Working with ESL Students
“Nous allons apprendre le français. Le français,” said the wrinkled mouth on the monitor of a wooden RCA television. It was strapped atop a wobbly metal cart, demanding engagement from its somewhat stunned audience. The mouth belonged to Pierre Capretz of La Method Capretz.
The audience was about 30 French I students who, for the entirety of that academic year, would not utter a syllable of their native tongues for 50-minute slots three days a week. NOOz-uh-LOHN uh-prOHndruh luh frohn-say. LUH frohn-say.
IT trainers’ challenges with non-native English speakers differ from those faced by students whose sole focus is proficiency or fluency in another language, but this anecdote is still useful.
Whether categorized as “English as a second language” (ESL), “English as a foreign language” (EFL) or otherwise, students who are non-native English speakers have been thrust into an unnatural environment. One aim for trainers should be to reclaim the comfort of the classroom environment, which can be achieved by establishing habits that transform the strange into the familiar.
Several factors might help provide a more relaxed atmosphere. First, it is important to establish a routine because routines create invaluable levels of comfort. If a student feels lost, this confusion will be mitigated by a consistent format of a lecture or exercise. Routines also emphasize the content of the task at hand instead of putting undue focus on the delivery.
This does not mean the session must be devoid of the sorts of dynamic activities that engage students. Rather, it means that well-ordered exercises and consistency in presentation would benefit comprehension levels all around. Fortunately for the French I students, the assumption that they all had the same native tongue was correct. As a trainer, part of the challenge lies in assessing areas in which both ESL and traditional students are proficient.
An instructor might have insight into the obstacles ahead – as in the case of an American off-site trainer teaching an entire group of ESL students – but it seems that the case often will be one in which the cultural or ethnic makeup of the students in question is altogether unknown. The trainer must recognize cultural differences and proclivities toward one learning modality or another without stereotyping or pigeonholing students.
This calls to question profiling of students in general, as there is diversity in learning modalities even among native speakers. The French I students were subject to both visual and auditory stimulation because they needed to learn to both read and write the language. As the words were being pronounced, they simultaneously appeared on the monitor.
More importantly, however, this multisensory attack should be used, regardless of the subject being taught, because of the distinct manners in which individuals have been shown to fully process information. In addition to these two methods, the kinesthetic acquisition of knowledge should not be forgotten — students should move around and participate in hands-on exercises.
According to “Strategies and Resources for Mainstream Teachers of English Language Learners,” a study done by Bracken Reed and Jennifer Railsback, other modes of introducing information that are especially helpful for ESL students are stimulators that are heavily visual. These might include graphic organizers such as clusters or flowcharts.
Using graphics allows students to actually see the relationships between concepts as the trainer understands them. Students will gain insight into the logic of the trainer, and how he or she connects the information, through the use of such organizational charts. These might benefit students, later as they attempt to parse out the information beyond the classroom — they will have a physical reference item.