Challenges for French/Haitian Creole-Speaking ELLs

Approximately 2 percent of English Language Learners (ELLs) in the United States speak French or Haitian Creole at home. Although there are distinct differences between the language, speakers of both French and Haitian Creole face similar challenges in learning the English language. It is important for teachers to be informed of the possible problems that may arise to make accurate accommodations to literacy instruction. VocabularySpellingCity has compiled common challenges of French/Haitian Creole-Speaking ELLs and has provided supplemental tools to use during the literacy block.


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Unique Challenges of Teaching French/Haitian Creole-Speaking English Language Learners

Sound Omission

  • Phonological differences between English and French can result in trouble with pronunciation. One of the most prominent problems is the omission of the /h/ phoneme at the beginning of words. In French, the /h/ sound does not exist. So French-speaking ELLs will say “I ‘ave a ‘ouse” instead of “I have a house”. Haitian Creole-speaking ELLs also encounter this issue. VocabularySpellingCity has compiled a list of /h/ words to use with French and Haitian Creole-speaking ELLs. Use this word list with Sound It Out!, which lets students practice phoneme (letter sound) and grapheme (sound spelling) relationships by clicking sound blocks.

Different Consonants Phonemes

  • In French, the tip of the tongue is not used, making particular consonant sounds difficult. The voiced and unvoiced “th” (/ð//θ/) sounds are the most troublesome. French-speakers tend to replace the unvoiced “th”(/θ/) phoneme with /t/, such as “Tursday” for “Thursday”. In Haitian Creole, the “th” phonemes do not exist and may cause similar challenges. Haitian Creole-speaking ELLs may pronounce /θ/ as /s/ or /t/, for example “sink” or “tink” for “think”. For the voiced “th” phoneme (/ð/), Haitian Creole-speakers may use the /d/ phoneme in its place, “den” instead of “then”. Teachers can access VocabularySpellingCity’s “th” word list to later assign to their ELL students. Initial Sound Speller is an ideal game to pair with the word list. A word is said aloud and students must choose the missing initial sound to complete the word.

Stress and Syllables

  • English is a stress-timed language, in which stressed syllables are pronounced at regular intervals while unstressed syllables are shortened to fit the rhythm. Whereas French is a syllable-stressed language, meaning that an equal amount of time is allocated to the pronunciation of both stressed and unstressed syllables. As a result, French-speaking ELLs struggle with stressing the appropriate syllables and may speak in a staccato accent. The audio visual features in VocabularySpellingCity’s games and activities will familiarize French-Speaking English Language Learners with the stress-timed English language.

Forming Questions

  • To form questions in English, an auxiliary verb (e.g., “do” or “have”) is typically needed. While in French, statements simply transform into questions with a change of intonation and the addition of a question mark. For instance, French-speaking ELLs may ask “You want to eat?” instead of “Do you want to eat?”. Haitian Creole also uses intonation to ask questions rather auxiliary verbs. Though in Haitian Creole, interrogative statements may be prefaced with “Éske” to signal a question is being asked. Nonetheless, Haitian Creole-speaking ELLs also make the mistake of omitting auxiliary verbs in the English language. Several of VocabularySpellingCity’s learning games and activities expose ELL students to accurate sentence structure. To target the challenge of question formation, VocabularySpellingCity created an auxiliary verb word list, with words being used in interrogative statements. This word list works well with Sentence Unscramble. In this game, students hear a sentence read aloud in the correct order. The words in the sentence are then scrambled and students must arrange them in the correct order. Individual words are read aloud and students receive immediate feedback.

False Friends

  • About 45% of English vocabulary words have French origins; therefore, French-Speaking ELLs may use cognates to construct meaning. Cognates are words in different languages that have a shared origin and, in such, have similar pronunciations and definitions. However, ELLs should be wary of false friends that can cause confusion. False friends refer to words that sound the same in two languages, but have different meanings. An example would be the French word “coin”, which looks like the English word “coin”. Yet, asking for a “coin” in French won’t result in extra change. In French, the word means “corner”. Teachers can review the concept of cognates with VocabularySpellingCity’s cognate word list. The word list consists of English words that are closely related to French words. WhichWord? Definitions is well-suited for cognate practice. Students can match the cognate to the correct definition. Both the word and the definition are read aloud.