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New Program Prepares Teachers to Help Students Who Don't Speak English

$1.3 million grant awarded to MU from U.S. Department of Education

Sept. 26, 2007

Story Contact:  Jennifer Faddis, 573-882-6127,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Spanish, Bosnian/Serbo/Croatian, Vietnamese, Arabic and Somali are the top five foreign languages spoken by school children in Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. It may sound surprising, but the numbers of non-English speaking students are on the rise. Now, a new program through the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Education has been granted $1.3 million from the U.S. Department of Education to prepare 100 Missouri teachers to teach English to students who do not use it as their native language.

The program — English Language Learning in Missouri (ELL-MO) — will bring teachers to campus during the next five years, approximately 20 per year. They will take two fall courses, two winter courses, two summer courses and a field-based practicum the following fall semester in order to be certified in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

"Teachers have to understand that acquiring a second language is quite different from the way students acquire their native language," said Roy Fox, chair of the Department of Learning, Teaching and Curriculum in the MU College of Education. "It's much more complicated because students are thinking in their native language and trying to translate."

The program also teaches about the culture and background of different types of foreign speaking students. Many times, according to Fox, culture plays a role in language development as well.

"In 1999, there were no students in Missouri who spoke Bengali as their native language," Fox said. "However, by 2005 there were 277. Bengali is now the 10th most common foreign language spoken in Missouri schools."

In the past, TESOL has been slow to get off the ground and into mainstream academic work in schools, according to Fox. ELL-MO plans to use a more innovative and cutting-edge approach to helping teachers handle the growing population of non-English speaking students.

"ELL is a quite a specialty with its own methodology, and as the numbers of non-English speaking students continue to increase this specialty will be in greater demand. We already have a shortage of such teachers," Fox said. "It is a pressing need; the number of students in Missouri who did not speak English as their native language was 7,600 in 1998. In 2005, that number had increased to 20,000."