As a teacher at an International School, many of my students are English Language Learners. Even my native English speakers are living in a non-English speaking country. Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners. Here is this week’s Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tip:ELL Teaching Tip #43: Learn Another Language
Yesterday, I began an intensive course of French lessons. This is not my first attempt at learning a language. I spent 2 hours a week last year learning how to read the Arabic Alphabet and trying to pick up at least the basic vocabulary. Unfortunately, very few people in Morocco speak Classical Arabic, as most speak the dialect of Darija, and so I didn’t practice what I learned and can’t truly have a conversation. I can, however sound out written words – even if I don’t know what they mean. I don’t regret the time I spent in those Arabic lessons and I certainly don’t regret the time I am putting into these French lessons. (By the way, that time is going to be 6 hours a week, so I will not be nearly as present here at Raki’s Rad Resources, but I have some great guest bloggers lined up to keep you guys hooked up with great teaching tips anyways.) Each time I spend time learning another language, I become a stronger teacher for my English Language Learners.
What are the benefits of teachers of English Language Learners (which seems to be almost all teachers these days) learning another language?
1.) You get a clearer understanding of what your English Language Learners go through on a daily basis. For this to be a truly true picture, be sure to try and learn a language in an emersion setting. (If the teacher is speaking to you in English half of the time, that isn’t truly a picture of what our ESL students deal with, because we don’t generally talk to them in their home language for half of the day.) Sitting in the class yesterday and realizing how little of the directions I understood made me appreciate why I have to repeat my directions so many times in my class. A few times, I found my mind wandering to English and when I got back to listening, it took a long time to figure out what was going on. This gave me a better appreciation for the level of concentration my students must have to participate in my class.
2.) You learn more about English when you are able to compare it to another language. I never appreciated verb conjugations, or their simplicity in English, until I had to conjugate Spanish verbs in High School. We also don’t think about the fact that adjectives come before a noun in English, until we encounter a language that doesn’t – like Spanish or French. If we are going to teach English to non-speakers, we need to truly understand our own language, and one of the easiest ways to do so is to compare and contrast it among other languages.
3.) You start to understand the “common mistakes” of your students. The most common mistakes my students make are mixing up pronouns (he and she), conjugating verbs incorrectly (He have a book.), using adjectives incorrectly (The teacher of my brother is Ms. Smith.) and giving inanimate objects a sex (The book, he fell down.) By learning other languages, I realize that I make the same mistakes. It took me forever to know to say “Annajea” instead of “Annaje” in Arabic. “Annajea” is what girls say to say “I’m coming.” “Annaje” is what boys say to say “I’m coming.” Needless to say “Annaje” got me a lot of funny looks, very similar to the looks we give our students when they say “She did it.” and point at a boy. As I’ve said, I also mix up verb conjugations regularly, and I still have a hard time remembering that red notebook is “cahier rouge” in French and not “rouge cahier”. I also realize that I try to directly translate what I’m trying to say in English into the other language – word for word, which rarely works. This is a cause for many of the problems which our ESL students encounter. They know what they want to say and they are just trying to translate it and spit it out.
I’d love to hear from you guys. Who speaks, reads, writes another language? How does it help you to be a better teacher to language learners?
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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