Language difference among speakers of African American English (AAE) has often been considered language deficit, based on a lack of understanding about the AAE variety. Following Labov (1972), Wolfram (1969), Rickford (1999), Green (2002, 2011), and others, we define AAE as a complex rule-governed linguistic system and briefly discuss language structures that it shares with general American English (GAE) and others that are unique to AAE. We suggest ways in which mistaken ideas about the language variety add to children’s difficulties in learning the mainstream dialect and, in effect, deny them the benefits of their educational programs. We propose that a linguistically informed approach that highlights correspondences between AAE and the mainstream dialect and trains students and teachers to understand language varieties at a metalinguistic level creates environments that support the academic achievement of AAE-speaking students. Finally, we present 3 program types that are recommended for helping students achieve the skills they need to be successful in multiple linguistic environments.
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