ULG's Language Services Blog

How to Help ELL Students Start the School Year Off Right


It’s that time of year again. Across the United States, children are heading back to school. Naturally, many children have mixed feelings about this. However, English Language Learners (ELL) and their families face a special set of challenges. Are you setting up your ELL students up for success? Here are four ways to help them start the school year off right. 

Get to know your ELL students

ELL students sometimes face unique challenges that go beyond language barriers. To help them learn, you need to know more than just a face and a name. If possible, teachers should be aware of their students' English proficiency levels, as well as their previous school attendance and academic history. It's also important to know the background of the family. What brought them to the United States? What were their lives like before they got here, and what have their lives been like since then?

Of course, it's still essential for teachers to learn students' names (and how to pronounce them).

What languages do students already speak? There's an unfortunate tendency to see ELL students and their families as less educated, but in some cases, ELL students already speak more than one language.

Finally, find out what you can about the students' cultural backgrounds. Some cultural beliefs and traditions can affect education and communication. For example, in some cultures, it is not considered appropriate for students to make eye contact with teachers or authority figures.

Get to know the ELL families

Reach out to ELL families, preferably in their native language. Have an interpreter available for meetings, or send out translated versions of back-to-school questionnaires.

For more tips, see our article on effectively engaging minority parents.

Make ell students and families feel welcome

The research is clear: kids do best in school when their parents are engaged in their education. However, it's unrealistic to expect parents to be involved when they have no idea what's going on. It's also unrealistic to expect ELL students to excel in an environment where they feel unwelcome.

Incorporating ELL families' cultural traditions and holidays into school when appropriate is one way to make them feel at ease. However, the most crucial part of making ELL students and families feel welcome is to provide them with easy access to the information they need about the school.

At the minimum, schools must offer translated versions of the following materials:

  • Registration and enrollment materials.
  • Information about language assistance programs
  • Student/parent handbooks, and any other information about school disciplinary policies and procedures.
  • Permission slips for field trips and other special activities.
  • Information about special education and gifted and talented programs.
  • Student report cards and progress reports.

For more information, see  Translation for LEP Students and Families: 7 Types of Paperwork to Translate Now (and 3 to Translate Later).

You may also consider posting signs in ELL families’ languages for orientation.

Refine your translation process

How well is your school’s current translation process working? Are parents and students able to get the information they need when they need it, in a format that they can understand?  Are teachers and administrators able to communicate with ELL families when issues arise?

If you haven’t already, now is the time to review and make any necessary changes.  

Schools and school districts have a legal responsibility to make sure that all of their students have access to education and that all families can participate in that education. Choosing the right language services provider makes that much easier. United Language Group has education specialists on hand to make sure ELL students and families get the information they need for success when they need it. Meanwhile, our efficient and professional project management process saves time and money.

For more information on how we can help your school reach out to ELL students and families, please don’t hesitate to contact us.