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Lehman Professor's Book Helps Educators Better Understand Students' Language Development

November 8, 2010


Professor Sandra Levey

As more children enter American classrooms speaking a language other than English—already they number five million, according to the latest statistics—a new book by Lehman Professor Sandra Levey (Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences) is geared toward helping teachers develop student proficiency in both languages.

Years of research and classroom experience have gone into Language Development: Understanding Language Diversity in the Classroom (Sage), which was co-edited with Dr. Susan Polirstok, dean of the Kean University College of Education and formerly associate dean of education at Lehman. Published in September, the book is intended to be an essential guide to help kindergarten through twelfth-grade teachers and professionals understand the difficulties encountered by these students as they learn English.

One major obstacle, Dr. Levey says, is the inherent differences that exist between two languages, such as grammar and sentence structure—which can lead to misdiagnosis of a language disorder. Moreover, she adds, each student brings into the classroom an individual history that includes learning and using his or her first language and then acquiring English. Understanding the true cause of a child's difficulty, she points out, can be critical in that child's ability to perform in the classroom.

According to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of English Language Acquisition (2002), five million children whose primary language is not English are currently enrolled in K-12 programs in the United States. Although Spanish tops the list (79 percent), there is an array of others as well, including Vietnamese (2.9%), Hmong (1.8%), Korean (1.2%), Arabic (1.2%), Haitian Creole (1.1%), and Cantonese (1%). Another 100 languages are spoken by less than 1% of children in this country.

As this population continues to increase, Dr. Levey noted, teachers will need to be able to distinguish between language differences and language disorders. The book is designed to help teachers become more aware of cultural and language differences, increase their knowledge of language development, and understand the vital connection between language and learning in the classroom. It also contains information on children who speak various English dialects

Dr. Levey earned bachelor's and master's degrees at Wayne State University, an additional master's degree at Stanford University, and her doctorate at the CUNY Graduate Center.