ELL Case Study: Spanish and English Languages

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Mary is a 7th grade, Spanish speaking student attending classes that offer native language literacy programs to Spanish speaking students. For her case Spanish is her primary language used by peers, parents and at home. Mary has been facing challenges associated with low reading abilities of both Spanish and English languages spoken and written forms. She faces lack of comprehension of what is going on in the classroom and has to rely on her Spanish speaking peers to help her through school work.

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When tutoring Mary, she at most times fail to recognize and site words in English and has difficulty remembering words that have been repeated within a passage. From this I have determined that Mary does not have phonemic awareness. Relying on her classes grade in oral reading assessments, Mary has shown very little improvement in letter sounds. This is because when I asked Mary to stretch words together with me, she showed a lot of difficulty identifying the starting and ending sounds of words.

Marys Phonology, production and misproduction of discrete English phonemes

Actual English word Marys pronunciation in IPA Linguistic interference


(MIS-che-vus) Mis-CHEE-bee-us This kind of mispronunciation is a very common phenomenon among native Spanish speakers in the United States using English for the learning activities. This is because, they use English for their most schooling activities and with their native heritage tend to make simple mistakes in English Orthography, often spelling words phonetically like in this case. This mistake arises from the fact that the Spanish heritage spell words containing or beginning with a V with a B instead. This is because, the Spanish language considers this two sounds identical with no differentiation at all (H Ford, 2014).

Teeth Tee-e-h With accent differences, there are common pronunciation mistakes Spanish learners of English make. For this case, Mary tends to input an e at the beginning of words that start with s for instance, spaces pronounced as espaces. For a word like teeth, Mary has a difficulty mastering the; th sound of this words. Mary construct sentences and phrases in the direct context of her Spanish heritage which actually tries to spell words literary as they sound to ensure they get a more creative way of their English understanding (H Ford, 2014).

Communication and interaction

When trying to communicate, read and interact with teacher, fellow students and peers I realized that Mary had difficulty concentrating and interacting when she came across phrases, words or expressions that she had trouble pronouncing and speaking. For instance, Mary would be seen reading and speaking with exuberance and with the best expression until she came across phrases she would not put together. At this point she would look up in an ashamed manner and cover her mouth and sometimes speak up that she hates speaking English. From her behaviors I realized that Mary was exhibiting a behavior seen and noted in individual learners with captivity of psychological and cultural heritage. This makes it difficult negotiating her cultural identity. As depicted Mary had a clear conscious that she had made a mistake and did not deliver her intended message the right way and in many instances thought that she was inferior and her message would be misinterpreted.


After engaging Mary in a read write comprehension task involving reading a passage and answering a few questions from the passage in oral and written English Mary did not perform well. She really could not answer the questions correctly and in oral form depicted misrepresented understanding with indications of confused understanding of the context and interpretation. This can be attributed to the fact due to her heritage barrier she actually could not understand the English context she read in order to answer the question and furthermore, interpreted the words directly as seen with struggling Spanish English learners across all studies (Brinton, Kagan & Bauckus, 2008).

The table below show the common words she mispronounced;

Actual English word Marys mispronunciation

Aegis (ee-jis) Ay-jis

Picture (pik-cher) Pit-cher

Candidate (kan-di-dayt) Kan-i-dayt

Probably (prob-a-blee) Prob-lee

Supposedly (su-pos-ed-lee) Su-pos-ab-lee

Mischievous (MIS-che-vus) Mis-CHEE-vee-us

Library (li-brar-y) li-bar-y

From the above mispronounced words, we can assume that Mary was facing a spelling problem associated with Spanish heritage English learners. In Spanish, words are actually spelled the way they sound. They dont have silent letters as found in the English language nor words that sound exactly the same but different spellings for example we are looking at you (buy/bye/by). This is leads to such learners trying to ease English spelling in creative ways.


With Mary behavior regardless of whether instructions are in English or Spanish means that she needs a lot of attention to piece it together. After working closely with her in understood that English language learners dont always require instruction in English language only. They need them in their heritage language too so that they can compare and contrast the similarities and differences of the two languages and in this case basic awareness of phonemes (Xiang, 2015). ELL learners are not different from their mainstream peers because there are a couple of ways and styles required by their tutors to be flexible with the instruction to a more universal mode that is comprehensible and will boost confidence and the language itself.


Brinton, D., Kagan, O., & Bauckus, S. (2008). Heritage language education. New York, NY: Routledge.

H Ford, H. (2014). 10 Common Challenges Spanish Speakers Have When Learning English | Rev.com. Blog.rev.com. Retrieved 6 March 2016, from http://blog.rev.com/articles/language/10-common-challenges-spanish-speakers-have-learning-english/

Xiang, L. (2015). Book review: L Ferlazzo and KH Sypnieski, The ESL/ELL teacher's survival guide: Ready-to-use strategies, tools, and activities for teaching English language learners of all levels. Language Teaching Research, 19(2), 245-246. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1362168814547038

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