The number of students in the United States who speak English as a second language has risen sharply in the last decade. While teachers in most schools are pleased to help these students learn and grow, sometimes it can be difficult to work around language and cultural barriers. There are, however, many ways that the process of learning can be facilitated for ESL students.
The 2008 census has found that there were over 200 languages spoken in the United States. The census has also revealed that many of the families who speak languages other than English at home have children. These kids may not have good English skills when they start school in America, so it’s important that teachers are aware of their needs.
All students need individual assessments to see exactly what English and language skills they have. Basic and social language is the first important checklist, including numbers, letters and short, socially-valuable English phrases, including manners. Check for comprehension and vocabulary informally, as some students may refuse to use the English they do know in formal settings that intimidate them. However, don’t be afraid to challenge students if you truly believe they could do more. Don’t discourage native language use, though. Students who have a strong grasp of their native languages tend to do better with second language learning, so providing time for an ESL student to practice literacy in his first language can help with English acquisition.
Language influences thinking, and this means that it can be hard to describe concepts in a second language. Using experiential learning helps ESL students to realize what the words they are learning refer to. Good examples of this are cooking from recipes, art, musical activities and acting, including charades. Using models and visuals to drive discussions also helps give a grounding to the words you use.
Even once ESL children have a grasp of basic English, they may not behave in ways that American teachers see as suitable for the classroom. Many cultures discourage questions in the classroom, which may leave students from these cultures isolated as a teacher assumes they will ask if they need help. To help further develop these children’s English skills, teachers need to be aware of these cultural expectations, discuss them with the children and their caregivers, and get help from members of the children’s first-language community where appropriate.
Awareness of the varying needs of ESL students is the main factor to help them achieve success in the classroom. Where teachers are willing to provide individual attention and to seek help from first-language communities, the outcomes are often bright for ESL students. Literacy in a first language also helps support literacy in English.
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