English Language Learning, General, K12 Language Education, Remote Language Learning

Addressing the Remote Learning Needs of Emergent Bilingual Students

Remote Learning

Across the country, the pandemic has forced us all to transition to remote learning. This fall, classrooms will be either fully or partially remote, and like it or not, everyone has had to adjust: teachers, administrators, students, and parents. 

While remote learning poses a number of challenges for all involved, it may be especially challenging for emergent bilingual students, also known as English language learners. Beyond bare necessities like laptops and WiFi hot spots, what else is needed to make remote learning work better for emergent bilinguals?

First, leave previous assumptions behind

For years, it’s been assumed that being in the classroom is an immersive language learning experience for students. While it may help students acquire conversational English, it doesn’t necessarily help them gain the academic English skills they need for speaking, reading, and writing (Gonzalez, 2016; Gil & Bardack, 2010).

It’s also been assumed that using a heritage language interferes with English-language acquisition. In reality, the opposite is true. Allowing students to formalize grammatical structures in their heritage language maximizes learning and helps them acquire English more effectively. Encouraging students to use their heritage language can be an effective strategy that increases comprehension and validates the student’s identity (Genesee, 2010).

Once previous assumptions such as these have been set aside, it will be easier to focus on what does help emergent bilinguals gain academic English skills—and what educators and administrators can do to better support these students during this period of remote learning. Below are three major components of successful remote language learning.

Parent engagement and the use of heritage language

In addition to engaging parents via phone, email, or text, educators should be encouraging parents to harness and use their heritage language with students while at home. 

There is growing evidence that the heritage language of emergent bilinguals is of considerable benefit to their overall academic success. Recent meta-analyses have shown that educational programs that incorporate the use of emergent bilinguals’ heritage language result in levels of academic success that are as high as and often better than that of emergent bilinguals in English-only programs (Genesee, 2010; Krashen, 2020).

Extensive research has also found that children who are learning to read in a second language are able to transfer many skills and knowledge from their first language to facilitate their acquisition of reading skills in the second language. The best evidence of this comes from studies of emergent bilinguals in the US that show that students with strong reading skills in their heritage language also have strong reading skills in their second language (Genesee, 2010). During remote learning, parents should be encouraged to:

  • Speak in their heritage language using complete sentences and correct grammar (e.g., usted vs. tu in Spanish)
  • Read with their learners and encourage them to read books they’re interested in
  • Watch educational programs in their heritage language
  • Share stories about their family
  • Use this as an opportunity to learn English themselves, to set an example for their children

Opportunities to practice speaking English

While incorporating heritage language is important, it’s equally as important to provide students with opportunities to practice speaking English. Ultimately, to learn a language, you have to speak it.

  • Research shows that students are more engaged when they’re participating in group discussions or actively presenting (Yair, 2000)
  • Classrooms where students talk more show greater learning (Fisher, Frey & Rothenberg, 2008).
  • For language learning specifically, speaking is critical for practice and feedback (Swain, 1995)

Reticence to speak is a common problem for emergent bilinguals in the classroom (Donald, 2010). But educational technology has been shown to be beneficial to language learning, providing practice and pronunciation feedback in a safe, nonjudgmental space (Golonka et al., 2014). During remote learning, the right educational technology solution, such as Rosetta Stone® English, will provide your emergent bilinguals with more opportunities to practice their speaking. Remote small group meetings organized by level can also help you facilitate speaking practice for these students.

Real-time data to monitor progress

For remote learning, real-time data is especially important. Educators need a technology solution that can capture what their emergent bilinguals are saying, and how they’re saying it. How much are they speaking? Are they speaking correctly?

When educators aren’t with their students in person or seeing them as much over Zoom or Google Meet, real-time data can tell them whether progress is being made. It can also tell them which areas are especially challenging for their students, enabling them to better target instruction.

How can Rosetta Stone English support remote learning?

Rosetta StoneEnglish for grades K–6 is an adaptive blended learning speaking and listening program that supports students’ English language development through academic conversations. It integrates three key areas—speaking, listening, and grammar—in academic subject areas, in order to build students’ linguistic competence and confidence.

  • Maximizes speaking and listening practice—includes speech recognition technology to maximize opportunities for purposeful repetition and extensive speaking and listening practice
  • Allows for scaffolded/personalized instruction—to address the individual needs of all learners, ensuring that no student is falling behind and that those who are struggling get the additional support they need
  • Offers ongoing progress monitoring—provides assessment without testing, enabling educators to monitor each student’s progress, identify specific needs, and target intervention
  • Provides actionable real-time data—in a format that can be shared with administrators and parents

For more information about the needs of emergent bilingual students during remote learning, view the Rosetta Stone webinar Addressing the Remote Learning Needs of Emergent Bilingual Students.

You can also reach out today to learn more about Rosetta Stone English, and a sales representative will be in touch.


Donald, S. (2010). Learning how to speak: Reticence in the ESL classroom. ARECLS. 7:41-58. 

Fisher, D., Rothenberg, C., & Frey, N. (2008). Content-area conversations: How to plan discussion-based lessons for diverse language learners. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Genesee, F. (2010). The home language: an English language learner’s most valuable resource. Colorín Colorado. Retrieved 8/17/20 from https://www.colorincolorado.org/article/home-language-english-language-learners-most-valuable-resource.

Gil, L., & Bardack, S. (2010). Common assumptions vs. the evidence: English language learners in the United States: a reference guide. American Institutes for Research. Retrieved 8/17/20 from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED511353.pdf.

Golonka, E.M., Bowlesa, A.R., Franka, V.M., Richardson, D.L. & Freynika, S. (2014). Technologies for foreign language learning: a review of technology types and their effectiveness. Computer Assisted Language Learning. 27(1):70-105.

Gonzalez, A. (2016). 10 Assumptions to Rethink About English-Language Learners. November 1. Education Week. Retrieved 8/20/20 from https://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2016/11/01/10-assumptions-to-rethink-about-english-language-learners.html.

Krashen, S. (2020). Stephen Krashen’s Seven Tips for Teaching Language During Covid-19. Language Magazine. Retrieved 8/17/20 from https://www.languagemagazine.com/2020/05/08/stephen-krashens-seven-tips-for-teaching-language-during-covid-19/.

Swain, M. (1995). Three functions of output in second language learning. In G. Cook & B. Seidlhofer (Eds.), Principle and practice in applied linguistics: Studies in honour of H. G. Widdowson (pp. 125-144). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Yair, G. (2000). Educational battlefields in America: the tug-of-war over students’ engagement with instruction. Sociology of Education. 73(4):247-269.