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Breaking The Language Barrier in ESL Students

Breaking The Language Barrier in ESL Students | ITTT | TEFL Blog

We live in an ever-changing world that is becoming smaller, more connected. Communication is faster and more diverse than ever. Computers, cell phones, and social media have increased the speed of communication. Therefore, the need for people to respond quickly and the language that has become synonymous with international communication is English. Thus, the demand for learning the language is increasing at a constant rate. But though people may have the need, they may lack the confidence to take on a new language fully.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Katherine R. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

It is different to learn a new language at a young age or later on in life. In both cases, though, for beginners and sometimes even for more experienced learners, a language barrier needs to be broken. So, how do we break it so students can efficiently communicate in English?

Native vs. Second Language

When we learn our native language, we are fully immersed in that language. It surrounds us from the minute we are born, and our brains begin making associations immediately. We don't put much thought into it. It just happens. The same occurs with children who acquire two or more languages simultaneously, in parents who speak different languages. When you are thrown into a situation of total immersion, much of the same process occurs. The language surrounds you, and the need to put the language into practice is more significant. Therefore you will risk more and attempt to speak. Opportunities abound. You become highly aware of the language around you and start putting it into use out of necessity.In a classroom situation, you will not be able to replicate complete immersion authentically. Still, the same principle of listening and putting it into practice can be achieved by creating the most authentic situations possible. Initially, though, basic English should be explicitly taught. The first need for communication to happen is vocabulary, a repertoire of words to use. Eliciting and pre-teaching language at the onset of class provides students with communication throughout the lesson. However, even after achieving a certain level of vocabulary, it is not uncommon for students to feel uncomfortable and uncertain about speaking. It is essential to create an environment that is lighthearted and fun, in which students, both young learners and older learners, feel at ease and comfortable enough to practice and secure enough to make mistakes. A successful teacher can adapt to the needs of a variety of personalities and learning styles. Working with students on a one-on-one basis, teachers only have one student to think of at a time, but there are many to think of in a classroom. It is essential to evaluate all students' needs and ensure that you, as the teacher, are meeting those needs. This will help maintain motivation for learning.

Making Mistakes

As a teacher and language learner myself, I have become acutely aware of the importance of making mistakes and the gradual move from teacher correction to self-correction. But how do we make the process less painful, especially for more self-conscious learners who feel insecure about speaking and making mistakes? Roleplay is a great tool. Roleplay brings a real-life situation into the classroom. While the teacher initially provided the roles and their vocal parts, eventually, as students gain confidence and increased vocabulary, they can begin to create their role plays. It is essential for the teacher to gradually pull back from typical teacher-centered, lecturer approaches and take on a facilitator approach, providing more and more opportunities for students to practice what they learn actively. A teacher can quickly wear different hats in a single lesson, moving from the lecturer to the facilitator to observer and tutor when students are actively engaged.

Games in ESL

Games are a great choice to help break the linguistic barrier. They provide a great range of possibilities to practice English in a fun and non-threatening way. Adaptable to different content, games can be used as warm-ups or as practice or even students created to apply and show what they have learned. The internet is also always a source of fun. There are online games and a world of English activities to choose from, where students can practice individually or alongside other language learners. Music too is fun, especially for a younger and teenage student. Actual life documents, faxes, company reports, newspaper clippings, and other material can be sourced from the internet. These are authentic resources that make learning real.

Social Networks

Social media, which was touched upon at the beginning of this essay as one reason for the surge in English learners, is a source of practice. Students can and have become involved in many ways, from silent readers to active participants in discussions and forums. Social media can easily be included in the language learning repertoire of older and business English learners, but not so for younger learners, as there are age limitations and safety measures in place for their use. The latest technological advances have proven to be great allies for students and teachers. Many teachers send students quick mini assignments over messaging systems. These are fun and short enough that business English learners can take a few minutes out of their busy days to complete them and respond over the same system, creating dynamic and valuable practices. It is essential to be aware of the appropriateness of interactions, being time and content-sensitive, and respecting the teacher/student relationship. Social media interaction conditions should be pre-arranged to avoid possible misunderstandings.

Are you ready to teach English abroad or online?

It is possible to build confidence in students by creating a positive and immersive environment. Students are given ample and varied opportunities for speaking and risk-taking: the secure knowledge that making mistakes is acceptable and an inherent part of learning. The focus should be primarily on the learner, making education simultaneously functional and fun.

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