Working with English Language learners (ELLs) can feel overwhelming (for them and for you) in the beginning. Here are a few things to keep in mind while getting to know your ELL:
- You do not need to become fluent in an ELL’s first language (L1) for them to learn from you. Encourage the student through gestures to watch not only you but their classmates for clues on what to do and to learn classroom routines.
- Don’t be surprised or concerned that an ELL is not vocal right away but give opportunities for the student to communicate non-verbally (pictures & gestures). The student needs the opportunity to become comfortable, so allowing the student to be an observer in their new environment and learning situation goes a long way to building trust. Allowing for a ‘silent period’ will help your ELL student to see that the classroom/school is a safe place to take risks
- Often students will experience ‘culture shock’ a common experience when immersed in a new country, language, culture (and even weather!) and a sense of loss for what has been left behind. Remember every student has a different story and experience in coming to Canada.
- Offering opportunities for sharing language and being open to learning something new about the student’s culture helps to build community, enrich the classroom and show the value of each person’s identity. The student’s family members can even be a part of this sharing by teaching: words and phrases (ex. hello, goodbye, thank-you), stories, art, food and so much more.
- Using visuals to improve understanding and create background knowledge for vocabulary/expressions. Having visuals for the ELL can connect the content to their own background knowledge. Printing a word on the board during a class discussion can give a student a starting point to begin access the topic being discussed.
- Provide opportunities to not only listen but safe opportunities to talk and take risks using language within the classroom. Being able to use (and play) with language encourages students to take risks in their oral language, which will transfer into students taking risks with their writing.
Finally, give ELL students processing time. When asked question, students are often translating from English to their first language and then translating the first language back to English before even trying to answer in English. This takes an enormous amount of effort, energy and time. Relax! Breathe and wait, the answers given might just exceed expectations.
“A different language is a different vision of life” Federico Fellini