Minority Groups

EPSY 400

How English sounds to non-English speakers

Language Minorities

Any student who has a first language other than English, including a dialect of English that differs from the privileged version of Standard English.

English Privilege

  • Schools reflect the mainstream culture
  • If students “are not members of majority racial or ethnic groups routinely experience educational challenges that are not faced by those who are members of mainstream society” (Sterzuk 10)
  • Standard English is promoted in our classrooms as the discourse of the norm; it includes what we consider “proper” grammar, spelling, and vocabulary

Indigenous English

  • Schools have historically marginalized Indigenous peoples in many ways, one of which is discrediting Indigenous English as a language
  • Indigenous English is known as a dialect, often called a “‘Native’ accent” (Sterzuk 12)
  • Sterzuk suggests “no language or language variety promotes better or more complex thinking than any other” (13)
  • “silence, storytelling, and teasing are important characteristics of Indigenous English” (12)

Sterzuk's Suggestions

  • At the policy level:

    • The ELA curriculum needs to be “remedied” as there is only ONE document augmenting teachers’ understanding of English dialects

    • Improve the existing document to include characteristics of Indigenous English dialects and effects of discriminations

  • At the research level:

    • How to improve educational experience of Indigenous English speakers

    • Designing reading/writing programs that include dialect awareness and extra steps

Peer Suport

  • After acknowledging the privileging of English, it is important to not discourage use of other languages
  • Students need time to speak in their “mother tongue” (Scott, p. 532) to gain confidence and self-esteem in a school setting (outside ELA classroom)
  • Encourage peers to help each other in language-learning through translation


  • We often assess with Standard English as the expectation
  • We often assess all students the same, though there is not a “common language with which to discuss EAL learners’ understanding and use of language” (Scott, p. 530)
  • By suggesting a common language to assess with is indicating that all EAL learners are at the same place in their learning
  • It is important to always remember that all students; language minorities and English speakers, are in different places in their learning
  • Important to differentiate in assessment to reach all student needs

Visual Supports

Story Maps as a Visual Support

  • “Narrative Learning, EAL and Metacognitive Development” by Martin Cortazzi and Lixian Jin

  • Narrative learning with primary-age EAL students

  • Mapping stories using pictures or keywords to aid students in retelling stories
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Value of Visual Supports

  • Aid students in memory and comprehension of ideas and material
  • Act as a support for building more complex language (in this case a story)
  • Helps to organize ideas

Multimodal Concept Drawings

Definition: “In the multimodal concept drawing activity, students read a term and write down what the term brings to mind, then work in groups to collect definitions, gather images, and depict various understandings of the term in a visual representation” (523).

  1. Choose term on card
  2. Write first impulse thoughts
  3. Collaborate and share first impulses
  4. Visually represent using colour and shape

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Refugee Students and Language Minority Groups

Relationships to Education

Because students from a refugee background may have little experience or no experience in a school setting, it is important to create a safe environment that fosters learning. Similarly, First Nations students may have grown up in a household where there parent or grandparent attended a Residential School so they may have fears connected to that history.

Challenges Faced by Educators

  • Refugee students are entering English content classes in which they have to learn complex content in a new language when they have only limited conceptual development and basic vocabulary due to limited schooling.
  • Teachers are challenged to create a space where diverse languages and ways of knowing are valued.
  • Classroom teachers have to adjust their teaching to include both English language learners and students who have had limited prior schooling.
  • We must “rethink what forms of literacy to teach and what pedagogical options are most appropriate to teach a linguistically diverse student body to meet the demands of an Information Age economy” (Giampapa 408).
  • Intermediate and high school teachers, who would normally focus on content-based instruction, are now faced with teaching basic language and literacy skills.

How can we support these students?

Learning how to teach basic reading to youth is important when working with refugee students. In particular two facets are listed:

1) knowing how to teach basic reading skills and

2) finding age-appropriate materials that can be used to teach basic reading to students in intermediate and high school.

Saskatchewan Curriculum Resource:


Student Resources on the Web:


  • Create Safety and Routines: Creating a classroom that feels safe is essential for students who have experienced trauma. Routines are the easiest way to communicate safety.
  • Build Connections: Building safe connections for students with refugee backgrounds is foundational to students’ success in the classroom and in the school system.
  • Foster Emotional Skill Development: Learning to manage emotions is part of normal development. Students whose normal development has been interrupted may not have had the chance to learn how to manage intense feelings.
  • Self Care: Working with students with refugee backgrounds exposes teachers and other professionals to very difficult situations and heart-wrenching first-hand stories. Self-care is key to remaining healthy in work with students with histories of loss, grief, stress and trauma.
  • Learn When to Refer: Teachers are often the first to refer students for counselling or additional support. Students with refugee backgrounds are often at-risk for mental health issues, and teachers can be key to timely interventions.

Teaching Refugees with Limited Formal Schooling:


United Nations Association in Canada:



  • Multiliteracy pedagogy: supporting First Nations and EAL students
  • Respecting and valuing students’ languages
  • Co-creators of classroom space
  • Utilizing background knowledge
  • Learning opportunities

  1. “Have students critically explore their identities, language, and culture through curricular topics”... (a project that “had students write about, articulate, and visually represent how they saw others and how they saw themselves”
  2. Provide materials in many languages (423)
  3. Create dual language texts (423)
  4. Look at “how ideas are represented across languages”

Multilingual Identities:

  1. “Develop classroom-based projects that incorporate language and culture”

  2. “Work towards spreading an ethos to validate students’ L1 culture and language across the school”

  3. “Include parents as valuable linguistic and cultural resources”


  1. Co-create a space where many languages are audible and cultural artifacts visible
  2. “Have students critically explore their identities, language, and culture through curricular topics”... (a project that “had students write about, articulate, and visually represent how they saw others and how they saw themselves”
  3. Provide materials in many languages (423)
  4. Create dual language texts (423)
  5. Look at “how ideas are represented across languages”


Teaching Refugees with Limited Formal Schooling

This resource is dedicated to enhancing the capacity of educators to work effectively with the sub-group of English Language Learners who face additional challenges as a result of the circumstances of their migration and their lack of opportunity for prior schooling.

This website provides access to information – publications, educational materials,

exemplars from the field – that promote effective programming for students of this profile. These students require more intensive, targeted interventions and supports, many of which are already understood as best practice for ELLs. When given appropriate supports, these students can thrive and be successful.


Community Resources

Ministry Contacts:


(306) 933-8497



(306) 798-9555