Limited English Proficiency Q&A

Who are Limited English Proficient (LEP) students?

The U.S. Department of Justice defines LEP persons as: "Persons who do not speak English as their primary language and who have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English." According to the Census 2000 Brief by the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 47 million people in the US spoke a language other than English at home. As of Fall Semester 2010, there were 427 international students enrolled at UM. There are also many Native American students on campus for whom English is a second language.

What are common issues LEP students may encounter in class?

Studying academic subjects through the medium of a language other than one's own is, at best, challenging. Not only does one have to understand the specialized vocabulary of the academic subject, but one also must understand what words like "explain," "analyze," and "discuss" mean. In addition, American English uses a number of nonstandard terms in common parlance, and students for whom English is their second language often have had no access to American vernacular English. As a result, LEP students may need additional time on exams or may need to use a general dictionary in order to parse test instructions and, in some cases, to shape their own responses in English or to distinguish between items given in a multiple-choice format.

What obligations do faculty, staff, administrators, and the University as a whole have for LEP persons?

As a recipient of federal financial assistance, The University of Montana is required to provide meaningful access to all programs and benefits to LEP persons. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on national origin. Various regulations, policy guidance, and Executive Order 13166 clarify the responsibilities of recipients of federal financial assistance to take adequate measures to ensure that people who are not proficient in English can effectively participate in and benefit from the recipient's programs and activities. This would include ensuring that test requirements do not negatively impact LEP persons when there is no legitimate academic reason for assessing the English proficiency. A helpful Web site was developed by an interagency working group on LEP.

How do we determine if we are providing meaningful access?

Whether particular barriers need to be removed for an LEP student is determined on a case-by-case basis. Removal of barrier should not unreasonably diminish academic standards.

Who decides how a language barrier should reasonably be removed?

The instructor should receive input from the student about what barriers are presenting an impediment. The instructor ultimately determines how the barrier may be removed without unreasonably interfering with academic standards.

What is the best practice for faculty?

Instructors should be accepting of requests from students to remove language barriers. Instructors might want to include a statement in their syllabi to notify students that options are available to ensure meaningful access for LEP students. Once a student makes a request, the instructor should be open to working with the student to find a reasonable way to remove a language barrier that does not unreasonably interfere with academic standards.

What is an example of course syllabus statement?

"Students from cultures which utilize different means of examination or learning methods other than those used in this course should contact me within the first few days of class to discuss more culturally appropriate testing approaches. Students for whom English is not their native language may discuss with me potential ways in which language barriers can be removed without unreasonably interfering with the academic standards."

What are resources available for LEP students and those who are not included in the definition of LEP but have similar difficulties with the English language?

  • American Indian Student Services
  • English as a Second Language courses (EASL 250, 251, 450, 451)
  • Foreign Student and Scholar Services
  • UM Toastmasters
  • Multicultural Advisor at the Undergraduate Advising Center
  • Writing Center: The Writing Center helps undergraduate and graduate students in all disciplines become more independent, versatile, and effective writers, readers, and thinkers. Welcoming all students, including international students, we provide a comfortable environment where writers engage in supportive conversations about their writing and where writers can receive feedback on their works in progress. Our professional tutors help writers at any point during a writing process and with any writing task. Focused on the development of the writer, tutors help students to recognize their power as communicators and to practice strategies that will help them write more effectively. Our one-to-one tutoring is FREE to all UM students. While we work with non-native speakers of English during all by-appointment and drop-in hours, we also offer special hours reserved for international students only.
  • The Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula

What may LEP persons do if they believe they have been denied meaningful access to University programs and benefits?

LEP persons should be referred to the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office for filing a complaint:

Jessica Weltman, Director
Equal Opportunity & Affirmative Action Office
University Hall 020

Is there anything else I can do to ensure that I contribute to providing meaningful access for all students?

Yes. You can incorporate the concepts of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into your program. UDL is the framework for designing educational environments that enable all learners to gain knowledge, skill, and enthusiasm for learning. Read more about UDL and learn UDL guidelines.