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 context, social conventions of expression, proxemics (gestures and body language), and style of address, all of which can differ between cultures. Therefore, children who are learning English as a second language may exhibit communication behaviors that are different from those of children raised in a single culture.

Certain rules that apply in school may be different for children who are from homes where English is not spoken. Six differences in communication behavior (based on differences in culture) are listed below.

Some of the more common variances in pragmatic aspects of communication between people who are exposed to Hispanic culture and those who only have experience with the culture in the United States are outlined below. For more details, refer to cultural differences.

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

Culturally Appropriate Pragmatic Behavior Possible Implications or Misinterpretations in Majority-Cultural Context
Spanish people 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 Latino/Hispanic families.

Child may use gestures more often when communicating than children raised in the U.S. majority culture. IMPLICATION: Child may seem to behave in an odd or overly dramatic way.
Child may interact verbally more with peers than with adults. IMPLICATION: Child may seem to be shy or unengaged when adults are addressing him/her.
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.
Children will stand closer to one another when communicating than children raised in the U.S. majority culture. IMPLICATION: Children may not understand the “personal space bubble” requirements of U.S. majority culture and, therefore, be misperceived.
Children often learn through observation and hands-on participation rather than through verbal interaction with adults. IMPLICATION: Children may have difficulty learning through listening and may appear to be unfocused or hyperactive.
Children from the Caribbean or Central America may not focus on details or sequence of events in storytelling. Narration is usually not linear. IMPLICATION: Teachers and other educators may perceive this as disorganized, but it is appropriate according to Spanish 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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