Teaching Second Language Learners

Most schools, especially public schools, in the United States have students who have English as their second language. These are children from immigrant families, children of diplomats or children who are Americans by birth but whose families do not have English as their first language. They may also be children with parents who have traveled to America on short assignments. Besides the linguistic diversity, there is also the diversity of cultures and backgrounds which affects the manner in which the students take in what they are taught. This situation presents challenges for both students and teachers because the two are not on a common ground. This paper seeks to shed light on the challenges that I, as a teacher of first grade children who are learning to read English might encounter.

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One major challenge in class would be helping the students decode the information that I would be teaching. Instructing the students to get the intended content would be one daunting task because of the communication barrier between us (Evie, T. 2004). Understanding exactly what the students would want to put across to me would be quite difficult. The diversity in cultures is one contributing factor to the manner in which students comprehend what is taught (Craig Chaudron (1998). The students may come from cultures that have different perceptions of time, different approach towards freedom and democracy as well as towards the right to privacy. This would make them not relate well when it comes to some subjects.

Another challenge would be getting enough time to teach the language minority students the required content in the subject being studied. Due to the fact that their development of the English language is poor, understanding other subjects taught in English would not be impossible. It would therefore call for more time to be spent in teaching the language. A one on one approach to teaching would be required so as to make sure that every student is upbeat about all he is learning, meaning that a lot of time, which is not there, would be needed (Evie, T. 2004). Other students whose native language is English would have to lag behind leading to the messing up of the curriculum since allocating more time would mean that it would not be possible for me to cover all that needs to be covered in the stipulated time.

Additionally preparation of lessons, curricula and assessment tools would not be easy. The fact that the language-minority students need more time than those whose native language is English, makes it hard to strike a balance and come up with lessons that would accommodate both classes of students without prejudice or oppression of one over the other. The level of efficacy of my curriculum would be of utmost importance because performance by the students in exams would show whether the second language learners have improved in their knowledge of the English language (Craig Chaudron (1998). Another challenge would come about probably because of lack of required professional development needed to help the children. Due the unevenness of the quality of training hurdles can be seen to affect the whole learning process negatively.

Besides the hurdles in class, there would also be some external factors such as the problem of teachers not being able to communicate with the parents of students when they want to fill them in with the progress of their children. In most cases the parents are usually at a worse position as far as the English language is concerned, than their children. It then clearly shows that these parents cannot be at a position to help their children leading to all the weight of teaching being borne by the teachers. Owing to the diversity in perception of factors like time, some students may not keep up with the expectations of punctuality, and regular class attendance (Gibbons Paulin 2002). This is common among children of refugee families whose home country might be ravaged by war giving no room for regular attendance because of conflict. What follows is poor performance in class attributable to not catching up with what the rest of the students are doing. Subsequently, these students start dropping out of the class which can be very frustrating for teachers since in most cases the performance of students is used as a tool for assessing how teachers are fairing in their efforts to teach them.

Some of the students learning English as their second language come from poor families that are not able to provide their children with the necessary materials for learning. This makes the whole teaching experience tiring and also slows down progress. Teachers have to contend with this situation considering that some of these students are from refugee families.

Another challenge is the lack of enough teaching materials needed. In order to be effective in teaching second learners more materials are needed than for those that are native speakers (Cloud, N. 1990). It would be crucial to have adequate visual aides, computer projection of slides that would be used to further explain the meaning of words or even of content of subjects in detail by even drawing. Assessment materials whose function is to determine the state, in which a child is as far as knowledge of English is concerned, are also inadequate meaning that a teacher may just progress with a student who does not really understand the language and who finally fails his exams due to a lack of understanding.

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The problem of teachers not having the professional certification to undertake this job is common. Most teachers are partially trained about how to go about teaching English learners who are not native speakers. Programs that can be used for the sharpening the pedagogical skills of teachers should be provided because these skills count in enabling the second language learners to understand better (Cloud, N. 1990). Pedagogical skills include the ability to use diagrams and charts or pictures to illustrate the meaning of English of words.

To meet the challenges mentioned above I would need to acknowledge that a home language is an important stepping stone to learning a new language. It will be my duty to appreciate my students’ diverse cultures noting that their first language will contribute to the development of their cognitive development. The concepts grasped there- in make it possible for the children to learn a second language (Craig C. 1998). In addition to this I would have to create an environment that affirms their culture and language because it would facilitate their social-emotional and identity development. Another principle I would want to follow is that of making sure that I get high quality of research based professional development so that I can only follow the best practices in the classrooms. I would also observe the use of effective assessment methods so that I can accurately determine how my students are doing. This will make sure that the students understand all that they need to. This would be done by use of their home language as well as English (Cloud, N. 1990). I would take it upon myself to integrate programs that besides being built upon home languages support them.

For effective teaching of second language learners it is important to have the language minority children divided into some groups that would have more coaching time added to them (Gibbons Paulin 2002). Before any lesson or assessment I would make sure that I prepare the language learners prior to the set date so that they don’t get so nervous. Second language learners should be encouraged to have correct pronunciation through choral reading or the involvement of all students as opposed to them being made to pronounce it on their own (Valdés, G. 2001). It is also important for teachers to refrain from giving instructions to the whole class instead, they should give them in the small groups that have been formed so that the second language learners don’t feel alienated because of their weaknesses and it is from there that they are able to get the attention they need. In addition to this teachers need to use visual aides like videos, books that are illustrated and posters for teaching, more often than they use verbal methods. Structured conversations among classmates, use of songs and games also are great ways of imparting knowledge of the English language. To be effective the teachers need to be audible and clear. They must avoid being rash in their pronunciation of words and should avoid asking the language-minority students questions thus putting them on the spot (Tedick, D.J., & Walker, C. L. 1994). This only leads to them feeling like they may never be in a position to measure up to other students.

Second language learners are on the increase and all that is required is more teachers taking specific professional courses that are for second language learners. Every second language learner has a potential to learn the new language well if the programs integrated towards this end are accommodative of the diverse cultures of people. This is because these cultures as well as home languages form the foundation on which an individual starts to communicate. However more innovations are required to see that large populations of the linguistically diverse are attended to intensively.

Reference

Cloud, N. (1990). Planning and implementing English as a second language program. In Carrasquillo, A. L. & Baecher, R. E. (Eds.). Teaching the bilingual special education student. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.

Craig Chaudron (1998). Second Language Classroom.Research on teaching and Learning.Cambridge University press.

Gibbons Paulin (2002). Scafolding language,Scaffolding learning:Teaching Second Language learners in the Mainstream Classroom.Heinemann.WestPort.

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Guadalupe Valdés (2001). Learning and Not Learning English: Latino Students in American Schools. New York: Teacher’s College Press, 2001.

Tedick, D.J., & Walker, C.L. (1994). Second language teacher education: The problems that plague us. Modern Language Journal, 78, 300-311.

Tindall, Evie “Second Language Learners: Wellsprings of Learning for Teachers”. Kappa Delta Pi Record. 2004. FindArticles.com. Web.

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