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Resource: The U.S. Constitution in 'Simple English'

Simplified versions of regular texts are tools that teachers use to provide supports for English-language learners to understand what is happening in a classroom. The buzz word for such supports is "scaffolding."

Now, a commercial Web site has provided a version of the U.S. constitution in "simple English." The document has been released by Elizabeth Claire's Easy English News, which is a monthly newspaper for ELLs. The translation of the constitution into rudimentary English seems useful, particularly the explanation for how electoral votes work in this country, which even as a native speaker of English, I have difficulty understanding in regular English. (Remember how various media outlets tried to explain electoral votes to us after former President George W. Bush lost the popular vote but defeated then-Vice President Al Gore in the Electoral College vote in the 2000 presidential election?). I like how the document has the actual text of the constitution and the simplified-English text side by side.

Simplified texts can be helpful to English-language learners, particularly when English is brand new to them. But I also recall Lily Wong Fillmore's admonition to educators in a speech last fall that many of them are overdoing the use of simplified texts with ELLs. The professor emerita at the University of California and a pioneer in studying the education of ELLs stressed that such students need exposure to complex grammar and academic vocabulary. She said that after the first year or so that ELLs are learning English, they should not be given simplified texts.

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