Slide 1: How do you “communicate” with students who don’t speak much English? Is it even possible? (The answer is of course it’s possible.) Welcome to the webinar on communicating with speakers of languages other than English. I’m Emily Kresiak, a research assistant working for WordFarmers Associates on behalf of the Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation at the University of Dayton School of Education and Health Sciences Grant Center.
Slide 2: If you are one of the fortunate few Americans who speak more than one language, you are in a wonderful position to help speakers of other languages succeed in American schools. You likely understand the struggle to learn new languages, and you understand the connections between language and culture. But if, as is more likely, you speak only English, you too can help English Language Learners (ELLs). This webinar, in fact, is created to help you “scaffold” the academic experience of ELLs. In the process you may see the value of developing some new routines and outlooks.
Slide 3: Students who speak first languages other than English come from an incredible range of circumstances. Some come from American families, but live in communities that are culturally separate (for instance, some American Indian or some Mexican-American communities). Some are refugees who have escaped dreadful and traumatic situations. Some are children of affluent families who have relocated to the US.—permanently or temporarily. In the past 20 years, in fact, the number of students in K-12 schools whose native language is something other than English has doubled, to more than 4 million students—more than 10% of the total PK-12 school population. Here’s the most surprising fact: about 60% of these students were born in America!
Slide 4: Working with students who don’t speak the language of instruction (in this case, English) is a challenge for educators. It’s no wonder that some educators sometimes want to blame the students—but such blame is clearly very wrong-headed. Sadly, in the real world, not speaking English very well is often mistaken as a deficiency. The real world is not very patient. As educators, though, we understand the rewards of patience.
Slide 5: So what do educators do to help ELLs learn both English and academic content? Fortunately, a great many resources exist to help educators work with emerging English speakers.
Slide 6: In the webinar, let’s lay out some practical principles for paraprofessionals who speak only English. If you are viewing the webinar in an instructional setting with bilingual or multilingual colleagues, as might be the case, then you will learn a lot from talking with them.
Slide 7: Here are the practical principles, each of which we will consider separately in the upcoming discussion:
- Exhibit the admiration and respect these students deserve for speaking another language and for their eagerness to learn English.
- Help these students interact with English mono-lingual speakers. There are three benefits:, (1) ELLs will get a lot more practice with English, (2) ELLS will form stronger bonds with classmates and become valued members of the classroom community, and (3) American mono-lingual students will come to appreciate the benefits and challenges of acquiring a second language.
- Learn about the cultures of English language learners. They may be come from many different places around the world and speak many different languages—Somali, or Guatemalan, or Haitian. Language is the chief carrier of culture, and each language is therefore deeply bound up with how its speakers understand the meaning of life.
- With the help of your instructional team, participate in home or community visits. Families may feel intimidated by school personnel; home visits can help them feel more comfortable. And you will learn a lot about your students’ circumstances—as with any home visit.
- Beef up your own language learning a little: demonstrate your willingness to learn a little Somali, Spanish or Mayan, or French Creole, for instance (in the case of Somali, Guatemalan, and Haitian students).
Slide 8: Admiration and respect. These students are emerging bilinguals. That is, unlike most Americans, they will wind up fluent in two (maybe more) languages. Let the class know that you understand how valuable it is to know more than one language. Indeed, because mastering a second language is so rare in America, it’s important for all students that educators play up the importance of learning foreign languages. Emerging bilingual students (ELLs) demonstrate to everyone that this accomplishment, so unusual in America, is something everyone can do.
Slide 9: Help mono-lingual students interact with ELLs.After all, mono-lingual students and ELLs are all members of the same classroom community. Their interactions will allow them to learn from and alongside one another. You might, for instance, do the following things:
- make sure that small groups include a mix of ELLs and native English speakers;
- direct questions to ELLs and give them sufficient time to formulate answers or ask for clarifications;
- give students (both ELLs and English speakers) the chance to explain what life is like in their culture; and
- help scaffold academic work by using explicit explanations, graphic organizers, pictures, and even pantomime.
Slide 10: These sorts of provisions help integrate ELLs into the social and academic environment of the classroom. Remember that not knowing the language that surrounds you is isolating. Work to make the classroom less isolating for just that reason.
Slide 11: Learn about the students’ cultures. Foreign languages have strange words and sounds—but it’s the culture that goes with the language that is the really big deal. When students from other cultures arrive, learn all you can about their culture. Cruise the web. Read books. Find out how family life works. Learn about politics and economics, and history, and geography, and differences in how people interact with one another. Knowing something about your new students’ cultures will help you work with them and their families—and it can change your view of the world, as well. Talk with your supervising teacher and others on your instructional team to arrange opportunities for cross-cultural sharing.
Slide 12: There’s one big caution, however, when it comes to learning about other cultures. Remind yourself that the student’s world—the one you don’t know much about—is complicated and contradictory in about the same way as life in America. What you read and learn from texts and videos isn’t the whole picture. Listen to your students, and keep an open mind.
Slide 13: Participate in home or community visits. Once you know a little about the students’ cultures, home visits will give you even more information and prompt additional insights. And a visit to a student’s home will help his or her family feel connected to, and appreciated by, the school. Another possibility is to pay a visit to the community—especially if there’s a community event in which one or more of your students will be involved. For example, the community may hold a festival that is open to the public. If you ask your students to tell you about such events, you can plan to attend. Perhaps bring along your own children, grandchildren, or youngsters from your church or neighborhood.
Slide 14: Become a language learner yourself.You’ll find that students from other places love it if you pick up and use some of their language. Ask them to teach you! You might discover that you can develop a little specialty in the culture and language of some of the students in your school. Such expertise would be helpful to the students, the team, and the school. Most people fear making a fool of themselves by trying to say anything at all in another language. So remember that your students and their families, too, confront this fear and this embarrassment. Make it easier for them by reciprocating.
Slide 15: One more, very important, point. Whether citizens or not, all of your students are entitled to a free public education; and their immigration status should not be shared with anyone. Confidentiality is required—check with your teacher or team to find out precisely how this situation is handled in your district.
Slide 16: That’s about it! An increasing number of students come to school with a first language other than English. Educationally speaking, this is a good thing because Americans desperately need the example of people learning additional languages! And, in our increasingly diverse country, students need encouragement and support for learning to get along with people from many different groups. Remember:
- admire their accomplishment,
- help the rest of the class interact with them,
- learn about their cultures,
- make home visits to show you care, and
- use words and phrases from the students’ languages.