ELL Assessment for Linguistic Differences vs. Learning Disabilities
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Knowledge of How Language Works in Context  Children’s use of language to communicate is influenced by their cultural funds of knowledge, social conventions of expression, proxemics (gestures and body language) and style of address, which can differ among cultures. Therefore, children who are learning English as a new language may exhibit communication behaviors that are different from those of children raised in a single majority culture. Certain rules that apply in American schools may be quite different for children who are from homes where English is not yet understood or spoken. Six major differences in communication behavior (based on differences in culture) are highlighted below:

Comparison of Culturally Appropriate Portuguese Behavior and the Possible Implications in U.S. Majority Cultural Context.

Culturally Appropriate Pragmatic Behavior Possible Implications or Misinterpretations in Majority-Cultural Context
Teachers are expected to address parents or other adults by their title such as Senhor (Mr.) or Senhora (Ms./Mrs.) Silva.

IMPLICATION: Addressing Portuguese parents by their first name may be seen as less than respectful.

In addition, children address the teacher as “Teacher” because in Portuguese they are expected to say, “senhora” or “professora”.

Portuguese-speaking peoples often initiate a conversation on a personal note. When they ask a personal question it does not mean they want to pry, it is instead a sign of consideration and caring. IMPLICATION: This is important information to better establish a culturally responsive relationship with Portuguese families.
When asked a question or given an explanation, Portuguese parents or other adults tend to offer a lot of details surrounding the context before they make the point. IMPLICATION: At team evaluation meetings or interviews, Portuguese relatives will give a lot more contextual information than required. An interpreter may not translate everything because a lot of the information that is being provided may be seen as irrelevant in the US majority-cultural context.
When adults are talking, children usually do not interrupt. IMPLICATION: Child may be viewed as passive and unengaged.
Children show respect by avoiding eye contact thus looking down or away when talking to parents, teachers or other adults. IMPLICATION: Teachers or administrators viewing this through the eyes of the U.S. majority-cultural perspective may assume that such behavior demonstrates something other than respect. It is possible to cause unintentional shame or a feeling of humiliation by pointing it out. For the unknown observer this may also be misinterpreted as a sign of a disability such as ADHD, pervasive developmental disorder or autism.
Sequence in story telling or narration is usually not linear. IMPLICATION: Teachers and other educators may perceive this as disorganized, but it is appropriate according to Portuguese rhetorical logic and must be understood in that context. Linear organization is a skill that is easily acquired as the student progresses through the stages of second language learning.
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