5 Strategies Teachers Can Use To Help Struggling ESL Students
If you have ever tried to learn a second language, especially as an adult, then you know how challenging it can be to learn, understand, read and write in a new form.
Any language can be difficult for a new language learner. However, many people who are native English speakers fail to realize that English can be one of the most complicated and demanding languages to learn.
With its abundance of slang terms, spelling, grammatical exceptions, and loan words from other languages, it can be challenging for a student to grasp English and to achieve comprehension and fluency.
First, Let’s talk about BICS and CALP
Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) refer to the linguistic skills needed in every day, face-to-face social interactions. For instance, the language used in the playground, on the phone, or to interact socially with other people is part of BICS. The language used in these social interactions is context embedded. That is, it is meaningful, cognitively undemanding, and non-specialized. It takes the learner from six months to two years to develop BICS.
CALP, on the other hand, focuses on proficiency in academic language or language used in the classroom in the various content areas. CALP stands for Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency.
Academic language can be characterized by being abstract, context reduced, and specialized. In addition to acquiring the language, learners need to develop skills such as comparing, classifying, synthesizing, evaluating, and inferring when developing academic competence. It takes learners at least five years to develop CALP. Research from Collier and Thomas (1995) has shown that it can take children with no prior instruction or no support in native language development at least seven years to develop CALP.
Given these challenges, if it’s hard for the student, that means it can be hard for the teacher as well.
All teachers have an interest in seeing their students succeed, so it can be frustrating when a student is struggling because of his or her unfamiliarity with the English Language.
As a new ESL teacher, this might be new territory for you, especially if you are working in a Bilingual class, and your students be entering class at level zero.
It’s important to remember that, like the needs of any students, the needs of those who have English as a second language are unique, and can sometimes warrant a specialized approach in their learning.
In this article, we’ll go over five things teachers can do to help struggling ESL students.
Use Items of Cultural or Personal Relevance: Something that many native speakers of a language take for granted are the very personal and emotional connotations that their language carries for them.
For example, think about words or phrases that carry particular weight for you because they trigger emotions or have personal meaning.
A student who is new to English may have these associations in their native tongue, but not necessarily with English. As a teacher, you can help your students make associations by introducing items which are relevant to them (into the classroom or learning environment), such as objects, stories, and holidays found in their cultural background.
Use the Total Physical Response Method: Think about the way you interact with a small child. Often you’ll make large gestures, exaggerate your expressions, or even act out different gestures that you are trying to communicate. These same techniques work great with ESL learners because even if they don’t understand the words or phrases, they will be able to follow your body language and make connections that way.
Use Visual Media: Similar to using the TPR method, visual media often includes a great deal of information that you cannot convey through words alone. These visual cues such as settings, scenarios, gestures, and postures are all useful for ESL learners, as they can infer a lot of information about the language from the context.
This technique is in contrast to a strictly formal or grammatical setting, where students may memorize specific rules, but can’t understand the greater context in which they use those words. It is best to stay away from this strategy.
Immersion: Often the best way to get a handle on a language is to become immersed in it. Immersion can be encouraged in classroom settings by getting students to communicate with each other in direct ways. For example, you can use teacher feedback through storytelling. If possible, it can help to organize out-of-classroom experiences where students will be immersed in the speaking and writing of English, as well as in its context.
Avoid Explanations When Possible: It can be tempting to lay a concept of English out when students don’t grasp a concept. While this is necessary at times, it can hinder the student when it becomes a replacement for experiential and intuitive learning on their part. If you can, guide your ESL students to find their answers when it comes to specific rules and uses in English, rather than relying on your explanations. This approach will give them a more direct and powerful experience with the language and keep it locked into their memory.
Here are some tips from the teachers at HAWO American Academy who are working with kids online from China.
Michelle Dragalin states, “This is also a stage in language development where a student does nothing by repeat what you say. During the activities, I would suggest that you answer the question so he will repeat them. I’ve had students who have done this and then one day you get an original answer. Personally, I prefer this to someone who just says yes all the time.”
Helen Hensell says, “This is part of the learning process. This is how young children first learn their first (or even second) languages. By repeating everything their parents says. Repetition is the best teacher.”