English Learner Problems and some Alternative Solutions

Dion Ginanto


Nobody can choose what country they were born in. Therefore, in whatever country they belong, they will speak the language. However, for some reasons, there are a lot of students who cannot avoid the situation in which they must learn another language, due to their parents migrating to another country. Consequently, the students must be able to adapt to the new culture and the new language. The main reasons why students must learn the new language are either for survival or for enhancing their general profile of skills (Orozco, Orozco, and Todorova, 2008). One example in which a student experienced this kind of phenomenon is depicted by Moises in the short Movie entitled Immersion. In the movie, Moises faced some challenges to the school, which has different languages and cultures. This paper will discuss some alternative solutions for a school principal to overcome the problem of the English Learner students from my perspective.

Moises in the Movie

            The movie Immersion by Richard Levien is about a ten-year-old Moises who has just immigrated to California from Mexico. He is very good at math, but he speaks no English. One day, he was able to get the right answers of the math exercise, but another student Enrique, poaches the answer from him and Moises ends up being embarrassed in front of the class. Moises has requested a Spanish version of the test, but the teacher does not know what to do. The teacher has asked the principal for the Spanish version of the math test, but the principal said that they are not even permitted to speak to the student in Spanish. Moises almost decided not to do math test since his classmate, Ferrado, thought that they would fail the test. Moises did arithmetic part of the test easily, but he did not understand the word problems at all.

This phenomenon happens not only for Moises, but I believe there are some Moiseses outside the movie who have the same problems. On one hand, the school need to fulfill the NCLB act that requested the school to perform well. However, the students who do not speak English well would hinder the progress of schools meeting the goals of this legislation (Parmon, 2010).

Some Alternative Solutions

As an educator we need to work hard to help the students like Moses to get the same rights as other students in schools, and we need to strive to realize the NCLB acts. There are some solutions regarding Moises’s problem in the Immersion movie: 1. Bilingual education, 2. After school program, 3. Parental involvement, and 4. Cultural education.

  1. Bilingual education

Parmon (2010) wrote that bilingual education involves teaching academic content in two languages, with varying amounts of time spent in both the native language and secondary language, depending on the specific program. This program promotes English proficiency for the students, but the students need to maintain their native languages and cultures. There are several types of bilingual education. Some programs may be considered to be more effective than others, it depends on the school demographics. Zacarian & Haynes (2012) in Cooper (2013) divided bilingual program into four parts: maintenance bilingual, bilingual immersion, transitional bilingual and structured immersion. Cooper (2013) defines maintenance bilingual and bilingual immersion as bilingual programs that promote bilingualism and bi-literacy; the goal is to develop proficiency in two languages. These models work best when the school has a critical mass of students with the same native languages. Meanwhile, transitional bilingual does not promote bilingualism and biliteracy. The goals of transitional bilingual are to move English learners as quickly as possible to English proficiency (Cooper, 2013). The last type of bilingual programs is structural immersion. This model does not promote bilingualism and bileteracy. The goal is for students to learn as they master the content. This program is primarily, if not exclusively, taught in English (Cooper, 2013).

Given the four programs of bilingual education, the principal of Moises is free to choose which program is best suitted to the students in the school. The principal should choose a program that is considered to be effective, so that the school meets the academic needs of the diverse learners (Parmon, 2010).

  1. After school program

The movie Immersion reveals that the students are so diverse. Even though the movie only focuses on Moises and Ferrado, who have difficulties in English, I believe there are some other students in the school who have similar problems. I propose that the school organizes an after school program for EL students. The aim of the after school program is not merely to teach English, but also to teach culture and materials, which are needed by the students like Moises. The school principal, who is also community leader, should be able to promote this program to the community. By increasing the communities’ awareness to the importance of the program, they will help accomplish the school’s mission by either financing or voluntary staffing the program. Khalifa (2012) asserted that, based on several studies, school leadership can play a role in community-oriented goals, improve the neighborhood community, and thus, improve the lives of the students.

  1. Parental Involvement

Orozco, Orozco, and Todorova (2008) asserted that there is a clear link between parental education and how well a person learns a new language. I agree with this thought; but also wonder if the parents also have the same problems; they speak no English. Moises’ family are the immigrants from Mexico that seem to speak Spanish only. Therefore, asking parents to speak English informally at home will seems not succeed. Parental involvement here is not merely asking them to teach English, instead the school should be able to make them part of the school life. Noguera (2004) contended that the form of involvement is not merely calling parents to be more caring to students and more supportive of teachers, but rather creating and developing partnerships based upon mutual accountability and responsibility. Khalifa (2012) wrote about at least two approaches for a school principal to engage parental involvement: 1. Establishing a strong community presence to create community trust (by creating opportunities for parents to come into the schools, and through community-based advocacy, doing home visits, visiting a church, leading a rally against racism in schools, etc.), and 2. Placing the community issues at the center of the school (community partnership goals, and advocating for community-based goals).

  1. Multicultural education

Zacarian and Haynes (2012) wrote that there is a particularly challenge for SLIFE (programs for EL students); that they may feel and be put down by their peers and others for their lack of literacy skills. This phenomenon really happens in the Immersion movie in which Moises was embarrassed by his friends in the class. He also had to get out from the kickball game for the lack of English ability. This tragedy should not happen if the school teaches the students about diversity of culture. Teaching culture in the class is commonly called multicultural education. Delpit (2006) asserted that teachers should realize that students have different cultural and language backgrounds, and therefore, schools need to address multicultural education in schools. Moises and some other Spanish students will not feel embarrassed if all students understand that the students who are from a different country will have different cultures and languages, and therefore, every students should respect cultural diversity. If I were the principal of the school where Moises studied, I would add multicultural education to be embedded in every subject in the classroom.

In conclusion, Moises in the Immersion movie should be treated equally. Thus, the principal should be able to administer some programs that can help Moises and other international students adjust to the new culture at schools. I believe that by giving students programs such as bilingual education, after school programs, parental involvement, and multicultural education, this will lead to the betterment of the school in dealing with immigrant students. Since the main role of the principal are as an instructional leader and community leader, the principal therefore, should stand on the front line of dealing with school problems, including the immigrant student problems.



Cooper, Kristy. (2013). Students who are english learners (Chapter A). A class presentation. Michigan: Michigan State University.

Delpit, L. (2006) Other Peoples Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. New York: New Press.

Khalifa, M. (2012). A e-new-ed paradigm in successful urban school leadership: Principal as community leader. Educational Administration Quarterly.

Noguera, P. A. (2004) Transforming urban schools through investments in the social capital of parents.  New York, New York:  In Motion Magazine.

Orozco, Orozco, and Todorova. (2008). Learning a new land: Immigrant students in American Society. Chapter 4: “The Challenge of learning englsih.”

Parmon, P. (2011) Educating immigrant children: Bilingualism in america’s schools. Social Sciences Journal. 10(1)



Immersion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6Y0HAjLKYI