Courtney Langton

Courtney is an aspiring high school teacher. Her teachables are History and English, but she's happy to teach anything that doesn't involve numbers or formulas. Her particular interest is in promoting gender equity and anti-oppression both in and outside the classroom. She writes a detailed To-Do list every morning, and enjoys nothing more than a good book and a plate of bacon on a rainy Saturday.

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan's primary interest is moral education. His teachable subjects are English and Music. He encourages critical thinking and hopes to teach his students to recognize, and strive for, what is truly important to them without forgetting to be compassionate, tolerant, and open-minded along the way. He likes making analogies and his favourite is one that compares life to jumping on a trampoline.

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Re: The ESL (ELL) Question
Sunday, August 16, 2009

I'm not sure what the accepted term for learning English as a foreign language is at this very moment, but since my host school calls their courses 'ESL' and I will be teaching some of those courses, I'm just gonna go with ESL for now.

You will have noticed that I'm a few days late in posting my response to Jon. This is not because I'm exceptionally busy (though I am), but because I needed to take a little more time to think about the ESL question. I've never had any experience with teaching ESL before, but now that I'll be spending 3 months teaching it, it's taken on a whole lot more importance for me. So I wanted to do it justice.

I'm fluent in both English and French, and though I can't exactly be said to have a knack for languages per se, I do find it interesting to explore other cultures-- and language naturally becomes a part of that exploration. When I visited Portugal last summer with my best friend (who is Portuguese), I learned a few basic sentences and words before I left and picked up a lot of little things once I was immersed in living with her crazy Portuguese family. I found, to my surprise, that after less than a week I was able to pick out a phrase here and there while they were talking. I couldn't get by on my own with my 100 or so Portuguese words, but I had made a start.

To expect every ESL teacher to be fluent in all the languages of his or her students is nigh on impossible. It would be ideal, certainly, but it's not a very practical expectation. In my opinion, though, you don't have to be fluent to show your students that you appreciate their language and the effort they're making to learn English. 

It's really easy (and quite fun) to reserve one or two periods each semester to have your students teach you. You'll then be able to draw comparisons between the grammar/vocab in Korean, Russian, or Farsi and English to facilitate their understanding. So by all means, research as much as you can on the language and culture of your students-- your teaching will improve by leaps and bounds. That willingness to learn from your students even as they are learning from you is the difference between a good teacher and a great one.

I agree with Jon that another possible roadblock to your students' fluency is that they won't be fully immersed in the English language. It's your job and your responsibility to find ways to bridge those little gaps. Kids love challenges, especially if they're fun, so make a point to assign 'alternative' homework at least once or twice a week. Instead of giving them a worksheet on verb tenses, for example, task them with watching a popular English sitcom and looking up every word they don't understand. Rather than memorizing vocabulary, have them teach their parents and siblings how to call 911 or order a pizza. When you get your students started with exercises that are both fun and useful, they'll keep doing them regardless of whether you've assigned it.

Like Jon, and perhaps some of you, I'm very, very new to the world of ESL. I'm so excited to be learning more about how to work with students who are learning English, and I can't wait to share my experiences on this blog.

Has anyone else taught ESL before? Got any tips or tricks for us?

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Courtney posted at 9:44 AM - Comments (1)


Question (for both of you): What about children who have parents who disdain learning English? It doesn't often happen, but it does occasionally. You don't want to write the kid off, but the "alternative homework" might be difficult. This touches on the constant issue of parents demeaning what you've taught once the kids get home and actively preventing their kids from doing homework.

My mother works in a school which has lots of ESL students. Most of them will learn English, but slowly. This is because they not only use German exclusively at home and in their community, but also never encounter English-speaking media. They are Mennonites, and do not own televisions. Now, usually their parents do not disdain English. But it is exceedingly difficult to get them to speak English at home, as they never watch sitcoms or use telephones.

By Blogger Christian H, at August 16, 2009 at 4:41 PM  

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