Dr. Wayne E. Wright is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Texas at San Antonio. His research areas and expertise encompass issues pertaining to language, literacy, and the unique challenges faced by English language learners. He was recently nominated for the Achievement Award for New Scholars by the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools, and currently holds several editorial positions in scholarly journals.
One of the greatest strengths ELL students bring to the classroom is their primary language (L1). Richard Ruiz (1984) reminds us that effective programs for ELLs view the primary language as a resource, rather than as a problem to be overcome. Even in non-bilingual classrooms teachers can utilize their students’ L1 in a manner which will make content-area instruction in English much more comprehensible (Wright, 2008). As Krashen (1985) has pointed out in his Comprehensible Input Hypothesis, students acquire English when they can understand messages in that language. Thus, proper use of the L1 makes English language instruction much more comprehensible, and thus students will acquire English much more quickly and effectively while at the same time mastering grade-level content. The use of students’ L1 in this manner is called Primary Language Support (PLS). Even in states such as Arizona which restrict bilingual education and require sheltered English immersion (SEI), the law makes it clear that teachers may use PLS as needed. Indeed, PLS is a critical component of sheltered English instruction, as evidenced by its inclusion in the Sheltered English Observation Protocol (SIOP) (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2004).