Wordplay is a blog project featuring posts from students enrolled in ENG 320 Grammar and Linguistics (Fall 2019)
No Hablo Inglés, Lo Siento
by Shawna Turner
Unsurprisingly, the number of ESL students (English as a Second Language) in the United States is on the rise. Although there are programs for ESL students outside the classroom, ESL students spend the majority of their day in the mainstream classroom. Language barriers can often exist inside the classroom.
Despite this, many teachers are not adequately prepared to properly integrate and educate these students. I would like to explore the topic of how to integrate students whose primary language is not English into the mainstream classroom using various strategies. I want to discuss this topic because I grew up in a town with a large Hispanic population where Spanish was the primary language in many households.
I saw the language barriers both inside and outside of the classroom. I saw teachers frustrated and struggling on how to teach a Hispanic student to arrange the sentence structure differently than Spanish because the teacher had no Spanish background. I saw Hispanic community members struggling to communicate with the cashier at the local grocery store. We as a school and town were never a cohesive whole community when two languages were prevalent. I think that inclusion of these students into the school will bring forth inclusion into community; this is key to being a unit and making sure everyone can learn and be active members of society.
I am going to be an educator soon and I am aware that schools nowadays are very diverse. Therefore, I would like to touch on strategies on how to create an inclusive education for all with the very minimal knowledge I have on other languages. This is completely possible of being achieved, and teachers should not doubt their abilities.
Thankfully, there are many solutions to help teachers like me better adapt to ESL students in the mainstream classroom. First, a teacher can create a language-rich environment. Just picture this: a print-rich environment providing students access to reference materials and even hanging up posters with useful concepts such as grammar rules, sight words, vocab words, and phonetic sounds.
Another strategy I may utilize is being aware of the student’s native language and its relationship to English. I know I am not a master of any other language; the good news is, that is okay. Understanding some aspects of prevalent languages (such as conjugating and syntax) can help me understand where that student may be confused. I can understand the root of the problem and understand why a student may be thinking that. Then I can provide models of how to correctly do it in English.
Another thing that can be done is making sure to simplify language for the ESL students without “dumbing it down.” Kristina Robertson of Colorín Colorado (2015) says to avoid slang and idioms, speak clearly, slowly and naturally, and encourage students to raise their hand if they don’t know a word. I need to be patient with myself and the students. Students may not understand instructions and key vocabulary words, so scaffolding is also very beneficial (such as providing examples or visuals).
It is also important to provide students with opportunities to work collaboratively. This promotes peer interaction which helps with the development of language and learning new concepts. ESL students can learn from other “English role models.” As we have probably seen before, sometimes hearing it from another student instead of the teacher works wonders. ESL students learn to express themselves with greater confidence when working in small teams.
Lastly, it is important to provide proper feedback. Allowing students to find errors themselves often works well. Robertson (2015) states that it is important to find balance between error correction and encouragement. Focusing on one or two concepts at a time when listening to or reading student work lets students know what you will be focusing on so they can focus on mastering those particular concepts in the assignments.
ESL students are on the rise and deserve to learn. Even though mainstream classroom teachers often have minimal knowledge of the second language, there are many things they can do to benefit ESL students so they can be included and succeed in the regular classroom. Teaching students how to learn in the mainstream classroom provides opportunities for them to interact and then be active citizens in the real world. Let’s not take away languages, but language barriers. Creating active members and cohesive of the community begins in the mainstream classroom, whether the teacher has a different language background or not. Most of us will not have all English-speaking students in the classroom. Therefore, we need to know how to deal with this and there are many strategies to do so. Teachers may not speak another language but should speak the language of inclusivity for all students.
Robertson , K. (2015, December 1). Supporting ELLs in the Mainstream Classroom: Language Tips. Retrieved from https://www.colorincolorado.org/article/supporting ells-mainstream-classroom language-tips
Shawna Turner is a junior at Chadron State College originally from Hill City, South Dakota. She is studying elementary education and hopes to become a successful and fun upper grades elementary teacher in a smaller school district (preferably in a place with outdoor recreation). Go Eagles!