Monday, January 15, 2018

9 Reasons for Using ELLs' Native Languages in Class

"We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King taught us that the color one's skin is not important.  Rather, it is what kind of person you are that matters.  I think a correlation of this belief is that it does not matter where you come from or what language you speak -- what's important is that if you make your life in the United States, you should be able to speak whatever language you prefer.

Today, on the holiday marking the birth of the civil rights icon, I would like to talk about using students' native languages in school.  This has been a controversial topic and I'd like to discuss why I think it is to ELLs' benefit to allow them to use their first language.
9 reasons for using ELLs' native languages in class & recommendations for 6 bilingual dictionaries | The ESL Nexus
Using the native languages of ELLs benefits their learning; source: The ESL Nexus
Reasons for Using the Native Language in School
* You can explain things faster and consequently get more teaching done
* You can explain things in more depth and therefore your students will comprehend the material better
* It helps your students feel comfortable in the classroom, which enhances their learning
* It lets your students communicate with their classmates, and possibly you and other staff people, from the very start
* It lets your students demonstrate their understanding of concepts even when they don't know the English words for them
* You can get a better sense of what students know and don’t know about the topics being taught
* It lets your students keep up with their native English-speaking peers while learning the English language
* It lets other students know that ELL students are valuable members of your class community because they are integrated into all class activities from the beginning of their arrival in the class
* It gives other students the chance to see an ELL as just another student and not as the “other”

It's worth pointing out some disadvantages to using the native languages of students, although I do not think they outweigh the advantages.

Reasons for Not Using the Native Language in School 
* The teacher may not know the native language of all ELLs in the class so it can appear as if s/he is playing favorites with one language over another
* It can take time away from instruction to stop and explain things in another language
* It can foster dependency by ELLs on their native language instead of learning English
* Other students may think ELLs are talking about them when using their native language, even though that's rarely the case
* It can be time-consuming to create instructional materials in other languages
* It can create divisions or cliques in class or a lack of community if students sit together based on the languages spoken

However, all the disadvantages listed above can easily be obviated by good classroom management.  Even if you don't know all the languages of your students, it's not that difficult to learn a few words in each one, such as hello, thank you and good-bye.  If you need to explain something in a student's first language, you can do that by taking the student aside while the rest of the class is working on something.  To avoid creating dependency by waiting for translations, just translate judiciously, teach students how to figure out the meaning of unknown words, and use time-tested strategies for teaching academic concepts to ELLs.  Make it clear to the whole class that when students are speaking a language other than English, it's not because they are secretly talking about their classmates -- it's because they want to learn and that makes it easier for them.  You don't have to create all your instructional materials in other languages!  There are lots of resources available online and you can utilize other students to help convey concepts.  And be proactive about seating assignments; placing students who speak different languages together will foster English language learning but you may want to let students who share a language occasionally do small group work together, especially if there are lower proficiency level ELLs who would benefit from scaffolding like that.

I kept a shelf of dictionaries in my classroom.  They included English language dictionaries at various proficiency levels and also bilingual dictionaries in the languages of my students.  I let students use them whenever they didn't know a word in English.  I also used them if, after several attempts at explaining what a word meant, my students still didn't understand.  In addition, they were really useful in helping me communicate with my students' families.  Below are some of the dictionaries I used.

(This post contains affiliate links. That means that I make a small commission if you make a purchase but it's at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!)

This Spanish dictionary was a life-saver!

My Japanese students found this dictionary really helpful.

My Turkish students and I all liked this dictionary.
(Pictured below is a newer version than the one I had.)

I wished this dictionary included how to pronounce the Vietnamese words since it does that for the English words but otherwise, it was good.

I only ever had 1 Filipino student but I bought this dictionary and it was useful.

I love this dictionary!  It's a larger version of the dictionary I carried with me everywhere when I worked in China.  This one has over 600 pages so it really isn't pocket-sized but it is comprehensive.  (Pictured below is a newer version than the one I had.)

My conclusion is that a sensible use of the native languages is most helpful for ELLs.  Bilingual dictionaries support your students learning of English and they help you establish connections with your students and their families.  So don't hesitate to let your students use their native languages because doing so will actually facilitate their acquisition of the English language. 


Thursday, December 28, 2017

12 Domestic & International Study Opportunities for Teachers

"One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things."
-- Henry Miller

Even though the new year has not yet begun and parts of the U.S are gripped by bitter cold, it’s not too early to think about how you will spend your summer vacation in 2018.  If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, there are numerous professional development opportunities to participate in study and travel programs, both in the U.S and internationally.  Because the deadlines for some of them are rapidly approaching, I’m publishing this blog post earlier than usual.

12 domestic and international travel and study programs for educators in 2018 | The ESL Nexus
Apply now to summer study & travel programs; source: The ESL Nexus
In 2007, I participated in a Fulbright-Hays Seminar Abroad program and went to India for 5 weeks, then stayed on for an additional week to visit a different part of the country that many of my students’ families came from.  It was an amazing trip!  It is much more competitive now because fewer programs are offered but I strongly encourage anyone who qualifies to apply.  It enriched my teaching of India so much and I am very grateful I had the opportunity.

All the programs listed below are for U.S. educators only; if you work in another country, there are other opportunities available that you can seek out.  Some programs require you to pay part of the cost to offset expenses and some programs have specific requirements about who can participate, which are noted; otherwise, the programs are open to anyone.

If you know of other travel and study programs for teachers, please add them in the Comments below and if you have participated in one of these programs, I’d love to hear about it in the Comments section.

12 domestic and international travel and study programs for educators in 2018 | The ESL Nexus
The author at the Taj Mahal in India; source: The ESL Nexus
International Study-Travel Programs

National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship
Application Deadline: January 5, 2018

Earthwatch Teacher Fellowships
Application deadline: January 8, 2018

The Japan-U.S. Teacher Exchange Program for Education for Sustainable Development
Application deadline: January 12, 2018 

Transatlantic Outreach Program (study tour to Germany)
Application deadline: January 31, 2018
For Social Studies and STEM teachers

KKC Study Tour to Japan
Application deadline: February 1, 2018

Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad
Application deadline: February 2, 2018

National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA) tour to China and Taiwan
Application deadline: March 15, 2018
Must have completed at least 30 credit hours of NCTA courses to be eligible; courses are conducted throughout the year and study tour destinations vary each summer

Teachers for Global Classrooms Program
Application deadline: March 13, 2018

12 domestic and international travel and study programs for educators in 2018 | The ESL Nexus
The author visiting an Indus Valley Civilization archeological site -- so cool! Source: The ESL Nexus
US-Based Programs

The Gilda Lehman Institute of American History
Application deadline: February 15, 2018
Applicant’s school must be a member of their Affiliate School Program but you can apply to join when filling out a program application

National Endowment for the Humanities
Application deadline: March 1, 2018

Freedoms Foundation
Application deadline: Open; first-come first-served

12 domestic and international travel and study programs for educators in 2018 | The ESL Nexus
Sign greeting the author's Fulbright group at a school near the Battle of Kalinga; source: The ESL Nexus
Grants for Domestic and International Professional Development

NEA Learning & Leadership Grants
Application deadlines: February 1, June 1, October 15, 2018
Must be a member of the NEA; can be used for travel abroad programs



Monday, December 25, 2017

Happy Holidays to All!

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."
-- Charles Dickens

Even though I don't celebrate Christmas myself, this is a sentiment I heartily agree with.  I wish you and yours a joyous holiday!

Merry Christmas from The ESL Nexus!
Source: The ESL Nexus


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Why It's Important To Get Names Right

My name can't be that tough to pronounce!
-- Keanu Reeves

Transliterating a word from a language that doesn't use the Roman alphabet can be tricky, especially when there is no equivalent letter in English for the sound in the original language.  Such is the case with the Festival of Lights, the Jewish holiday more commonly known as Hanukkah, which began last night.

Why it's important to get names right | The ESL Nexus
And Happy Hanukkah! source: The ESL Nexus
Or Chanukah.  Which is how I prefer to spell it.  That's because the initial letter in Hebrew, ח, is a sound comprised of two letters in English: CH.  In the International Phonetic Alphabet, the sound is shown as /x/.  It's pronounced like the ending sound in the word loch, as in Loch Lomond. 

It’s not real important if you pronounce the name of this Jewish holiday with a CH sound or with an H and say Hanukkah instead.  However, when it comes to pronouncing students’ names, it’s important to get that right.  When teachers mangle an ELL’s name – or any student’s name – it sends the impression that the teacher can’t be bothered to learn how to say the name.  The message is that the teacher doesn’t care about the student.  That the teacher prioritizes convenience over cultural sensitivity.  And that can have a deleterious effect on a student's motivation and ability to learn in that classroom.

When I taught in China, the custom among university graduate students was to adopt an English name.  They did this because they liked the idea of having a Western name and they thought it would be easier for Westerners to remember an English name.  At the time, I blithely accepted that and used the English names my students had chosen for themselves.

But now, looking back, I cringe at the thought.  I am in accord with how Claire Fraser, on the TV show Outlander, addressed the Chinese man she meets in Season 3.  Her husband, Jamie, refers to him as Mr. Willoughby but she calls him by his Chinese name, Yi Tien Cho.  She does this to show him respect.  Using his given name also shows that she honors his culture.  Teachers should do the same with their students.

On another note, Laurah and I are postponing December’s #ELLEdTech Twitter chat.  December is always a crazy month for educators so we will take a break and return in January.

The #ELLEdTech Twitter chat is taking a break in December and will return on Janury 21, 2018. | The ESL Nexus
Join us in January for the next Twitter chat! source: The ESL Nexus
The next chat will be on January 21st at 7pm Eastern / 4pm Pacific time.  See you then!