Career and technical education-English-Learners

Why is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Beneficial for Multilingual Learners?

Part 1 of ​​​​​Supporting Multilingual Learners’ Participation in Secondary Career and Technical Education Programs Series

Student Scenario 

Manuel* recently enrolled in a Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management program at his local high school in Virginia. His goal is to work as a chef and someday open his own restaurant so that he can be his own boss and support his family. Manuel was born in El Salvador and immigrated to the United States four years ago.

English-Learner-CTEHe attended school in El Salvador and has literacy skills in Spanish. While living in El Salvador, he loved spending time cooking with his grandmother in her kitchen, and it is the time he spent with her that inspired him to pursue the Culinary Arts program. Manuel has intermediate English language proficiency and is still acquiring the academic language needed to understand recipes and describe culinary processes in English.

While Manuel has a passion for cooking and is able to actively participate in class discussions, he often struggles with the technical vocabulary and complex language structures required for written assignments and exams.

Throughout this articles series, I will explore how Career and Technical Education (CTE) educators can support the strengths and needs of students like Manuel who are enrolled in secondary CTE programs.  

Who Are Multilingual Learners (MLs)?

Manuel is a Multilingual Learner (ML). You may be familiar with the terms English Language Learner (ELL) or English Learner (EL). ML is a more inclusive, assets-based term to represent all students whose parents or guardians report speaking one or more language(s) other than or in addition to English at home¹. MLs may or may not qualify for English Language Development (ELD) services based on their most current English language proficiency (ELP) scores, but for the purposes of this article series, I am looking specifically at MLs that do qualify for ELD services. As of the 2019-20 school year, MLs that qualify for ELD services made up 10.4% of the public school K-12 student population². MLs account for 6.65% of the secondary public school high school population. They represent 8.1% of 9th graders, 7.0% of 10th graders, 6.0% of 11th graders, and 5.5% of 12th graders.  

Why is CTE Beneficial for MLs?

CTE programs are a promising pathway for preparing MLs for postsecondary education and careers. During the 2019-20 school year, MLs across the country participated in high school CTE programs at roughly the same percentage rate as their share of the high school population in their state³. For example, in North Carolina, MLs make up 5.1% of total enrollment in high school and 5.3% of CTE participants in high school, which is less than a 1% difference. In several states, there was some over- and under-representation of ML participation in high school CTE programs. It is important for schools and districts to analyze their own data on ML participation in CTE programs and to use that information as a springboard for further investigation to identify possible issues around access for MLs. For instance, upon investigation, a district may find that MLs at the beginning stages of English language proficiency are underrepresented in their CTE programs. This finding could then prompt the district to develop targeted outreach to this group of MLs, as well as work with CTE teachers on how to support these students within their courses. 

The Office of English Language Acquisition

In April 2022, the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) released an infographic on preparing MLs for postsecondary education and careers through CTE. The infographic outlines the benefits of CTE for MLs, including increased high school graduation rates for CTE concentrators versus non-CTE concentrators. Additionally, CTE opens doors to careers in high-demand occupations in fields such as technology, engineering, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing that have elevated growth and earning potential.   

It is essential that schools and teachers provide appropriate support to ensure ML representation in CTE and to promote equitable educational experiences for the MLs enrolled in these programs. Like in Manuel’s scenario, educators must draw from MLs’ strengths and provide access to the benefits of completing a CTE program. It may be challenging for some MLs to fit into the typical mold of students going on to college, and CTE programs can often speak to MLs’ unique goals and interests and motivate their learning. When MLs are intentionally included in CTE programs, they can have the opportunity to succeed in whichever path they choose. However, when educators are not intentional about including MLs in CTE programs, they may inadvertently do MLs a disservice. 

The Article Series

In this four-part article series, I provide specific scaffolds and strategies that teachers and schools can implement to support MLs enrolled in CTE programs. 

•  Part 1 highlights the urgency around supporting MLs enrolled in CTE programs.

•  Part 2 defines and provides examples of scaffolding for MLs.  

•  Part 3 introduces three strategy recommendations for supporting MLs in CTE programs: peer learning opportunities, explicit vocabulary instruction, and writing support. 

•  Part 4 introduces two additional strategy recommendations for supporting MLs in CTE programs: using academic language mini-lessons and preparing MLs for CTE exams.  


In order to support and challenge MLs like Manuel, who are enrolled in secondary CTE programs, educators must have the training, support, and understanding of the cultural and linguistic strengths and needs of MLs to do so. ELD teachers can use the recommendations outlined in this article series to develop ongoing professional development around recognizing MLs’ strengths and meeting their linguistic needs. They can leverage that professional development as a springboard for co-planning and co-teaching with their CTE colleagues. CTE teachers can use the ideas and examples outlined in this series to embed ML best practices into their teaching. Be sure to check out our Supporting MLs in Secondary CTE Programs Padlet for links to additional resources related to MLs and CTE. 


*Manuel is a fictious student and is based on a likely student scenario.

¹ Snyder, S., Staehr Fenner, D., Smith, S., & Singh, J. (2023, March). Terminology to describe multilingual learners:labels and their implications. SupportEd.

² National Center for Education Statistics. (2022, May). English Learners in Public Schools.

³ Sugarman, Julie. (2023, April). Unlocking opportunities: Supporting English learners’ equitable access to career and technical education. Migration Policy Institute.

⁴ Office of the English Language Acquisition, U.S. Department of Education. (2022). Career and TechnicalEducation: Preparing K-12 Multilingual Learners for Postsecondary Education and Careers.

About SupportEd

SupportEd is a woman-owned business based in Fairfax, Virginia providing Multilingual Learner (ML) professional development, personalized coaching, technical assistance, and resources for educators across the United States and Canada. Founded in 2011 by Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner, four-time best-selling author and ML expert, SupportEd builds authentic partner relationships and meticulously crafts customized solutions to fit every partner’s strengths and goals. SupportEd equips teachers and administrators with the practical tools and strategies necessary to champion MLs’ success within and beyond the classroom. Visit or call (202) 660-1444 to learn more.

Leave A Comment