My class this year consisted of 20 students, of which only 1 spoke English only in his household, and even he began his life in a bilingual environment. The other 18 spoke at least one, if not two other languages in their homes, and go to school in English, although they don’t live in an English speaking country. Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners. Here’s this week’s Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tip:
ELL Teaching Tip #31: Let Them Count in Their Home Language
In addition to teaching English Language Learners, I also live with an English Language Learner. English is my husband’s fifth language. He speaks: Arabic, French, Spanish, Russian and English – in that order. He can read, write, count, and do math in all of his languages. He spends 90% of his day in English, thinks and dreams in English. But, hand him a stack of papers and ask him to count and tell you how many papers there are and he will count the papers in Arabic every time. Now, after he’s done counting in Arabic, he will tell me the total in English, but his brain automatically counts in Arabic. He says by counting in Arabic he doesn’t have to think about the numbers and worry about the possibility of miscounting.
Many of our English Language Learners are like my husband. They learned basic concepts like counting and understanding numbers in their home language before they learned English. Depending on when they started learning English, they may also have learned basic operations and other math skills in their home language. Asking students to convert all of their math skills into English is time consuming for you and them, and it increases the possibility of errors. For this reason, I allow and encourage my students to count, add, subtract, and any do any other math operations they learned in their home language in their home language. However there are a few things in Math that I ask them to do in English:
1.) Give the answer (first by writing, and eventually orally)
2.) Read and understand what the problem is asking for
3.) Explain their thinking
If my students can do these three things in English, I don’t feel that saying “eight x four = thirty two” is more important than saying “ocho veces quatro es igual a treinta y dos”. In fact, by allowing them to do the work in their home language, students are often able to better understand the vocabulary and concepts that make math in English hard for them.
Do you let your students count in their home language?
Do you enjoy the weekly TESOL Teaching Tips? Would you like to view an hour long presentation on this topic? I recently presented on Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners at the Everything’s Intermediate Expo. Now you can grab the presentation for just $3.95 from Teacher’s Notebook.
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