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2 Common Problems Facing Learners of Different Nationalities

2 Common Problems Facing Learners of Different Nationalities | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Growing up in a minority family, the language barrier was always a boundary that I had every intention to overcome. With this in mind I am in a unique position to relate to other students whose mother tongue is not English. Learning a new language is not an easy task, so is teaching English to students of different backgrounds. The combination of cultural differences and assimilation to a new environment snowballs into a dilemma that a teacher faces when teaching students of different nationalities.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Blia Y.

Understand your students’ learning limits

In my experience working with autistic children, there are times I carry out specific actions with the intention a child will grasp the full meaning of how or why the outcome happened, yet rather I have easily confused the child. Applying multiple strategies in a classroom is important to identify a student's initial learning limits and to creatively develop his or her progressive learning capacities. Because I work with an extremely diverse population of children beyond my own ethnicity, many are shocked to see I do not look like them. Extending comfort to someone who looks completely different than oneself can be one of the biggest hindrances in learning environments. This is especially common for people who are learning a new language.

Also read: Games in the Classroom: What are EFL games?

Create a safe learning environment

Culture shock is one of the biggest hindrances of learning in a new environment especially for people who are learning a new language. Let’s take for example one of the clients that I have. This client is a six year old Chinese boy whose family had just immigrated to the United States recently. The first day I met him, there was already a wall between him and I because he knew that I am not “one of his kind” and already categorizes me into the “American” category. This made him shy and he was not able to open up to me thus made it difficult to teach him what needed to be taught. Accommodating learning lessons already planned in order to suit these behaviors is probably a teacher’s most difficult task. However, doing so provides the safe space for these behaviors to exist without judgment, and will allow teachers to implement the necessary pedagogical practices to help students with learning challenges to succeed in the classroom.

Provide positive learning experiences

The complexity of the English language is another barrier of learning English. The inability to express oneself so that the person who is helping can understand, it is quite frustrating not only for the learner but for the educator as well. Often times, the learner would withdraw back to his or her native language. This basic defense mechanism makes it difficult to communicate with each other. As I was teaching my client his articulation skills, he got upset because he was not able to annunciate letters or words as I did. We practiced in front of the camera so he could see how my lips were shaped as I pronounced the word which also made him enjoy doing the activity more because it was fun to look at himself. As educators, the more we do to help English learners cope with the challenges they face, including the anxiety they might feel as they enter a new learning environment, the more positive their experience will be and the more likely they will participate in graduated learning experiences and increase their skills.

Also read: 4 Tips on How to Teach English Using Music

There are challenges that teachers can face with their students but, with patience and understanding from both ends, empathy or even the teacher having had past firsthand experiences, it is possible that challenges can be identified and positive learning outcomes can be developed and achieved between teacher and students. Recognizing and being able to distinguish these problems allows the teacher to form a safe environment for all students. Inclusion in the classroom for all needs is important. It takes time and effort to develop continuity in the relationship with students of different nationalities. Trust needs to be built so that students are willing to learn. When both ends are willing to accept and embrace the cultural difference, the easier it becomes to communicate and work with one another.

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