Farid did not think he had been treated differently because of his accent, and he talked about respect as he compared discrimination in the US and Iran. He said, “No, I have never had that reaction here. Compared to the racism and discrimination in Iran, there is no racism here. Farsi speakers treat people with Azerbaijani accents poorly and tell jokes about them. It’s offensive to speak Azerbaijan with a Persian accent.”

Rajan did not report discrimination based on his accent, but he recounted a time he felt disrespected by a NS and wondered if it was because of his accent or a variety of other factors. He said, “No, I don’t think I’ve been discriminated against. I had sometimes disrespect. I was on the bus. I was talking with some other Indians in English-with Indian accents. That persons didn’t like it. He yelled at us ‘AHHHHH.’ Maybe it was because he had a bad day or he didn’t like my accent. He thought it was a bunch of noise.”

Theme Four – Pronunciation and Identity

ELs do not perceive that their native language or culture would be in jeopardy if they pronounced English better. However, there was evidence of a relationship between pronunciation, group identity, and acculturation. For example, Natalia and Malee were certain they would never lose their culture or language. Natalia said, “No, you always remember [my culture and language]. Maybe you forget some words, but you always remember your culture.” Malee said, “No I don’t think so. I think if I go back to Thailand every year I will remember. She said if she has kids she will teach them about Thai culture.”

Farid also agreed that his native language, Farsi, was not at risk if his English pronunciation improved. However, he also told a story that suggested he perceived a relationship between pronunciation, group identity, and acculturation.

I was walking on campus and I saw a man looking at me that I didn’t know. I knew he was Azerbaijani and he was going to talk to me, so I prepared myself to speak only Azerbaijani because it’s bad to speak English to someone who is Azerbaijani…like you’re trying to hide that you’re from Iran or trying to show off or something. So, I was focusing on speaking only Azerbaijani, but then I said ‘Do I know you?’ in English, and he was shocked, and I was shocked. At work I accidently said something in Azerbaijani instead of English, so it happens both ways. This is because I’m only 80% with my English and Azerbaijani. This won’t happen with Farsi because I am 100%. It’s like swimming. You never forget. About culture, I’m not worried about that.

Theme Five – Perceptions of Pronunciation and LSC

There is an apparent relationship between ELs’ perceptions of their own pronunciation and LSC, however to what extent is unclear.  As previously mentioned, LSC refers to the speaker’s self-perceptions of their ability to communicate in their L2 and the levels of anxiety they associate with it (Noels, Pon, & Clement as cited in Hummel, 2013). Participants in the study described a variety of thoughts and feelings about their L2 pronunciation that suggest anxiety and a lack of LSC when speaking to NSs. For example, Raha said it bothers her that she cannot communicate her ideas because she is an educated person with many valuable things to add to conversations. She said most of the time she remains quiet because she feels she cannot say what she really means.

Rajan also expressed frustration because NSs think he knows less than he does when he pronounces English incorrectly. Farid said he would be more content if he knew others understood him. He said, “It’s not something external. It’s more internal. I was never treated badly because of my accent, so I don’t think it would affect me externally. Internally, you feel more satisfied, more comfortable when people understand you.” Nasrin reported that she feels too nervous about her English to speak to NSs and make friends. She said, “It’s a good feeling. You live in this country and you can speak like them. I feel better.” Yes [I would like to make American friends], but I can’t because of my English. It’s my problem, I know. I don’t try to make friends. I can’t make sentences. I’m too nervous.”

Theme Six – Effects of Context on Linguistic Self-confidence

Speech communities and speech acts have effects on ELs’ perceptions of their pronunciation as it relates to their LSC.  Natalia, Rajan, and Farid reported feeling generally confident about their pronunciation, but they said their confidence is affected by who they are talking to and subject matter of their conversations. 


I feel confident when I hang out with the other girls in my program. They are au pairs from Germany and Switzerland, and we have to talk in English. We talk about the job and I know a lot about that.


I feel confident speaking to people my age my peer group. My colleagues are okay. When I speak with my boss I’m not confident. Or in a meeting when there are many people talking. I’m not comfortable jumping in and giving my ideas. I don’t know the words or the social situation to do it. What I lack is confidence. Several things are mixed here. There’s a fear factor. I’m not an outgoing person. I think, ‘What if they think I’m stupid?’ So, I talk slowly and make sure I say things correctly, or they think I don’t know anything.


It depends on who the people are and what the topic is. At work I have two Chinese coworkers, and sometimes I feel more confident, not confident-comfortable talking to them because they have the same problems. Sometimes they need to take their time to make their sentences, so I feel free to do the same. But when I’m speaking to a NS or my supervisor I feel stressed because I want to do better. I’m not that bad, but I’m never satisfied-not only with pronunciation. The language in general. It’s a daily challenge. I face that challenge every day. After three years and graduating from an American university, my colleagues still have a hard time understanding me. It’s not about them though. I have high expectations for myself. I always want to keep learning. My English can never be equal to Farsi. I was a very good presenter in Farsi. When I spoke in Farsi I had everyone’s attention. I saw a presentation in English and the speaker was so good. I’m not that in English. When I saw that presentation it made me regret leaving my country. I see the difference and I’m disappointed.

Implications for Instruction

Pronunciation research advocates suprasegmental instruction (stress, rhythm, and intonation) over segmental instruction (individual phonemic sounds) because suprasegmental features have a greater impact on overall intelligibility (Celce-Murcia et al., 2010; Derwing 2003; Field, 2005; Gilbert, 1983; Hahn, 2004;  Levis, 2005; Munro & Derwing, 2011; Parrish, 2004). Additionally, research suggests that it is more practical for most ESL teachers to focus on suprasegmental features because the majority of ELs need suprasegmental instruction of some kind, and it might not be realistic to teach segmentals to a classroom that consists of a multiple L1s and L2 pronunciation needs because ELs have different needs in terms of individual phonemes. (Celce-Murcia et al., 2010; Derwing, 2003).

In my experience teaching large classrooms of diverse ELs, it is difficult to diagnose individual segmental problems and provide instruction to suit everyone’s needs. It is generally not practical because there is not enough time or staff to devote to this type of instruction. On the other hand, I have found that suprasegmental instruction is possible with large groups of diverse ELs. As Suzanne McCurdy, a local teacher trainer, phrased it, “Teachers and students get more bang for their buck by focusing on suprasegmentals” (S. McCurdy, personal contact, July 23, 2015).

In my opinion one of the easiest ways to teach pronunciation is to integrate it into existing lessons you are already comfortable teaching. One way to do this is to make it a habit to teach word stress every time you teach new vocabulary. Learners can be taught how to count syllables, listen for the strongest or stressed syllable, discriminate between different stress patterns, and say stressed syllables louder, longer and higher in pitch. I have found that learners pick up on this quickly and enjoy learning how to pronounce new words.

Another practical way to integrate pronunciation is to teach rising and falling intonation in questions. Questions that elicit YES/NO (Do, Can, Will etc.) answers generally have rising intonation, whereas questions that are answered with more information, such as who, what, when, where, or why questions have a falling intonation. Once you feel comfortable teaching word stress and question intonation, you may decide to try teaching other aspects of pronunciation as well. Please see the Sample Pronunciation Lesson Plans section below for a word stress lesson plan and an intonation lesson plan.

Sample Pronunciation Lesson Plans

Below are two separate sample lesson plans that can be used to introduce and practice pronunciation skills. In my experience, these lessons are a good place to start if pronunciation instruction something new in your classroom. The first lesson plan focuses on word stress and can be used any time new vocabulary is introduced and adapted for most levels, whether you are teaching a beginning or advanced level class. The lesson has four main parts, marked by numbers 1-4, and steps under each part are marked by a bullet points. It should be noted that the first and second parts of lesson one that use circles to indicate syllable stress is common and be found in various pronunciation texts.

Lesson 1 – Integrating Word Stress into a Vocabulary Lesson

This activity was used to integrate pronunciation into a lesson for a high-intermediate EL Civics Class of adult learners. In this activity, students work through a four part lesson, which is shown in numbers 1-4 below. First, students will be able to identify word stress by listening for syllables that are longer, louder, and higher in pitch and practice saying the words with correct stress. Next, students sort the vocabulary words into categories. Then,students  think of their own words to sort into the categories. Finally, students will be able to take turns dictating the vocabulary words to a partner and marking word stress.  

 Introducing word stress, listening discrimination, and oral practice

Figure 1 Word Stress Activity

Introduction – Listening Discrimination

  1. Write each vocabulary word on the board (but not the circles), hum them out, and ask students how many syllables they hear. Say maintain couple of times, have them hum it out a couple of times, and ask which syllable is stronger, the first or second. “The second syllable is stressed.”
  2. Continue this process with all twelve words, having students listen, repeat, and say how many syllables there are and which one is stressed.
  3. Finally, start with maintain again and model using the circles o O to show stress, as is pictured on the right.

Guided Practice – Word Sort

  1. Erase the board and give groups get a stack of cards with the same vocabulary words on them. Also give students papers that show possible stress patterns (in circle form). See an example on the right.
  2. Groups work together to say and sort the words based on their stress pattern.Figure 2 Stress Pattern Sort
  3. Teacher walks around to monitor the students’ work and help pronounce words if needed.
  4. Give each group some blank papers and ask them to think of new words that can go under each stress pattern. These can be simple words students use in regular conversation, like classroom (Oo). If there is time and wall space, hang up the stress patterns and vocabulary words on the wall for practice the next day. Students can add new words to each category before class starts or as a warm up activity.

Free Practice – Pairs Listening Dictation

  1. Model what the students are supposed to do at the board using a random word and showing them how to write it and show syllable stress. Ex. Dictionary Oooo
  2. Pairs receive a list of the vocabulary words and a blank piece of paper for dictation. One student reads the word (teacher monitor for correct stress) and students write the word and stress pattern. Switch roles so both students have the chance to write. Teacher and volunteers circulate to help students with stress patterns.
  3. Review the answers as a class.

Questions with Rising and Falling Intonation

This lesson was used in an intermediate speaking and listening class for adult learners as well as a college level class for international students. The purpose was to introduce raising and falling intonation in questions. I used Is the Post Office Open Tomorrow? From the book Small Talk: More Jazz Chants by Carolyn Graham (Graham, 1986).

Introducing the Jazz Chant –  Listening and Speaking Practice

Give each student a copy of the Jazz Chant. Play the Jazz Chant using the CD provided with the book. If you do not have the book you can easily do this yourself using your own voice. Start by modeling the Jazz chant for students, then they can listen and repeat as many times as wanted.

Guided Practice – Identifying intonation patterns

  1. Students identify the questions in the Jazz chant and listen to the recording (or teacher) again. Tell them to listen to the end of the question and decide if the intonation goes rises or falls. Model this on the board with practice questions. Ex. What time is it? and Is the weather warm today? Play the Jazz Chant again and while students write up or down arrows next to each question.  For an example of a Jazz Chant, see the figure to the right (Graham, 1986, p. 63).
  2. Figure 3 Zoss PronunciationAsk students which questions have rising intonation and which have falling intonation? Why? Give students a few minutes try to find the pattern. Discuss as a class, then explain that questions that have Yes/No responses (is, do, have etc.) generally have a raising intonation and questions that elicit more information (what, when where etc.) have a falling intonation. As a class, using the board, make various different kinds of questions and practice rising and falling intonation.

Free Practice – Role Plays

Pairs create role plays (modeled after the Jazz chant) that include questions and perform role plays for class. Class listens for raising and falling intonation and provide feedback to performers.

Links to Resources you can Use Now

One of the best ways to learn about pronunciation instruction is to attend professional development events focuse
d on the subject, because you can not only learn about teaching methods and activities, but also practice them and take home sample materials. The online resources below are from the
ATLAS ABE Teaching and Learning Advancement System (ATLAS). They are handouts and presentations from professional development events in Minnesota put on by ATLAS.

The links below provide clear actionable pronunciation activities you can try in your classroom.


This article provided a brief summary of major themes that emerged from data collected in an original study and highlight participants’ first had accounts of their perceptions of their English pronunciation and linguistic self-confidence.The study found that adult English learners benefit from pronunciation instruction, reporting the importance of intelligible pronunciation for daily communication, employment, and higher self-confidence. In order to help learners improve their intelligibility, practitioners should consider teaching suprasegmental pronunciation features such as stress, rhythm, and intonation (Celce-Murcia et al., 2010; Derwing 2003; Field, 2005; Gilbert, 1983; Hahn, 2004; Levis, 2005; Munro & Derwing, 2011; Parrish, 2004). The two sample lesson plans included in this article are intended to be jumping off points for practitioners who want to integrate suprasegmental pronunciation instruction into their curriculum. Additional pronunciation activities can be found through the online links above.


Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D. M., & Goodwin, J. M. (2010). Teaching pronunciation hardback with audio CDs (2): A course book and reference guide Cambridge University Press.

Derwing, T. M. (2003). What do ESL students say about their accents? Canadian Modern Language Review, 59(4), 547.

Dörnyei, Z., ed. (2003). Attitudes, orientations, and motivations in language learning: Advances in theory, research, and applications. Language Learning, 53, 1-213.

Field, J. (2005). Intelligibility and the listener: The role of lexical stress. TESOL Quarterly, 39(3), 399-423. doi:10.2307/3588487

Gilbert, J. B. (1983). Pronunciation and listening comprehension. Cross Currents, 10(1), 53-61.

Graham, C. (1986). Small talk: More jazz chants from Carolyn Graham. New York, N.Y., USA: Oxford University Press

Hahn, L. D. (2004). Primary stress and intelligibility: Research to motivate the teaching of suprasegmentals. TESOL Quarterly, 38(2), 201-223.

Hummel, K. M. (2013). Target-language community involvement: Second-language linguistic self-confidence and other perceived benefits. Canadian Modern Language Review, 69(1). 65-90. doi: 10.3138/cmlr.1152

Johnson, K., & Parrish, B. (2010). Aligning instructional practices to meet the academic needs of adult ESL students. TESOL Quarterly, 44, 618–628.

Levis, J. M. (2005). Changing contexts and shifting paradigms in pronunciation teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 39(3), 369-377.

MacIntyre, P. D. (2007). Willingness to communicate in the second language: Understanding the decision to speak as a volitional process. Modern Language Journal, 91(4), 564-576. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4781.2007.00623.x

MacIntyre, P. D., Clément, R., & Dörnyei, Z. (1998). Conceptualizing willingness to communicate in a L2: A situational model of L2 confidence and affiliation. Modern Language Journal, 82(4), 545-562. doi:10.2307/330224

Munro, M. J., & Derwing, T. M. (2011). Research timeline: The foundations of accent and intelligibility in pronunciation research. Language Teaching, 44(3), 316-327. doi 10.1017/S0261444811000103

Murphy, J. M. (1991). Oral communication in TESOL: Integrating speaking, listening, and pronunciation. TESOL Quarterly, 25(1), 51-75.

Noels, K., Pon,G., & Clement, R., (1996). Language, identity, and adjustment: The role of linguistic self-confidence in the acculturation process. Journal of Language and Social Psychology. 15(3), 246-264.

Parrish, B. (2004). Teaching adult ESL: A practical introduction. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill ESL/ELT.

Woodrow, L. (2006). Anxiety and speaking English as a second language. RELC Journal, 37(3), 308-328. doi: 10.1177/0033688206071315


Federal and states policies for ELs have only recently included ELs for state, district and school accountability. As we prepare for the implementation of Every Student Succeeds Act, a closer look at Minnesota and Indiana will examine the important role of state policies shaping federal policy.

As No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2001) and the NCLB flexibility waivers (2012-2015) histories are behind us, we have learned important lessons in the Midwest of how federal and state laws have shaped the landscape for our Midwestern K-12 English Learners (ELs). NCLB (2001) was the first federal policy to explicitly include academic achievement and English learning in federal accountability. ELs were disaggregated as a subgroup and achievement could be readily seen comparative to other student subgroups, such as special education and children of color. But, NCLB came with an expectation of 100% of all student groups would be academically proficient by 2014, an expectation that was contested by states (Center on Education Policy, 2015; Kober & Riddle, 2012) with scholars arguing that it narrowed the curriculum to be too test-driven (Hout & Elliott, 2011).

Figure 1. NCLB to ESSA Timeline

The NCLB flexibility waivers (2012-2015) allowed a reprieve from the unrealistic 100% goal by permitting innovation for states to develop differentiated accountability models that included growth models versus a simple pass or fail on standardized state tests. In turn, we could examine the academic progress of our ELs diminishing penalties to districts for lack of academic attainment as ELs are simultaneously learning English and content (see Table 1 and Table 2). Growth models often use the term super subgroup or lowest performing group, privileging examination of growth patterns of the lowest performing students based on one year to the next, versus student characteristics, such as EL.

Table 1 Minnesota’s NCLB I and NCLB II Accountability Policies

NCLB 2001-2012 (NCLB 1) NCLB 2012-2015 (NCLB II)
Proficiency: Attainment percentage on state standardized test of English and Math by student subgroup (race, socioeconomic status, special education, EL)

Schools judged by number of subgroups making performance benchmarks
Proficiency:  Attainment percentage on state standardized test of English and Math by student subgroup (race, socioeconomic status, special education, EL).Growth: Progress compared between two years of testing on standardized test of English and math by group

  • Low growth
  • Medium growth
  • High growth

Growth gap reduction: Reducing disparities for student subgroups by race, socioeconomic status, special education and EL with higher performing subgroups.

Graduation rate:  Percentage of students on target for graduating in grades 9-12

Schools judged by percentage of growth by proficiency, growth, growth gap reduction and graduation rate to calculate a report card grade

Table 2 Indiana’s NCLB I and NCLB II Accountability Policies

NCLB 2001-2012 (NCLB I) NCLB 2012-2015 (NCLB II)
Proficiency: Attainment percentage on state standardized test of English and Math by student subgroup (race, socioeconomic status, special education, EL)Schools judged by number of subgroups making performance benchmarks Growth: Progress compared between two consecutive years of testing on standardized test of English and math by growth quadrants

  • Quadrant 1: High achieving, high progress
  • Quadrant 2: High achieving, low progress
  • Quadrant 3: Low achieving, high progress
  • Quadrant 4: Low achieving, low progress(super subgroup)

Schools judged by percentage of growth by each quadrant with the outcome of a school and district grade

Tables 1 and 2 adapted from Burke, DePalma, Ginther, Morita-Mullaney, and Young (2014); Morita-Mullaney (in press) and Burke, Morita-Mullaney, and Singh (2016)

To be eligible for the waiver, states had to have differentiated accountability models, but they also had to address three other areas:

  1. Implement College and Career Readiness standards;
  2. Implement innovative and differentiated accountability models (Table 1);
  3. Implement educator evaluation for effectiveness and
  4. Reducing undue administrative burden
    (U.S. Department of Education, 2011)

While some may argue that progress has been achieved during NCLB (NCLB I) and the NCLB flexibility waivers (NCLB II), particular omissions and oversights of ELs persisted during NCLB II. Growth models of achievement had various inclusions of ELs that diminished consideration of their distinct language learning needs. This article discusses our lessons learned during the NCLB II or the NCLB flexibility period for our ELs and poses important considerations as we shape the upcoming federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, 2015) and related state policies in our Midwestern schools.

We review federal and state policy documents during the NCLB II (NCLB flexibility waiver), in Minnesota and Indiana. A focus on the Midwest is important as they are lower density EL states, but are considered two of the more rapidly growing EL states in the US (Migrant Policy Institute, 2010). We ask this central research question:

How do the Minnesota and Indiana’s NCLB flexibility waivers and state educational laws discuss English Learners (ELs)?

Literature Review

Literature on the NCLB II is limited given its short duration. This review will examine federal educational policies and how ELs are included. Secondly, the relationship between federal and state laws will be discussed.

EL Omissions and Inconsistencies

Historic federal educational policies within the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in the US have had limited to no inclusion of ELs (Bunch, 2011; Short, 2000) rendering EL decision making to the state and/or local districts. These omissions assume that ELs part of the greater populace, thus driving policies to be created at the school level that promoted or inhibited the educational needs and rights of ELs. Dissatisfied with the lack of discussion of ELs in the ESEA reauthorization of the Improving America School’s Act (1994), the international organization of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) developed English language proficiency standards (TESOL, 1997), which preceded Minnesota and Indiana’s use of the English language proficiency standards of WIDA¹. These TESOL standards still largely support teacher education programs of EL certification in our universities (Fenner & Kuhlman, 2012).

Scholars also argue that lack of policy leads to language program models that restrict access to students’ native languages (Menken & Solorza, 2014a, 2014b). NCLB I and NCLB II allow students’ native languages within instruction, but inclining school accountability with aggressive standardized testing often drives English-only instructional provisions. Deep ideologies persist that English-only language programs have the most altruistic effects on academic achievement (Menken, 2008), even though there is substantive research to suggest that bilingual education has a superior impact on ELs language learning and academic achievement over time (Thomas & Collier, 1997; Thomas & Collier, 2002; Umansky & Reardon, 2014).

While the federal law of NCLB I and II enhanced the presence of ELs within federal educational policy by requiring their academic achievement, Title I Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) and their English learning progress and attainment, Title III Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives (AMAOs), created a united front of accountability for states, variations still persist. For example, identification of ELs upon enrollment uses a home language survey, asking questions about student and family language use, but surveys vary by state (Goldenberg & Rutherford-Quach, 2012). English language learning trajectories both for pacing (how fast) and the percentage reclassified as fluent English proficient (exited) varies by state with each working with different instruments and setting their own cut scores. These are just two examples of how federal policies are interpreted and practiced differently by state.

State and Federal Policy as One?

Educational laws are often conceived as hierarchical with laws made at the federal level and passed down for state implementation and onward to our districts and classrooms. Language policy scholars in education demonstrate that state laws and policies actually have a more imminent impact on our local district practices for ELs (Lillie & Moore, 2014; Moore, 2014). Gandara and Orfield (2012) and Arias and Faltis (2012) track the restrictive state policies in Arizona and how they have led to segregated language classrooms. Because NCLB II was an effort to decentralize the role of the federal government in education, examples like Arizona’s demonstrate the negative impacts of decentralization. Orfield (2006) critiqued the discourse and practice of flexibility, yielding to state rights, stating that laws should be “intelligible and predictable” and that “the [NCLB] policy is essentially a product of negotiation, of power and discretion, not law” (p. 7). Pompa (2016) asserts that federal laws have long protected the rights of ELs, when state laws have fallen short, pointing to shortcomings of decentralization to the states.


To examine the variation that Orfield (2006) critiques and that Gandara and Orfield (2012), Lillie and Moore (2014) and Arias and Faltis (2012) research, we investigate Minnesota and Indiana and how they implemented
their NCLB flexibility waivers for ELs.

Minnesota Accountability Analysis

Minnesota’s federal NCLB flexibility waiver was approved in 2012 and amended in 2014 with EL discussion is woven throughout the document addressing academic standards, alignment between academic and English language proficiency standards (WIDA) and teacher professional standards. Specific discussion about the newly adopted academic standards, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and how the Minnesota Department of Education will work with WestEd to ensure a rigorous alignment are discussed in detail. Different types of EL professional development for all educators are identified including content on WIDA standards and alignment between WIDA and CCSS. Teacher evaluation for EL teachers is detailed as being “qualitatively different” and that a one-year study to pilot different models before establishing a expectations was needed (Minnesota Department of Education, 2014, p. 159). For accountability for schools and districts, the growth model is also discussed at length with the involvement of a stakeholder group that reworked through different accountability models before approval.

Minnesota’s growth model, referenced as the Multiple Measurements Rating (MMR) in the NCLB flexibility waiver is discussed in granular detail and includes multiple mechanisms for assessing educator effectiveness and school quality including proficiency (performance), growth, growth gap reduction and graduation rate (Minnesota Department of Education, 2012b). While growth of ELs is central, overall performance and how achievement gaps are being reduced over time are also included in school and teacher accountability.

Throughout the Minnesota NCLB waiver document, consistent references to Minnesota state law are made, demonstrating that EL content was conceptualized prior to writing the waiver. In addition to waiver content, Minnesota state statute has a robust inclusion and discussion of ELs in accountability. Minnesota also has a long history of discussing ELs throughout all Minnesota statute, beginning in 1990 with the inclusion of the English Language Learner Act (1990, 1998). In 2014, the Learning English for Academic Proficiency and Success (LEAPS) Act was passed, the most comprehensive legislation in the history of Minnesota, focusing not only on English language proficiency but also on bi- or multilingual skills development (Minnesota Session Law, 2014). The law has specific provisions and descriptions for students with interrupted formal schooling (SLIFE) and differentiated accountability for them (124D.59, Subd. 2a). Further, the policies specific to ELs are integrated throughout Minnesota statute including early childhood, curriculum and instruction, higher education, adult education, and teacher licensing (MN§122A.18, Expiration and Renewal, Subd. 4(b)

Indiana Accountability Analysis

In review of Indiana’s federal NCLB flexibility waiver approved in 2012 and amended and extended in 2013 by the US Department of Education (USDE) discussion of ELs is slim. Mention of adopting new English language proficiency standards are denoted as well as hiring a strong EL director at the Indiana Department of Education. Discussion of EL inclusion in the super-subgroup states that more instructional attention will be offered to ELs as they are more likely to fall into the super-subgroup and under the old subgroup model (Adequate Yearly Progress), only 19% of Indiana districts would be held accountable (Indiana Department of Education, 2012, p. 63). The Indiana waiver states that Indiana laws and the NCLB waiver are “merged” making the federal and state law synonymous (Indiana Department of Education, 2011, 2012, 2014) with a grade of A-F being given to schools and districts based on growth performance with particular attention on the super subgroup.

Indiana’s NCLB waiver is connected to Indiana’s Public Law 221 (2011), which is the school accountability law. EL references remain scant. First, ELs are operationally defined as Limited English proficient, a subtractive term that decentralizes their bilingual assets (García, 2009). Second, provisions of an Individual Learning Plan directs the instructional provisions for ELs and lastly, four references to their inclusion or exclusion in standardized testing of English language arts and Mathematics.

Cross-Analysis of Indiana and Minnesota’s Policies for ELs

There is no mention in Indiana PL 221 or the NCLB flexibility waiver of English language learning gains or academic achievements as a subgroup still required under federal Title III AMAOs. This omission lead schools to de-emphasize or omit attention to English learning gains and academic achievement by subgroup, thereby ignoring their needs and rights (Burke, DePalma, et al., 2014; Burke, Morita-Mullaney, & Singh, 2014; Burke et al., 2016). Despite Minnesota and Indiana having a shared Midwestern geography, state laws for ELs are exponentially different.

Table 3 Minnesota and Indiana Accountability Comparisons

NCLB flexibility waiver (NCLB II) Minnesota NCLB flexibility waiver Minnesota state policy Indiana NCLB flexibility waiver Indiana state policy
Career and College readiness for all studentsAcademic standards & related standardized exams</td > Common Core State Standards for ELA only World’s Best Work Force Minnesota Statutes, section 120B.11 Indiana College and Career Readiness Standards & Indiana State Test of Educational Progress (ISTEP+) Public Law 221 (2011)
Differentiated recognition, accountability and support systemsGrowth models Multiple Measurements Rating (MMR) – Proficiency, growth, growth gap reduction, graduation rate for a school grade Minnesota Statutes 2014, section 120B.35 A-F Model – Student growth by super-subgroup Public Law 221 (2011)
Supporting effective instruction and leadershipEducator evaluation District-approved  evaluation or MDE plan if none adopted at district Evaluation of principals Minnesota Statute, §123B.147Evaluation of teachers Minnesota Statute,§122A.40, Subd. 8, and §122A.41, Subd. 5 RISE Evaluation Public Law 221 (2011)
Reducing undue administrative burdens State policy driving federal policycreated consecutively State statutes and laws inform NCLB flexibility waiver Merging of state policy with federal policycreated concurrently PL 221 = NCLB flexibility waiver

While exclusion of ELs has long been critiqued by language policy scholars as nullifying the rights of ELs (Wiley, 2014), it also results in generic instructional provisions for ELs without any research to support such approaches (Morita-Mullaney, 2014). While Minnesota can be congratulated for their robust inclusion of ELs in state and federal waiver applications in 2012 and again in 2014, the procedure for inclusion is extremely complex. Formulas of calculating a school and district’s score are multi-faceted, making it difficult for school leaders to juggle the four accountability areas of proficiency, growth, growth gap reduction and graduation rate concurrently, potentially materializing into less attention to ELs. While Indiana’s discussion of EL content is scant in the waiver and state law, the outcome is dismissal of ELs’ needs (Morita-Mullaney, in press). Regardless of whether a state waiver focuses deeply or scarcely on ELs, the outcome still points to oversight. In Indiana, the NCLB waiver policy makes ELs invisible. In Minnesota, a sea of complicated accountability metrics makes the visibility of ELs clouded and obscured.

So, What’s My Role?

As the rule-making for ESSA is forthcoming and states are meeting with advisory teams to strategize on implementation, it is important to be attentive to the role that states now play in the creation of federal policy. ESSA promotes more state choice, making it incumbent upon Minnesota and Indiana to be detailed about EL needs and rights. Content needs to be robust, but coherent and intelligible. Further, decentralization now offers a generative form of policy making, offering us a newer and different opportunity to advocate for our Minnesota and Indiana ELs. Change can happen from the classrooms and our communities and not just the top. Generative change is already evident as Minnesota and Indiana’s grassroots advocacy has resulted in the passing of the Seal of Biliteracy for graduates with high degrees of bilingual language proficiency (2015), grooving pathways to honor the bilingual assets of our students whose linguistic repertoires include more than just English.

If you are a teacher or principal, be engaged and be a policy maker instead of a policy recipient. Decentralization within ESSA offers states and districts room for creativity and you can be a part of shaping policy. Effective teacher advocacy requires staying up-to-date on the recent developments in research and policy (Herrera & Murry, 2016). Understanding ESSA and its implications for ELLs provides an opportunity for teachers to voice their concerns and speak up on behalf of ELLs. We encourage you to ask questions in various public and social media forums such as education blogs, create White papers with your local EL educator teams and remain involved with your state chapters of TESOL, MinneTESOL and INTESOL.

If you are a principal, be engaged with your local and state school leadership associations, such as the Minnesota Association of School Administrators and the Indiana Association of School Principals and partner with state TESOL affiliates so ELs are not tangential, but central in our policy making, interpretation and implementation.

Useful Readings and Web Resources for Teachers

Crawford, J. (2016). Language Policy Website and Emporium.

Westerlund, R. (2016). Reclaiming the Language for Social Justice.

Wright, W. (2016). Every Student Succeeds Act and English Language Learners.


Arias, M. B., & Faltis, C. (2012). Implementing educational language policy in Arizona legal, historical and current practices in SEI. Buffalo, NY: Multilingual Matters.

Bunch, M. B. (2011). Testing English language learners under No Child Left Behind. Language Testing, 28(3), 323-341. doi: 10.1177/0265532211404186

Burke, A. M., DePalma, G., Ginther, A., Morita-Mullaney, T., & Young, J. W. (2014). Accountability Lessons for Indiana Schools Serving English Learners. Indiana Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, 11(1), 10-24.

Burke, A. M., Morita-Mullaney, T., & Singh, M. (2014). Indiana English Language Learner Academic and English Proficiency Performance: A Longitudinal Study–A White Paper. Indianapolis, IN.

Burke, A. M., Morita-Mullaney, T., & Singh, M. (2016). Indiana Emergent Bilingual Student Time to Reclassification: A Survival Analysis. American Educational Research Journal, 53(5), 1310-1342. doi: 10.3102/0002831216667481

Center on Education Policy. (2015). Federal Education Programs: NCLB/ESEA Waivers. Retrieved November 1, 2015, from http://www.cep-dc.org/index.cfm?DocumentSubTopicID=48

Every Student Succeeds Act, Public Law 114-95 Stat. (2015 December 10, 2015).

Fenner, D. S., & Kuhlman, N. A. (2012). Preparing teachers of English language learners : practical applications of the Pre K-12 TESOL professional standards. Alexandria, VA: TESOL International Association.

Gandara, P., & Orfield, G. (2012). Why Arizona matters: the historical, legal and political contexts of Arizona’s instructional policies and linguistic hegemony. Language Policy, 11. doi: 10.1007/s10993-011-9227-2

García, O. (2009). Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Goldenberg, C., & Rutherford-Quach, S. (2012). The Arizona home language survey: The under-identification of students for English language services. Language Policy, 11(1), 21-30.

Hout, M., & Elliott, S. (Eds.). (2011). Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education. Washington, DC.

Indiana Department of Education. (2011). ESEA Flexibility Waiver Application. Indianapolis, IN.

Indiana Department of Education. (2012). ESEA flexibility request. Submitted to the U.S. Department of Education Retrieved November 1, 2013, from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/eseaflex/approved-requests/in.pdf

Indiana Department of Education. (2014). ESEA flexibility request. Submitted to the U.S. Department of Education Retrieved November 1, 2014, from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/esea-flexibility/map/in.html

Kober, N., & Riddle, W. (2012). Accountability Issues to Watch under NCLB Waivers. In Center on Education Policy (Ed.), (pp. 1-11). Washington, DC: The George Washington University.

Lillie, K. E., & Moore, S. C. K. (2014). SEI in Arizona: Bastion for states’ rights. In S. C. K. Moore (Ed.), Language policy process and consequences: Arizona case studies (pp. 1-27). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Menken, K. (2008). English learners left behind : standardized testing as language policy. Buffalo, NY: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Menken, K., & Solorza, C. (2014a). No Child Left Bilingual: accountability and the elimination of bilingual education programs in New York city schools. Educational Policy, 28(1), 96-125. doi: 10.1177/0895904812468228

Menken, K., & Solorza, C. (2014b). Principals as linchpins in bilingual education: the need for prepared school leaders. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 1-22. doi: 10.1080/13670050.2014.937390

Migrant Policy Institute. (2010). ELL information center: Fact sheet series (Vol. 1). Washington, DC.

Minnesota Department of Education. (2012a). ESEA flexibility request: Minnesota. Retrieved May 15, 2016, from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/eseaflex/mn.pdf

Minnesota Department of Education. (2012b). Multiple Measures Rating (MMR). 2016, from http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/SchSup/ESEAFlex/MMR/index.html

Minnesota Department of Education. (2014). ESEA flexibility renewal: Minnesota. Retrieved May 15, 2016, from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/eseaflex/approved-requests/mn2extreq82014.doc

Moore, S. C. (2014). Language Policy Processes and Consequences: Arizona Case Studies Tonawanda, NY: Multilingual Matters.

Morita-Mullaney, T. (2014). In/Exclusion of English Learners in longitudinal research: a historical review of Indiana’s s
chool accountability for English Learners.
Indiana Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, 11(1), 61-84.

Morita-Mullaney, T. (in press). Borrowing legitimacy as English Learner (EL) Leaders: Indiana’s 14-year history with English language proficiency standards. Language Testing.

No Child Left Behind, Pub.L. 107–110, 115 Stat. 1425 (2001).

Orfield, G. (2006). Foreword of The Unraveling of No Child Left Behind: How Negotiated Changes Transform the Law. In G. L. Sunderman (Ed.), Unraveling No Child Left Behind: How Negotiated Changes Transform the Law. Cambridge, MA: The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.

Pompa, D. (2016). New education law puts more pressure on states to serve English learners. Retrieved from https://edsource.org/2016/new-education-law-puts-more-pressure-on-states-to-serve-english-learners/92811.

Public Law 221, Indiana Code, 511 IAC Stat. (2011).

Short, D. (2000). The ESL standards: bridging the academic gap for English language learners. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics.

TESOL. (1997). ESL standards for pre-K–12 students. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Thomas, W. P., & Collier, V. (1997). School effectiveness for language minority students.

Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education.

Thomas, W. P., & Collier, V. P. (2002). A national study of school effectiveness for language minority students’ long-term academic achievement (pp. 351). Santa Cruz, CA: Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence.

U.S. Department of Education. (2011). The opportunity of the ESEA flexibility: protecting students and supporting educational solutions. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

U.S. Department of Education. (2014). Laws and guidance: ESEA flexibility. from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/esea-flexibility/index.html

Umansky, I., & Reardon, S. (2014). Bilingual, Dual Immersion, and English Immersion Classrooms in Reclassification Patterns Among Latino English Learner Students. American Educational Research Journal, XX(XX), 1-34. doi: 10.3102/0002831214545110

WIDA. (2016). Mission and WIDA story. from https://www.wida.us/aboutus/mission.aspx

Wiley, T. G. (2014). Consequences of Nullification. In S. C. K. Moore (Ed.), Language policy process and consequences: Arizona case studies (pp. 156-164). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.


  1. In 2002 an Enhanced Assessment Grant provided initial funding for the organization that would become WIDA. Three states were involved in the grant: Wisconsin (WI), Delaware (D), and Arkansas (A), so the acronym WIDA was chosen for the name. At the last minute, however, Arkansas dropped out, and World-class Instructional Design and Assessment was created to fit the acronym. As WIDA grew, however, the original name no longer adequately described its mission. Recently WIDA decided to stop using the acronym definition. Now WIDA just means WIDA (WIDA, 2016).


This introduction to the Somali language describes some of the major differences between Somali and English and the implications for writing tutors and instructors, and suggests the use of targeted mini-lessons.  The editors of the MinneTESOL Journal would like to thank Abdiasis Hirsi who played in instrumental role in mapping the comparisons you see below.


Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) writing tutors at Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, Minnesota, work with many multilingual speakers. The CAE is an interdisciplinary writing center; students come to the center at any stage in their writing process. Training varies by institution, but typically writing tutors are trained to identify patterns, provide examples, and focus on global issues such as organization, focus, and rhetorical appeals before local issues such as grammar (Fitzgerald & Ianetta, 2016). Writing tutors are neither editors nor proofreaders; the ultimate goal is to produce better writers, not better writing.

However, grammar remains an important component of language, and teachers frequently comment on and subtract points for grammar. This is an especially important issue for English Language Learners (ELLs) who often struggle with English and sometimes apply the grammatical and syntactical rules of their native languages to their writing. As language learning advances ELLs are less likely to do this (Thonus, 2014), but for many ELLs grammar is a big concern.

This paper has two purposes: to help college-level writing tutors build rapport with students of Somali heritage through a greater understanding of the Somali language and to offer tutors suggestions for working with Somali students. To accomplish these goals, this paper provides a nonlinguistic introduction to the Somali language, describes some of the major differences between Somali and English, discusses the implications for tutors, and suggests mini-lessons during tutorials. The paper is aimed at writing tutors, but may prove useful to writing instructors as well.

Introduction to the Somali Language

This is an excerpt of a Somali language British Broadcasting Corporation news article dated November 2, 2014.

Isticmaalka aan xadidnayn ee shidaalka aan nadiifka ahayn waa in la joojiyo si dhaqso ah si looga hortago isbadal cimilo oo qatar ah. Warbixin cusub ee isbadalka cimilada oo ay soo saartay kooxda IPCC ee Qaramada Midoobay ay taageerto ayaa sheegtay fariintan. IPCC ayaa ku dooday in marka la gaaro 2050 in inta badan korontada laga isticmaalo adduunka in laga dhalin karo hab karbon yar leh.

And this is the English version.

The unrestricted use of fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100, if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, a UN-backed expert panel says. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Synthesis Report summarises the causes, impacts of, and solutions to rising temperatures. It says most of the world’s electricity can – and must – be produced from low-carbon sources by 2050.

A quick scan of the two passages shows that Somali is written in the Roman alphabet, it uses a lot of double vowels, and the date 2050 appears in the middle of the Somali sentence and at the end of the English sentence, which suggests Somali has a different syntactical order than English.

The Somali language is Cushitic, which is an Afro-Asiatic language family with around thirty languages and is spoken in the Horn of Africa. Other Cushitic languages are Oromo (Ethiopia and Kenya), Afar (Eritrea), Sidamo (Ethiopia), and Bedawi (Sudan). Civil wars and the Somali diaspora make it hard to arrive at an exact number of Somali speakers, but estimates range from 13 million to more than 25 million (University of California Los Angeles Language Materials Project, n.d.).

There are three major dialects: Northern (the most common and the basis for standard Somali), Benadir (Indian coast) and May (southern Somalia). The Northern dialect has the most prestige in part because it’s the dialect most used by Somali poets who are highly respected (Saeed, 1999). Many speakers can understand all dialects, but people from remote areas may not be able to (Hirsi, 2014, personal communication).

Most borrowed words are Arabic, but Somali also borrows words from English, French, and Italian, the languages of former colonizers (UCLA, n.d.). Many names, such as Mohamed, Ahmed, Hasan, Fadumo, Ayesha, come from the Arabic language, but other names originate in Somali and convey character or other traits such as Róoble (Rain Bearer), Warsáme (Bearer of Good News), and Káaha (Distant Light, Dawn) (Saeed, 1999).  A Roman alphabet was finally adopted for the unwritten language in 1972 after other writing systems – Arabic and indigenous – were debated and rejected (Saeed, 1999).

The basic clause order is subject-object-verb (I cake eat; A man tea drank) (UCLA, n.d.). In general, though, the order is more flexible than English. Somali speakers who have lived in the U.S. tend to use the English word order – subject-verb-object — more often (Hirsi, 2014). Each sentence has one element – a noun or a verb – designated as the focus of the sentence (Saeed, 1999). In English, speakers and writers might emphasize a word by saying a word louder or by using italics to clarify meaning: The girl ate the rice; The girl ate the rice. But the Somali language uses short marker words to indicate the focus of the sentence.

For example, one way to say “The girl ate the rice” is:

Gabádhu baríiska báy cuntay
The girl the rice (focus word) (marker word+she) ate  (Orwin, 1995).

It is a somewhat tonal language; tones tend to mark gender and number distinctions. For example, inan is boy and inán is girl (Hirsi, 2014).

According to Orwin (1995), there is no word for please in Somali (p. 13). When English speakers want something, they might ask, “Would you please give me . . .” A Somali speaker might use a command, for example, “Give me . . .” “Many writers have commented on the egalitarian nature of Somali society . . . there has been little written on sociolinguistic topics like politeness, but it seems clear that the ready use of imperatives, or commands, along with the lack of polite pronouns, honorifics, etc. reflect that lack of social hierarchy felt amongst Somalis” (Saeed, 1999, p. 270).

Somali-English Differences and Implications for Tutors

In this paper, we offer a series of tables illustrating some of the differences between the Somali and English alphabets, nouns/articles, verbs, prepositions, and pronouns; the tables are followed by examples from a Somali student paper and mini-lesson suggestions.

Abdiasis Hirsi, a native Somali speaker who works as an ESL teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools and runs a Minneapolis tutoring center, Lightbulb Community Learning Center, believes that some Somali students at the college level can benefit from mini-lessons in basic English grammar. They often arrive in the U.S. from refugee camps without a traditional textbook education in English or even in their own language (Hirsi, 2014-2016). These students are considered “ear learners” and are often more comfortable with oral learning (Weigle, 2014). Writing tutors, who depend a great deal on social interaction and negotiation of meaning, can act as a bridge between oral and written learning. Stephen North, one of the most influential writing center scholars, wrote, “talk is everything” (1984, p. 444).

In the following mini-lessons, tutors can encourage both negotiation and discussion. Because tutors are not editors, they should focus on just a few patterns of error (Fitzgerald & Ianetta, 2016) in five- to ten-minute lessons. The suggestions are not exhaustive; what works for one student may not work with another. These suggestions ought to be seen as stepping-stones for further efforts to address and teach these differences.

Key Differences: Vowels, Consonants, and Sounds

Somali does not use the letters p, v, and z, and there is a one-to-one relationship between vowel letters and vowel sounds; English has multiple sounds per vowel. Table 1 shows these key differences.

Table 1. Somali and English Sound-Letter Correspondence

Somali English
Consonants: b, d, dh, g, q, ‘ (glottal stop — a sound produced when airflow is obstructed), t, k, f, s, sh, kh, x, c, h, j, m, n, r, l, w, y

Vowels: i, e, a, o, u, aa, ee, ii, oo, uu (Hirsi, 2014)

Uses all letters of the English alphabet except p, v, and z (Putman and Noor, 1993). Natives of Somalia often learn Arabic, which has the z sound, but not p or v (Hirsi, 2014).

Consonants: b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z

Vowels: a, e, i, o, u (y)

There is a one-to-one relationship between vowel letters and vowel sounds (Putman and Noor, 1993). There are multiple sounds per vowel (e.g.,  rope, top; life, live; cat, Kate; up, put).
Double vowels and consonants are pronounced with greater emphasis (Putman and Noor, 1993). Double letters are not emphasized or lengthened.

Implications for tutors

Somali students might misspell words using p, v, or z because they are less familiar with those letters and sounds, and this tendency can add ambiguity to the text. For example: Sowda couldn’t sit at her friend’s home because her little baby was sleeping at home, the other one-year-old son was on her lab …

If a student’s paper has many and consistent spelling mistakes related to these differences, remind the student that it’s common for Somali students to replace the letter p with the letter b because there is no letter p in Somali.

Invite the student to say and write down other words with the letters p and b to reinforce the difference. Recommend that the student make a list for practice and reference. Repetition may help strengthen the student’s spelling ability (Lightbrown & Spada, 2013).

Word and letter recognition fluency exercises can help.  Here is a simple exercise (adapted from Stoller & Grabe, 2011) targeting the p/b distinction.

Figure 1. Exercise Targeting P/B DistinctionFigure 1. Simple P/B Distinction Exercise

Key Differences: Nouns and Articles

Most nouns are countable in Somali; both countable and noncountable nouns are common in English. Definite articles in Somali are suffixes and there is no indefinite article, as spelled out in Table 2.

Table 2. Somali and English Nouns and Articles

Somali English
Nouns change (inflect) depending on whether they’re definite or indefinite.

  • shimbir (“bird,” also “a bird”)
  • shimbirta (“the bird”) (Hirsi, 2014)
Definite and indefinite nouns do not change (inflect).

  • a bird
  • the bird
Nouns are masculine or feminine (Putman and Noor, 1993).

  • Galáb (afternoon) feminine
  • Káb (shoe) feminine
  • Dhéri (clay pot) masculine
  • Wáran (spear) masculine (Saeed, 1999)
Nouns are not masculine or feminine.
The majority of nouns are countable (Saeed, 1999). Both countable and noncountable nouns are common.

  • He was filled with joy (noncount noun).
  • She had three children (countable noun).
There is no indefinite article. Indefinite nouns are expressed without an article (Putman and Noor, 1993).

  • Shimbir baa daaqadda ag maray.
  • A bird flew past the window.
  • Shimbir kii wuxuu ag maray daaqadda.
  • The bird flew past the window (Hirsi, 2014).

The definite article is a suffix that begins with k- for masculine nouns, t- for feminine nouns (Orwin, 1995).

English has both definite (the) and indefinite (a, an) articles.

  • A bird flew past the window.
  • The bird flew past the window.

Implications for Tutors

Countable and noncountable nouns in English are modified in different ways (less joy/fewer headaches; many students/much noise). This might be confusing to Somali speakers in part because few nouns in Somali are noncountable. Unfortunately, much of this must be memorized.

English articles are also confusing for Somali speakers and writers. The Somali language treats articles differently, so student writers might be prone to omitting articles or inserting the wrong one. For example: … and asked to come for a minute to see wedding ceremony; After minutes all neighbors came together

To all ELLs, articles often seem arbitrary and not grounded by rules. In many cases, it may be best to advise Somali students not to worry about article errors; they typically don’t impede clarity and clarity is the first mission of good writing. It’s better for the student to focus on errors that confuse the reader (Fitzgerald & Ianetta, 2016).

Key Differences: Verbs

There are many differences between Somali and English: Somali has fewer verb tenses; there are no perfect tenses; the passive voice exists in Somali but the agent of the action is often left off; and the present progressive tense is used differently in Somali than in English. These key differences are presented in Table 3 below.

Somali English
There are six verb tenses:simple present, simple past, present progressive, past progressive, habitual past and simple future.There are no perfect tenses (Hirsi, 2014). There are twelve verb tenses: simple present, past, and future; present, past, and future perfect; present, past, and future progressive; present, past, and future perfect progressive.
 Simple present is used for habitual action:

  • Waxaan aadaa shaqo maalin walba.
  • I go to work every day (Hirsi, 2014).
Simple present is used for habitual action:

  • I go to work every day.
 Verbs usually appear at the end of sentences, but they don’t have to:

  • Waxaan jabiyay saxanka
  • I broke the plate.
  • Saxankii ayaan jabiyay
  • The plate I broke (Hirsi, 2014).
Verbs typically precede objects:

  • I broke the plate.
 Present progressive tense can be used for an action happening now OR in the near future (Orwin, 1995).Waan cúnayaa:

  • I am eating it (now).
  • I will eat it (very soon) (Orwin, 1995).
Present progressive tense is used for action happening now.

  • I am eating it (now).
The passive voice exists, but speakers often leave off the agent of the action because:

  1. Somali doesn’t have the preposition “by,”
  2. the speaker wants to hide the agent,
  3. the speaker doesn’t need it (Hirsi, 2014).  

Passive can be formed with the impersonal pronoun “one”:

  • Kibísta wáa la cunay.
  • One ate the bread (Orwin, 1995).
Passive voice, in which subject-verb order is reversed, is fairly common.

  • The house was built by Patricia.
  • Mistakes were made (by unspecified persons).
Future tense can be expressed by using an infinitive, doon, which, used alone, means “to want” (Orwin, 1995). Future tense is typically indicated with helping verbs like “will” and “is going to.”

  • I will find it.
  • You are going to cook it.

Implications for Tutors

Some Somali writers might use the perfect tenses incorrectly because the Somali language doesn’t have the perfect tenses (Hirsi, 2014). Here are some examples.

In general, adopting children is not bad, it is really another opportunity of saving many children’s lives after they lost their real parents …

She was arrested and asked where she took the baby; she told that the baby had died after she taken to the Berbera region …

A tutor might explain that a native English speaker could interpret the sentence, “…the baby had died after she taken to the Berbera region…” in a few different ways, “she had taken it” in which she means the agent (a mother, perhaps) or “she was taken” (agentless passive), where she is the baby. Discussing these alternative interpretations with the student can help illustrate how verb forms affect meaning.

Ask a student to talk about how these sentences are expressed in Somali. Inviting this kind of reflection increases a tutor’s empathy for the difficulty of learning another language (Thonus, 2014). It also helps build rapport between student and tutor and offers a student the chance to reverse roles and teach the tutor.

Another idea is to use timelines (see, for example, Betty S. Azar’s Understanding and Using English Grammar Chartbook, 2009) to illustrate the differences between the tenses for visual learners. Kinesthetic and auditory learners might enjoy acting out the verb tenses with the tutor.

Have the student write sentences using the different tenses and explain the subtle differences; if the student struggles, the tutor can assist. This social and collaborative technique, in which the tutor and student negotiate the meaning of the differences, helps the student reinforce and consolidate new information (Hall, 2011).

Key Differences: Prepositions

Somali has only four words specifically designated as prepositions; English has many prepositions, as made clear in Table 4.

Table 4. Somali and English Prepositions

Somali English
Prepositions tend not to be short words because the words perform other grammatical functions as well; they change depending on what else is going on in the sentence (Hirsi, 2014). Prepositions tend to be short words, always precede a noun or pronoun, and often indicate direction, location, or time. Prepositions relate one sentence element (the object of the preposition) to another sentence element.

  • The house was on the left.
  • The book was on the table.
  • The train was on time.
Some preposition-like functions are fulfilled by nouns or words of place (Orwin, 1995):

  • awrta dhexdooda (the camels their center),
  • habeennimada horteeda (the night her front), and
  • markabka gudihiisa (the ship his interior) (Liberman, 1998).
  • among the camels
  • before nightfall
  • inside the ship
There are only four prepositions and they always precede the verb (Orwin, 1995).Gabadhu laybreeriga way   ku    qortaa.The girl   the library   she  in  she writes. There are many, many prepositions.

Implications for Tutors

Prepositions are confusing for many multilinguals including Somali students. The most common problem is that students choose the incorrect preposition or skip a necessary preposition. Here are some examples.

One day, Sowda was at home, one of her neighbors and was a friend of her, who lived [in] an apartment

… all neighbors came together and searched [for] the baby everywhere around the house …

As with articles, prepositions generally cannot be learned by following rules and must be memorized. However, misuse of prepositions is more likely to affect clarity. Drawing attention to the differences in prepositions between Somali and English is useful because a linguistic feature must first be consciously noticed in order for learning to occur (Schmidt, 1990; 2010).

Ask the student how different prepositions change the meaning of a sentence (e.g., “The bird flew [into, over, among, between, around, under] the trees.”). When possible, visual and kinesthetic learners might benefit from drawing representative pictures or acting out the prepositions.

Have the student reflect on the differences between English and Somali for preposition use. If possible, have the student provide some literal translations from Somali.

A tutor might also create a list of frequently misused prepositions in the student’s paper.  Ask the student to write several sentences using each of the prepositions correctly for post-tutorial reference and practice.

Because prepositions are so idiomatic, phrasal verb dictionaries and learner dictionaries such as the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English may be useful. Another option is to type a guiding question such as “What preposition is used after _____?” into a search engine and let the autocomplete feature offer suggestions (Zimmerman, 2009).

Key Differences: Pronouns

There are no direct translations in Somali for third person object pronouns, which can lead to ambiguity in student texts. The comparison with English is shown in Table 5.

Table 5. Somali and English Pronouns

Somali English
There are no direct translations for third person object pronouns (Orwin, 1995).

  • “The specific type of third person has to be recovered from context” (Saeed, 1999, p. 73).
There are third person object pronouns such as it, him, her, them.

  • Give them the dog.
  • Write the letter to her.

Implications for Tutors

Somali writers are prone to skipping third person object pronouns. Here is an example.

…she told that the baby had died after she taken to the Berbera region …

The tutor can note that if the pronoun is not in the sentence to provide context, readers will be confused; the tutor across the table represents such an audience (Fitzgerald & Ianetta, 2016). Using examples from a student’s paper can be especially effective during a tutorial (Larsen-Freeman, 2014), but tutors can also create other ambiguous examples with the student.

Have the student reflect on the significant differences between English and Somali for pronoun use. If possible, have the student provide some literal translations from Somali. Analytically inclined learners might benefit from creating a table that shows these differences. This table could then be used for practice and reference afterward.


College-level writing tutors can better serve Somali students by learning some of the basic differences between Somali and English. When tutors see recurring grammatical and/or syntax errors, they can ask students to reflect on and talk about the structure of their native language. A tutor can accompany this shared reflection with a mini-lesson on a grammar or writing point. Multilingual students are bound to appreciate this extra effort and their writing is likely to improve. And if student writing improves, writing tutors have done their jobs well.

Mahadsanid. Thank you. Nabad gelyo. Goodbye!


Fitzgerald, L., & Ianetta, M. (2016). The Oxford guide for writing tutors: practice and research. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Grabe, W., & Stoller, F. L. (2011). Teaching and researching reading (2nd ed.) New York, NY: Longman.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2014). Teaching grammar. In M. Celce-Murcia, D. Brinton, & D. Bohlke (Eds.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (pp. 256-271). Boston, MA: National Geographic Learning.

Liberman, M. (1998). Linguistics 202/502 Introduction to Field Linguistics, course notes. University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved from http://www.ling.upenn.edu/courses/Spring_1998/ling202/  and from http://www.ling.upenn.edu/courses/Spring_1998/ling202/nouns.htm  and from http://www.ling.upenn.edu/courses/Spring_1998/ling202/prepositions.htm

Lightbrown, Patsy & Spada, Nina (2013). How Languages are Learned (4th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McGrath, M. (2014, November 2). Fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 says IPCC. BBC. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29855884

North, S. M. (1984). The idea of a writing center. College English, 46(5), 433-446. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/377047

Orwin, M. (1995). Colloquial Somali: A complete language course. London and New York:    Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.

Putman, D. B., & Noor, M. C. (1993). The Somalis: Their history and culture, refugee [Fact Sheet No. 9]. International Rescue Committee. Retrieved from http://www.rescue.org/sites/default/files/migrated/where/united_states_salt_lake_city_ut/the-somalis-a-cultural-profile.pdf

Saeed, J. (1999). Somali (Vol. 10). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Schmidt, R. (1990). The role of consciousness in second language learning. Applied Linguistics, 11(1), 17-46.

Schmidt, R. (2010). Attention, awareness, and individual differences in language learning. In W. M. Chan, S. Chi, K. N. Cin, J. Istanto, M. Nagami, J. W. Sew, T. Suthiwan, & I. Walker, Proceedings of CLaSIC 2010, Singapore, December 2-4 (pp. 721-737). Singapore: National University of Singapore, Centre for Language Studies.

Thonus, T. (2014). Tutoring multilingual students: Shattering the myths. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 44(2), 200­-213.

University of California, Los Angeles Language Materials Project. (n.d.). Teaching resources for less commonly taught languages. Retrieved from http://www.lmp.ucla.edu/Profile.aspx?LangID=202&menu=004

Warbixinta isbadalka cimilada. (2014, November 2). BBC Somali. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/somali/aqoon_guud/2014/11/141102_climate_change   

Weigle, S. C. (2014). Considerations for teaching second language writing. In M. Celce-Murcia, D. Brinton, & D. Bohlke (Eds.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (pp. 222-237). Boston, MA: National Geographic Learning.

Zimmerman, C. B. (2009). Word knowledge: A vocabulary teacher’s handbook. New York: Oxford University Press.



In order to best serve children who are refugees and who have experienced trauma, teachers must be trauma-informed and understand their role in classroom-based supports for these students.

Minnesota has a tradition of welcoming refugees. Approximately 3,000 refugees resettle here each year, with about 55% of these refugees being under the age of 18 (Minnesota Department of Health, 2016). As numbers of refugees increase worldwide, more and more refugees will continue to resettle in Minnesota (American Immigration Council, 2015). Therefore, as refugees continue to make their homes within our communities, it is more important than ever that teachers and other school staff members understand the implications of the term ‘refugee,’ and how to most effectively work with these students and families.

A refugee, according to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (2013) is “a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a ‘well-founded fear of persecution’.” By definition, the term refugee implies having experienced fear-inducing circumstances or events, and in many circumstances, this danger has had the potential to be traumatic. Therefore, these individuals are at a high risk of experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition brought on by any traumatic event and characterized by intense flashbacks and anxiety. Refugee children are especially vulnerable to the effects of trauma, but unfortunately there is a relatively little research, as well as little awareness in schools, on how to provide care for children who are experiencing these challenges. To improve refugee children’s mental health in the most effective and accessible way, teachers and other school staff must support school-based methods to combat the unique trauma refugee children face. This article seeks to explain the trauma throughout all stages of refugees’ forced migration, discuss the current interventions used for refugee children, and offer specific ideas to teachers to support these students based on these accepted therapeutic practices.

Refugees and Experiences with Trauma

Refugees often experience trauma throughout their entire migration. In their countries of origin, they may experience loss, violence, and deprivation of basic needs (Hart, 2009; Isakson, Legerski, & Layne, 2015; Kia-Keating & Ellis, 2007). In refugee camps, although these are supposed to be safe places, oftentimes violence can break out among the inhabitants. Displacement and separation from family can also manifest itself in negative behaviors and emotions (Shannon, Wieling, McCleary, & Becher, 2015). Once refugees are able to leave the camp to migrate to their new home, they may face confusion, uncertainty, and a dangerous journey (Hart, 2009). Finally, once settled, they often experience poor living conditions and poverty, feel unsafe in a new country, must navigate unfamiliar expectations, and are separated from their families (Isakson et al., 2015; Shannon et al., 2015). Each of these traumas compound and collectively affect mental health (Betancourt, Newnham, Layne, Kim, Steinberg, Ellis, & Birman, 2012). Although refugee parents try to serve as a protective shield for their children, if they themselves are combating PTSD, they are less able to do so.

As a vulnerable population, children experience trauma especially acutely. There are several estimates of the percentage of refugee children who experience PTSD: from 19-54% for refugee youth to 50-90% for refugee elementary-age children (Isakson et al., 2015; Schottelkorb, Doumas & Garcia, 2012). Children who are refugees also experience other mental health issues: an estimated 3-30% of refugee children experience depression, while in a study of 60 war-affected refugee children ages 3-18 by Betancourt et al. (2012), 26.7% of the refugee children experienced anxiety (Isakson et al., 2015).

Effects of Trauma on Schooling

Stemming directly from these concerns are academic and behavioral issues. In the study above by Betancourt et al. (2012), 53.6% of the 60 children experienced academic problems and 44.6% exhibited behavioral difficulties in the classroom. As refugee children are constantly consumed by the fear of experiencing a flashback or the need to numb themselves against stressors, they are unable to regulate their behavior or process new information. If untreated, this can lead to maladaptive behaviors, including aggression and risky behavior (Kamaliddin, Hol, Leotaud, & McKinney, 2015).

Another contributing factor to refugee children’s struggles is the need to adapt not only to a new culture, but to new roles within the family (Kia-Keating & Ellis, 2007). Oftentimes, children can adapt to the new country more quickly than their parents. Although parents attempt to shield their children from the dangers of their new home, they often are not able to fully understand this new place to the extent that their children do. This can cause anxiety for both parents and children because it is a redefinition of what the parental roles have been in the past, from a protector to someone who needs help (Hart, 2009). These new roles can evoke feelings of guilt for parents, as they feel as though they are not doing their job, and confusion for children, as they are thrown into an unexpected leadership role.

Barriers for Implementing Mental Health Interventions

It is important for teachers to understand that, although their students certainly require and deserve mental health services, many refugee children do not receive these mental health services due to several barriers (Price, Ellis, Escudero, Hoffman-Gottschling, Sander, & Birman, 2012). Structural barriers include a lack of mental health providers nearby, or a lack of insurance or money to pay for the services. Another barrier is struggling to meet basic needs of one’s family: if a parent must dedicate their time to finding employment, they will not have time to seek mental health interventions for their children (Shannon et al., 2015).

Perceptions can also serve as barriers. A parent may be unable or unwilling to identify a child’s mental health problem. They may be experiencing traumatic symptoms themselves, and so cannot identify their child’s maladaptive response, or they may blame themselves and do not want to admit that there is any issue. Furthermore, mental health awareness may not be an explicit part of their home culture, and so it may be harder to recognize. If they do recognize the problem, they may not want to ask for help from an unknown counseling center run by people who do not look like them and do not share their experiences. They especially do not want their child exposed to anything else that may be harmful. This stigma keeps families from taking advantage of services that may be available.

Why School-Based Interventions?

To overcome these barriers, one way to make mental health services more available to refugee children is to embed them within schools. School is one of the most influential social services families connect with when they move to the United States (Kia-Keating & Ellis, 2007). Because of this, schools are in the unique position to serve as the first point of contact between the family and community. By providing services in a setting to which families are already connected, it is more likely that the families will continue to take advantage of this service because they do not have to use outside time and resources to connect with another provider. Not only does the service become more accessible, but the stigma associated with receiving mental health support is also reduced (Kia-Keating & Ellis, 2007). All children must attend school, so receiving mental health support at school simply becomes another part of a child’s day, and not something that is viewed as strange.

Unfortunately, many schools lack the resources or the knowledge necessary to provide students with such services. As teachers, although we cannot always ensure that our schools provide these services, we can absolutely make sure that our own classrooms are trauma-informed. This support within the classroom helps refugee children feel as though they belong in their new community. In a study by Kia-Keating & Ellis (2007), it was found that, regardless of the level of trauma the students had experienced, an increased sense of school belonging led to a decrease in depression and social-emotional distress, and an increase in self-efficacy, motivation, and academic achievement. In providing this support to refugee children, the teacher sends a message that the children belong in the community and that the child is worth investing in. Therefore, it is important for teachers to be aware of current understandings of refugee children’s trauma and the interventions used to combat the effects of this trauma, so that teachers may use appropriate parts of these understandings in their own classroom settings.

KidNET: Narrative Exposure Theory

Currently there are a limited number of studies regarding how to best serve the vulnerable population of refugee children who desperately need mental health interventions. According to Schottelkorb et al. (2012), “there are no evidence-based treatments for traumatized refugee children at this time,” (p. 58) so instead, refugees are forced to settle for “evidence-informed” practice (Isakson et al., 2015). However, one widely accepted intervention for working with refugee children who have experienced trauma is narrative exposure therapy, or KidNET (Neuner, Catani, Ruf, Schauer, Schauer, & Elbert, 2008). In KidNET, children are asked to narrate the story of their lives, not just the trauma. They are asked to connect this narrative to certain items: rope, flowers, and rocks. The rope represents the timeline of a child’s life. As children work their way through their rope, they place flowers at happy parts in their lives and rocks at difficult parts.

This practice is grounded in current understandings of episodic memory, or memories of specific events. These memories consist of declarative memories (the facts about the event) and nondeclarative representations (the emotional and sensory aspects one experienced during the event). Re-experiencing episodic memories can be problematic when one remembers the event so intensely that they are not just recalling the facts, but truly feeling the emotions and sensory experience (flashbacks). These flashbacks are incredibly overwhelming for anyone, especially a child, and typically results in avoidant behavior, or attempts to keep away from any thoughts, people, or places that may trigger these flashbacks (Neuner et al., 2008). It is important for teachers to understand that this “fight-or-flight” survival technique in refugee children is a predictable response. If a child is triggered and their response is to run out of the room or hide under a desk, for example, they are not trying to disrupt or distract the class, but are simply having an intense physiological trauma response.

Therefore, the goal of KidNET is to help children represent the traumatic event as a declarative memory, not a sensory-perceptual one (Neuner et al., 2008). By allowing children to tell their stories and connect these stories to tangible items, children can feel relief in making sense of their experiences, rather than being overwhelmed with re-experiencing the emotion and sensory components of the trauma. Teachers can support these students by first understanding how trauma and PTSD can affect learning, and then incorporating elements of these accepted practices into the educational setting.

Strategies for Processing Traumatic Events

It is important to note that teachers are unable to act as sole therapists to refugee students because teachers do not have the expertise to provide this care. However, all school staff (including teachers) can make sure the school environment is welcoming to refugee students, as well as incorporate principles of healing and current therapeutic practices that may be beneficial to these students in an educational setting.

Trauma-Informed Activities

First, teachers must be trauma-informed. In a study by Price et al. (2012), 90% of teachers reported that they had no training to support the emotional needs of their students, especially those of refugee children affected by trauma. All staff members must be educated about how trauma affects refugee children in and outside the classroom, and then use this knowledge to design trauma-informed activities.

One such activity can be taken directly from the principles of KidNET: creating a graphic “life map,” or a timeline of positive and negative events in students’ lives, perhaps even using the same symbols of rocks and flowers. This will not only help the students make sense of their experiences, but help teachers better understand their students as well. Students may use pictures and/or words on their life maps, depending on their ages and English abilities. Another graphic activity that can be helpful for refugee children who have experienced trauma is drawing their nightmares or flashbacks. In drawing these nightmares and explaining them to a teacher, students are given the opportunity to process their experiences and continue to transfer these sensory experiences into declarative ones (Kamaliddan et al., 2015). Research indicates that these sorts of opportunities for creativity in the classroom allow students to develop a personal account of their lives and experiences, as well as express their emotions to others, which in turn increases students’ self-esteem and problem-solving abilities (Tyrer & Fazel, 2014).

Facilitating a Sense of Safety and Control

Students who have PTSD also have a difficult time feeling safe and in control because they are fearful that they will re-experience the traumatic event. Teachers can help students combat this by practicing visualization techniques, such as imagining themselves in a safe place and starting to plan for their futures, because this helps them to believe that they will indeed have a future (Kamaliddan et al., 2015). Furthermore, because children with PTSD are in survival mode, they may have difficulties planning or setting goals for the future, so teachers may provide extra assistance and patience when supporting children in planning and reaching their goals.

School-Community Collaboration

It is important for teachers to not only utilize these current practices, but also to collaborate with the community to which the student belongs in order to recognize and utilize the resources the refugee child’s family already has. For example, a study by Betancourt et al. (2015) found that the most significant protective factors that combat the effects of trauma for Somali refugee families were faith, family communication, and community support. Clearly these are important values held in the Somali refugee community, and so should be at the forefront when designing interventions and developing relationships with that community. For example, teachers may encourage these students to talk about their own faith and how that makes them feel safe, or teachers may discuss decisions with the entire family, perhaps including extended family members. By adapting interventions to community norms and values, support will be more accessible to the students, and both students and families will have greater engagement (Price et al., 2012).


Although more research needs to be done regarding the specifics of the most effective mental health interventions for refugee children, it is clear that refugee children face unique and harmful trauma throughout their entire migration experience. However, it is important to remember that, although this article focused on refugee students, there are many English learners in our classrooms that have experienced similar traumatic events that are not necessarily characterized as refugees (including, but not limited to, undocumented students from Central and South America). These students require and deserve the supports and interventions outlined above to combat the effects of their traumas as well.

School-based interventions that actively utilize resources refugee families inherently possess are the most accessible, effective, and inclusive method to support these students and their families. By caring for refugee children in this way, we are best able to make sure that students are happy, healthy, and successful.


American Immigration Council (2015). An overview of U.S. refugee law and policy. Immigration Policy Center. Retrieved from http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just‐facts/refugees‐fact-sheet

Betancourt, T. S., Newnham, E. A., Layne, C. M., Kim, S., Steinberg, A. M., Ellis, H., & Birman, D. (2012). Trauma history and psychopathology in war-affected refugee children referred for trauma-related mental health services in the United States. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 25, 682-690. doi: 10.1002/jts.21749

Betancourt, T. S., Abdi, S., Ito, B., Lilienthal, G. M., Agalab, N., & Ellis, H. (2015). We left one war and came to another: Resource loss, acculturative stress, and caregiver-child relationships in Somali refugee families. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 21, 114-125. doi: 10.1037/a0037538

Hart, R. (2009). Child refugees, trauma and education: Interactionist considerations on social and emotional needs and development. Education Psychology in Practice, 25, 351-368. doi: 10.1080/02667360903315172

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, 8 U. S. C. § 1101 (2013).

Isakson, B. L., Legerski, J., & Layne, C. M. (2015). Adapting and implementing evidence-based interventions for trauma-exposed refugee youth and families. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 45, 245-253. doi: 10.1007/s10879-015-9304-5

Kamaliddin, H., Hol, D., Leotaud, V. R., & McKinney, D. (2015, October 15). Treating the trauma of young Syrian refugees. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/13/health/treating-the-trauma-of-young-syrian-refugees.html?_r=0

Kia-Keating, M. & Ellis, B. H. (2007). Belonging and connection to school in resettlement: Young refugees, school belonging, and psychosocial adjustment. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 12, 29-43. doi: 10.1177/1359104507071052

Minnesota Department of Health. Refugee health statistics. Minnesota.gov. Retrieved from http://www.health.state.mn.us/refugee/stats/

Neuner, F., Catani, C., Ruf, M., Schauer, E., Schauer, M., & Elbert, T. (2008). Narrative exposure therapy for the treatment of traumatized children and adolescents (KidNET): From neurocognitive theory to field intervention. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 17, 641-664. doi: 10.1016/j.chc.2008.03.001

Price, O. A., Ellis, B. H., Escudero, P. V., Hoffman-Gottschling, K., Sander, M. A., & Birman, D. (2012). Implementing trauma interventions in schools: Addressing the immigrant and refugee experience. Advances in Education in Diverse Communities: Research, Policy, and Praxis, 9, 95-119. doi: 10.1108/S1479-358X

Schottelkorb, A. A., Doumas, D. M., & Garcia, R. (2012). Treatment for childhood refugee trauma: A randomized, controlled trial. International Journal of Play Therapy, 21, 57-73. doi: 10.1037/a0027430

Shannon, P. J., Wieling, E., McCleary, J. S., & Becher, E. (2015). Exploring the mental health effects of political trauma with newly arrived refugees. Qualitative Health Research, 25, 443-457. doi: 10.1177/1049732314549475

Tyrer, R. A. & Fazel, M. (2014). School and community-based interventions for refugee and asylum seeking children: A systematic review. PLOS ONE, 9, 1-12.

Additional Resources

For more information, visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network at http://nctsn.org/trauma-types/refugee-trauma/guidance-teachers.