In speaking with our parents, we have observed that the forward-thinking families are preparing their children with English Language Arts (ELA).  However, most families don’t understand that there are different “Englishes”.  They mistakenly believe that studying at any of the numerous learning centers for conversational English, IELTS, and TOEFL is good enough.  

In reality, studying only this basic English sets students up for failure in any international college or work environment.  In this article we highlight how English Language Arts is different from more basic English, and why any student preparing for global study or work needs to hone ELA skills.

What is English Language Arts?

Among the different “Englishes”, English Language Arts is defined by the U.S. Common Core as the subject that “asks students to read stories and literature, as well as more complex texts that provide facts and background knowledge in areas such as science and social studies.  Students will be challenged and asked questions that push them to refer back to what they’ve read.  This stresses critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills that are required for success in college, career, and life.”

ESL (English as a Second Language) is far more basic and builds basic proficiency.  ESL courses are for students whose first language is not English. However, English Language Arts is the type of English taught in English-speaking countries.  ELA focuses on all areas of language development (including listening, speaking, reading, writing, grammar, and pronunciation), and ELA often includes instruction on civics, life skills, career pathways, math and culture.

Why does every global student needs English Language Arts?

1. English Language Arts cements a strong foundation for academic reading and writing

ELA classes focus on critical reading, writing and communication skills.  Beginning with phonics instruction in the elementary grades, and proceeding to complex technical concepts in later grades, the mastery of language arts is necessary to meet academic standards.  Periods of silent sustained reading, cursive writing, syntax, thematic writing and vocabulary are all major focal points of elementary lessons.

In contrast, conversational English, which is being taught widely in Vietnam, can get students familiar with vocabulary, grammar, basic reading and writing.  ELA curriculum includes more complicated reading comprehension, such as fiction, poetry and essays. In addition, students begin to foster the 6+1 Writing Traits as the learn to master the nuances and beauty of the English language.  They will engage with different forms of writing, including poetry, expository writing, and creative writing.  

2. English Language Arts sharpens critical thinking

Critical thinking is the essential filter through which we process information so that we do not simply believe everything we read or hear. This ability empowers us to think before we speak or write.  In English Language Arts class, students are encouraged to ask deep, open-ended questions, and exercise high-level critical thinking. Once the transition from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn has been made, a student acquires ELA readings skills, the most powerful of all meta-skills.  Now she can learn exponentially faster.  

English Language Arts enables a student to learn material faster and more effectively.  ELA helps students think critically and abstractly about information. Additionally, communication during class discussions and in essays teaches valuable soft skills that students will carry with them throughout their lives.  How many of us are effective speakers and writers? ELA hones those public speaking and persuasive, analytical writing skills.

3. English Language Arts is necessary to learn other subjects

ELA is taught through context.  Students are instructed to work through multiple subjects and expected to analyze, critique, and synthesize a variety of subjects and themes.  As such, proficiency in the four components of ELA are necessary components of every subject.Regardless of subject matter, students are expected to speak, write, and communicate what they have learned.  They must be able to absorb content from and also express knowledge of other subjects.

English Language Arts guides students to find the themes within texts, then connect it with other texts, theories, and historical events.  Students cultivate skills to handle complex ideas, search for patterns, and interpret information in a wider context. ELA can also develop skills in planning and research as they apply language in fields including history, culture, philosophy, science, and human behavior, among others.  ELA programs offer students and teachers the opportunity to choose texts that stimulate students’ imaginations, challenge their understandings of what is known, and provoke further questions for study.

4. English Language Arts prepares students for college abroad

College-level English is a different beast from English in high school, which requires strong, adaptable, and integrated literacy skills.  Students in college will have fewer exams than in high school, and instead have more papers, research projects, and presentations.

To attain the literacy skills vital for success in college , students must learn to engage with complex print and digital texts written for a variety of purposes, think critically about what they read and hear, articulate their thoughts in a range of spoken and written genres, and communicate collaboratively with others.  Equally important is the ability to integrate these skills in complex tasks, like research projects and presentations, and to transfer this learning to new situations and problems.

As students write, speak and represent, they become authors, presenters, publishers, and researchers as they participate in text creation.  English Language Arts is a crucial component of effective college preparation.

5. Language Arts Is Crucial for a Professional Life Beyond School

The skills and knowledge captured in the English Language Arts are designed to prepare students for life outside the classroom.  They help develop 21st century skills: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical thinking, which are needed for global success in the future life and career.  The study of English Language Arts help students use cogent reasoning and evidence collection skills, and it forms the foundation for all effective communication.

In Vietnam, it is not hard to find a place for studying English.  However, we have found that “English Language Arts” remains a new concept to most parents.  As soon as your child can use everyday conversational English, help her advance her English to prepare for an international academic environment. Challenge her to learn just like a native American student with English Language Arts.


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