Long-Term English Language Learners

an Invisible Population

Spotlight on "Long-Term English Language Learners": Characteristics and Prior Schooling Experiences of an Invisible Population by Kate Menken, Tatyana Kleyn and Nabin Chae


The main purpose of the study was to identify and distinguish ELLs from LTELLs and to prompt continued research on LTELLs to help prevent the development of ELLs into LTELLs by addressing the observed causes of this development. Menken and Kleyn set out to characterize and define the LTELL because they noted that “there is little empirical research, [on LTELLs] despite their significant numbers” (121). To do this work they used two guiding questions, “What are the characteristics of LTELLs in New York City high schools (e.g., country of origin, languages spoken at home, school performance, etc.)?” and “What social and educational factors discussed by participants contribute to an emergent bilingual [ELL] becoming an LTELL (e.g. prior schooling experiences, ELL programming received, etc. )?” (Menken, et. al 125-126). They assumed that they would find patterns in the schooling practices of the selected LTELLs that could point to why there are so many of them despite having been served by ELL programs for 7+ years.


To answer these questions the researchers “gathered data over a 6 month period in three New York high schools” (Menken et. al 126). The bulk of the data reported was taken from interviews with identified LTELLs in each school and thus is self-reported data on schooling practices and patterns in these New York high schools.


In choosing to read this article I wanted to know why language attrition (subtractive language: acquisition in which the Native language is lost in favor of the new) was occurring and resulting in the diagnosis of ‘long-term English language learner’ (LTELL) as well as what steps educators should be taking to help address this problem. The development of our students from ELLs into LTELLs is the result of the system and the assumptions of the system in which we all work and thus should be a concern for all educators. While this article focuses on high school students, the fact is that the majority of the LTELLs started as ELLs with us in elementary and our practices can and do influence their future, long-term success.