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 #35: Know Why They Are Learning English
When I taught ESL in the United States, I never thought about why my students were learning English, they were in the US, they were learning English, end of story. Then, I moved to Morocco, which is a non-English speaking country. The majority of the population here speak French or Arabic, many speak both. However, I teach my entire day in English. Some of the students I teach are expatriates from areas that speak English, some of the students I teach are expatriates from areas that don’t speak English (Spain, Democratic Republic of Congo, China), however the majority of my students are Moroccan citizens who are living in Morocco, but want to learn English. Often, these Moroccan students end up reading and writing better in English than in either of their home languages. So, this leads to the question – Why do they want to learn English?
Recently, I came across a study that said that there are more people in the world who speak English as a second language, than native English speakers. This means to me, that there are many, many people in the world who desire to learn English. For me, as an elementary teacher, it also means there are many parents who desire for their children to learn English. So again, Why do they want to learn English?
As a parent of children who are going to school in a language I don’t speak, I can attest to how difficult it is to send your children to school in a language that’s not your own. I can’t always help with homework. I don’t communicate well with the teacher. I can’t even talk to the other parents most of the time. These are the same challenges that face many of the parents of our English Language Learners. Yet, they still choose to send their children to school in English. So again, Why do they want to learn English?
Reason #1: Economic Advantage - Many times, the reason for learning English is enhance economic opportunities. Yep, it’s all about the money! (Not really – but it’s a big part of the picture.) English speakers have access to what are perceived as “better” jobs, and universities. People want these opportunities for their children so badly, that they will often go through great difficulties to give these advantages to their children. I have often heard teacher say that their English Language Learners “work so hard”. This is often because they are told at home how important it is for them to learn English and to listen to their teachers. Many students see and understand what their parents are giving up in order for them to have the “advantages” English can give them. If you have students who seem to fall into this category, it is important to stay in contact with those parents (even if the parents don’t speak English), because they will be often be a major help to you in motivating and helping their children.
Reason #2: Immigration – A lot of the time people immigrate for Reason #1, economic advantages, but this is not always they reason for immigration. Some immigrants flee wars, domestic issues in their home countries, or simply choose to be closer to family who have already immigrated. There are many reasons a family would choose to immigrate to the US (or other countries). Do not assume that every family who immigrates to your area is coming from a poor neighborhood in search of more money. However, knowing the reasons for immigration wherever possible, are important to you as a teacher. For example, it can help you know if there are any possible traumas to be on the look out for, as is common with children coming from war filled countries. It can also help you to identify background knowledge that will be common to your students.
Reason #3: Bilingualism – My family moved to Morocco in part because we want our children to be bilingual. We feel that knowing more than one language is a vital skill and advantage we can give our children. You will find families who choose to teach their children English for the same reason. These families will often work at home to maintain their children’s literacy level in their home language. Encourage these (and all of your families) to read to their children in their home language, and allow them to write and view movies in their home language. Students who learn to think in more than one language may struggle for the first few years, but will often show higher abilities at later ages, as their brain has multiple ways to think about various concepts.
Do you know why your students are learning English? How can you find out this information? One way is to use the Language Survey that is part of my Parent Communication Forms to help you gather this information. If you have another way you gather this information from your parents, I’d love if you’d leave a comment, so that we can all learn from each other!
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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