My class consists of 19 students, of which only 1 speaks English only in his household, and even he began his life in a bilingual environment. The other 18 speak at least one, if not two other languages in their homes. Most of my students speak Arabic, but many also speak French. I have 3 who speak French and not Arabic, 1 who speaks Spanish, and 1 who speaks a Philippine dialect. All of my students speak SOME English, but to varying degrees. My job is to teach them English, while also teaching them everything we normally teach in school (reading, writing, math, science, social studies etc.) Fortunately, I am certified to teach ESL and have some experience with English Language Learners. Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners. So, from now on, I will now be doing a Teaching Tip Tuesday geared especially towards teaching English Language Learners. Here’s my TESOL Tuesday Teaching Tip:
ELL Teaching Tip #2: Speak Slowly
If you’ve ever tried to speak or understand another language, the first thing you notice is how fast every seems to speak. Actually, most native speakers of any language speak at about the same rate, anywhere between 150 and 200 words per minute, (give or take some, depending on dialect and whose doing the counting). However, when you are learning a language, and you don’t know all the words, your brain processes what you are hearing at a slower pace. In TESOL Teaching tip #23, we will talk about why it is important to experience being the language learner when you are a language teacher. For now, though, let’s do a simple experiment. Watch these two videos. The first one is a student who is just learning Arabic. The second one is a native speaker of Arabic. Which one are you able to understand better?
Now, I know you saw a difference in the speed of these speakers. Remember also, that when you are being taped, you tend to slow your rate of speed. Imagine that the native speaker wasn’t talking for a video camera, but was having a conversation with a friend, I am sure that his speech would then get faster.
Now, I am a non-Arabic speaker living in an Arabic speaking country, and I can tell you that Arabic feels to me like it is spoken a million miles a minute. However, I know that my students tell me that they feel that English goes a million miles a minute. Truly, it is just part of learning a language, the language we are learning, whichever language it is, travels by us faster because we are not understanding every word. Now picture the English Langue Learners in your classroom. Every day they sit and hear the language traveling around them so fast they feel that they miss more and more words each time you talk. Frustrating – right? Frustrating enough to make them start to tune you out, and maybe act up a little? Frustrating enough to make them give up on understanding? Frustrating enough for them to start daydreaming or talking to a friend in their home language?
Those are the behaviors I’ve seen in my classroom (both here in Morocco and in the US) when I talk too fast. So, how do we help make their learning a little bit easier? SLOW DOWN. Don’t’ over-exaggerate your speech. Language learners need to hear real language flow, but they also need to understand what you’re talking about, so pretend there’s a camera in front of you and slow down to a solid 130 – 150 words per minute. Also, give a nice solid pause between sentences and an even longer one when you ask a question. (Try counting to 50 or 100 in your head after you ask a question.) Language learning students are often still processing the words of the question when we are sitting impatiently waiting for an answer – give them a chance to finish processing before you move on and give them the answer. (You may also want to train the other students in your class to be patient during this time. I have some suggestions for this in Tip# 21.)
Do you want more TESOL Teaching Tips – check back each Tuesday for more. Also, check out Teaching Tip #1 – Use Graphics.