A few days ago
The Educator

Was I unclear about teaching reading to students who speak Ebonics?

I may have been unclear in my question on teaching reading to students who speaks Ebonics. I was not suggesting that we teach Ebonics, the students who already know it, that would be beating a dead horse. However, it is a common dialect and these are the students who tend to score poorly on reading assessments. I was simply looking for ideas on which teaching strategies seem to be the most effective.

I am asking if we should teach standard American English and reading to students who already speak Ebonics as if standard English is their second language or second dialect(whichever you choose).

If the students are already speaking Ebonics, should we teach standard American English to them in order to enhance their reading skills?

What other suggestions do you have for overcoming the Ebonics language challenge in order to produce an outstanding reading student?

Top 10 Answers
A few days ago
Macho Duck

Favorite Answer

Anyone in this country should learn proper American English. After they learn and understand it I say they can speak whatever way they like.

A few days ago
I think understanding the history and influences that brought Ebonics into being are important to understanding it’s place and the place of any dialect in a society. To those who requested references see Frantz Fanon, and Mumia Abu-Jamal. I believe the federal court found Ebonics, or “Black English” to be a legitimate language in 1977. Check it out if you are sceptical! One other case that may be of interest may be: “Martin Luther King jr. vs. Ann Arbor School District Board”. Moreover, we must remember that slaves who were brought over from Africa back in the day didn’t all have the same language; they were from numerous different tribes. So picture this: they were all bunched together on plantations and over hundreds of years of working to communicate with what they knew and what English they were exposed to, it is no wonder that the African demographic would speak differently than the white majority. Many of the phonetic variations are systematic and are not just “slang” per say.

Yes, I agree with all who say that language is appropriate depending on the context and situation.

To the question if standard english should be taught as a second language; I’m not sure most people who speak ebonics know the academic research that has gone into it, so I would suggest letting students who speak this dialect to be taught that they have a dialect (it’s not just un-educated slang without a basis), that it’s been researched and a subject of debate for years; Then teach them “standard” english so they can know the differences. This way their dialect, and all the history of their family and home, neighborhood, and strata of society are all validated, as should any student’s background be.

Finally, for literature, Iceberg Slim is an interesting look into the life of a black man during and before the WWII era. See “Pimp”



5 years ago
I teach academic reading to freshmen at a community college. In graduate school I read an article by Lisa Delpit that I will never forget. One of her messages was that we must teach and expect all students to speak standard English in the classroom, regardless of what they speak at home, with their family and friends. We (students and educators) must be able to understand each other and communicate in the clearest way possible so that real learning can take place. There is no question that this will best be achieved when we are all speaking the same language. Ebonics may very well be a perfectly legitimate language, but if students who speak Ebonics cannot also speak standard English just as well, they stand to be at a great disadvantage in American schools, society, and the work world. Standard English is the language of power in this society, and if they want to share in the power and participate in conversations that create the kind of world that they want, that represents their interests, it would only benefit students to be able to speak and read the language of the powerful. C. Proctor St. Louis, MO

A few days ago
Catie I
Ebonics is a dialect not a language. Poor reading skills is not caused by a student speaking in a different dialect it is caused by the lack of comprehension.

Reading skills come from repeated practice of reading the word correctly. So we need to teach our children how to spell correctly in order to have them read correctly.

Ebonics is nothing more than slang. If the page in not written in slang then the child must read it in standard American English. But the comprehension comes from the skills of sequencing, being able to read words at a certain level, and recognizing correct sentences.

By all means teach standard American English. Will teaching them English make then better readers? Probably not since we really don’t put much emphasis on spelling or writing correctly.


A few days ago
I think treating Ebonics as a recognized dialect, rather than a corruption of the English language, is furthering the problem. While I recognize that we may need to develop teaching strategies as if that were the case, we should never stoop so low as to publicly acknowledge or accept any corruption of the language, save perhaps in humorous situations.

If there are students who can’t read Shakespeare, Dumas, Hemingway or Tolkein, they should be given all the help they need until they can. I think “Ebonics” has arisen mainly from an aversion to education within certain subcultures, social classes and/or families. I don’t believe this to be a racial issue, after all there are rednecks in this country who speak worse english than any off-the-boat immigrant in Brooklyn. It is a social issue that affects us all and should be dealt with accordingly. If only we could make parents more responsible for thier childrens’ education!


A few days ago
Kristy M
Ebonics is like any other dialect. It is a comfortable way for friends and family to communicate. Usually, when people become educated, they are able to speak both Standard English as well as their dialect. It is known as switching. People learn when it is appropriate to use their comfortable dialect, and when it is not appropriate. Effective educators can teach that to their students through modeling. Not only do the students see a teacher use dialect and Standard English at the appropriate times, but the students are more comfortable with teachers who are able to come down to their levels when the timing is right. One of the most effective strategies for teaching these kids is by building their confidence, rather than breaking them down and making them feel inferior because of the way they speak.

Anyone who believes that dialect or accents are indicative of intelligence is pretty much ignorant and judgemental. However, when you have students who speak heavy dialect, it is usually an indicator of the parents educational level and the child’s exposure to “rich” language. That is why test scores tend to be low. And often times, using strategies for second language speakers can be effective for students who speak in any type of dialect.


A few days ago
I have long thought that “Ebonics” is really just Southern dialect. There are many books written in this dialect and the whites and blacks from the South tend to speak informally with the “rules” I have heard are a part of Ebonics: dropping the final consonant, using be with a verb, leaving out a verb altogether.

I agree that there is a time and place for informal language. I suggest you read Rubye Payne’s (spelling?) book on the Framework of Poverty on language registers.


A few days ago
There is no such thing as ebonics. Just bad english. No, we should not embrace bad english

Teaching Ebonics is like lowering the educational bar. I recognize that there are kids that cannot speak proper English. All attempts should be made to educate these kids to learn the English language.

Is it coincidental that the kids that cannot speak proper English are frequent drop outs? Those that do graduate from High School have trouble in college. Those that Graduate college have problems with job interviews. As an executive in a consulting company, I could not hire an employee that could not speak and write proper English. My clients would never contract with me for somebody with communication issues.

It is paramount that our society stops embracing ghetto talk (at home, school, or anywhere).

Imagine a world where you could talk on the phone to a person (from the U.S.), and not tell if the speaker were black or white. Let’s stop providing the bigots of the world fodder for their cause.


A few days ago
I think that a lot of the problem can be seen from many of the above answers that renounce “Ebonics” as unintelligent and an embarrassment. When students are taught that the way they speak means they are stupid, they will begin to think they are stupid and we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As you say, it’s obvious that Ebonics shouldn’t be taught in schools because that would be beating a dead horse. I also do not necessarily think it should be taught as a second language. Actually, almost all children and adults have different dialects that they will use in different situations. The problem is that students who speak Ebonics at home might have a further stretch to make between their home dialect and their formal school dialect. It is good to point this out to students, let them know that language is power, and knowing the appropriate language to use in any given situation is necessary in order to gain power. These students shouldn’t use standard English at home any more than they should use Ebonics in a formal situation. The key is knowing where and when a certain type of language is appropriate and when it is not. Just like you wouldn’t swear in front of your mother, you should not say “ain’t” at school. One teacher I talked to who teaches in an urban area would refer to standard English as the “money language,” since if you ever want to make it anywhere in this country you have to know it well. If you point things out to them in this way, it seems less like you are simply correcting them for the sake of correcting them (thus making them feel stupid) and more like you are trying to help them.

Also, in general, even if you DID view standard English as a second language/dialect, teaching it explicitly through grammar drills, sentence diagrams, and vocabulary exercises, is not very effective even though many schools love to see that sort of thing. Instead, the best way to improve reading comprehension as well as speaking skills would be to have them read, read, read (in standard English). A sustained silent reading time, where students can read whatever they want for a specified period of time, is the most effective at helping students read better. The key is to get them hooked on the joys of reading so that they will continue to read and improve on their own.

I also wouldn’t cut out Ebonics from the classroom completely. When students are answering complex questions, for example, and the thought process is more important than speaking correctly, it could do more harm than good to correct them when they stray from standard English while taking risks and thinking outside of the box. Instead, expose them to how standard English looks and sounds as much as possible, and teach them that language is power and sounds different depending on the situation. Eventually, students who are brought up in a rich learning environment with appropriate encouragement from their teachers will make strides on their own.


A few days ago
Bill Cosby spoke against ebonics. He said it limits the future of black children. Have they listened? Who knows.

You should do your best to teach them basic english. If they want to be colorful with their language, have them increase their vocabulary by studying a thesaurus.

Yes, they will experience conflict because they will think you are trying to take away their culture. You will put them in odds with their friends and relatives. You will have to get the parents on your side, (they might be the ones that taught ebonics to them).

You have to explain to them what kinds of jobs they will have if they continue to limit themselves.

Immersion is the answer and the problem.

They are immersed in ebonics and will continue the nonsense talk, and if they are immersed in standard english, that will help them, only after they go through the struggle and realize it for themselves.


A few days ago
If Ebonics is a legitimate language, where is the literature that supports that notion? Where are the novels and the plays?

Since I know of none (correct me if I am wrong), you must teach all students a common language – standard received English.

Thank you.

Or as the Brits say “Ta!”