Language Barriers

Language barriers can impede the educational progress of minorities. The United States is facing the challenge of language barriers in the way of educational progress of minorities. There are approximately 3.5 million children who are not proficient in English language due to their different native language.

The United States has received maximum number of new arrivals in 1960s. these arrivals included refugees, illegal and legal immigrants and migrants. As a result, number of enrolled students increased significantly and a large number of new comers were admitted in the public schools of the United States.

These newly enrolled students were from different nations so they were proficient in their native languages but their proficiency level regarding English language was very low or none. There were not/hardly able to speak English. To overcome this challenge, several educational policies, and legislation and court decisions were made (Berman et al, 1992).

The Bilingual Education Act of 1968, Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Act was the first step that was taken to overcome the challenge of language barrier. The purpose of this Act was to make sure that all the Mexican American children learn to speak English to an extent that can enable them to actively participate in their educational activities. The role of this Act was later expanded to overcome the language barrier of all non-English speaking children. It is shown in Chavez, (1991, p. 11-12): “It is not the purpose of the bill to create pockets of different languages through the country … but just to try to make those children fully literate in English”.

Several steps were taken to overcome the language barrier. The purpose of all the steps was to enable all non-English speaking children to speak English fluently. An example of such as decision was made in Lau v. Nichols (1974) when the United States Supreme Court declared that every non-English speaking child has got the right to get special assistance in learning English. It stated:

There is no equality of treatment merely by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers, and curriculum; for students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education. … Teaching English to the students of Chinese ancestry who do not speak the language is one choice. Giving instruction to the group in Chinese is another. There may be others. (Chavez, 1991, pp. 14-15)

A large number of Limited English Proficient students are enrolling in the 10th grade test. It was also found that the number of Hipic high school graduates was very less all over the country. This was due to large number of students who were dropped out of the school. Although there have been several efforts to improve the English language of non-English speaking students specially Hipic students but it is found that despite all these efforts, the drop out rate of Hipic students has not decreased to a significant extent (Hipic Dropout Project, 1998).


English language learners are usually exempted from appearing in the assessments that are done for native English speakers. It is quite unfair because non-English speaking students are left behind. It is suggested that non-English speakers should also be allowed to appear in the same assessment programs that are done for English speakers. This will help the non-English speakers to get out of the feeling of left out and they will progress a breast with native English speakers.


Berman, P., Chambers, J., Gandara, P., McLaughlin, B., Minicucci, C., Nelson, D., Olsen, L, & Parrish, T. (1992). Meeting the challenge of language diversity: An evaluation of programs for pupils with limited proficiency in English. Berkeley, CA: BW Associates.

Chavez, L. (1991). Out of the barrio: Towards a new politics of Hipic assimilation. New York: Basic.

Hipic Dropout Project. (1998). No more excuses: The final report of the Hipic dropout project. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974).









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