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Working with Non-native Speakers of English in the Classroom
How To Help Your Undergraduate ESL Students
The most important way to help ESL students is to provide an open environment where they feel able to speak and ask questions in a comfortable atmosphere. The less anxious a student feels the more likely they will be to ask questions when unsure and to talk out in discussions. We must remember this may not be usual in their culture so it may take a while and some gentle coaxing until they feel comfortable doing this.
What ESL programs and services are available?
There will be an English 101 course starting in the fall and spring 2008-2009 especially designed for ESL students. International ESL students will be selected from a screening test during pre-orientation. Other second language speakers may be identified by English or other faculty during the start of classes and recommended for the class.
Study groups are run by the director focusing on issues such as academic writing, academic reading, vocabulary development, academic speaking (talking part in discussions/giving presentations), listening to lectures etc.
ESL textbooks on all aspects of language development may be checked-out from the Learning Programs office in the SAAC.
Who are the ESL students at Emory?
ESL students fall into three categories
What problems do they have?
An ESL student MAY face many challenges apart from linguistic ones. Here are some of them:
What does a second language speaker need to learn about a language?
An ESL student may struggle with one or all of these and this may depend on how they learned English. Some will have focused on the old grammar translation methods and others a more modern communicative method.
Reading and Listening
Reading and listening are often referred to as a passive or receptive skills as they are regarded as something the reader or listener has done to them. In reality a student needs to be actively engaged in order to comprehend. This does not mean that they need to understand every single word on the page or every word that is uttered and often students make the mistake of trying to do this time consuming activity and so loose overall meaning.
It is really important to tap into a student's prior knowledge about a subject before they start to read an academic text or listen to a lecture. This will greatly aid comprehension of a text and is particularly important with culturally specific items. This may be done in several ways
Giving Directions in Class and Lectures
Listening has the added problems of being fleeting. A student may return to the written word to confirm ideas but they do not have the same luxury whilst listening.
After building student's knowledge in a topic how can we help them to understand a lecture? Here are some ideas you may already use or may like to try out.
It must also be understood that as native speakers we use different strategies when reading or listening. Sometimes, for example, depending on what we are reading or why we are reading we may want to read a whole text in great detail, other times we may skim over it for general meaning or scan it for exact details. Students may have these skills in their native language but not use them in English preferring all the time to try to understand everything. Students may also, in certain subjects, find it extremely difficult to read between the lines and make inferences. Students can book a tutorial with Jane O'Connor to help develop these skills.
Speaking and Writing
These are often called the active or productive skills as the student is required to produce something.
In writing student error is at its most prominent, there in black and white for all to see. In speaking the error may come and go at such a rapid rate it can almost pass unnoticed. Writing is the area where both teachers and students often voice the most concern. Errors may occur for many reasons including mother tongue interference (incorrect translation of grammatical forms from the native language), and the style of writing may be directly influenced by differences in writing used in other culture (see article).
How should these errors be treated?
Students may receive help from the writing center or from ESL services. In general they should be referred to the writing center if the areas they need to focus on are similar for a native speaker, that of organizing ideas etc. If the grammatical errors are many and a paper is difficult to understand due to that they should be referred to the ESL department.
It is not a good idea to try and correct every single error in a student's piece of writing. This can be extremely time consuming and unless the student is very meticulous and goes back over these with a fine-tooth comb these they will learn little, if anything, from them. If you wish to correct error it is better to focus on the main issues and/or a recurring error.
In grading an assignment try to focus on the overall message the student is trying to convey. You may like to provide the student with a writing frame or model to help them.
Make sure the students are CLEAR in exactly what they are required to do in a writing assignment with clear instructions that are written down.
This is seen differently in different cultures. Make sure all students are fully aware of the implications here.
Speaking is often very stressful for ESL students especially in front of their native speaking peers. They may sit silently in class and not participate but be aware that this may also be due to culture and what is the norm in the classroom in their native county. Make sure you provide them with enough thinking time before expecting a reply. Students may need time to think of an answer and formulate it in English. Make sure you ensure the success of shyer students by asking questions you know they will be able to understand and answer.
When possible allow them to work in small groups with native speakers for discussion. They will be more likely to speak out in a small group and working with native speakers will allow them to develop their language skills. This is also helpful for presentations.
Do not correct a student's grammar in front of the class. Just echo the answer back to them correctly as a model.
Vocabulary is more than just knowing a word on a list. An ESL student needs to know
You will need to be selective about what vocabulary you teach. If you try to give too many new words at once they simply will not be remembered. You also need to think about how you will teach it so that it is more memorable for the student. If possible use realia or real world objects, pictures, explanation. Put the word in context and encourage the students to record it in a way that will aid their learning. Ask them to contact the ESL Director for a consultation to work on strategies for learning and recording vocabulary).
Encourage the use of vocabulary journals.
Harmer, J. (1991). The Practice of English Language Teaching. Cambridge, UK: Longman.
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