Digging Deeper: The Many Languages of Delaware English Learner Students

November 3rd, 2017

Category: Digging Deeper


Delaware’s English learner (EL) population is the fastest growing student demographic in the state—seeing some 400 to 600 percent increases in the last decade, depending on what county you are in. ELs are a diverse group of students representing a vast number of languages, cultures, ethnicities, nationalities, and social, economic, and educational backgrounds.


They are students with limited English (language) proficiency who, because of foreign birth or ancestry, speak a language other than English. They account for eight percent—approximately 10,000 individuals—of the student population and three out of four are American-born. They collectively speak nearly 100 unique, native languages. And though ELs comprehend, read, or write little or no English when they enroll in school, studies have shown that students that later identity as multilingual or have exposure to another language, show signs of higher cognitive ability, a greater likelihood of economic benefit, and foster greater empathy for their peers and community.

In an effort to promote awareness about this population of Delaware students, a new series of fact sheets launched by the Delaware Hispanic Commission, the Arsht-Cannon Fund, Delaware English Language Learners Teachers and Advocates, and the Rodel Foundation of Delaware will provide specific insight to the life of an EL, how the state is serving this community, and more.


Click here to learn more about Delaware’s EL students. And here are just some of the 90+ languages spoken by less than one percent of ELs:


Language: Afrikaans

Where? Afrikaans is a West Germanic language, and part of the Indo-European language family, and primarily spoken in South Africa, Namibia and to some extent, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

By the numbers: About 86 Delaware EL student speak Afrikaans. However, there are 7.1 million native speakers of the language, with some 10.3 million second-language speakers.

Common Phrase:Lekker eet!” … “Have a nice meal!”

Fun Fact: Afrikaans is the youngest official language in the world, only having replaced Dutch in 1983.


Language: Gujarati

Where? An Indo-Aryan language native to the India state of Gujarat.

By the numbers: Around 84 Delaware EL students speak Gujarati, but worldwide there are around 50 million speakers, making it the 26th-most-spoken native language in the world.

Common phrase: “નાણું મળશે પણ ટાણું નઈ મળે” … “Choose time over money.”

Fun Fact: Gujarati was the first language of Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.


Language: Tagalog

Where? An Austronesian language native to the Philippines.

By the numbers: About 42 Delaware EL students speak Taglog, with 28 million first-language speakers and some 45 million second-language speakers. It is both a national and minority-recognized language in the Philippines.

Common phrase:Mabuhay” … “long live,” “cheers,” or, “welcome.”

Fun Fact: The English word ‘boondocks’ is actually a Filipino loanword. The Tagalog word for ‘mountain’ is ‘bundok.’


Language: Marathi

Where? Marathi is an Indian language spoke predominantly by the Marathi people of Maharashtra. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India.

By the numbers: About 18 Delaware EL students speak Marathi, each of whom are a part of the 73 million people that speak it worldwide. With this figure, it ranks 19th in the list of most spoken languages in the world.

Common phrase: “सुप्रभात” … “Good morning.” “शुभ रात्री” … “Good night.”

Fun fact: The Marathi script consists of 16 vowels and 36 consonants—making a 52 character alphabet.


Language: Ga

Where? Ga is a Kwa language spoken in Ghana, in and around the capital city of Accra.

By the numbers: About three Delaware EL students speak Ga. There are less than one million—745,000—speakers worldwide.

Common phrase: “Eŋɔɔ minaa akɛ mile bo ekpe.” … “I am pleased to meet you.”

Fun fact: Ga is just one of the 16 languages published by the Bureau of Ghana Languages, despite the relatively low number of dialectal variation.


Language: Czech

Where? Czech, historically known as Bohemian, is a West Slavic language and official language of the Czech Republic.

By the numbers: Approximately three Delaware EL students speak Czech amongst the 10.7 million native speakers worldwide.

Common Phrase: “Smím prosit?” … “Would you like to dance?”

Fun fact: The U.S. Foreign Institute has ranked Czech the second most difficult language to learn—with a special note to the formal and informal iterations of the language.


Language: Navajo

Where? The language is a South Athabaskan language of the Na-Dene family, which is related to the languages spoken across the western states of North America. It is primarily spoke in the Southwestern United States.

By the numbers: Approximately one Delaware EL student speaks Navajo. There are about 170,000 native speakers. There has been a struggle to keep a healthy speaker base, but has somewhat been alleviated by the extent of education programming on the Navajo Nation.

Common phrase: “tʼáá hó ájítʼéego tʼéiyá” … “Just do it,” “it’s up to you,” or “that’s all it takes (take responsibility for yourself).”

Fun fact: Despite being among the best-documented native American languages, it was used as a code language during WWII due to no Navajo dictionaries being published.

Jeremy Hidalgo