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January 4, 2021

English learners backslide

NY Times

Remote learning has been hard for students across the country. But few have had a harder time than children coming from immigrant households who rarely speak English at home.

“I became more shy because I can’t really talk with other students anymore in online class,” said Taniya Ria, a sixth grader who moved to New York City from Bangladesh in 2019. “I feel like the year is going to waste.”

When she first arrived, Taniya didn’t know a word of English. Within months, she began translating for her mother, made American friends in class and got good grades. Then the pandemic arrived.

This fall, she took classes on an iPhone from her family’s one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx, struggling to understand her teachers through the tiny screen. Words and grammar she once knew evaporated, along with her hard-won confidence.

“It’s hard for me to explain what I want to say correctly,” Taniya said. “And there are so many people in class, I get nervous about making a mistake.”

She’s not alone. English language learners in parts of Virginia, California and Maryland are falling behind more than their peers, according to district data.

In schools, students learn English directly and in more subtle ways, by observing teachers’ facial expressions and other students’ responses to directions. But small cues rarely translate through a screen.

When Taniya first noticed her English slipping in September, she would read to herself out loud, pulling from a towering stack of picture books and young adult novels piled on her dresser.

But over time, it became harder to pronounce the words and took longer to finish each chapter. Eventually, she stopped trying. “I feel like it’s all my fault,” she said.

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