Considering how English Language Learners Visualize Text

Each year I teach English Language Learners that represent anywhere from 3 to 6 different language backgrounds. I have tried at times to put myself in their shoes by reading Spanish, something I have limited capacity to understand.  Consider this sentence: (And let me say, I read this sentence with pretty fair fluency. Sounding out words with good inflection, does not a reader make.)

Quería probar el nuevo restaurante cerca del centro, pero iba a ser demasiado lleno , así que nos fuimos al restaurante chino , dragón rojo , en su lugar. 

Using my very best Spanish skills and background knowledge, I pick up on these things:

1.    I know “nuevo” means new because of towns in Texas such as “Nuevo Laredo.” (But I had to sit and draw on some background knowledge to get that word.)

2.    “Restaurante” is a cognate to restaurant.

3.    “Centro” means city.

4.    I don’t know any word meanings pero-lleno.

5.    “Restaurante Chino” might mean “Chinese Restaurant.”

6.    I’m not for sure, but if “dragón” is a cognate, then that part means “red dragon.”

All the meaning I have gained is that there is a new restaurant in the city and there is a Chinese restaurant called Red Dragon. I have a few visualizations of restaurants.The sentence in English says: I wanted to try the new restaurant near downtown, but it was going to be too crowded, so we went to the Chinese restaurant, Red Dragon, instead. While I was visualizing restaurants, I was missing the point of the sentence, which had more to do with why the individual chose to eat at the Chinese restaurant. Our ELL kids struggle with this and often miss the bigger pictures as they are learning a new language.

This can potentially be a roadblock to good visualization and comprehension. The good news is, with time and instruction this naturally improves.


3 thoughts on “Considering how English Language Learners Visualize Text

  1. Casey….you have nailed it! I see this everyday with my ELL’s …..working so hard to decode and to pick out words they think they know and getting to the end of the sentence or passage and not understanding at all! Thanks for letting teachers know about this process so that they will understand the importance of building background before reading, using visuals and above all… Patience!


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