Explaining Language Learning

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 this week’s Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tip:

ELL Teaching Tip #21: Explain the Language Learning Process to English Only Speakers

When I was in high school, I had a good friend, named Anastasia.  She had started her school career in Russia, but had been at my school for awhile, so I didn’t think of her as anything other than another student in my class, and a fun friend to hang out with.  However, one day in Social Studies class, I realized that the teacher was giving her extra time on her tests.  Some of the other kids didn’t think this was fair, and in a very teenager way said as much.  Rather than brush it off, my teacher took a minute to explain to us that even though Anastasia spoke a lot of English, she still often thought in Russian, and so when she read the test, she would often translate the information from English into Russian in order to understand it, and then have to translate it back to English before she wrote it down.  For this reason, she took longer taking a test, and he gave her that time.  His explanation made so much sense to me, that I remember that moment clearly to this day.

Often, we think that dealing with our English Language Learners only means teaching those who don’t speak English as their first language to understand how a new language is learned.  However, most of the time, we have other students in our room, who are English Only Speakers.  It is hard for students who only speak one language to understand the concept of thinking in two languages.  (I am in the middle of learning a second language and it’s still hard for me to have that first hand understanding of being bilingual.)  Rather than ignore it, or brush over it as “everyone learns differently”, take the time to explain to your English Only Students what your ELL students are doing in their brain every day, and you will see a new form of understanding and empathy in your classroom.  Students will be more willing to be peer tutors and work collaboratively with your ELL’s, because they will better understand why these students need more assistance.   – Do be careful not to make English Lanugage Learning into a handicap or a reason for English Only Students to do all the work for ELL’s – rather stress understanding the other’s point of view.

It’s also great to give English Only Students a taste of what it feels like to not always know what is going on around them.  Find videos in another language (there are plenty available on YouTube) and play them to the whole class (this is especially fun and easy if you can get movies in the home language of the majority of your ELL’s).  Talk to the English Only Students afterwards about how it felt to not understand everything that was going on, and why this made it hard.  This will help build empathy and understanding amongst your students.


Do you enjoy the weekly TESOL Teaching Tips? Do you want to know Everything's Intermediate Expo - English Language Learnersmore about teaching English Language Learners? I will be speaking on this topic at the Everything’s Intermediate Expo this weekend, and I’d love to have you “join” us. It is a virtual expo, which will help us connect no matter where we are! Click HERE for ticket information.

Find more TESOL Teaching Tips here, and come back every Tuesday for a new tip!

Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources

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About rakisradresources

teacher mother of 3 wife

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